Lindsay Seers’ new video installation stretches far and wide, across different worlds, weaving connections between past, present and future, between historical figures and family biography. Like a fan of bric-a-brac, she’s prone to clutter; inevitably, some elements are more successful than others. Titled Nowhere Less Than Now (2012), the film – not to mention the viewer – sometimes wilts under too many themes and anecdotes, the lyricism of some of the metaphors smothered by endless voice-overs. These quibbles aside, a sense of exuberance carries the day and it would be hard not to find something engaging or charming in the whole ensemble. It will doubtless earn Seers a nomination for the Turner Prize.
The installation’s location, a corrugated iron chapel in Kilburn, northwest London, is a fascinating starting point. In essence, Nowhere Less Than Now is a road movie with a sprinkling of magical realism. Even if the work’s meaning is not quite as tight as Seers would have us believe, it really doesn’t matter: there’s a lust for life, an instinct to chuck it all in and let it roll. Many artists work in a similarly additive way, doodling with things that connect, stacking them up and refining them when they show resonance. Seers has gone the distance and constructed a site-specific work with a towering compendium of references. Artangel are to be congratulated for taking the risk.
Viewing is by appointment and, each hour, a small group gathers in a quaint Sea Cadet’s Wardroom, to the back of the chapel. Inside are photos, dating from the 1960s, of the Queen and Prince Philip as well as a marvellous portrait of the Willesden and Paddington Sea Cadets. Next, the group of 15 or so is invited to come through to the chapel proper, where Seers has had the inside adjusted so that it seems we are in an upside-down boat. This is delightful, reminiscent of some of the crazy US roadside museums. Many nautical cast-offs fill the space: a gun turret, portholes, brass handles and the inevitable books on knots. A wonderful sense of a dying world pervades.
Seers’ task, then, is to set about constructing a video projection that responds to and magnifies the allure of the location. Her two-channel piece is brilliantly staged, projected onto two big shapes reminiscent of warships. One form is concave, like a satellite dish, the other convex, perhaps like a radar housing. The large bowl and ball are positioned one about the other and admirably break the typical convention of cinematic rectangles.
The basis of Nowhere Less Than Now is the entwining of connections between the birth of the artist’s great-great-uncle, George Edwards, the birth of the artist Mina Bergson (sister of French philosopher Henri Bergson), and Seers’ own birth exactly 100 years later to the day. But there’s a lot more besides – reams of the stuff. At times, Seers adopts the method-acting approach to contemporary art: she goes to Africa to live and breathe the life of her chosen subject. Elements of reality TV come in, too, and the artist gets a guide – serendipitously also called George – to take her around; they go to see if the witchdoctor thinks she’ll die young. What’s not to like? During her African dérive, Seers uncannily finds a sister to the Kilburn corrugated iron chapel in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Bergson is currently the patron saint of practice-based PhDs and is a key theoretical prism to champion embodied knowledge which promotes instinct and a distrust of rationality. Bergson’s beliefs do resonate here as, it’s true, so much of our lives are guided by our history and genes – by our bodies. Certainly, Seers’ talent is a good argument for Bergson: she uses play and artists’ visual thinking well, casting her imaginings all over the place. Her reliance on biography and family history, though, indicates that she prefers the imaginative authenticated or rubber-stamped by the real. What will she do when she runs out of relatives? However, her secret seems to be that she brings a hip momentum to old-world Victoriana. Seers’ work is full of back-story, anecdote, talk, dialogue, intrigue, confession, chat; it is never happy with surface alone. Which is a shame as, at times, the ball and convex shape have pure colour projected on them and they look mesmerizing. For what it’s worth, a 25 percent cut in voice-over and a greater understanding of the mechanisms of filmic lyricism – e.g. Jean-Luc Godard or Chris Marker – might have indicated a more mature hand at the helm. Yet this is small beer: imagination, delight and surprise win the day.