IN THE beginning of “Strange Days”, the curators have set Camille Henrot’s single-channel video Grosse Fatigue, a blending together of origin narratives from many cultures and disciplines, combined with images of work, exhibits, and spaces at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.
This exhibition of video and film installations exploring the future as nostalgia — “Memories of the Future” is its subtitle — begins at the beginning of time with a poetic narrative — in the beginning were words and the words defined life — that creatively layer origin accounts and imagery as a visual equivalent of the knowledge and wisdom juxtaposed within an institute such asthe Smithsonian. Henrot immerses her viewers in the amazing breadth and diversity of human perceiving, while, at one and the same time, suggesting that the universe is stranger still than we can perceive and imagine.
Henrot’s magisterial installation makes clear from the beginning of this exhibition that we are a storytelling people, and that, through the narratives that we share, we come to have some understanding of past, present, and future. Grosse Fatigue provides the perfect entry-point to an exhibition of 21 installations, which provide a dizzying more than 11 hours of filmed or videoed images. Just as Grosse Fatigue suggests that the universe and our human perceptions overwhelm and exceed our understanding, so the breadth of this exhibition replicates that experience.
© ADAGP Camille Henrot. Courtesy the artist, Silex Films, and kamel mennour, ParisCamille Henrot, Grosse Fatigue, 2013 (still). Single-channel video, sound, colour; 13 minutes; original music: Joakim; voice: Akwetey Orraca-Tetteh; text: written in collaboration with Jacob Bromberg; producer: Kamel Mennour, Paris, with the additional support of Fonds de dotation Famille Moulin, Paris; production: Silex Films.
Similarly overwhelming are Ragnar Kjartansson’s A Lot of Sorrow, in which the indie rock band The National turn their song “Sorrow” into a transcendental mantra, by performing it 95 times over six hours to a live audience, and John Akomfrah’s Vertigo Sea, in which, across three large screens, the complex story of the exploration and exploitation of the resources of the Atlantic is explored through stunning images of natural, archive, and imagined histories.
The answer to the overwhelming nature of the show is, perhaps, to lie down and contemplate — which is what Pipilotti Rist’s 4th Floor to Mildness specifically invites us to do. After her creation of a digital fresco on the ceiling of the San Stae church for the 2005 Venice Biennale, the Swiss artist projects videos on to screens hung above a room full of beds, on which viewers lie to meditate on the glorious wonder of nature. In Rist’s work, the underlying contemplative dynamic of the visual arts is put in the foreground. She has said of these works, “You look up and relax. The body will be carried along by the spirit.’
At The Store X, 180 The Strand, London WC2, until 9 December (open Tuesday to Saturday, 12-7 p.m.; Sunday, 12-6 p.m.). www.strangedays-memoriesofthefuture.com