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Review – James Richards: “Requests and Antisongs” at ICA London

12 months ago

October is a rather intense period for many British artists, curators and other protagonists of the art world. The Frieze just closed its doors, and the Tate announced to the public the nominees for the Turner Prize. Prior to this major event, on the 21st of September, the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) has inaugurated the exhibition “Requests and Antisongs” by the ex-nominee of the same Turner Prize, London-based James Richards.

The buzz around the artist really began after he was put forward for Turner Prize back in 2013 for his work Rosebud, which was presented during the 55th Venice Biennale The Encyclopedic Palace. And it has already been announced that Richards will be responsible for the Welsh installation at the international art exhibition Venice Biennale in 2017.

The artist is best known for his compositions of shuffled raw visual and audio materials, easily accessible through various information sources and databases, i.e. Internet, books, records and films. Those that are familiar with his work, can observe the same prevailing aesthetic approach and meticulous research on the material used, in the solo exhibition “Requests and Antisongs”.

The three-presented pieces, multi-channel sound installation “Crumb Mahogany”(2016), and video installations “Radio At Night” (2015) and “Rushes Minotaur” (2016), differ in medium, however, interact on a level of aesthetic and sensory experience. The artist considers it as a sort of “déjà vu”, where the immediate emotional response to them becomes a centrepiece of the exhibition.

“Requests and Antisongs” begins on the first floor. In the spacious room of the ICA Richards placed 4 benches surrounded by six speakers. Different sounds, oscillating through the speakers, seem to have thematic commonality. For example, there can be found nature related sounds (birds, crystals, running water), or noisy streets (cars, people, rumbling of tyres). Subsequently, an unexpected, disturbing, splitting noise, musical fragment, calming piano melody, or simply a silent pause, interrupts these simultaneously interweaving base tones, closing one compositional episode and opening the possibility for another to emerge. The benches, on the other hand, become like a stage, which do not contribute to the liveliness of the installation. Once seated and encircled by these speakers, with grey curtains or wall in front, the listener might feel as if trapped in a hermetic sound bubble. The most interesting and in some cases even amusing thing to observe becomes the visitors, struggling to puzzle out the piece.

Ariadne’s Thread of the exposition continues up the stairs to the upper gallery, where the sound for the video “Radio At Night” starts penetrating the hearing. It is the moment of déjà vu that the artist was aiming for. The same familiar notes following from the previous room this time are accompanied by video collage. Bits and pieces of various images such as flying birds, moving trains, smokes, forests, a photograph of a leather phone case paralleled with a hairy human skin, people in the hospital with the hanging pigs in abattoir, moving eyeballs, and eyelashes that evoke the question of the act of looking itself.

Finally the last piece, silent video installation “Rushes Minotaur” concludes the “Crumb Mahogany” and “Radio At Night”, by arriving to the close-ups of the visual and audio constructions. For the audio part it is simply the silence followed by some echoes coming from other rooms. And the visual part is made up of textural photos of human and animal skin, or fur and flesh, the artist has chosen.

The main impression the show leaves is that it is another work from the series “the homework has been done”. Each piece is nicely done, the artist did not use complicated effects and manipulations of sounds or images; everything looks precise, neat and tidy. Yet at the same time Richard’s subtly chosen and aesthetically pleasant compositions create an ambiguous narrative that is not easily comprehensible. Is there something else, more intricate to be noticed only for visitors with extremely sensitive receptors of sounds and images? Or it is as simple as it appears to be?

Milda Batakyte

  • James Richards, Radio at Night (2015) Courtesy the artist James Richards, Radio at Night (2015) Courtesy the artist
  • James Richards, Crumb Mahogany 7 (detail), 2016, courtesy of the artist. James Richards, Crumb Mahogany 7 (detail), 2016, courtesy of the artist.
  • James Richards, Requests and Antisongs, 2016, courtesy of ICA, London James Richards, Requests and Antisongs, 2016, courtesy of ICA, London

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