João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva at Camden Arts Centre

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The other exhibition I saw at the Camden Arts Centre last week featured video works by the Portuguese artists João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva. They had shot a series of films on 16 mm film and they were being projected onto screens from old style film projectors. There were 27 films in all, being displayed simultaneously in three galleries. In additions there were two camera obscura installations with images also projected onto screens. The films are shot in high-speed before being projected in slow motion with the whirring noise from the projectors breaking the normal silence of the galleries.

The Guardian described

Their seemingly inconsequential films stay in the head and won’t go away.

in a review of a previous exhibition in Birmingham a few years ago

The Guardian again

These films are more than clever gags. Something deeper informs them, and they are made with a great deal of care, attention and expense.

A number of the films showed people at work – felling a tree, making a croissant –  or industrial processes – manipulating molten glass from a furnace.  Others included an egg being fried, a sunset seen from a cave,

a vessel of water emptying and a sequence of vessels revealed as each one was removed in turn.

The lighting, camera angles and the slow motion added interest to what could be considered, in some cases, to be a relatively mundane activity or scene.

In one of the galleries, some of the projectors showed several films in sequence.

My favourite work was one of the two camera obscura installations which featured rotating bicycle wheels. Different images appeared and disappeared in different positions on the screen, some larger than others. Looking carefully I noticed there was an array of several lenses in the wall that were projecting the images and that there was a programmed sequence where one or more were active at a given moment. I managed to look through one of the lenses and could see that there were two wheels being illuminated by several lights from different directions. And the lenses appeared to have different magnifications.  So depending on the particular point in the programme there could be one wheel or both or several images of different sizes of one or both projected on to the screen. Sounds complicated – I’m not sure I’ve described it very well. But it was very effective and mesmerising.

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The two Portuguese artists have collaborated since 2001 on creating objects, installations, photographs and 16mm short films and they represented Portugal at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

At one time, I’d have said I didn’t like video installations. And although I still find many baffling and not to my taste, I’ve started to become interested in a number that I’ve seen over the years, and this was one of them.

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