BY Declan Sheelan in Reviews | 05 MAY 01
Featured in
Issue 59


Orchard Gallery, Derry, Ireland

BY Declan Sheelan in Reviews | 05 MAY 01

Things fall apart - it's in their nature. But fragments may act as an admission of some kind of a priori wholeness. And perhaps they can further intimate, in their divided condition, the starting point of any potential return to the apparently indivisible. The title of this show by work-seth/tallentire, 'Dispersal', lets loose an argument about whether the whole is an illusory conceit made up of fragments or an indivisible and recurring self-identity.

Work-seth/tallentire is the name chosen by John Seth and Anne Tallentire for their collaborative work. When they first arrived at the gallery, they found it contained eleven boxes, each of which was full of objects randomly selected for them by an accomplice, previously unknown to them, in Derry. These objects - old bottle tops, bits of brick, wood, stones, empty cigarette packs, half a Pokémon card, bits of paper - were tagged with labels featuring details of the time, date and map co-ordinates of their site of collection. These were randomly chosen on a map by the artists in the weeks leading up to the exhibition, and included housing estates, to suburban fields, building sites, the grounds of a local asylum and a spot on the shore of the River Foyle.

For the final week of 'Dispersal' work-seth/tallentire filled the gallery with the residue of their two weeks working within it. The main space featured the pathways and ramps which they had constructed from old planks, dismantled tables and other gallery detritus. Each route led towards little groups of the randomly selected objects, or towards monitors with video footage of the objects at the time and site of their selection. There were also slide projections: exceptional views of nondescript sites.

Transformation is a weak word for the processes that took place in work-seth/tallentire's two-week occupation of the gallery - perhaps mutation is a more accurate term for the relations that evolved. In any case, they were visible in the daily changes in the gallery space, in the relation and interaction the artists and the objects and the space, and their discussions with visitors and between themselves. All of this was both performative and functional, in the way that any creation is. During the two-week period their physical actions and changes in the space made possible new ways of thinking, new relations between objects, new evolutions. Some actions were more exclusively performative than others: constructing a trolley/spotlight/twisted metal/busted-pipe object, for example, which was dragged malevolently through the space; or the mechanistic, almost ritualistic approach to laying out the newspapers that were the source of the random numbers and letters which in turn became map references; or emptying the boxes of selected objects from a stepladder down into dimly lit space and then disassembling and tying up the boxes. A video recording was made of the event, and was then put on display in the final week of the show.

When tools are chosen and worlds are constructed, each particular methodology imprints its meaning and identity upon that world. 'Dispersal' featured those rare and generous moments in which the thrill of constructing and recognizing identities becomes evident. Recalling Arthur Rimbaud's declaration 'I is an other', work-seth/tallentire turned the process of things falling apart back on and into itself. They did so neither as a futile gesture of resistance nor as an intellectual trick. Rather, they valued its fissures and motion, saw its forces and its variance. The paths they constructed within the gallery existed in defiance of entropy; perhaps acts of resistance are a more familiar notion in Derry than in many other places. One of their constructions, a kind of trolley, contained a barely visible newspaper photograph of refugees in contemporary Europe, probably Bosnia or Yugoslavia, selling or trading the seemingly worthless detritus of their life - a busted TV, old slippers, junk. The clipping was crisply folded, and epitomized the uncommon and radical slant of work-seth/tallentire's approach. Like the exhibition, it was an instance of a thought existing only within and through its physical manifestation: at once political and personal.