|Double Dealing||Jane & Louise Wilson|
Portrait by Gautier Deblonde
hoping to be converted to the Wilson 'cause' should be
warned that what follows may not offer such an
opportunity. In conversation, the twins do not provide
impressive words and lofty analyses. Indeed, listening to
them talk about their work, you get the impression you
could hand them a history of golf clubs and they'd thrive
on it for weeks. What is most striking in their
conversation is an evangelical zeal for minor detail.
Trying to fathom why they chose Westminster as the
location for Parliament, you get nothing but anecdotes:
the trials of gaining film access, the labyrinthine
nature of its corridors, a doddery old lord they saw
there, the periscope at the top of the Commons, when it
was built, when it was rebuilt, etc. And not a lot else.
So you have to read between the lines. This reluctance to overtheorise their work is what has enabled others to load so much onto their work instead: to the point where Crawl Space becomes the very incarnation of the Freudian uncanny, Stasi and Gamma replicate the very structure of Bentham's Panopticon, and the buildings they choose to film become the very symbol of Foucauldian 'power'. At the other extreme, you can drain them of theory altogether and see the Wilsons as image-driven urban chic trendies, purveyors of a perfect late-90s Wallpaper* aesthetic - albeit with an ironic 'spooky' edge.
Since Lisa Corrin is taking the former point of view in her Serpentine catalogue interview, I tackle the latter interpretation of the 'twins as package', and Jane is immediately troubled. They've heard their videos compared to pop promos, but as for the Stasi photographs as fashion shoot fodder, they are horrified. "Hang on, those chairs are from a Stasi prison, not Wallpaper* magazine!", she protests. "We go to the real locations where the spaces do exist, and if we'd gone in and arranged those chairs like a Wallpaper* spread fair enough, but it's a document and that's not Wallpaper* magazine at all. That annoys me. It's something we're very conscious of, never going in and intruding too much and not doing what magazines do, which is to fetishise things. We hold back from it. The whole point when we're shooting is that we don't go in and say 'oh, can I move it just like so', we just leave it. People who say the photographs look like Wallpaper* should pay a bit more attention."
|"People who say the photographs look like wallpaper should pay a bit more attention."||But, just looking at their photographs
alone, you can't tell they haven't fiddled with the
locations? Louise muses: "Maybe it's because of our
previous works, which were a lot more elaborate in terms
of set ups. Crawl Space looked a lot more stagey; now
there's so little intervention, but people assume its
been tampered with." Such are the trials of
photography in the age of digital manipulation:
post-Wall, post-Gursky, who believes what they see in a
photograph anymore? Its status as objective documentation
left the building 30 years ago. The twins, however,
ostensibly seem to occupy a retro position, ready to
photographic realism and the documentary tradition: "It's also important in Stasi City -where the figure is floating - that isn't something we did on blue screen, that's actually shot within the limitations of the space, you can see the shadow on the floor. That's a harness and piano wires and a scaffold, and it's moving the figure", says Jane. Returning to the Wallpaper* accusation, she continues: "But there's another thing too, the reason there's lots of shots of interiors in Stasi City is that because in that organization, the lighter the teak, the higher the position of power.
Now I think that's quite interesting, architecturally, but maybe you didn't pick up on that. You have to ask why you are looking at shots of light teak interiors as opposed to dark teak interiors; really, it does require a little bit more interaction from the viewer, you can't just dismiss it as a trendy aesthetic."
Louise adds, "And I don't think we even specify what period it is, because the tracksuit is a GDR tracksuit from that period, but it worked, it was about formalizing a relation between the figure and the space." And it didn't occur to them that that kind of tracksuit is now really cool? Jane: "Well, if I'd shot that in black and white you'd be giving a whole different response... it 'd be in no way Wallpaper* or The Face, it'd be 'high art'."
