What is darkness if not an absence of light? Darkness, when considered the primary condition of cinema, starts as a void, which can be impregnated with the tiniest amounts of light. Darkness, when analogous to a vacant mind, can be bathed with subtle phantom images flickering like echoes of moments that have passed, which form and reshape our memories.
Meanwhile, linear history presents us with a sequence of events, a timeline of cause and effect, decisions and revisions. It shapes our collective understanding of where we are today, and leaves clues as to where we are from.
The practice of British artist James Alec Hardy focuses on the liminal space between knowing and not knowing, fact and fiction, and has long centred on what he refers to as “perception management” and a scepticism of systems of control and governance. In his first solo show at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, Some Things are Clearer in the Dark (13 October–11 November 2017), he explores the concept of what he refers to as “doors in doors in doors”, which ultimately remind us that there is always more than one way to go. This sceptical relationship to the media’s control of information (and the deluge with which we are presented daily) is explored through meditations upon false doorways and portals.
Portals bring with them a historical and mythological reference to transition, of an opening up of boundaries and a letting in, as well as a potential to lead us into infinite places unknown. Here, however, portals are alluded to through materials that are purposely flimsy and lightweight, their fragility an allusion to the brittleness of what we think to be real. Rather like an audience at a theatrical production, we see the artifice in front of us, yet we know it not to be real, hovering between illusion and reality.
False doorways, on the other hand, represent the opposite: solid, hard and sealed-shut, with no obvious point of entry unless they are opened for us via some higher power or hidden key hole. Around the exhibition space we see hints of machinery and cables, rather like peering behind the great screen of the Wizard of Oz, revealing an honesty as to how the effect is created.
As such, Hardy’s media of choice are obsolete technologies cast aside in the conversion from analogue to digital; his palette and brush are redundant processors and video mixers, misused and pushed to points of destruction. He has developed a complex language and visual iconography of highly saturated abstract symbols, produced by creating errors, stimulating glitches and mixing noise using the raw feedback from the video signal. The ensuing video is then shown as infinite loops shown on multiple screens stacked into larger than human-scale monolithic totem-like forms.
At the core heart of Hardy’s presentation in this exhibition is the use of optics and geometry, rather than using next-level HD projectors. It pays homage to the theory suggesting grand painting masters of the 17th century used lenses and the camera obscura to attain previously unreachable heights in accurately depicting the world around them. Hardy has essentially inverted the obscura by building bespoke steampunk video projectors, which make everything a bit fuzzier around the edges. He argues that taking a step backwards to our analogue past helps us recognise the illusions presented to us within the progressive avalanche of ever-advancing technology claiming to be our new reality.
Some Things are Clearer in the Dark attempts interventions on the architectural layout of the gallery, ultimately guiding the viewer into a blacked-out space at the end. The immersive, haptic experience of being enveloped in darkness and surrounded by faint, flickering images creates a dichotomy: an awareness of the artifice behind the magic, as well as a challenge to subjectively enjoy illusions presented. We are tantalised, for all we see is a projected ghostly reflection emanating from curious cuboid structures on the floor. The surface upon which they are projected we know is not wall, at least not gallery wall, but, rather, something of a flimsy construct. It shifts into focus, given shape by these reflections into some recognisable scene and form, but wait… it’s gone again.
Being in the dark also creates a sense of immersion, a suspension of trust, and a stripping away of outside distractions. “You have to get rid of all the noise around and focus on something, and only then does it start to make sense,” says Hardy. “To get away from all this confusion, this bombardment is to truly be able to experience something.” In an age where everything is Instagrammable and selected experiences are shared on social media, here are things too hard to capture on your phone. But this, after all, is the point… go SEE for yourself.