Jane and Louise Wilson
Doubling, slippage and a mix of the personal with the historical
This article is from 2009.
At once domineering and illusory, the large black box construct that has been built within the gallery to house central film work ‘Unfolding the Aryan Papers’ demands and entices in equal measure. Designed to impose a necessary negotiation with the space surrounding the screen, further slippage occurs within its dark diaphanous walls when you discover that mirrors flank the screen, and that the film is reflected infinitely. It’s a marvel even before you attend to the film – a confusion between projected and physical space that heralds the return of the artists’ familiar play with themes of absence,
presence, loss, memory, desire and fantasy.
The 16mm film was made following extensive research of the Stanley Kubrick archive, and features footage of actress Johanna ter Steege. Cast in the lead role in what was meant to be Kubrick’s 30th feature (Holocaust film Aryan Papers) the actress was denied her plumb role when the film was pulled after months of pre-production preparation. Deftly splicing together new footage of ter Steege with original photographs from the archive, this portrait film stages a two-fold re-inhabitation of the past. It both resurrects the pre-production phase of this unrecognised project and it allows for the actress, if a little uncomfortably, to re-inhabit the old still photographs of her former self.
Besides offering an incredible areal view of the veiled flickering screen, the balcony level of the Gallery presents a selection of Kubrick’s monochrome photographs. While at first these appear indexical – document, record, trace – there is a point at which it dawns that these are part of an unrealised original. Yardsticks, traditionally used on set to denote scale, appear throughout the artists’ film, and then again in Kubrick’s still photographs, and then finally in a new sculptural form upstairs. And so the Wilson Twins continue to fold our expectations with these doting references to something that in essence is an absence, a lack.
The Wilsons’ meditative style often provokes criticism for remaining image-led, and their works have been likened to high-class fashion shoots. This exhibition, however, presents an intriguing and layered matrix of effects and provocations, and it would be impossible to dismiss ‘Unfolding the Aryan Papers’ as simply an aesthetic success.
Talbot Rice Gallery, 650 2210, until 26 Sep 2009, free.