Or ‘The manipulation of mind and memory…’
British duo Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard are masterminds of re-enactment as an art form. Their current exhibition at the South London Gallery opens onto one of the best examples of this with the seminal work, File Under Sacred Music. This painstakingly detailed and dead-on remake of the infamous bootleg video of The Cramps’ live performance at the Napa State Mental Institution in California in 1978, was meticulously re-staged by Forsyth & Pollard at the ICA in 2003. With grainy, damaged images, delays, jumps, gaps and feedback, there is nothing about this footage that would distinguish it from an original, straight from the 70s, carelessly-shot home video.
Music has always permeated the work of Forsyth & Pollard, and it extends through explicitly here not only in subject matter but choice of collaborators as well. Their nod to Bruce Nauman’s Art Make-Up (1967-68) features the world’s longest running Kiss tribute band, Dressed To Kill.
The work, cheekily titled Kiss My Nauman, is a forty-seven minute video installation that follows the members of the band as the carefully apply their stage make-up, allowing us to witness their transformation into their alter-egos. Nauman’s singular performance where he successively paints his face white, pink, green and finally black, is fractured into four screens, four bodies and four identities that are culturally specific and locatable. It is a re-enactment of Nauman’s work by a band whose have made a livelihood of nightly re-performance. Everything here has a reference in the past.
Forsyth & Pollard’s work continually re-performs history, and by doing so, attempts to transfer the past into the present, collapsing the linearity of time. The past is relocated into the present and the present indistinguishable from the past, creating a sense of displacement that runs through the work.
Silent Sound is the only work in the exhibition that does not use video as a medium to perform re-enactment. Instead it is primarily an audio installation (although there is always a visual accompaniment of some sorts…) based on a 2006 work originally performed live in Liverpool.
As we are warned upon entry:
‘You are about to enter Silent Sound, an ambisonic installation with a subliminal message.’
The work was inspired by a public seance presented by Victorian entertainers Ira and William Davenport in 1865 and the ongoing interest of the artists in methods of silent, non-verbal communication. During the original live performance Forsyth & Pollard repeated a secret phrase into a microphone which was embedded within the ambient music that filled a concert hall and now fills a black box in the South London gallery.
In an attempt to get inside your mind, Forsyth & Pollard worked closely with a former employee of the American Ministry of Defence’s ‘non-lethal weapons’ programme which allegedly exploited the power of subconscious messaging as a military strategy. Immersion is the key here, not only in the subliminal sense, but also in a time past. While based on parapsychology, these voices are not speaking to you from beyond the grave, but they are speaking to you from the past, a inaudible message replayed here in the present. A presence that cannot be heard, or seen, but as the artists argue, will affect you and be taken forth into the future.
What is the message the artists are trying to spread? We don’t know – all we are told is the following:
‘The signal needs to be carried. The truth doesn’t matter.’
What does music meant to manipulate your mind sound like? A soothing, yet emotionally charged classical composition – calm, beautiful, haunting, electrifying….