Darren Almond at De Appel, Amsterdam (2001)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 29 March 2011
This review first appeared in Sculpture, 21(3), pp. 78-9 in April 2002.

Darren Almond at De Appel, Amsterdam

Thirty-year-old British artist Darren Almond recently exhibited several installations and photographic works, illustrating his investigations into time, space, and the body in relation to the effects of machines, transport, and industry. The overall effect was one of coolness and detachment, with overtly rationalized forms and content acting as starting points for open-ended sensory experiences.

Produced in conjunction with the Kunsthalle in Zürich, Darren Almond’s De Appel show began with Thames to Hudson (2000), an installation consisting of four R-type prints opposing a 16mm film projection on the subject of sea travel. The piece deals with the passage of time and transport, framing the machinery and processes and placing an emphasis on trade. Shipping docks and container ships provide an impression of colorful, abstract paintings. But Darren Almond documents the process of shipping an oversized digital clock— built into a shipping container— as it travels across the Atlantic from England to the New York area. Thames recalls his earlier work, the large-scale, digital A Bigger Clock (1997), which produces an unnerving, amplified tick every minute. In addition to reminding viewers of time’s passage, Almond’s clock pieces recall On Kawara’s explorations in time.

Throughout the exhibition, the pieces were nicely woven together. The emphasis on time in Thames to Hudson led to Tuesday (1440 minutes), 1,440 small photographs documenting minute-by-minute light changes within an interior. The selected works then leaned more directly toward the physicality of the human condition. In Traction (1998/99), Darren Almond presented a video triptych that he describes as "an emotional landscape which becomes a family portrait and at the same time a self-portrait." To the right, Almond’s father talks to the artist about the many injuries he suffered while working in building demolition— with visual reference to the scars on his body. Meanwhile to the left, his mother is silent but emotional. In the center, industrial activity takes place. The title plays on two meanings of the word— the act of pulling and a medical treatment.

With industrial and personal references and usage of the religious triptych form, Traction led to Coming up for Air and Mine (both 2001). The former consisted of an installation of several live canaries in cages flanking viewers as they passed through the transitional space. The piece acted as a gateway to the video installation Mine, which was filmed in a shaft mine in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, similar to those used in Northern Britain in the late 19th century. Darren Almond presented back-to-back projections in a pitch-dark room, with one side showing the transitional space of a ski-lift as it descends from daylight into darkness. This contrasted with the opposing screen showing miners changing into— and out of— their work clothes. The piece reflects on passages of transitional space and time and stimulates discussions of industry, class, and danger. Both works refer to the artist’s grandfather, a coal miner. For sound, Darren Almond chose suggestive shamanistic singing and drumming, which refer to the mine’s location while evoking a mysterious mood.

The exhibition culminated with Shelter (2000), a sculpture consisting of two facing bus stops, replicas of structures built in the 1950s near the Auschwitz concentration camp. The exhibition’s press material rightly discusses time, space, and the body, and the site’s implied movement and lack of it, along with the act of being transported, take on horrific meaning. While sitting on one of the benches, the contrast of Shelter’s subject and its sterilized and clinical Modernist form in De Appel’s pristine white cube environment, was an unsettling experience to say the least.