I visited Simon Starling’s video piece Phantom Ride at the Tate Britain yesterday for my birthday. It’s got a bit of CGI in it, so my husband thought I’d find it interesting. I did.
This is what I think Simon Starling thought with his artist head when he got commissioned:
“I’d like to do a piece that reflects on the institution, and how it incorporates changing cultural values into one grand collection where pieces from vastly different artists and cultural figures can coexist and create a narrative, like the one that’s in my mind.”
“Hey, maybe I can resurrect some of these pieces and collate them into a vision of the space that makes them all contemporary and concurrent? Like living memory. That’s a good idea, well done me!”
“I should definitely film this. It’s probably the only way to do it. Hey, I could do it all in one take! Maybe I could run a camera through the length of the gallery and have it loop so it looks like the hall goes on forever with loads of pieces in it. That’s also a good idea. I’m on a roll.”
“Hang on, I’d really like to show some of the big, impressive works from the last few years. They were cool. But Fiona Banner’s Lear Jet has been destroyed since it was shown. Maybe I could, like, get a computer guy to make it in the computer using computers. I probably have the budget for that.”
“Yay! Computer guy says it’s possible. They also suggested something to do with motion controlled cameras, whatever the shit that is. I think I want one.”
“Okay, so I’m really doing this. It’s fun, I like computers. The computer guys are really interested in the project too. I think it’s because I’m a cool artist.”
“Turns out because of logistics and budget, the best way of doing this is to not have too many works in shot at the same time. Seems like we can only film in the hall for a few days as well, so I’m limited in the works I can choose to show from the collection, and the works I can recreate digitally. I’m gonna choose carefully, but apparently there’s a bunch of stuff I’m not allowed or can’t get hold of. Bugger. Still, I’ve got some pieces I like, and all together they imply something important, I think….”
“Wooo! Film’s done. It looks sexy, you can’t even tell that it’s been done in a computer, it looks like it’s real. But like, not real, because the camera is sooo loopy. Amazing. Let’s whack it up on a big screen and do some research before writing some blurb about it.”
If my imagined internal dialogue sounds harsh, I apologise. I did like the piece, but I thought it felt like a compromise and that the technology was used without much consideration. Of course I’m going to say that - this blog is about artists who engage with CGI creatively and experimentally. And I was hoping that Simon Starling did that. But he didn’t - he used it invisibly. CGI is always used invisibly. You’re not supposed to see the seams. It’s supposed to appear like it’s not CGI in order to fool the eye and boggle the mind. Sadly (for me and probably no-one else) CGI was again denied the opportunity to do anything more than facilitate.
There’s a weird irony buried here, though. Bear with me.
Starling’s piece to some extent is a critique that starts to make explicit what is implicit about Tate Britain. He makes work about the institution itself. He wants the walls to speak instead of staying silent. He wants the ideological support structures of the museum (the picture frame, the plinth, the white cube, the museum building etc) to be evident. Artists like doing this. They are all too aware that such ideological support structures have evolved to quietly facilitate the aura around cultural objects as special and important things. The plinth is meant to be invisible, unquestioned. The Tate as an legitimate and powerful institution is supposed to remain invisible, unquestioned. CGI is meant to remain invisible, unquestioned.
Well, I question it.