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On the 3rd of September 1972 in the North Sea, an oil rig diver (my father) was trapped by his leg inside one of the eight legs of a fixed-platform drill rig.
I have carried his story, with the babushka-ish image of a leg inside a leg, inside me for some time. Now one leg is in my head, and there it turns over and over to spark a friction fire, a signal.
A single leg draws attention, like a lipogram, to thther which is missing. Thus, a cluster of manmade legs resembles the letters in a word written without vowels. It cannot be sounded but will be recognised in the constellation it forms.
Eight single legs: each contains a story of the man who made it. They are the fuel that make this group show turn.
1. A deep-sea diver is tasked with securing an oil rig to the North Sea floor. He inserts himself into one of the eight flooded legs of the platform and descends 120 feet. The man just fits into the metal column, he’s only able to flinch a centimetre or so either way before striking a wall. There is a plug at the end of the leg. The diver’s job is to locate the iron chain attached to the plug and shackle it to the crane poised above. As the man feels for the chain in the darkness it topples from its perch. It rapidly unfurls onto his leg, pinning him tight. He is unable to move. His breathing escalates dangerously. He has no way to communicate with his crew. A leg trapped inside a leg, this is the first of our eight limbs.
2. A phantom leg is a missing leg, gone, but not erased. It haunts the body it formerly co-existed with. The body in turn hallucinates its presence. There is no scientific test to verify the existence of a phantom. The evidence takes the form of a case study narrative: a first-person account delivered by the sole witness. An equally subjective phenomenon is the strange leg or negative phantom: a leg that is present yet absent. Abandoned and disowned by its body, left off the neural map, the estranged leg has no owner, no general to issue it orders. A body is able to proceed without a leg, and a leg it seems is also able to continue on, however uneasily, minus a body.
3. It’s a fallacy that the Victorians covered up their piano legs for fear of exercising the sexual potency of objects, but it’s a revealing myth nevertheless. Legs are associated with exposure and shame, with con men and fake legs used to milk hearts and wallets, with clandestine compartments for disguising truths. Consider Rolf Harris and his smash hit Jake the peg: kitsch turned creepy: an exhibitionist’s toe-tapper, a pedophile’s ditty. And Oedipus who slew his father and slept with his mother having correctly answered the Sphinx’s riddle: What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and three in the evening? (A: man)
4. Historically misfortune has befallen the genders in different ways. Male legs have been more prone to disarticulation. WW1 and WW2 were periods of mass fragmentation of male limbs while women’s legs, in a telling echo, were photographed, pinned up and painted onto weapons of mass destruction. Men, if so inclined, can be ‘leg men’, foot fetishists, stocking afficionados or amputee enthusiasts. Castration and fetishism: the fear of dismemberment, and the devotion to objects, or parts, that represent a substitute for any such loss. Fevered and primarily masculine narratives should you believe in that sort of thing.
5. A living leg is the stuff of narrative. It regulates movement from one situation to another. It supports, propels,conveys; it hops, rests, kicks or shakes itself free. Even a motionless leg is aligned with a verb as it rests or waits. Single legs are often put to work in a synedoche, as in pulling a leg, legging it, getting a leg up, or a leg in, or a leg over: a leg standing in for an intention, an agent standing in for a drama.
6. A leg can morph into a thing: an object, a relic, a specimen. Once separated from its body, a part becomes abject: repudiated, uncanny, a source of horror. A replicated body part, such as a leg, retains some of this frisson but evades the full force of the horror, avoiding its clutches, suggests Julia Kristeva’s Powers of horror,by cloaking itself in the same garb. A leg in the process of becoming a thing is perhaps then engaged in a disrobing: a stripping away of all coverings including those of office.
7. Prostheses and phantoms form a symbiotic pair. Successful use of a prosthetic leg can be determined by the intensity of its corresponding phantom. The pain and the discomfort of the missing limb are nerve signals that can be harnessed to control its replacement. The prosthesis is then able to lessen the ache of the phantom by rewiring its loss. In a sympathetic doubling each takes a turn in the other’s place: the phantom becomes the prosthesis, and the prosthesis becomes the phantom.
