Incommunicado at Cornerhouse

There’s just about time to catch Incommunicado at Cornerhouse (runs to 11 July). For quite sometime Cornerhouse exhibitions have failed to hit the mark for us, so we haven’t been for a while. But, taking the process of communication as its theme, Incommunicado caught my eye. And there are some good pieces like Samuel Beckett’s Comédie (1966), a recently re-discovered film made in collaboration with Marin Karmitz. It’s quite similar to another of his shorts, Play, which was shown on FilmFour earlier this year. Both are dialogue pieces delivered at speed. In Play Kristin Scott Thomas, Alan Rickman, and Juliet Stevenson are in urns, repeating the history of their love triangular relationship over and over. Perhaps they’re dead and this is hell.

Anyway. There were plenty of attempts to separate language from its meaning, apparently. Bruce Nauman’s piece ‘Lip Synch’, loops a mouth repeating that title, but sound and pictures are out of synch. Better was Christian Marclay’s ‘Mixed reviews’, in which a deaf actor translates music reviews into sign language. But my favourite piece was Phil Coy’s terribly simple ‘Eleven seconds of Paradise’. He did a web image search on ‘paradise’ then put the images on a film where they flash by over eleven seconds.

This is where the ‘apparently’ jibe I slipped in earlier comes in. There are plenty of grand statements: ‘I think that the point where language starts to break down as a useful tool for communication is the same edge where poetry or art occurs,’ Bruce Nauman; ‘…reveals the poetic and absurd results of separating language from meaning,’ Cornerhouse brochure. I guess I was a little too willing to go along with this at first. Katharine brought me down to Earth by asking whether the pieces on display really did what was claimed for them. We’ve always read a variety of meanings into art and there’s little doubt that we will continue to interpret and re-interpret from various angles and with the benefit of time and new insights. But some pieces do seem to require additional direction from the artist before the intended, or any other, meaning can become apparent.

Mary Ellen Mark at Manchester Art Gallery

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