Spring 2003 – Dublin: Chris Cunningham at 5th

Circa 103 Review

Dublin: Chris Cunningham at 5 th

 

Chris Cunningham: flex , 2001, video installation with sound; courtesy of
Anthony d'Offay Ltd, London who commissioned and produced flex

Sex and death sells. Apparently, this is something well-known in the commercial world of advertising but I am not sure what the logic is behind it (how could this be logical?). The human fascination with sex and death is well documented, however, and in the art world it was especially popular at the turn of the last century, in the era of the 'femme fatale'. In his book Femme Fatale: Images of Evil and Fascinating Women , Patrick Bade puts this obsession down to the prevalence of syphilis among Bohemian artists, and the romantic spirit of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. 1

 

Chris Cunningham: flex , 2001, video installation with sound; courtesy of
Anthony d'Offay Ltd, London who commissioned and produced flex

In flex at the Guinness 5 th Gallery, Chris Cunningham deals with a variation of this theme, concentrating on sex and violence. Perhaps it is my own romanticism surging forth, but while Cunningham's variation is scarier to me, I believe it wholly relevant to the turn of the millennium: terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the ravages of AIDS form the backdrop to personal terror, as there is a growing awareness of abuse and the realisation that the 'enemy' is usually a trusted member of the community and/or family. Although I tend to be wary of exhibitions that come with a warning (as this one did), suspecting the artist and/or gallery of wanting to promote sensationalism, to be suspicious of flex would be to trivialise one of the most thought-provoking videos I have ever seen.

Before entering the gallery space, loud, electronic sound (created in collaboration with Richard D. James) is already heard. The video itself is projected onto a complete wall of the square gallery, so one is within a cinematic environment. There is a definite narrative too, so it is important to watch the complete video - which, while it emotionally may prove difficult, is visually stunning.

 

Chris Cunningham: flex , 2001, video installation with sound; courtesy of
Anthony d'Offay Ltd, London who commissioned and produced flex

In a nutshell: from darkness a beam of light illuminates the naked forms of a man and woman who are first seen in the protective spoon embrace; on separating they are both overwhelmed by violence to each other, and the video ends with the woman crawling back to the embrace of the man. The video is filmed in such a way that the human forms are 'other' in that the perspective is distorted and details are too defined. What one hears is a type of hyper-realism (movement, breathing, the meeting of flesh on flesh) and the familiar Hollywood notion of a space vacuum - the impossible sound of the hollow scraping of air... While the video seems to be black and white (as a viewer I found some irony here as I thought of Guinness commercials gone terribly, terribly wrong!), there are subtle hints of colour: the man's ear and the woman's lips are pink. Both the man and woman have very fit, muscular bodies and their interaction is predicated by the white light - at some points they seem to be interrogated, their actions and violence towards each other seem to be caused by this light. Here I considered the effect of the obelisk in 2001: A Space Odyssey , and with this in mind, it is no surprise that Cunningham has in fact worked with Stanley Kubrick. In art and literature 'the light' traditionally represents goodness and truth; in flex, while not necessarily malignant, the beam of light reveals nakedness and fear (like the apple of knowledge in the Garden of Eden).

 

Chris Cunningham: flex , 2001, video installation with sound; courtesy of
Anthony d'Offay Ltd, London who commissioned and produced flex

Given time and space, I would be able to write a tome on Flex. Cunningham is an experienced maker of videos in the music industry who has brought his expertise and vision into the art world. Fabulous production and thoughtful work; no naval-gazing here, this is video as it should be.

 

Lorraine Whelan is an artist and writer based in Bray, Co. Wicklow.

Chris Cunningham: flex , Guinness 5th Gallery, November 2002 - January 2003

1 Patrick Bade, Femme Fatale: Images of Evil and Fascinating Women , Mayflower Books, 1979

 

Article reproduced from CIRCA 103, Spring 2003, pp.72-73