8. Legs are sociable structures, dependent on their fellows as well as the community bonds between feet, ankles and knees. Multiple legs are also able to operate in unison: witness an eight-legged spider, or an octopus, or a phalanx of scuba divers’ legs artfully kicking down to the ocean’s depths to extract its fuel, playing out the precarious balance between subject and thing, between part and whole, between life and its imminent severing.
Lynne Barwick, September 2016
'Trapped' written by David Strike - https://nektonix.com/2015/09/03/trapped/
Hany Armanious / Tully Arnot / Tom Arthur / Mitch Cairns
Lucas Ihlein / Stephen Ralph / Nick Strike / what
Presented by Nick Strike
TIME ON ICE
For the last two years I’ve been focusing the sun through a magnifying glass onto the figures of ice skaters in the consecutive frames of two 16mm films. One is from the late 1930’s and the other from the 1970’s. Acetate film resembles ice.
This iconoclastic tally of burnt cells, (at 24 frames per second), is the result of an obsessive attempt to recapture that rare moment when a figure in motion on the cinema screen would abruptly freeze. For a split second, the blink of an eye, a flood of obtuse meanings was ignited that bore no relation to the prior narrative trajectory of the movie. Then the image, caught in the film gate of the broken projector, melted under the intense heat of the lamp. The audience, suddenly released from their screen-trance, would awake en masse in the enormous room.
The liberating potential of this event, this disruption to the visual flow, (its afterimage burnt into my memory), is without ground in the era of the touch screen: i.e. is on ice.
Here I offer work to give a taste of this burn.
These collages use reproductions of 1930’s photos with pasted images cut from 1970’s magazines. The doubled images are stereographic collages, achieved by putting the same elements in both works slightly out of register. In order to see the 3-D effect without a device, you must stand relatively close, cross your eyes and try to bring one image into focus. While initially difficult, perhaps even painful, the time spent will result in a richer vision, as both eyes work together. (The skater achieves better balance by pulling the laces of their boots as tight as possible. This is how to ‘walk on knives’).
Narrative 1: Nick Strike’s Time on Ice
Mise en scène
Throughout his installations and his imagery, Nick Strike returns again and again to the same settings: a forest, or an ice lake, or a cell. A scene waiting for a narrative, for history to meet it. The forest obscures and reveals. The ice screens off the depths. The cell is inescapable, a shape‐shifter: it is the prison, the cinema, the gallery, the studio, the film strip, the frame, the rink and the mind.
Strike’s last solo show at 55 Sydenham Rd, October, was punctuated by images of divers plunging into water. In Time on Ice, the divers have been replaced with ice skaters who endlessly circle the impenetrable surface of their frozen ground.
Two film loops screen side by side in a silent, stereographic projection on the main gallery wall. One half of the projection field is black and white footage from the 1930s. The other is colour film from the 1970s. At the centre of each frame is an ice‐skater in motion. The figures spin, twist and lunge across the ice, but in the place of identifying features is the transfixing flicker of seared acetate. Each individual film cell has been precisely blistered by the sun, focused and directed through Strike’s burning lens.
On a return wall opposite the dual image, another section of the 1970s film is projected through a vintage 16mm projector. Extending from the burn field is a single leg footed by a bladed skate. The limb pivots with forceful precision on the ice, like a drill intended to penetrate the surface, or a stick briskly rotated for the purpose of starting a friction fire. The noise of the film projector takes the place of a soundtrack; the whir of metal and acetate approximating the sound of a metal blade grazing the ice.
The fourth projection, a short loop on a monitor, is visible when leaving the gallery by the stairs. In a close‐up shot, hands pull laces tight through the eyelets of an ice skate. Then, an abrupt edit: a man’s face fills the screen. His eyes are missing. His eye sockets scorched by twin burns.
Nick Strike is an auteur. Like Hitchcock’s interchangeable blondes, Strike’s characters are ciphers. They don’t require internal lives: they are symbols, and stand‐ins and doubles, for the real action taking place somewhere behind the screen and below the surface.
Strike’s work is often concerned with the mechanisms of vision: the anatomical, technological and perceptual means by which we see and make sense of what we see. His work is equally preoccupied with impediments to vision: to physical blockages, mechanical failures and misreadings.
