Endless Renovation begins with a happenstance finding. Several blocks away from her home in Glasgow in a back alley Corin Sworn discovered a box of discarded slides. The odd collection of images is the bases for a poetic narrative built from found texts and the artist’s speculations on the images and the photographer. Most shots are of solitary and unique clocks that tell time through a vertical and horizontal crisscross. The photographer it seems is an ingenious clock-maker. This narrated slide show, constituting two projectors, the recorded narration and the transcript, is assembled into a minimal installation with glass shelving and tailored curtains. The rooms composition imposes a subtle interference, making it difficult to view both images at once and correspond the numbered transcript with each photograph. The sequence is pertinent to the story, yet it is only conjecture, fabricated by the artist like the objects are made by their documenter.
The Contemporary Art Gallery presented the exhibition Endless Renovation an evolving installation by Corin Sworn, which combined found objects and texts, light and shadows, storytelling and speculation. With this work, Sworn transformed the Alvin Balkind Gallery into a set animated by audio and images.
Endless Renovation was first performed in front of a live audience, where the artist read from a transcript corresponding to a selection of found images. Sourced from a discarded collection discovered in an alleyway several blocks from her home in Glasgow, these comprise nearly 600, 35 mm slides. Employing a typical art school lecture format, Sworn used two projectors as if comparing one image against another, an approach that emphasizes the visual – precisely where Sworn starts. She begins, “All I have to interpret the images is what is held within them …,” as if there were no other choice, but breaks from this notion of a singular known by merging poetic quotes with her own thoughts. In describing the first slide she referenced the American poet John Ashbery, “you cannot take it all in, certain details are already hazy and the mind boggles.” In citing this phrase, it is as if she is suggesting we cannot fully comprehend that which we see, acknowledging the difficulty in attempting to characterize the intent of the image’s maker. The act of conveying her impressions consequently shapes the narrative and thus our understanding.
The performative element of this initial presentation remained central to the exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery. Here the narration was recorded and synced to two automated slide projectors, with glass and mirror shelving, a flower arrangement, various vases and tailored curtains assembled into a minimal installation. However, each object, the room’s composition, the scent of flowers and diffuse yet changing light formed a precise setting for the images and the artist’s meanderings, while also becoming emblematic of Sworn’s task in deciphering the images.
A selection of vases from different decades was placed on mirrored wall shelves. Twice weekly one was chosen to hold a floral arrangement made in accordance to the historic tastes of the era of the vase. They sat on the floor illuminated by a light from an antiquated slide projector, casting a sharp silhouette on the wall. This element made reference to Malcolm LeGrice and his experiments in Expanded Cinema. Here the shadow cast by the flowers to obscure the slide is a dematerialized image produced continually in the present rather than the inevitable ‘past’ implicit in images in film and photography. Hence the form of the arrangement remains speculative: a contemporary interpretation that ultimately determines its appearance. Another component, that of layered curtains, their simple design representative of the two interlocking beams of light emitted from the lens of the slide projectors, notionally gives the immaterial substance, while echoing the physicality of the installation itself. These components are symbolic of the artist’s process, linked to the viewer’s experience and a more general understanding of how time – past and present – is represented and perceived.
The exhibition was a space of projection, starting with Sworn’s simultaneous interpretation of the slides and her contemplation on the actual process of interpreting present in the audio. The narration began by lingering on the first image which she singled out from its counterparts. It was a ‘mistake’, a crop of the ceiling and a paper lampshade. For her it differed in that the others “are composed in a style that might be considered objective”. This error, easily thrown away by the photographer yet deliberately retained by Sworn, shaped the reading of the rest of the images; nondescript: flowers, empty apartments, landscape and dust. As the sequence progresses they become more consistent; repeatedly using the same composition, displaying a solitary object centered against a blank background. It seems the photographer was perhaps an ingenious clock-maker whose unique, futuristic designs allow hours, minutes and seconds to be interchangeable.
But then again in this moment of discovery, of knowing, the associations that emerge when heard in tandem with the images, slip as the work unfolded and looped, revealing Sworn’s preoccupation with multiple and simultaneous readings, with the impossibility of singular, definitive meaning, with time, perception and memory. Hence the structure moves between organizing the images into a narrative chronology whilst alternately suggesting they function as sites for separate yet related thought processes.
To further question assumptions Sworn imposed subtle interferences; projectors are positioned on perpendicular walls making it difficult to view both images at once, obscure references were incorporated in the voiceover. While specific musings appeared to relate directly to the content of the images seen, they are later revealed as lies. At one point in the narration, Sworn revealed that she also found a diary marked Temporary diary: June to November 1985 from which she learnt what car the photographer owned and the dates of his meetings. So the images were not all she had to work with.
Weaving between concrete discussions of the images represented to a meandering collection of thoughts, to a shifting assortment of objects and forms, this subtle yet affecting work poignantly touches on the passing of time and the notion of the past forever out of reach. Speculation no matter how tentative still offers meaning. In the artist’s words, “these moments of projection produce territories of imagined possibility.”