Charlotte Prodger: 8004–8019

10 October – 13 December 2015, Spike Island, Bristol

By David Trigg

Charlotte Prodger, Stoneymollan Trail (still), 2015, HD video. Courtesy the artist and Koppe Astner, Glasgow

There’s something deliciously ironic about displaying camouflaged ponchos made for winter warfare within the pristine space of a contemporary art gallery. They are, after all, designed to be imperceptible amid white environments. Here, however, they are exposed, their blotchy patterns offered for close inspection. Themes of exposure and disclosure flow throughout this show, which is Charlotte Prodger’s largest to date. Take for instance the covers of the normally hidden underfloor electrical sockets. Prodger has removed these, replacing them with powder-coated aluminium versions. Coloured with varying hues of brown and placed adjacent to the open recesses, they punctuate the space, drawing attention both to themselves and the exposed sockets. Echoing these works is the nearby Power Covers (all works 2015), a video comprising a dull sequence of individual colours taken from the RAL colour standard (the industrial colour-matching system from which Prodger’s exhibition derives its title). As the colours – ranging from copper brown (RAL number 8004) to grey brown (RAL number 8019) – flash momentarily onto the screen, your eye is distracted by the neighbouring video in which a small shoal of panda moor goldfish dart through glistening water as they attempt to flee a human hand. This piece, titled Panda Moors, is infinitely more engaging, yet in both works the content plays second fiddle to the mode of presentation. For each of these, in a move recalling Haim Steinbach, Prodger has designed identical shelving units to support the Pioneer 7300 DVD players and boxy Sony PVM monitors (for years a staple of the broadcasting industry) on which the videos are shown. This is typical Prodger, an artist for whom audiovisual equipment is selected as much for its sub-cultural aesthetic and place in design history as its technological capacity. In privileging her mechanisms of display, Prodger fetishises her objects, accentuating their materiality.

The austere formalism of these sculptural works is replaced by a heterogeneous riot of content in the feature-length video Stoneymollan Trail. This work, projected in a cavernous space accessed via a melange curtain, mixes a huge range of visual material from multiple sources; footage ripped from decaying Mini DV tapes is juxtaposed with iPhone videos and high-definition scenes shot near Prodger’s Glasgow studio. Unidentified landscapes with lines of corrupted pixels give way to images of a sleeping fox, mountain goats and retro graphics courtesy of a test-pattern generator. This seemingly random stream of imagery is accompanied by a recorded voiceover, spoken by the artist, in which personal anecdotes and missives are intertwined with found texts. Quotes from Nancy Holt regarding the creation of her iconic Sun Tunnels (1976) are included, as are graphic accounts of furtive sexual encounters lifted from writer Samuel R. Delany’s autobiography. But with no coherent narrative, any attempt at making sense of all this seems futile. The exhibition guide informs us that the video uses language ‘to explore subjectivity and the sequencing of desire’, as well as ‘the contingent limits between self and other via intimacy and labour’. While this may be true, the work is so dense and multilayered that such intentions are hard to identify. Prodger ostensibly prefers some things to remain hidden. In the words of the late Ian White, whose email to the artist is quoted in the film, ‘it only needs to make sense to me’. 

This article was first published in the January & February 2016 issue of ArtReview.