Interested not in the thing but in that which enables the thing to be, Graham Gussin constructs transitional affecting works that resonate as fractional fictional displacements of material, image, object and encounter. The works are sites of shifting tectonics; separated, close, touching, in collision. Illumination Rig (Reculver 2004, Newcastle 2006, Sharjah 2007, Margate 2011, Elephant & Castle 2012) is one such tectonic, a work in active waiting that describes both in its presence and absence its own representations, parallels and paradoxes.
Gussin knows that to activate temporal material contexts is sufficient for a work to endure. As such Illumination Rig’s existence is usefully capricious; materialising and de-materialising through its occupation of physical space and vagrancy of site, through its co-option of narratives, the present-ness of its images, and its in-being through audience. Illumination Rig is a provocation, a truth and a conceit, that deploys the most immaterial material, light, towards the constructing, describing and framing of images.
In it light is positioned against light so that it is both barely and highly visible. Switched on during daylight hours artificial bulb light (Gussin uses commercial film lights) is set against sunlight, ineffectual until the slow enclosure of dusk, darkness and night. Here the work is mechanically linear to time; switched on, activated, deactivated. The lights run for a set duration, a number of hours, variable and specific to the context (physical, financial, social) of the site, yet always crossing a threshold of day/night. Time is money and the lights run till the money, the budget, runs dry. Gussin presents light (artificial) as surrogate of light (sunlight / moonlight), as money lived, used, burnt and made visible. Here Gussin casually twists aesthetics, logics, histories and social responsibilities through each other – weaving Mobius-like lines within which classless ideals are played out through the rub of capitalist sanction. In parallel Illumination Rig is in-being non-linear. Its light constructs images as vistas, viewpoints and physical objects, recalling David Lamelas’ Signalling of Three Objects (1966), a work in which the description of an object by a series of rectangular metal plates positioned around it, is at the same time the work’s signalling and its activation within the real-time space of the viewer. