Erica Scourti: Spill Sections at Studio RCA, London

By Isabella Smith

Erica Scourti: Spill Sections, 2018, installation view. Courtesy the artist

The paper-covered windows spanning two sides of Studio RCA in Battersea might, at first glance, suggest that the space inside is under construction. But what seems to be a haphazard paper screen is, on closer inspection, a collage of paperwork belonging to Erica Scourti: from corporate banalities (‘THIS IS YOUR TRAVEL TICKET’) to the embarrassingly personal – a letter from a gynaecology department, or emotive handwritten scraps (‘generally just FEELING too much’). Where past work – such as her ghostwritten memoir, The Outage (2014) – portrayed the artist through an assessment of her digital footprint, the evidence of self used as source material here is analogue. Viewed cumulatively, all this printed material takes on the character of accidental confessional poetry, forming a kind of textual self-portrait. Spill Sections has the openly provisional appearance of a work – and a self – in progress. This investigative frankness is one of Scourti’s most compelling qualities.

Inside, the walls are papered with prints formed from photographs of the collage (further fragmented through the choice as to what was photographed) rearranged into new configurations. In a chain reaction of processes, OTHERHEAD (2018), a 15-minute video on an iPad duct-taped to a wall at slapdash angle, reworks these prints in turn: the artist fed the printed images into an Optical Character Recognition app that translated them back into text. As the printed source comprises fragmentary materials, at all angles, in both Greek and English (Scourti was born in Greece and is bilingual), the result is as scrambled as a game of Chinese whispers. The video shows the text scrolling down an iPhone screen; using the automated ‘Speak’ function, the smartphone reads out lines of recognisable words, symbols and gibberish. Struggling to categorise the text’s language, its voice oscillates between languages and genders.

Dividing the space are semiopaque dust sheets that call to mind both DIY and theatre curtains – Scourti often uses performance alongside digital media, and on the opening night performed the text from OTHERHEAD – that also serve to frame the installation’s second video, Hot Readings (2018), seen on a large wall-mounted monitor. Taking its name from a technique used by stage psychics of gleaning information later presented as psychically attained, it samples some of Scourti’s videoworks from 2008 onwards. Rather than presenting an entirely new artwork, she instead considers her existing corpus and her evolution as an artist; as she states in the voiceover, “You could call it a performance review”. Collaged together, they show key fragments of past work: from early performances in which Scourti screams in public places, to video diaries made in her bedroom. These have all been uploaded to YouTube; the automatic subtitle function forms the source of texts onscreen. Scourti narrates these idiosyncratically: there are deviations, tangents, telling hesitations before and between words.

With its process-led play with language and texts created between human authorship and computer programmes, Spill Sections recalls the protocols of conceptual poetry. Like a Postinternet Jackson Mac Low, Scourti uses systems to create work, which, like Mac Low’s poems, is then edited to create the desired effect. Some passages from OTHERHEAD seem so apposite as to suggest the artist’s hand (for instance: ‘combining bespoke craft along with 3.2~x: <º *~ technological processes, that are boiling ove r me n U’). For all Scourti’s analysis of onscreen performances, changing looks and regrettable past decisions presented and reconsidered, what speaks the loudest here is the sense of their maker as an unfinished text, open-ended and contingent. 

Erica Scourti: Spill Sections at Studio RCA, London, 23 February – 18 April. Studio RCA is programmed by the nomadic platform A—-Z 

From the April 2018 issue of ArtReview