Edward Thomasson’s films are frequently set in institutional environments, the locations affective signposts to the artist’s repeated investigations into the spoken and unspoken rules of social interaction. Inside (2012), made during a residency at the South London Gallery, tells the story of a middle-aged female prisoner, the reason behind her incarceration – she stabbed a burglar in her home – explained in a duet sung by a folksy couple and in drawings produced in a prison art-therapy class the woman attends. In a first-person voiceover, the woman, looking tired and frail, says nothing of her plight, but describes her ambivalent feelings about the course leader’s attempts to find out “how I feel inside”.
Music and therapy are recurring motifs in Thomasson’s work. Just About Managing (2012) is set in a school staff room and the house of one of the school’s teachers – a man who is faking depression to gain long-term sick leave. The man’s colleagues take part in a team-building workshop that culminates in the group singing the titular refrain. It’s a dark, somewhat claustrophobic film, in which all the characters seem alienated in some form.
There is a wilful confusion between fiction and documentary in the workshop scenes. Thomasson will typically lead his actors through warm-up exercises, with the camera already rolling, and then often include this footage in the final edit. In his use of a realist aesthetic, which belies the self-referential theatricality of the production, the artist is leading us into questions of roleplaying: of what constitutes the projected self and what constitutes the real; of how people manage themselves on the outside, within the rules of society, and what’s happening on the inside at the same time.