It is not easy to be nowhere

On Friday night, I was invited to the rooftop of a loft apartment overlooking Shoreditch church and Old street – the quirky, alternative space of artist Vita Gottlieb’s Shed-and-a-half gallery. Fortunately the rain had stopped and I stepped out on the roof with my glass of champagne glittering under an elusive ray of sunshine. While ascending I could hear some muffled sounds coming from the outside and as I approached the two white wooden sheds in the back of the gallery space, the sounds amplified into a cracking, whistling and jostling cacophony – something strange was happening inside. The smaller shed had an open door and a small television screen was standing at its centre on a makeshift wooden table. A strangely moving, snowy landscape filled the screen. Back in her home country, Czech artist Petra Hudcova filmed the scene, she said, as she walked towards a lone silhouette standing in the snow. Manipulating and juxtaposing images above the main picture, she made the silhouette stray aside and away, disappear in a vaporous flash to reappear suddenly on the snow, as if ghosting in and out of mind. The result came as a projection of her visual memories – not so much the dreamy landscapes of a distant past, but rather a mindscape that had captured a moment and was holding on to it, playing it over and over again through the confusing process of memory. What I was experiencing was not the moment frozen on the retina and consciousness of the artist on a cold winter day, but rather the revival of the fleeting moment – an act of re-creation through the intricate workings of the mind, transcending space and time, and resounding, in the words of the artist, in an ‘orchestra of passing moments’.

Indeed, stormy, whistling sounds were blowing over the images, reacting with them as they moved from dark green to intense white, making me see things I hadn’t seen before. A conversation between images (the eye) and sounds (the ear) was allowed to take place through a max/MSP computer programme using a camera that watches the screen, informing the sound-making process. As described by artist and composer Ross Knipe, ‘the synthesised compositions, using white noise filtered to various degrees according to changes in the visual, produced what we saw as a frozen yet continuous moment in the mind’. In my own mind, the moment was constantly being extended and compressed, and became more and more distorted as I watched and listened. At one point a violent, tempestuous sea wind threatened to blow up the shed and a huge tidal wave came crashing onto the screen, drowning, for a moment, the poor figure under the storming sea. Instead of the expected synchronicity between sounds and images, I was jostled around incessantly from snow to seascapes, revealing the faults and cracks of my own mind, the doubts and limitations of the human brain at reproducing the ‘true’ picture – what I saw now, paradoxically, as the essential element for human creativity.

Next door, the bigger shed resonated with double-intensity. I slipped inside and sat in the dark. A computer on the floor, via its webcam, was watching the projected images, creating a live brainstorming conversation between sound and image. Blue-green tinged images of skaters on a frozen lake were projected onto split, wooden screens, sliding from one to the other, transporting me to some far away land and reminding me, for an instant, of the magic realism of Peter Doig. His beautiful, captivating paintings often cover the same subject time and time again, and in front of them, I often have the troubling impression to have been – or dreamt there before. Petra’s ’fragmented landscapes of the mind’ revived a similar feeling in me, with the added, dizzying sensation of not being in control. Through the continuous, intense interactions of the disjointed sounds and imagery in the shed, mixed thoughts, past and present, kept rushing to my mind, memories and revived bodily experiences, things I’d never fully captured and never would, still extraordinarily vivid and touching a chord deep inside. As I stood up, my shadow passed in front of the screens, causing the sound to react and to blurt out loud sonic noises: I suddenly realised that I was there too, back within a time-space dimension, yet still in the dream. Feeling a slice of reality as perceived through my body, in a being-in-the-world fashion, yet floating outer space, outer time, with less anchorage than ever.

Stepping out of the shed, as images and sounds were still echoing in me, I heard the song of a bird, caught a voice and a smile, and remembered the words of a poem by time-based sound artist William Low that said:
Has no face, yet many, is transparent, yet solid, is precious, yet wasted
Is running, yet creeps like an old man in the snow
And is like a grip that never lets you go’

For a moment, in the shed, I was let free.

Petra Hudcova and Ross Knipe, It’s Not Easy To Be Nowhere, until 19th June 2008
To arrange a viewing appointment, contact Vita Gottlieb on 07980 856 844 or or visit


~ by lavivette on June 3, 2008.

One Response to “It is not easy to be nowhere”

  1. Vivienne,
    Many thanks for your beautiful review – I wonder if you’d be interested in reviewing regularly at the gallery? I’m looking for people to cover every show (not necessarily the same person). Please do get in touch if you’d consider this. Warm regards, Vita Gottlieb

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