Faced with the prospect of working in a food processing plant for three months, an artist friend once opined that since he didn’t expect the job to be mentally taxing, it would be possible to spend each shift thinking about his practice and generating ideas. If his enthusiasm didn’t seem misplaced at first, as the weeks rolled by it soon became clear that repetitive actions give rise to repetitive thoughts, and in a repetitive environment even reflections on the idea of repetition can become repetitive.
The principle conceit of the group exhibition ‘An Action, Event or Other Thing that Occurs or Happens Again’ was to show work that escaped this deadlock, allowing visitors to think about repetition while still under its influence. Initiated by artist and curator Candice Jacobs, the show was spread over two main venues: the roomy, university-affiliated Bonnington Gallery, and the decidedly less roomy artist-run studio-cum-gallery complex One Thoresby Street, which houses a third space, Trade Gallery, under different curatorship. As well as containing more than 20 works, the exhibition also encompassed an extensive public programme of talks and events, with selections as diverse as a daily screening of Robert Ashley’s multimedia TV-opera Perfect Lives (1977–83) and a DJ set by techno mainstay Surgeon.
As if the concept of repetition wasn’t enough to take on, a second theme emerged with a selection of works that traffic meaning between sound, text and image. For example, the slender, stave-like frames of Athanasios Argianas’s Song Machine 18 (2011) were complemented by Dani Gal’s Zen for TV and the Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (2010), which splinters its historical source material – a censored Israeli television adaptation of S. Yizhar’s 1949 novella Khirbet Khizeh – into three parts: a slide show of stills from the original recording; a radio play in English based on the script; and a projected black square intermittently cut by an audio-graphic white line (both a representation of what was originally broadcast to millions of Israeli viewers in 1978, and a nod to Nam June Paik’s Zen for TV, 1963).
Instead of being divided along the axis of these two guiding themes, the exhibition worked on the basis of a series of slight, subtle and seemingly arbitrary linkages. In One Thoresby Street, Katie Davies’ cacophonous video collage of Korean television advertisements, After the House is Burnt, Pick up the Nails (2006), was projected onto a freestanding wall measuring two by five metres. Less than a mile away in Bonnington Gallery was installed an identical wall, accommodating a disembodied slogan by Mark Titchner (The World Isn’t Working, 2011), the 2008 blueprint for which, in turn, sat back at Thoresby Street in the form of a roughly chiselled woodcut of the same name.
Another association connected Jack Strange’s g (2008), in which a small lead ball placed onto the keypad of a laptop exerts just the right amount of pressure to type the letter into a expanding Word document, with G (2010), an ink drawing by Jacobs herself based on the logo from the ’90s TV show Gladiators. In the same space, a deadpan text animation by Korean duo Young Hae Chang Heavy Industries unraveled to the soundtrack of a lazy bossa-nova score. The title, Samsung (1999/2011), appeared on screen with metronymic regularity, its final ‘g’ hanging in the air like an unvoiced echo.
As a curatorial strategy, forging connections between works of different origin, ambition and formal character is obviously nothing new. Although ‘An Action…’ sometimes felt as though it was trying to do too much, what was successful was that the strategy of repeating and connecting delivered viewers back to the theme of repetition itself. Signs, structures and forms shuttled back and forth within and between each art work, reminding us not to look for too much meaning in their content – in the letter ‘g’, the size of a wall, and so on – but to recognize rhythms of spatio-temporal distribution and their effects on our thoughts and our bodies.