Charlie Prodger Mines the Incoherent and Anecdotal

At Secession, Vienna, ‘The Offering Formula’ brings together a trilogy of introspective essay-films

BY Dylan Huw in Exhibition Reviews | 03 JAN 24

‘The Offering Formula’, a monographic exhibition presenting work made by Charlie Prodger over a 14-year period, takes its title from a 2023 pencil drawing of a clear plastic box, on which is written a list of female names. Many – Agnes, Nancy, Ursula – seem to belong to artists and writers, perhaps those Prodger perceives to be her forebearers. Inside this box is a trove of hard drives bearing those names. An unlikely self-portrait, which withholds as much as it reveals, the drawing is a window into the artist’s work in its purest state: data and everyday ephemera. This description might be applied to several works in this richly rewarding exhibition at Secession, which brings into focus Prodger’s cross-disciplinary and long-term inquiries into how experience and memory can travel between eras, media and geographies.

Charlie Prodger, The Offering Formula, 2023, coloured pencil on paper, 61 × 46 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Hollybush Gardens, London; photograph: Andy Keate

The exhibition’s hook is that it’s the first time the trilogy of formally jagged, introspective essay-films which Prodger produced between 2015 and 2019 has been exhibited together. They encompass a span of the artist’s practice that saw her work propelled from Glasgow’s queer DIY scene into the international art world. It thus offers an opportunity to take in the trilogy’s full breadth at a welcome remove from the fanfare of each individual film’s initial reception – the second of which, BRIDGIT (2016), featured in Prodger’s winning presentation for the Turner Prize in 2018 – alongside two galleries of drawings and collage-based works. Screened in a continual chronological loop, the films – BRIDGIT is bookended by Stoneymollan Trail (2015) and SaF05 (2019) – reveal rich throughlines and resonances. Sonically, we are guided by the affectless cadence, lulling rhythms and stacked allusions of Prodger’s (and, occasionally, her collaborators’) voice-overs, and by the seeming spontaneity of the associations they unfurl. Incorporated are direct quotations from queer-theoretical writings and memoirs, correspondences between friends, pensive reminiscences of youthful dalliances and the mythos-rich landscapes which hosted them. Prodger’s gifts as a storyteller – albeit one prone to indulging her roaming, gleaming, lurking impulses over a clearly delineable narrative structure – come into focus. I appreciated the films’ transcripts being made available as handouts, perhaps a nod to the fact that Prodger increasingly identifies as a writer as much as a visual artist.

Charlie Prodger, SaF05, 2019, film still. Courtesy: the artist, Hollybush Gardens, London, and Kendal Koppe, Glasgow

Experienced in this immersive format, Prodger’s films – which tend so much toward fragmentation and irresolution – make a compelling case for the liberations (both formal and otherwise) that might be mined from the incoherent and anecdotal. We notice the recurrence of certain images, like the scuffed trainers of a lounging body which preface both BRIDGIT and SaF05. Made starker, too, is Prodger’s fondness for evidencing technology’s intrusion upon her subjects. This is foregrounded particularly in Stoneymollan Trail via such visual markers as the shadow of a whirring drone camera, shot in lingering zoom-out, accompanied by Prodger’s audible directions. Gradually opening out, the trilogy becomes progressively less tied to the localized energy of the earlier work, to culminate in the free-jazz and blinding-white ecstasy of SaF05, produced with a much wider pool of collaborators and consisting of footage shot on four continents. Such opportunities to trace the evolution of a practice which has continued to probe a tightly defined set of inquiries over such a whirlwind period in an artist’s professional conditions are rare. In this intelligent presentation, Prodger’s gentle strategies of abstracting linear understandings of identity-formation build towards something like a satisfying whole.

Charlie Prodger’s ‘The Offering Formula’ is on view until 25 February 2024.

Main image: Charlie Prodger, Stoneymollan Trail, 2015, film still. Courtesy: the artist, Hollybush Gardens, London, and Kendal Koppe, Glasgow

Dylan Huw is a writer and art critic living in Caerdydd, Wales.