Julie Brook: made, unmade at THE WAPPING PROJECT
4th September – 6th October 2013
The cavernous spaces of Wapping hydraulic power station are pulsating with the fierce heat and intense energy of the Libyan mountains and the Namibian desert, as Julie Brook’s immersive film installations throw beams of burnt umber across its dank, dripping walls.
Orderly piles of black cushions lie onthe concrete flooring ofthe vast Boiler House, onealmost touching a shallow puddle whose grey-green film ripples as drips fall from high ceilings. The attraction of this building is in its unapologetic rawness;it stands as a celebration of industry, man power and force – and is therefore the ideal setting for made, unmade, a filmic account of Julie Brook’s land art.
Brook is best known for her 2D drawings employing collected natural materials, yet her interventions within the landscape succeed most in discussing the complex relationship between humanity and earth. Gold sand gushing in landslides, the careful tessellation of rough pieces of slate into tight blocks, a nude walking skimming the walls of a red dust passageway; these films describe conflicts – artificial wealth versus natural abundance, the juxtaposition of man-made structures with natural and bodily forms.
Land art is often seen in the context of artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, whose outdoor installations are jubilant artworks left to decay. Whilst this approach celebrates alternative materials and portrays the landscape in a different format, Brook’s recent practise varies from this static approach. In films which see plains of desert fall into clattering landslips and swathes of mist-like dust fly across blue skies, she documents the process of transforming untouched terrain into artwork via a chaotic dance of body, object and earth.
made, unmade is comprised of fifteen films, split into two multi-channel installations: Intercepting Light,which sees works projected across the four walls of Wapping’s Boiler House; and a series of simpler, more tranquil pieces played across the two far sides of the Coal Store. These spaces present opposing experiences – Intercepting Light making for distracted and often confusing viewing, whilst the Coal Store offers a more conventional platform.
The makeshift seating area in the centre of the Boiler House remains impractical as viewers find themselves quickly swinging between screens, jerking their necks back as a bright light catches the corner of their eye or the scrape of fingernails on sandstone bellows out from across the room. This presentation is far from cinematic: the films are not titled and the gallery (if you can describe it as this) is void of any placing details; therefore the audience is wholly submerged into the harsh, energetic world of the artist. Not only a multi-screen projection,the soundtrack of Intercepting Light also alternates between several speakers which provide a constant flux between mesmerising imagery and grating audio, so that the audience is suspended in a state of agitated movement rather than sedentary viewing.
This motion is furthered by the dissimilarity between the Boiler House and Coal Store: whilst the former displays Pigment, a fiery mist of dust particles which is suddenly interrupted by the rhythmic clapping of hands and frenzied wailing of a Namibian dancer, the Coal Store shows Passegiata, Brook’s take on the classical nude. Passegiata is utterly seductive, and although the film is contained within a cold, dark room, as shoulders skim warm sand it provides a wholly tactile encounter. It is inevitable though, that this contemplative moment will be disturbed by the erratic noise of the neighbouring Boiler Room; the entire event of visiting made, unmade is distinguished by this threat that one might always be missing something – be it in the next room, or just upon a screen out of sight.
Pigment and Passegiata set themselves aside from the majority of Brook’s films, in which human presence – aside from the occasional mutter or scene of hands busily at work – is a rarity. Brook’s filmic approach is instead most effective in demonstrating the unique qualities of these desert landscapes, and why the artist uses them for both studio and material.
Her intricate process displays a reverence for natural forms, combined with a curiosity and an experimental streak: working with both analogue and digital cameras, in landscapes ranging from British coasts to African deserts, and between drawing, sculpture and digital media. To visit any artist’s studio is enlightening, however to view process and collaboration within a workplace as unconventional as Brook’s, is an experience altogether unique.