In memory of an art review that was (obviously) too damn hot to publish

The Inoperative Community
Raven Row
56 Artillery Lane
London E1 7LS

Until 14 February 2016

In the exhibition, “The Inoperative Community”, the curator, Dan Kidner, brings together more than twenty film and video works that address what Jean-Luc Nancy, the originator of the phrase the show takes for its title, called “the dissolution, the dislocation, or the conflagration of community.” The exhibition is monumental in scale, bringing together more than two days’ worth of video in total. Such epic proportions inherently run the risk of pretension and the cheap afflatus of curatorial megalomania, but thanks to Kidner’s impeccable selections and the transformation of Raven Row’s elegant interiors into a set of intimate cinemas complete with comfortable sofas and the occasional well-placed sculpture, the show is as necessary and imperative as the struggles the films that compose it depict. No viewer can expect to see all the works on show, the press materials more or less concede this, noting that only a “fraction” of the works will be experienced by gallery-goers.  

Fraction is the right word. A number of the films exceed three hours in length and the rotating programme of films shown in the southernmost downstairs room of the gallery guarantee that even the most dedicated viewer will only come away with a partial experience of the exhibition. Despite this awareness, itself an eloquent metaphor for the experience of life in 24-7-365 digital culture, there are works that can be seen in one sitting. Among the most digestible and engaging, at a comparatively svelte 32 minutes, is Erica Beckman’s 1983 work, “You The Better”, in which the strangest sports club ever assembled attempts to fathom the rules of a game that makes the notoriously intricate protocols of cricket seem like chequers. The team never loses heart as they rally and hustle down the court. The artist, Ashley Bickerton, calls the plays, but victory only ever seems to recede as his teammates shoot one frantic lay-up after another at a netless basketball hoop or roll a ball along the ground past an animated goalpost in full “High Noon” cowboy garb. The incantatory soundtrack of harmonic chanting evokes both the voices of choirs and of cheerleaders. Despite their best efforts though, it’s clear that the house, a suggestively pentagonal structure that continually reappears, as an image on the screen and as a sculpture beside viewers in the Raven Row space, will always win.  


Anne Charlotte Robinson’s “Five Year Diary” traces the life of the artist over a period in the late eighties through to the nineties, drawing the viewer into the most intimate and banal corners of her existence. We hear about her experiences of depression and also her thoughts on attending graduate school as scenes of daily life flash by; days are condensed to seconds. The result is something that might have come to pass had Proust’s famous madeline cookie been spiked with lithium and mescaline. It’s probably not advisable to attempt to take in all of “Five Year Diary” at once, but if you can make it to the exhibition more than once, it’s a winsome reification of the fact that life goes on in all its micro-triumphs and tragedies, and this, in itself, provides a kind of solace.  Lav Diaz’s sprawling, 480 minute film “Melancholia” touches similar themes but places them in the context of the historical and cultural struggle of people of the Philippines; the personal journeys of Diaz’s characters serve as witnesses to the deep entanglement of the personal and the political. Such works in Kidner’s exhibition serve as a potent reminder that in order for the fight for justice, identity and common humanity to continue with any hope of success, the words and worlds of those who have gone before must be digested and remade by individuals. The community may be inoperative, but it is not inoperable.