Only presence


Review by Chris Whitehead

Audiovisual installation -July 2 Hardy Tree Gallery, London-

‘A lot of it for me is about conditioning observation. Not about field recordings, not about minimalist video, but about how these can be used to this aim.’

In the form it is being reviewed here Kostis Kilymis’ Video Projects 2011-2012 consists of three HD videos examining lived space and location. Their soundtracks are constructed from location recordings, audio filtering and live speaker feedback. One was made in Thessaloniki, Greece (‘I stayed in this room for a year’) and two in Oxford, UK (‘The cat’s eye view from 99 Valentina Rd, Headinton’ and ‘5 leaves for Headinton Hill’). In the words of the artist: ‘All three works develop on the basis of loose narrative lines, built from the montage of long static camera shots, and coupled with a parallel juxtaposition of sound captured from the same location and point in time.’

Watching films of such stillness on the family TV, a screen more used to the garish cartoons of the Nintendo generation and the breakneck editing styles of American low attention span dramas, Kostis Kilymis’ static cinema seems frozen: A malfunction of the system. It takes a while to adjust to the idea of having time on your side.

Here Kilymis is working with relationships, the confluences of time, space, image, movement and sound. Also he addresses the commonplace, the mundane, the things seen every day fleetingly but rarely dwelt upon. To quote the artist again, the overall aim is ‘immersion within the projected images and sounds, allowing one to establish a different relational perception of the works, hopefully inviting for a dialectic of observation.’

This different relational perception is built up by the combination of the soundtrack and the image. These videos cast a spell and lull you into a false sense of acceptance. You might be watching branches sway almost imperceptibly by a shed above a tarpaulin covered mound, the kind of thing you’d expect in any back garden. The sound seems to be the peripheral hum of the city. Exactly what you’d expect, until feedback sine waves gently intrude and push the idea that everything is perfectly connected into question. At other times the sound fades into silence only to reappear again midway through a shot.

In a short conversation with Kostis Kilymis he used the term ‘breaking the spell’ to describe these subtle fractures in the surface of reality that occur periodically, as if being roused from a dream or walking into a lamp post. At one point, after becoming thoroughly accustomed to the fixedness of the picture and the steady, unchanging viewpoint, an accidental wobble of the camera causes a jolt of recognition, a click of the fingers to end the hypnosis.

Interestingly another source of subtle disruption is the transition between scenes. In a slowly evolving, unfurling, glacial work it might be expected that shots fade into each other to maintain an unbroken flow. Instead each segment simply ends abruptly as the next begins.

Considering the images, realisation seems to occur in several stages. At first it is a painting, a still photograph of a building, perhaps a walkway beneath some trees or a crane against the sky. Then, once the topography has been registered, movement becomes apparent: Trees behind the building sway, someone passes down the walkway and the crane swivels slowly in a balletic arc. Then a search for narrative: Who works there? Where is the woman with the little girl going? What is the crane constructing? Layers evolve because the time we spend within each location allows us the luxury of absorption.

During ‘Five leaves for Headington Hill’ we are at a busy road junction. Cars wait at the traffic lights. People cross the road and others cycle past and it is a place we’ve all been. But here we are motionless witnesses to a location designed specifically for moving through, the transitional and kinetic nature of the place means we rarely pin down the choreography of travel.

In direct contrast, part of ‘I stayed in this room for a year’ is a view of Greek rooftops, walls and drainpipes, their angles and straight lines creating an abstract canvas of cubist grace. Nothing moves here but the curling flights of the minute moths that occasionally flutter around. The spell is held for 2 minutes and 45 seconds.

Part of the soundtrack to ‘Five leaves…’ was used in an installation called Invention of Memory at the Audiograft Festival in Oxford earlier this year, and Kilymis intends to edit these three separate works into a single continuous loop to go on show in London on July 2nd entitled ‘Only Presence (3 scenes from the window)’.  The venue is Hardy Tree Gallery, Pancras Road, London from 7pm onwards. I advise immersion.


[Kostis Kilymis; photo courtesy of Tokafi]

Kostis Kilymis website

Chris Whitehead

Sound artist.