I’m standing next to a small wall-mounted speaker, looking through a large circular hole cut in a plasterboard wall and watching a film of dancers moving through the same gallery space I’m occupying. As I take in the scene there are many things that go through my mind. The hole and another rectangular floor-to-ceiling slice in a second wall can’t help but conjure thoughts of Gordon Matta-Clark’s intersected buildings; the gentle but purposeful movements of the dancers are reminiscent of the contemporary dance of Siobhan Davies; the glitchy, clattering drum sounds that accompany the filmed sawing of the walls recall the beats of alt-electronica duo Autechre.
Mostly, though, the surveillance camera-style footage and the sense of being an unseen observer of other people’s movements make me think of the early days of the ‘reality’ TV show Big Brother (the show’s UK debut was in 2000) and, in particular, the uneasy feeling that to watch meant being complicit in the game of control and manipulation playing out on the screen. Back then though, the idea of the domestic/private realm being a site of public scrutiny and entertainment was a novelty rather than the mundane reality it is now; Corin Sworn’s tightly choreographed show has more on its mind than the tired tropes of TV entertainment formats or social media narcissism.
‘WORK HOUSE’ is the final exhibition to be staged in Koppe Astner’s current space before it is vacated prior to demolition – a fact which makes the artist’s wall wrecking neatly appropriate. The title is loaded with associations: the Victorian workhouse with its harsh living conditions and social stigma; the self-employed homeworker; the unpaid labour of housework. Implicit in all is a meeting of public and private worlds.
In order to view the exhibition in full, like the dancers in the video I have to pass through the hole in the wall, moving from the main space into a series of three smaller sections. Whitewashed month-to-view wall calendars (Decision Fatigue III; Decision Fatigue IV, all works 2018) and perfumed antibacterial gel in stainless steel wall dispensers (Coriander-Fennel; Tangerine-Ginger) add to a feeling of interrupted home life. What links these sculptural elements and the film – part of the audio-visual installation There Is Movement, which also includes four speakers around the sub-divided gallery space – is the notion of order, of how we attempt to structure the messy, inherently chaotic business of life. From pleasantly smelling soaps trying to keep dirt and germs at bay to dancers interrupted by exuberant young children in bright colours and superhero costumes, the disconnect between a desire for control and what really happens in life is highlighted. These interventions feel like acts of release, counterpoints to the tension created by the clinical, starkly monochrome presentation.
A two-sided A4 hand-out that accompanies the show features a poem by the Glasgow writer RW Paterson. Titled Room Sensed Motion, it stresses the illusion of order that surveillance culture brings – in this instance in the form of cameras and motion sensors in a family home, a narrative echoed in the piece Hello!, a small, indoor security camera attached to the wall. The few lines of accompanying exhibition text talk of ‘personal management technologies’ and our eager but often flawed embracing of tech solutions as we try to exert some kind of influence over our time-poor lives. This need for organization, Sworn suggests, can ultimately distance us from the very things we seek to cherish and protect. In ‘WORK HOUSE’ it’s not state surveillance we should be wary of – it’s our own Big Brother impulse.
Main image: Corin Sworn, ‘WORK HOUSE’, 2018, installation view, Koppe Astner, Glasgow. Courtesy: the artist and Koppe Astner, Glasgow
First published in Issue 197