Go Watanabe, Light Difference – Face III
Urano Gallery; 21 January to 25 February
With a lovingly fluid motion we are drawn in, delivered to and destabilised by the mesmerising video works of Go Watanabe at Urano Gallery. In the first room, three moving-images work to ingratiate their way into your inner ear through your open pupils, tugging at your sense of balance through a caressing liquidity of transitional flow. There is an overwhelming sense that we are being lulled into comfort while something sinister is planning our undoing. It is a languidly creepy show of the utmost appealing pull.
Two videos are actually one work – Book, Floor and 22 Lights – showing a looped tracking shot moving achingly slowly through an aisle in a university library. Occasionally, random floor tiles disappear, leaving a black void into an apparent basement devoid of light or, presumably, enlightenment. This puts the foundational base of this field of knowledge at risk of collapse into the abyss. And when you realise the books themselves are randomly disappearing, a deep seated fear trembles in your gut, as if the great fire of Alexandria that destroyed the ancient library is unfolding in exquisite sports-game slo-motion replay at the level of molecular disintegration.
On one channel, it’s as if we are walking into the library, while on the second channel it’s as if the library is moving toward us. In both, the shelves of books edge closer to the viewer and then move past the outer frame; and with the videos presented perpendicular to each other, the feeling of being surrounded by and simultaneously drawn into these library spaces is elevated to maximum effect. The layering of the shelves in space, the gaps between the aisles, and the rapidity or acceleration of their motion toward the camera, is such that it reads as virtual and ever-so-slightly off kilter to reality. This works to impose thoughts of a psychological library rather than an actual one, and amplifies the destabilising effect on the viewer’s balance in a room so dark you are already wary of stumbling. And then you start to wonder, is it worse to lose your own internal memory or for culture to lose its external one?
The third video piece is another delicate work of transition and impending anticipation. It is a moving image that never really moves, constantly toying with your perception and making you question the most obvious vision in front of your eyes. A pile of mostly grey-tone fabric sits vertically on screen, about a third of the way in from the right. And that is all there is. Only, almost imperceptible changes in tone take place over the course of ten minutes or so. It barely registers but you can tell something is afoot. Your mind scrambles for patterns of recognition, mostly turning to figurative allusions as a result of the form of the image. Faces come and go, cartoonish, is that a samurai? But you know it is just the same pile of fabric – wait, did that piece move? No. Then, over time, you realise the dozen or so layers are individually, ever so gradually and occasionally changing from light-grey to dark-grey and vice versa. A quite simple work with the most infuriating and yet tantalising glimpses of something somewhere almost but never quite just about on the tip of the tongue out of reach oh my god yes.
In the smaller room a suite of images – possibly paintings, possibly digital images, nothing is discernibly real at this point – shows empty rooms with ethereal light pouring in, as if at dusk. Another set of three paintings appear to show moonlight shadows of window panes on darkened carpet. They are the quiet moments, the non-human occasions of presence in the most human of spaces. Domestic and still, bereft of life but somehow pregnant with the moment. They are sets for action, either just recently having taken place or about to stir. It could be the most simple of acts, someone about to close a curtain or turn on a TV, or it could be something far more sinister. And it is in this state of tension that we lurk, ungrounded and open, wondering whether we are inside a space or inside our heads. Never sure if one or the other is the safest place to be.