John Wood and Paul Harrison
Some things were recorded 1993-1998
9 September – 29 October 2016
Private View: Thursday 8 September, 6-8pm
Some things were recorded 1993-1998 brings together twelve videos and a selection of drawings by John Wood and Paul Harrison, mapping the early years of a collaboration which spans more than two decades.
In many of the short videos collected here, the artists are shown methodically working through a task in a series of bizarre experiments that almost seem designed to test their ability to keep a straight face. These constructed situations are captivating in their absurdity: there is a tension between the air of purpose Wood and Harrison bring to each gesture and the apparent absence of any purpose to these activities. Presented alongside the videos, drawings from the same period reveal parts of the thinking process as well as meticulous planning behind each of these works.
The 3-minute film Board (1993) perhaps best illustrates the finely-tuned teamwork and camaraderie that subtend each of these pieces. The work shows Wood and Harrison moving around, over and under an 8’ x 4’ board that they carry throughout a carefully coordinated choreography. In their hands, the board begins to seem light and malleable, its weight only betrayed by the thud it makes as it hits the ground. There is an unmistakable tongue-in-cheek humour in the dedication these two seemingly ‘average blokes’ bring to their synchronised turns, jumps and roly-polies. The work is also a moving testament to the strength of Wood and Harrison’s partnership as well as their shared trust and interdependence. An accompanying drawing reveals how carefully managed the sequence was, and how the precise scenario developed from idea to execution. Seen alongside, the board in the video begins to seem like a giant piece of paper, on which the artists appear as their own drawings, magically brought to life.
In 3-legged (1996), we see Wood and Harrison tied together as a roving canon fires tennis balls in their direction with considerable force. The only sound is the whirring of the machine, which shifts up an octave as it prepares to shoot. The artists struggle to move from side-to-side together in order to escape its blasts and inevitably both get hit, Wood more than Harrison. As the artists persevere, the initial playfulness turns into exhaustion and fear. The artists tread a narrow path between risk and predictability, fun and pain. And there’s a lingering feeling that something could go very wrong – if it wasn’t for the duo’s almost comical stoicism and the very obvious care put into every frame.
A number of other videos on display show the artists individually, in short scenarios exploring the body-object relationship. Device (1996) features John Wood in a sequence of six short clips, that range from him falling through the air strapped to a crash mat to him miraculously ascending a slope with portable ‘steps’ attached to his feet. In one episode, he is poised in a narrow channel, his deadpan expression fixed as an inflatable beneath him begins to fill with air. He only winces when bracing himself for the ascent. Similarly, in Harry Houdini (there's no escape that I can see) (1994), Wood brings an air of both concentration and resignation to navigating his captivity in a box half-filled with water. When the box turns, the waterline remains miraculously level. As often in the duo’s work, the effect is hypnotic: you know that you are witnessing a simple trick and yet, somehow, can’t quite work out how it’s done.
John Wood and Paul Harrison
John Wood (b. 1969, Hong Kong, China) and Paul Harrison (b. 1966, Wolverhampton, UK) live and work in Bristol, UK. Recent solo exhibitions include I DIDN’T KNOW I DIDN’T KNOW IT, Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada (2016); Some Things Are Hard to Explain, NTT InterCommunication Center, Tokyo, Japan; Erdkunde: The Study of the Earth, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Bristol UK; and An almost identical copy, Carroll / Fletcher, London, UK (all 2015). Other notable solo exhibitions include Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (2011-12); Kunstmuseum Thun, Switzerland (2010); Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2009); and Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2007). Selected group shows include Kunstmuseum Luzern, Switzerland; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Mudam, Luxembourg (all 2015); British Council Touring (Japan); OK Centre for Contemporary Art, Linz, Austria; Boghossian Foundation, Villa Empain, Brussels, Belgium (all 2014); Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany; and Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (both 2013). Works held in collections include MoMA, New York; Tate, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; The Arts Council Collection, British Council Collection, and the Government Art Collection, UK.
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Image credits: John Wood and Paul Harrison, Boat (1995) [video still]. Courtesy of the artists and Carroll / Fletcher, London. Boat was made possible through the support of Film and Video Umbrella.