Louise: "That's the trouble: colour brings in a different dimension, it heightens realism. Monochrome flattens it out, so you'd read it as a tracksuit but not a trendy tracksuit. And we've chosen not to shoot in black and white as you get so much visual pleasure, and so many emotional cues, from colour."
|Nevertheless, there is an ambiguity here
between their own very earnest (almost reverential)
approach to a site, and the fact that the resulting
photographs have to be taken without their accompanying
travelogue. Their faith in photography's documentary
character is almost absolute: they firmly believe that
the places they film are so potent that it's impossible
to impose one's own vision on them. So anyone could go in
there with a camera and achieve the same effect? Louise:
"Yes. Definitely. In general, I would say that the
architects have done it all for us." (The twins
elect not to mention their very selective choice of
filming tools, the Steadicam and the 4 ml lens, which
replicate the visual syntax of horror movies and lend a
hyperreal, druggy edge to the images that are far from
objective.) But while their videos, like the stills, are
driven by this documentary principle, they also redeem it
through establishing a reproduction of their own
experience of a space in the spectator's experience of
their work. You feel as if you yourself are moving down
the corridors and lurching past the loading bays, since
the image surrounds you every way you turn; the
soundtrack of random clanging and buzzing makes you jump
and unnerves you further. What renders the twins' recent
pieces so significant is this shift of emphasis from the
'contingency of selection' doctrine which has dominated
photographic theory since conceptualism, to the
contingency of its consumption by an embodied spectator.
This becomes apparent during their discussion of the sculptures which (like the photographic stills) are occasionally shown alongside the video works.
Crawl Space, 1995
|I ask if these pieces (such as the shed
set for Normapaths and the doorways accompanying Gamma
and Stasi City) are to be seen as sculptures in their own
right. Jane surprised me by saying, "No, no, they're
reconstructions. One piece was a reconstruction of the
doors to Erich Mielke's office, another was from the
prison interview rooms." Yes, but can they function
independently of the videos? Louise: "No... well,
sometimes they work well with the photographs. But when
you've seen the film, its nice to exit and walk into that
piece. There is a confrontation, you have to decide,
'I've got to go through this'." This imposition on
the spectator is what also governs their use of four-part
projection. This physically involves the viewer: you are
constantly aware of something going on behind your back,
which your peripheral vision can't keep track of. Louise
sums it up: "I
think it's important that you feel implied within the work." This concern places them well within a genealogy of artists like Bruce Nauman and Dan Graham (whose work they much admire), equally preoccupied with the conditions of spectator involvement.
The Turner Prize nomination has come at a difficult moment, following so closely on the tails of the Serpentine show. They are frantically working on a new piece for the Tate, filming at three locations in Las Vegas: Desert Inn and Caesar's Palace (both casinos), and the Hoover Dam. What was the rationale behind this? Jane: "Well we were reading The Panopticon by Jeremy Bentham and we were thinking about these kinds of spaces which were centred around the inspector... and then Peter Sheldon said to us, the nearest thing he could think of like that in America were the casinos, because they are completely centred around the spectator. There's a different sense of containment to a prison - a different sense of entrapment - but it keeps you there." A different kind of 'self-censorship', with all those CCTV cameras around? Jane: "Yes, yes, because you don't want to leave. You're not forced not to leave, but it's one of those spaces that wants to keep you there as long as possible - to spend money. And I'd never been to a place where you can just walk in, enter at any point: unlike London where there's a time limit, Las Vegas is 24 hours, you can walk in, use the restrooms, whatever, they never turn you away and say 'You're not a member of our club!". This was the precise opposite of their experience at Westminster, where, until they found an accomplice with the right security pass, they were constantly coming up against police constables turning them back at the threshold of their permitted level of access.
I attempt a change of tack: to the feminist question. I assert that it is historically significant that they are women penetrating these hallowed portals of traditionally male power, perhaps not so much in Vegas, but certainly with Stasi, Gamma and Parliament? They cringe so hard I feel mortified to have brought it up. Louise: "That's right. Let's leave it at that." Resolute silence. But are you self-consciously post-feminist? Louise again: "We're post-feminist MALES! Well, we've always had a slight...?? [ambivalence?]..toward authority and the institution. There is a kind of fascination with these spaces." Are you slightly revulsed by them? Jane: "Not revulsed, no. If you were revulsed then you wouldn't want to stay and notice things. They're not places to hang out in. Sometimes there's a smell, some of these places have been empty for 10 or 15 years..."
This isn't quite what I was getting at but, is absolutely typical of them and why I began this piece with an advisory warning. Nothing the Wilsons say will make you like the work if you don't already, since it functions (and depends) on a level of great physical and psychological immediacy - where conceptual justification is relatively irrelevant.
Louise Wilson were born in 1967, Newcastle upon Tyne,
They live in London
|Jane & Louise Wilson: the trasparency of surveillance||DOUBLE
DEALING: JANE AND LOUISE WILSON
interviewed by Clare Bishop
UNTITLED # 20 (London)