This summer straybird curated the What Matters festival at Siobhan Davies Studios. I remember admiring the bravery of the title and then being really glad with how well each of the contributing artists stepped-up to deal with such a statement. Small Matters then is, in some ways, a pleasing thing to follow up with, an installation of work made for small screens.
My first assumption with the words ‘small screens’ was that it would be work shown on televisions. Cinema being ‘The Big Screen’ and TV ‘The Small Screen’. But no, they meant even smaller, the work is mostly shown on tiny apple-designed screens. The introductory text by Fiona Wright invites me to think about our relationship to the small (tiny) screen, and the new postures developed by our inability to wait anywhere without watching and looking at things on our own personal tiny screens. “Maybe we know better than ever how to watch experimentally”. I think perhaps she is right. Our culture is increasingly visually literate, and able to flick between images in a way that is often entirely non-narrative. We habitually make connections between images, video, sounds, opinion, fact and ideas on small screens. I have overheard conversations about the impact of Youtube on dance, and how dance is a perfect art form to embrace such a platform: possibilities for experimentation, for dialogue, for international viewing across languages or for work that responds to the viewer in some way in the form of an app.
However I, at least, am also less respectful of work that I see on the tiny screen. There is no live performer in front of me and no artist physically present towards whom I feel a sense of responsibility. I am used to flicking, I pay scant attention. Images need to catch me, and it takes a lot to hold me. Some of the works really did keep me watching. I loved After Thinking About Pocahontas & Me (2010) by Becky Edmunds and Fiona Wright. I liked the aesthetic of the tiny screens in match-boxes, I liked the rhythm and balance of the movement over the five screens, the sounds, the text about boats. I liked that I was invited to handle the boxes, to feel them as little things that could be moved and arranged, a composition to be played with. It was small and it was neat and it was thought out down to the tiniest detail.
I liked following the dog in Guide to the Black Lab (2012), it was simple and small but I felt a little childish delight in it. I didn’t get to watch Wendy Houston’s Slow Girl/ Among the Giants (2012) because each time I went in, there was someone sitting in her rocking chair looking at her screen, but I have seen the live version and was easily seduced by it’s blend of fairy-tale for a technological age and Shock! Horror! rolling news bulletins. The live work already had the intimacy of a bed-time story and so I can see how that would also work well no a small screen made for one.
Other works in the installation were not so gripping and I found myself conscientiously paying attention as a reviewer, but also aware that I was tempted to flick onto the next. But then maybe that is also OK. Small works on small screens are there to be curated by the viewer. If a theatre is a place to demand my continuous presence and attention for as long as the artist requires it, dance for the small screen allows me to make my own choices about my time and my attention. I just wonder about the demands this makes on the artist. To be more eye-catching and seductive? Or perhaps to be more concise? To pay more attention to detail because the artist cannot assume the viewer will give them more than a 10 second chance to prove themselves?
FLORA WELLESLEY WESLEY
Small Matters is on until Sun 14th Oct (not Thurs 11th).
Central St Martins College of Arts and Design