Whitehot Magazine

February 2008, Darren Almond @ Parasol unit and White Cube

February 2008,  Darren Almond @ Parasol unit and White Cube
Darren Almond Night + Fog (Mongegegorsk) (2), 2007 Bromide print, B&W, mounted on Kapamount 119.3 x 149 cm (47 x 58 3/4 inch) Courtesy of the artist/ Gallerie Max Hetzler, Berlin/Jay Jopling, White Cube, London/ Matthew Marks Gallery, New York. Copyright Darren Almond, 2007.

For quite some time it seemed that Darren Almond’s work has been much more appreciated abroad than in the UK, but this season two prominent London institutions exhibit recent works by the British Artist who was awarded with the Turner Prize in 2005. Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art is presenting Fire Under Snow: Darren Almond, the most extensive solo show to date in the compromising two films, a group of larger black-and-white-photographs and a wall sculpture. Concurrently, White Cube is showing new photographs in Moons of the Lapetus Ocean at the gallery’s premises in Hoxton Square.

By Wiebke Gronemeyer

 Upon entering Parasol unit 600 identical clocks forcefully carry out their task: keeping time. Nonetheless, the clocks in this sculpturally overloaded installation, Tide (2008), act out more than this, questioning the objectivity of the passage of time. Indeed, these 600 clocks are unstoppable: each time a digital number on the computer-controlled synchronised clocks flips over to mark the passing of another minute or another hour, the gallery space physically reverberates. However, this overload of homogeneity lets us question time and its duration: should we think more often of the difference between an apparently objective chronometry and our subjective tools of measurement, based on experience and constituted in our memory?
 Ideas about memory in relation to the subjectivity of time permeate all of Almond’s recent works exhibited at Parasol unit and White Cube. At the latter he shows his Fullmoon photographs, an ongoing series of landscape photographs that Almond has continuously been working on since 1998. They seem to point out the importance of memory in relation to time in Almond’s work, having the effect Brian Dillon describes in his essay for the catalogue accompanying Moons of the lapetus Ocean: “The full moon is a revelation – a wide-open eye on time and space – but also a threat to the very landscape that it makes visible”. Involving full moonlight and extremely long exposure times, those billowy landscapes commemorate another time, during which this scenery symbolized a now bygone British folklore. Almond emphasizes on a process of transformation that embodies a sense of perpetual change.
This effect of making something visible and at a same time invisible is as well captured in White Cube’s upstairs gallery, where Almond presents three large-scale photographs, entitled Infinite Betweens (2007), showing how traditional Tibetan prayer flags, hung in trials across the mountain ridges as a way to make offering of thanks and prayers, become accumulated and scattered over each other.

 The photographs developed out of the film In the Between (2006), which is shown at Parasol unit. Here, the artist deals with evocative meditations on time and duration, geography and displacement. The fourteen-minute long, three-screen high-definition film was shot in Tibet and China on the Quinghai-Tibet railway, the world’s highest train route. What Almond pictures is an ongoing itinerary, harnessing the symbolic and both the personal and historical potential of objects, places and situations. The visual juxtaposition of the outside landscape and the interior of a Buddhist temple turns out to be countermanded by the interference of the corresponding sounds: the clattering train and the monks’ monotone chanting. Thus, the linearity of this itinerary becomes undermined, affecting its narrative character. The work is on a very literal level still to be understood as depicting aspects of duration, both on screen and by means of sound. In addition, on a more abstract level, it is much more about a contemporary attitude that can be read through the train as a metaphor, making its way across a whole continent: a characteristic of an aesthetic of globalisation. Almond surpasses and subverts the notion of an itinerary as a means to an end that is not recurrent to itself. As he interlaces the different narratives – the train and the monks, the dominating and the controlled – the artist goes one step further of portraying the evident contrast between the industrial and the spiritual and reveals how even such a clash of culture can, in its narrative structures, have something in common – time, duration and the effects it has on the individual, on both sides of the story. This relates back to the title of these works, the idea of the “between”, referring to the Buddhist vision of relativity of all beings and things. The idea of the “between” is not only evoked by the collaged appearance of the photographs and the oscillation between different narratives in the film, but as well, more poignantly, by the symbolic significance of his work, relating to the political situation of Tibet, which is one of both concussion and endurance.

 This nostalgic longing seems to filter through the other works in the show at Parasol unit. Bearing (2007) is a single-screen projection depicting the daily routine of an Indonesian sulphur miner, monitoring him on his way in and out of the mine, carrying the toxic material. The more than evident beauty of the landscape strikes the moral disguise that is evoked by the harmful characteristics of the sulphur, confronting us to position ourselves out of our comfort zone in front of a high-resolution screen in London towards the social reality in Indonesia, and as well in Tibet. In our state of time, we seem to be mired in the situation of being ebbed between our reactions, whether they be compassion of fascination; aren’t they to be understood as unethical and thus wrong?

 Night + Fog (2007) consists of six large-scale black-and-white photographs of dead forests surrounding the nickel-mining towns of Siberia. Again, Almond highlights pollution and its damaging consequences, relating to our historical situation, recalling similarities to the symbolic potential of pictures taken in the woods surrounding Auschwitz and Birkenau.
 Is Almond proposing this nostalgic longing for the past in order to enhance our concerns around what we can find in the imagining of history from experience? It seems not to detract from the political claims he makes with his work but to strengthen them through carrying the symbolic antipodes, objective chronometry and subjective time perception, beauty and barbarity, personal and historical memory, to their extremes.

Fire under Snow: Darren Almond. 18 January – 30 March 2008. Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, 14 Wharf Road, London N17RW, www.parasol-unit.org

Moons of the lapetus Ocean. 18 January – 23 February 2008. White Cube, 48 Hoxton Square, London N16PB, www.whitecube.com


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Wiebke Gronemeyer WM London

Wiebke Gronemeyer is an independent curator and art writer based in London and Hamburg.
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EMAIL: wiebkeg@hotmail.com

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