The press release for 'Soon', an exhibition of eleven artists curated by Dermot O'Brien, states that the works 'are or have been imbued with a sense of transience and the fleeting. The work is not about statement or assertion'. I start to get confused when I read statements about not wanting to make statements, but happily the objects were a good deal more articulate about the vagaries of ephemerality and didacticism.

Filled with allusions to impermanence (dust, mirrors, sound, shadows, etc.) the awkward subterranean space of Underwood Street was hung with a retro/futurist elegance. Without a video in sight or any objects that manifested a fin de siècle anxiety about closure, it looked like the 80s in a very 90s way.

Denise Webber's Close (1995-6), a clock radio that counted backwards, created a somnambulant ambience as it played a loop of the soothing closing moments of Radio Three. It was eerie: over and over again, the day almost finished, but in never quite managing to do so it evoked a heightened feeling of temporal suspension that pervaded the whole space. The process of listening was reversed in Joanna Buick's Untitled (1992), a life-size model of an ear built into the wall which occasionally emitted bursts of air when you bent down to listen to it.

It can only be assumed that Dan Hays' piece titled No Question (1995-6), in an exhibition called 'Soon', is intended to be slightly mocking or at least provocative. Of what though? A large round mirror, decorated with cotton buds emanated a kind of new age hum as it reflected the gallery back on itself. From a distance the cotton buds shone and disappeared like ripples of water into the infinite space of reflection. A lack of questions negates the possibility of an answer - applied to visual languages the implication is that the object can only function hermetically. I think it was Keith Jarrett who remarked that the best form of music criticism was another piece of music. It's an engaging idea to suggest that one medium will always lose out when it's translated to another. As if in response, Dermot O'Brien's velvet-flocked Sony Trinitron, Untitled (1995), which looks like a piece of archaic TV technology dug up from a glacier of dry ice, emanated an ambiguous white noise that wove in and out of the other sound sculptures in the space.

On a simple grey shelf, Simon Richardson stacked 35 paperback copies of the 1947 Penguin publication Hiroshima by John Hershey. Next to this he placed a list that described where and when he had bought each copy and the names inscribed in them. There's something curiously touching and difficult about this piece. The books are so simply placed, so shabby, marked and repetitive, that the gulf between the indescribable actuality of an event and its telling is both established and rendered absurd by the obsessive nature of its classification.

The moment that something is made is the moment it begins to disintegrate. Emma Smith's Scum (1996), a long thin photo, aestheticises what seems to be pollution in the process of dissolving. Embedding atmospheric detritus in Vaseline and displaying it on two plinths, her Dust Constellation - Episode IV - then I Breathed (1996) presents an exercise in the lovely things that can be done with dust, dead bugs and the peripheral aesthetics of domestic and work environments. Greg Lewis' Soon (1995), a dissection of a rather grim fluorescent tube that would never again illuminate anything but the artist's ideas about deferral (who'll fix what and when?), hung like three lonely exclamation marks on the gallery wall.

In Dan Hays' Way, also titled The Iron Curtain, (1996), a small section of page 62 of the London A-Z is repeated again and again, making the claustrophobia and self-obsession of the inner city tangible. Like remnants or afterthoughts, Photos from Salisbury (1995) by Siobhan Davies records the quiet textures and shifting shadows of the insignificant sections of a library facade, a cathedral clock and a W.H. Smith's shop.

Reason is usually retrospective. In 'Soon', divisions, hints and traces are fused to create a thesis that will inevitably be translated into something that was never intended by the artists or curator. It should come as no surprise that the object as signifier is unstable - it testifies to a condition that is not exclusively about art but about moving through the world.

Jennifer Higgie is the editorial director of frieze.

Issue 32

First published in Issue 32

Jan - Feb 1997

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