Arts Review: Please Turn Us On

GOMA, 28th July – 22nd January

GOMA’s exhibition on early video art and counterculture opens with Elsa Stansfield and Madelon Hooykaas’ What Is It To You?, a 1973 video project based in Glasgow. Using one of the first video cameras in Scotland, obtained by the Third Eye centre and made available for public use, the project documents Glasgow residents through interviews and candid footage, and provides a glimpse into the average Glaswegian living of the period.

British artist Heather Philipson provides the most recent – and the only non-video based – piece of the exhibition. Written in black paint across all four walls of the exhibition space ‘You can also use your smartphone’ (2015) is a text based piece reminiscent of the works of Jenny Holzer and David Montgomery. Philipson also works as a poet, and her text art deftly engages with the place of video and subculture in a modern world where everyone has instant access to recording equipment.

Phillipson’s work surrounds Videofreex’s 1976 pirate TV experiment ‘Greetings from Lanesville’, displayed on a single old TV set with two pairs of headphones, giving it a cosily conspiratorial tone. Focusing on a supposed UFO sighting, the film relies on homemade special effects and roving-reporter style interviews with small town residents. The anarchic fun of this counterculture artefact brings on a kind of nostalgia, a thrill at the idea of twentysomething artists working in a then innovate form to creative something genuinely free, fun and new.

The final piece in the exhibit, Arthur Ginsberg and Video Free America’s ‘The Continuing Story of Carel and Ferd’ (1970-75) is a candid portrait of five years of a relationship. Made up of candid recordings of conversations between the smart, self-aware young artists, it reminded me a little of D. A. Pennebaker’s ‘Don’t Look Back’, the documentary following Bob Dylan’s 1966 UK tour, in which casual, day-to-day conversation of young creatives is elevated to artistic status.

This is a deeply intriguing exhibition, looking at the early days of an emerging medium which took great interest in the intricacies of ordinary life. A fascinating look for film and art fans alike.

[Clare Patterson –@clarepttrsn]

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