Luke Fowler

Luke Fowler (with Toshiya Tsunoda and John Haynes) (2012) Art Review, London, Issue 59 (May). P. 117.

Luke Fowler’s work is at the centre of this exhibition, also including an individual work by Japanese artist Toshiya Tsunoda, with whom Fowler has worked on previous exhibitions, a collaborative piece made by Fowler and Tsunoda, and downstairs, photographs by John Haynes. The latter is connected because Haynes, who started photographing notable figures in the 1960s, made many intimate portraits of the psychiatrist R. D. Laing (1927-89) who is the subject Fowler’s new film, his third and longest on Laing, All Divided Selves (2011).

Laing’s infamous contention with psychiatry was that it was supposed to be a science of persons, persons complete with the rich range of desires, thoughts and emotions that people generally have, but tended, so he wrote in The Divided Self (1960), to treat people as biological or chemical organisms under the rubric of ‘objectivity’. Laing’s contention is relevant to Fowler’s own position in that his work as an artist often seems to require a sympathetic and subjective type of interpretation. In fact one critic wrote that, “the experience of watching one of Fowler’s films is akin to the process getting to know someone, with all its attendant paradoxes, hiatuses and leaps of faith.” As with previous films by Fowler a concern about All Divided Selves might be that it overly enshrines Laing without deeply interrogating his thought and method. What Fowler achieves however, the leap of faith, is through the production; feeding his own film into found footage, montaging interviews of Laing and contemporaries with incidental subject matter (chimneys, close-ups of fibres, unknown figures, hillsides), he establishes a kind of meditative state of melancholic reflection that is strongly affecting.

The collaboration between Fowler and Toshiya Tsunoda, Ridges on a Horizontal Plane (2010-11), projects seemingly non-specific snaps taken by the artists in Cologne on a thin silken screen, which is made to shimmer by four fans placed in the room. The fans hum over a just audible hum from speakers. The work is apparently intended to simulate the fleeting reality photographs constantly chase, but instead just feels distracting and overworked. Tsunoda’s sound piece, Composition for Maguchi Bay (2011), a response to the ‘subconscious’ tremors of deep tidal motions, is in itself interesting, but neither adds to nor seems to correspond to the rest of the exhibition, predominantly made up of photos taken by Fowler. Fowler’s photos feature two images side by side taken on an obsolete half-frame camera that puts an image onto half a frame to use less film and allow for a more compact design.  The results operate as films reduced to a minimum number of components, two frames. The aleatory connections between the images, which can range from casual moments to public demonstrations, are evocative. Overall however, the exhibition doesn’t hang together and All Divided Selves, which does successfully marry the fragility of sound and image with a potent substance and lasting impression, simply outshines the rest.


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