There is Bagheera, Baloo, Shere Khan and King Louie. There are the elephants, vultures and wolves. But you’ve never seen the characters of the 1967 classic The Jungle Book behave like this before. They look like the singing, dancing characters of Disney’s original, but they act like real animals in the zoo.
In another video a woman emerges from a building carrying a tray of drinks, the film slowed down so much that her movements are almost frozen. Observing – close-up – you feel part of an intimate series of silent motions, seeing something that might usually go unnoticed. But as the camera pulls back the shadows on the walls are revealed. They move quickly, tracing hours in just a few moments so that you realise that the video consists of two very different timescales, minutely edited together to create a single, seamless – yet impossible – scene.
Created by the Belgian artist David Claerbout these videos are composed with great subtlety and subterfuge. They are part of an exhibition at the University of Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery that presents six of his intriguing explorations of image-making.
A cat and bird sit alongside each other in another of Claerbout’s videos. What they are doing – you might say – is not killing each other. As simple as it may seem this small video piece runs against our expectations and in doing so highlights an aspect of how we perceive the world. In this case we perceive something, a natural animosity, which is not there at all, but has been conditioned by deep-rooted assumptions. A giant slideshow on the main wall of the exhibition shows people gathered on a beach for some unknown purpose. It is a moment captured from lots of different angles, but it is hard to imagine how it could have been achieved and where the significance of this event lies.
As with many of Claerbout’s works there is also a clear recognition of the changes taking place as a result of digital technologies. Upstairs, a camera-less film takes you on a convincing journey through a woodland (Claerbout gives just enough away, for example by shifting foliage types from European to Amazonian to make you question its veracity). Yet when the ‘camera’ retreats out of a small grove into a largely flat farmed region that could never contain the woodland you realise Claerbout is playing with expectations about how reality should behave. Another work frames an image of a beautiful ornamental garden – accompanied by sounds of birdsong – only to pull back to reveal that it is a poster on the wall of a bleak modern apartment building. Forced to re-evaluate what you are seeing, these works make you consider the connections between the precarious position of meaning in the digital realm and our modern living conditions.
Throughout the exhibition you get a gnawing feeling that something strange is going on. The works are gently unsettling, difficult to pin down. And this is precisely why Claerbout is internationally recognised for work that is truly affecting. With the disquiet or suspicion his work instils you are able to really feel out the seams that connect the fabric of reality with the fabric of images.
The exhibition David Claerbout runs at Talbot Rice Gallery from 24 February – 5 May 2018, admission free. For more information please visit www.trg.ed.ac.uk.
James Clegg, Assistant Curator
Talbot Rice Gallery