In a statement that accompanies the exhibition, Strike writes that his labour intensive burning of film is intended to recall the rare occasions a celluloid film would ignite, mid‐screening, in a cinema projector. As the film perished under the heat of the lamp, the image on screen froze; and the audience were shaken collectively awake from their viewing trance. The rupture in the narrative awakened the audience to their own lives, just as the moving stream of images had suspended their awareness.
When Strike’s own film reel broke in the projector during the exhibition, he sliced out the damaged section of film and lodged the strip, in storyboard rows, between two pieces of perspex. It was a restating of the workings of cinematic illusion, the multiple still‐lifes that create the appearance of movement and of narrative.
With his practice of applying a burn to every cell of a film, Strike ruptures the existing narrative while overlaying one of his own making. He reinforces the illusion of cinema while taking it apart; waking his audience while lulling them into a trance. He makes, in effect, a stereograph of sleep and wakefulness: a cognitive prompt to consider narratives and images from both states.
There is more material to view: a sheet of perspex covers the stair landing; the gallery window is cracked; there is a film still of a woman, without a face, touching the screen her son is imprisoned behind; a hole in the gallery floor is reflected back on itself; a photograph of a forest is obscured by perspex strips. Strike sets in play the narrative of the space; his installation a perpetual signifying machine, amassing links and associations between matter and concepts.
—ice—perspex—glass—skates—blades knives—razors—eyelets—eyes—stereogram—magnifying glass—sun—projector—focal point—lens burn—friction-fire—frostbite—ice hole—cracked screen—
Strike draws from a roll call of imagery related to the eye, to seeing, and to technologies of vision: Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou, Bataille’s Story of the Eye, Walter Benjamin’s concepts of the optical unconscious and the dialectical image, Hieronymous Bosch’s painting Temptation of St Anthony (with its camera obscura and ice‐skating bird) and Roland Barthes’s essays ‘The Metaphor of the Eye’ and ‘The Third Meaning’. Strike has often mentioned these references when talking about his work; it’s only as I type them that I notice that all the surnames start with B, and that B looks like a pair of glasses, or a stereoscope, on its side. It’s the kind of coincidence that Nick Strike tracks and incites in his work. The analogous narratives of the unconscious: revelatory, erroneous, punning and erotic; the absurd, the wishful, and the horrific. All as indispensable as the next.
Point of view
Like a cinema foyer walled with film stills, the front gallery at 55, is hung with Strike’s collages. Six are actual stereograms. Two near‐identical images mounted in the same frame are an invitation for the viewer to cross their eyes, adjust their focus and by the diligent, and somewhat painful, application of each eye, create one single, composite three‐dimensional image.
As with the ice‐skating films, the collages are made up of photographic imagery from the 1930s and the 1970s. Strike is nodding at the proposition that the precarious economic and cultural terrain of both decades is matched by the fragility of our own. By overlaying the image banks of the two decades in a stereographic process and method, Strike speculates that something of our present time will be revealed.
Scenarios float in and out of view. Place and time are indeterminate. There is war and there are dreamscapes. There are mass gatherings, uniforms, and wayward bodies: outsized, morphing, fragmenting. There are skewed monuments and unstable landscapes. There is the forest, the ice lake, the cell. And a screw, a drill, an orifice, a carcass, an eye, twin pools of water, a pair skating couple, an amputated leg. Obstacles in search of a narrative. Evidence in search of a crime.
Lynne Barwick, March 2016
Time On Ice
Opening shot: a rectangular frame of 16mm celluloid subjected to the sun by a hand-held magnifying glass (picture Bunuel/Dali drawing a cloud across the moon).
The projector fails: the animated images on the screen fall back into place as a statue’s shadow; the narrative momentum of the movie explodes in a pseudo-psychedelic light show, (the statue shatters as the celluloid blisters); the entranced audience fall awake to them-selves as fragments of a collective presence (staring at a revolving large door).
Let a thousand frames bloom.
Victory over the Sun!
Nick Strike’s art practice is deeply embedded in the concerns of 20th century modernity: in the development of cinema and ideas of the unconscious, and the accompanying shift in representation from still life to sequential imagery. His work alludes to the psychoanalytic implications of images as well as the mechanics of vision.
In his engagement with the technologies of vision, Strike has often made work that incorporates tools such as projectors, lenses, magnifying glasses and light. He has used these devices – for focusing, distorting and concentrating vision – to excavate the history of image making. His stereoscopic collages, paintings, altered found photographs and film footage, portray the slippages of images, the way they mutate and stem from each other. Strike’s images come with their histories streaming behind them.
