On the heels of Peter Downsbrough’’s retrospective * at Brussels’’ Palais des Beaux-Arts, argos presents the artist’’s new video THRU ** and a new room piece, RESOLVE AND AS BUT TO. Language, space and time, the three pillars of Downsbrough’’s conceptual practice, are intricately linked in these complementary but separate works, which combine rigor and humor and were conceived specifically for argos’’ exhibition setting yet are not reliant upon it to be fully appreciated.
Shown as a double projection on facing walls, THRU** is a dialectical examination of two specific locations and sets of urban conditions: one indoors, one outdoors. Shifting sharply back and forth between them, the camera switches from slow, silent pans of argos’’ dimly lit, raw brick interior, sparsely appointed with a horizontal swath of bundled cables and regularly spaced concrete buttresses, to a busy road bordering the nearby canal. The interior scene is static -- only the camera moves; outdoors, the camera, which is situated on the median of a four-lane thoroughfare, is surrounded by the constant flux of traffic. Indoors, a narrow strip of windows in one wall provides the only opening; outside, the view is open except on one side, where it is hemmed in by a row of buildings.
Changes in the camera’’s rotational direction and, in the interior scenes, in its shift from circular pan to straight tracking shots, contribute to the impression that the lens is taking the measure of space and gauging the character of place--surveying its subjects repeatedly and from multiple angles. Short outdoor sequences interrupt long indoor ones, and vice-versa, resulting in choppy pacing that, if diagrammed, would yield a symmetrical geometric figure.
The video’’s black and whiteness and its silence are violated briefly, once each. At a certain moment, street noise fades as abruptly as it appeared, and color, which gradually fills a shot of a single parked car, ebbs back to shades of gray. That closing image is followed by the work’’s title, which is the only word (apart from the credits) to appear in the video. "Thru," a phonetic abbreviation of the word "through," comes not at the beginning of the work, where titles are conventionally placed, but at its conclusion, where the phrase "The End" is frequently found in early films.
This transposed position is paradoxically appropriate, since one of the meanings of the polyvalent word "through" is "finished"-- as in "we’’re through." It’s logical, then, that "Thru" should appear when the video is over, or through, and this despite the fact that it is also the work’’s unannounced title. While visually and semantically distinct, THRU’s untitled beginning and captioned end are thus literally identical. Screened at argos, in the same space it (partially) represents, the video takes on even greater reflexive force-- simultaneously spatial, temporal and linguistic.
Having directed the eye through space and time, THRU invites viewers to think through those constructs’ relationship to the meaning and structure of the words which name and define them. The work is like a virtuosic performance/demonstration of the 30-odd dictionary definitions of its title, encouraging awareness of how language influences perception and of how potent, slippery and complex a tool it can be.
In the room piece shown together with THRU, a wall in the darkened exhibition space carries white adhesive lettering spelling out the noun/verb "resolve." Affixed to the floor are the prepositions "and," "as," "but" and "to" --connector words with nothing to connect to except, virtue of their physical proximity, each other, the space around them, and the word on the wall, to which they are illusionistically linked by a few straight lengths of white tape. It’’s up to individual viewers to resolve the meaning of the puzzling piece in a way that makes sense to them. This requires resolve, since there’’s no right answer, and no greater reward than probing between the words until you say "ahah!"
** On the occasion of the Downsbrough show argos releases an edition of THRU