In the film that comprises the first London solo show of the Swedish-born, Berlin-based artist Alexander Gutke, a single drumstick twirls continuously around a dark room. The film, shot on DV and transferred to 16mm, is looped and projected large-scale in the gallery. With the title Solo (2004), it offers itself as a modern koan: what is the sound of one drumstick twirling? As an old professor of mine used to say, the answer is in the question – a reply that still leaves me searching, but which here seems an apt response to the circularity embodied by the piece. The drumstick, in its endless revolutions, summons in its very movements the modus operandi of the looped film, and the total production calls to mind early film projectors such as the Zoetrope or the machines by which Eadweard Muybridge animated his sequential photography.
Gutke has explored the technical workings of apparatuses before. In the film Exploded View (2005), produced during a residency at the Baltic in Gateshead, Gutke follows on a minuscule level a route through a slide projector, travelling through the lens, motor and wires of the machine. Much like Tacita Dean’s Kodak (2006), for which Dean filmed the closing of a Kodak film factory on the last five rolls of the stock it produced, Gutke’s self-reflexivity is discursive rather than generative in nature: his films tell the story about their own making. They isolate various constituents of film – for example, light, flare, wires, the frame or the reel – and dramatise them in works of polished, technophilic finesse. Solo, too, has a stately quality to it, as if the swirling drumstick should be a conductor’s baton, directing its own performance, solitary in the orchestra pit while the audience drinks cocktails in the bar. The self-reliance alleged by the work is one of the hallmarks of Modernist and later self-reflexive fare; with those, and with Solo too, it is a thing of admiration but perhaps not empathy – I would find Solo a bit less austere if other participants, movements and intentions had been invited in.