Nick Strike’s October includes watercolours, sculpture, found anonymous film, as well as an extracted loop from Sergei Eisenstein’s film of the Russian Revolution, October: Ten Days That Shook The World. The installation uses film as artifact, found object, as text, as reference, as metaphor and as cultural trope. It is characteristic of Strike’s work that the associations invoked by each of his elements are as thoroughly mined as this.
* * *
As you ascend the stairs to the gallery, you note a small monitor propped on the landing. The screen plays a loop of black and white, 1940s footage of a line of divers mounting a staircase, towards a diving board. Your steps replicate theirs. It’s an indication that you are entering a cinematic space.
At the top of the stairs, a framed watercolour depicts a modified scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, where a man and woman, both of whom have assumed fraudulent identities, approach each other in a forest of tall thin-trunked trees. In the background is Mount Rushmore, with its monumental sculptures of the four founding fathers of the United States carved into the cliff face. They represent the symbolic, monitoring eyes of the Law (you have entered psychoanalytic territory). But blocking the presidential view is the dense black monolith that reoccurs throughout Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which now stands between them and the couple.
You then enter the darkened gallery through a doorframe bisected by a pendulum-like clear perspex rod encasing a length of 16mm film footage. Placed on the floor, at its base, is a vintage, black and white photograph of two anonymous couples, each oblivious to the other, hugging in a forest of similarly thin-trunked, tall trees.
If you look straight ahead, the first thing you see is a sequential series of another seven, sombrely-toned watercolours. They are hung at an unusually low level: closer to your gut than your eye. It’s Hitchcock’s couple again. They continue their advance toward each other, though the forest; then they have fallen into an embrace at the foot of Kubrick’s monolith, which has been rotating horizontally behind them throughout the storyboard sequence. In the final image the couple disappear, seemingly taken into the earth on which they have lain together.
Look to your left and you see the door to the gallery has been dislocated from the doorway and wedged at a 45-degree angle into the corner of the room. Some viewers will notice formal echoes here, both to the monolith, and to Richard Serra’s sculpture Strike (and from here to the artist’s surname). On one side of the relocated door is another small screen, on which the opening scene of Eisenstein’s 1928 film October, plays in a loop. You see the famous re-enactment of the sculpture of the Tsar being fastened by ropes and violently yanked from its pedestal. On each side of the glass-windowed door, which is lettered with the word ‘October’, is a strip of 16mm film footage mounted in perspex and fastened to the door with scaffolding clips.
On the opposite wall, at the far end of the gallery, is a large projection. It’s the same divers you first saw on the staircase. They are now plunging into the pool from the high board. But you can’t exactly see them: though their surroundings are clear, the bodies have been obscured. A section of each of film cell has been painstakingly burnt by the sun through the artist’s magnifying glass. In the place of each diver’s body is a pulsing, abstracted ripple of melted celluloid. Again and again you watch the resulting mass of swirling, psychedelic colour splash into the black and white water.
Turn to your right and you see a sculpture. An inflated, foil wine bladder has two images attached. Adhered to the reflective silver surface is a photographic still of Kubrick’s 2001, astronaut-hero, David Bowman. He’s staring straight ahead with a wide-eyed expression. Directly in front, in his line of sight, a copper wire fixes in place a 35mm slide of one of Giorgio Morandi’s still life painting of vessels.
The adjacent sculpture is another strip of film. This time it’s of leader footage, clamped in place, once again, by perspex and scaffolding clips. At its base, mounted on the wall, is a photocopy of the first pages of Rosalind E. Krauss’s Passages in Modern Sculpture. She describes the opening scene of Eisenstein’s October that you saw when you entered the gallery – the toppling of the Tsar’s statue, signifying the dismantling of pre-modern authority and ideology.
