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East International

Norwich Gallery, UK

Now in its 12th year, EAST, the annual international open submission exhibition that prides itself on having 'no rules', witnessed guest selectors Lawrence Weiner and Jack Wendler whittle the 1,300 hopeful applicants down to the successful 20. Though visitors to the exhibition are likely to have had a splendid time, they might be forgiven for feeling that nothing was entirely as it seemed.

Milohnic and Paschke presented photographic documentation of their Werksschwimmbad (Workers' Swimming Pool, 2001), a large free-standing pool that they constructed in the middle of an industrial plant in Essen, Germany. The thought of the project ever having come to fruition, mixed with the slightly awkward architect's impression-like illustrations, prompts one to wonder whether they are having us on. But then, with such captivating images to accompany this quirky Cadbury-esque idea, who cares? The uncertainty grew further with Stephen Monger's series of large C-type prints depicting empty galleries containing artworks of electrical fittings, fire equipment and so on, all in various stages of preparation for display. The tiniest of details conspired to cast doubt on the veracity of the images: objects minutely but suspiciously out of focus, not quite trustworthy lighting, surfaces and textures too smooth to be true. All of which leads to the conclusion that Monger has turned the viewer into a gallery-going Lilliputian and trapped them in an elaborate cardboard set, where, in Russian doll style, it appears they are forced to look at photographs of more of Monger's modelled simulacra.

As if to ensure that nobody could leave the exhibition without having a minor crisis of perception, Christine Erhard also took a leaf out of Thomas Demand's book, photographing self-constructed models of architectural interiors, exteriors and in-between spaces. Aided by some photomontage and digital jiggery-pokery, they are self-consciously artificial and playfully explore the possibilities that such contrived methods offer. Curious and disconcerting, a picture such as Foyer (2000), with its tasteful marble wall, polished stone floor and peculiar exterior foliage simulates perfectly the physical experience of Mies van der Rohe's pavilion in Barcelona. Some of Erhard's images cling on to Modernist reality by the tips of their fingers, while others slide into the unlikely, the impossible and the downright comical: in The Light Well (2001) what appears to be a vast bonsai tree dwarfs a meeting room below.

Models featured prominently elsewhere in the exhibition, such as Matthew Houlding's Exclusive Waterfront Development Opportunity (2001-2), a witty piece that looked as though it had been created by a combination of a professional model-maker and an enthusiastic (if somewhat lonely) schoolboy. Graham Seaton's Regeneration 2002 (2002) is a miniature city made from plaster casts, in which things such as random pieces of electrical equipment become transformed into a convention centre or town hall, old window locks might become suave apartments and a guitar effects pedal provide the inspiration for some experimental office architecture.

The piece that really seemed to have caught everybody's imagination, however, and deservedly so, was Hiraki Sawa's Dwelling (2002). Shot in black and white, the eight-minute film begins with exterior and interior shots of the artist's apartment. Having given us time to acclimatize, Sawa takes us to the carpeted floor in front of his record collection, where five tiny aeroplanes are lined up as if ready for boarding at an airport terminal. Accompanied by the sounds of engines gathering momentum, one plane effortlessly starts moving in slow motion and simply takes off, flying gracefully around Sawa's bedroom. The camera cuts to an unmade bed, on which other planes are preparing to depart. As more planes take off, increasing numbers of them are flying around the flat in all directions and at different heights. We see them flying through doorways, across halls, over the hobs and kitchen counter. The camera assumes a variety of positions, looking sharply up at the ceiling as they glide past the light bulb, and downwards at the bathtub as one flies towards the taps. The film ends with the camera zooming in on a window, through which we see a plane flying off into the distance. In spite of the dangers of working with such a cutesy idea, everything about this film is just right.

Clare Iles presented photographs of household junk caught between the back door and the city council truck, in limbo before heading off to its final resting place of the recycling yard, landfill site or local fridge mountain. A surprising quantity of dead washing machines, defunct mattresses, bathtubs, sinks, cots and TVs (all amassed from the environs of Norwich) was transformed by Iles into public sculpture or suburban street installations that are a fine testimony to consumerism. The theme of salvaging objects that have reached the end of their natural life was also taken up by Raúl La Cava in his photographic series of old buses used as temporary accommodation along the coastline of Argentina, and also by João Louro, who converted a trashed Jaguar XJS into a mobile DJ sound system, injecting the ill behaviour needed to take the squeaky clean edge off this solid exhibition, which politely cried wolf.

Issue 71

First published in Issue 71

Nov - Dec 2002
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