An apartment building overlooking a tramline, infiltrated by intermittent mechanical murmurs, the odd grinding of brakes and flashes of light from passing carriage windows. This place does not really exist: it is a phantom, temporarily constructed in the vast darkened space of a 19th-century former tram depot. White fabric walls are suspended from the ceiling and float above the ground. A single spotlight directs the visitor to the threshold of the apartment, and a series of interlinked rooms beyond, in which intermittent animations made with Flash software flit across the walls. These include shapes such as multi-coloured dots, black lines that buckle as they move, and frames reminiscent of windows. There are also more figurative elements, including a spider caught in a web, a stylized female eye and a shower of rain in which an outline of a man appears. Multiple sequential projections appear and disappear to the accompaniment of a dissonant bass-heavy soundtrack of urban noise. At the far end of this sequence of spaces is a room in which two windows have been cut from the cloth, which allow the visitor to gaze out at the tramlines and steel pillars still visible in the gloom.
Like other large-scale video works to have been shown at Tramway – most notably Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho (1993) and Pipilotti Rist’s Show a Leg (2001) – Sebastian Buerkner’s installation Glove (2009) taps the dark and dream-like qualities of this imposing space. However, his use of the flat, readymade surfaces of Flash animation gives this installation an uncompromising harshness. The repetitive patterning of this work – the looped images, soundtrack and stroboscopic editing – is oppressive and disorientating. The sounds that punctuate the images (a car driving away, a few bars of an overheard song) contribute to a sense of urban life experienced as something always incomplete. In a talk to accompany the exhibition, Beurkner spoke of trying to ‘obstruct’ and ‘overstimulate’ the viewer in order to generate a perpetually reoccurring and confusing present, a place where ‘you cannot be sure what you have seen’. His work recalls a line from the classic film noir Out of the Past (1947), uttered by the duped hero: ‘I could see the picture in the frame, but not the frame around the picture.’ However, his use of disconcerting white flashes, employed ‘to throw the viewer off balance and out of the image’, also intensifies the fleeting and illusory qualities of each picture. Perhaps Buerkner’s installation could be seen as reflecting the ‘ever-more fractured subjectivity’ that theorist Anne Friedberg describes as a consequence of Internet and digital technologies. His notion is that the work supports a situation in which the viewer is both maker and spectator, conscious and unconscious: ‘You can look in and look out from these two worlds’. More interesting than this, though, is the confrontation that occurs when the viewer looks out of this virtual environment through the two windows that have been cut in the white fabric. The specificity of the venue is more than a foil for Buerkner’s installation – it anchors his work to a site of real engagement.
First published in Issue 122