Johan Grimonprez - dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y (4 stars)

Johan Grimonprez - dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y

By concluding his 60-minute history of airplane hijackings with a slow-motion sequence of explosive crash landings set to the saccharine tones of Van McCoy’s ‘The Hustle’, Grimonprez delivers a sickly final blow. This film essay, ‘dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y’ (1997), is difficult, not only because of its sophisticated literary, cultural, political and historical splicing, but also because of its churning contemporaneity. Grimonprez is an artist gifted with the incredible ability to source the present from the past. From humour to disgust, this landmark film toys with the range of emotions that the moving image can effortlessly elicit, and what appears at first to be a study of skyjackers transpires to be an exploration of the recent history of mainstream media and its power to accommodate the games of global politics.

Presenting two central motifs of Grimonprez’s practice – documentary footage and contemporary film – the artist’s 1997 work becomes a coda for the reading of the other works on show, and in particular, recent feature ‘Double Take’ (2009). Inspired by a Jorge Luis Borges short, its narrative is written by novelist Tom McCarthy and takes as its main subjects the Cold War and Alfred Hitchcock. Entering into a complex interplay of doubling and opposites, and zapping rapidly between past, present and fiction, Grimonprez chronicles the escalating tension between the USA and USSR during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Just as ‘dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y’ unnervingly foreshadows the events of 9/11, later work ‘Double Take’ addresses the adversarial politics that continue to exist post-9/11 and most notably, the regression of political debate into fear management.

The display of Grimonprez’s earlier works, including video work ‘Kobarweng or Where is Your Helicopter’ (1992) and a multichannel installation from 1994-2004, introduce intriguing debate. Again exhibiting an interest in doubles and opposites, with these two Papua New Guinea-set works Grimonprez turns his lens – or knife – to anthropological discourse.

Although they seem to dominate, the presence of the feature-length works should not be allowed to sidetrack your attention, for this is a finely tailored exhibition, the synthesis and resonance of which attests to the strength of this important artist’s timely output.

Johan Grimonprez

  • 4 stars

Timely and finely tailored exhibition which includes the first gallery showing of 'Double Take', a montage of found film, television and documentary footage, which presents a portrayal of the Cold War era and its defining preoccupations.


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