Where does one artist begin and another end? Isla Leaver-Yap follows the tangled thread through the new collaborative exhibition at DCA.
Graham Fagen and Graham Eatough make you curious and curiouser. Attempting to decipher the product of this pair’s unique collaboration is much akin to chasing the white rabbit, falling into a warren of dead ends, traps doors and secret rooms, only to partially discover something infuriatingly ambiguous. Yet, even with this limited and fearful revelation, Killing Time is undoubtedly one of the most compelling and exhilarating Scottish visual arts projects in recent years.
Splitting the gallery in half - one video projections, the other live stage sets - Eatough and Fagen develop a strangely antagonistic and eerie division. Depending on which side the viewer enters the gallery, understanding the chronology of events may be entirely different. Certainly, this show’s logic is not of the linear style, but instead a kind of fragile Mobius strip: every truth has a double twist, and nothing in its reality is inside or outside our comprehension. And, if this sounds baffling, then you might just be beginning to get the jist of the show’s exceptional ingenuity.
To begin somewhere: the video room shows a man dressed as a harlequin - or conversely a harlequin dressed as a man. The life-size figure jumps from one projection to another, appearing through a series of curtains, walls and dumb waiters, finally walking off screen only to appear in a loop through the curtains once more. At the opposite side of the gallery are abandoned stage sets, and the performers lit theatrically. Things initially appear just as they did on the video, but there are near-imperceptible differences. Previously open windows are now boarded up, doors are locked, and a gun lies next to a man playing the harmonica on a Pinteresque set. Time, whether it is a concept or indeed a character in this game, has been killed since the action of the video, but the viewer’s intrusion into this twilit world has irrevocably changed the players, altered the plot and destabilised the place.
Name-checking everything from Mullholland Drive and Dogville, to Beckett and Chekov, Killing Time ventures into a mysterious purgatory with daring abandon, and then transgresses that little bit further into something far more worrying: our own reality. Yet the show is not without its playfulness; the Beckettian nihilism this exhibition delights in is, of course, not without its hollow laughter.
The remarkable partnering of established visual artist Graham Fagen and Suspect Culture director and theatre provocateur Graham Eatough appears to have set about an unnatural alchemy, for which the DCA’s visitors are the most richly rewarded. Maybe puzzling upon narrative is irrelevant, just as the judgement of nihilistic crisis misses the point. Instead, it might be more pertinent to consider who narrates this dark fairytale and who commands the narration. Is our reality beyond the gallery any less artificial than that it appears inside?
The viewer will inevitably ask the questions ‘where now?’, ‘who now?’ and ‘when now?’. It is doubtful that these will be answered upon entering in the gallery, but hopefully someone will be brave enough to respond to them in time.
Killing Time, Dundee Contemporary Art, until 5 Nov