There is one final sculpture on the adjoining wall. Eight extension cords (and here you might notice that October signifies the number eight in Latin, and that there are eight watercolours in the storyboard sequence) hang suspended in a line along a short wall. The copper earth wire of each cord has been cut and pokes through a small incision. A chunk of coal dangles from each wire. If you follow the sightline of the row of cords, you see that are precisely perpendicular to the storyboard sequence across the room at the exact point where the monolith has pivoted to its narrowest profile. And here we have another key to the expansive web of references that Nick Strike’s art is made up of. Because in Strike’s associative schema, the extension cords reference (among other things) the ropes that pull down the Tsar’s statue; the lumps of coal represent Kubrick’s monolith in shards, and every element of the installation is similarly linked to every other in a delirious, endless loop of analogies derived from Strike’s reading, viewing and making.
* * *
In a purposeful confusion of names and references, Strike co-opts Eisenstein’s October as both a title and a thematic device. In Passages in Modern Sculpture, Krauss mistakes the Tsar Alexander III’s sculpture for that of his son’s and Strike responds to this error with his own cinematic subplot of names. He has chosen to exhibit this body of work as an unidentified artist in the spirit of 55 Sydenham’s initial premise that viewers would not be told the artist’s name in advance. The play with names continues through the installation – identities are alternatively mistaken, assumed, forgotten, or anonymous. Subjectivity is tenuous: the effigy of the Tsar tumbles to the ground, the divers dissolve even before they hit the water, the couple merge together and then into the earth.
Much of Nick Strike’s recent work has derived from the use of films that feature works of sculpture as props or as part of the film set. North By Northwest, 2001 and October all feature monumental sculptures as key plot indicators. Strike interferes with the films’ narratives as a way of interfering with broader narrative authority and ideological intent. He inserts blockages – physical, perceptual and conceptual obstacles – to disrupt the possibility of coherent vision: the stray monolith shelters the embracing couple from observation, but is also seen broken down into fragments. The divers’ bodies are masked from the audience’s view by light – the medium through which their presence is made visible. Strike’s quotations from auteur film, art theory and psychoanalytic theory are also destabilised by the use he makes of them. Krauss’s error undermines the weight of her text; the monolith, in its numerous repurposing, symbolically escapes the authority of Kubrick’s film, as do Hitchcock’s couple. In Strike’s work the associations created by montage take the place of ideology. They alter and collapse the existing and sanctioned readings of the cultural monuments he selects.
Strike’s found imagery is vintage and that lends his work a nostalgic air. The Tsar, the divers, the merging couple, even the medium of film stock are all on the verge of, or in the act of, disappearing. But Strike’s reference to historical time isn’t a revelling in loss, but a repositioning of contemporary art’s relationship to its past. Rosalind Krauss in Under Blue Cup argues the case for art that maintains a relationship with historical mediums and the white cube of gallery space. She describes post-medium art as aesthetically meaningless; instead of abandoning the conventions of gallery and medium, artists should kick off against the white cube as if from the side of a pool. Krauss’s argument is for the importance of memory to art if it is to retain its specificity and autonomy. Strike’s work is propelled by exactly this type of active remembering and engagement with the cultural monuments, and anti-monuments, of modernity. His art incorporates and rewrites his own previous work as well as the texts and films that resonate with his aesthetic.
In October, Strike makes use of a number of cinematic conventions: time, light, character, narrative and movement. He screens, projects and loops film; renders film into static sculptures and mimics film stills in painted storyboard sequences. His work enacts a tension between still and moving images: either of which is liable to become the other at any given point. After the opening night, the installation was altered. As if editing a scene from a film, the artist removed the foil bladder piece from view. It may, or may not, be replaced by additional work over the duration of the exhibition. Strike disrupts even his own narratives. His installation is a focusing device, a lens through which a montage of interconnected images and ideas pass in a given period of time. Like recalled memories they are unlikely to be seen in exactly the same arrangement again.
Lynne Barwick, October 2013
11 - 20/10/13
‘Before film appeared, there were little books of photos that could be made to flit past the viewer under the pressure of the thumb, presenting a boxing match or a tennis match…’
Walter Benjamin. ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. 1936
The pressure of the thumb bookends the history of moving pictures from the flip book to Facebook: individual acts of viewing that bracket the collective dream-world of the cinema.
The collective has migrated to the cloud via the iphone.
The phone relieves me of the need to see for myself.
The thumb run over the screen is slowly honed.
It draws a cloud across the sun.
Cut to Rocky in the ring corner: "I can't see nothing, gotta open my eye. Cut me Nick. Go on, cut me."
(BOX OF CLOUDS)
give us a couple of weeks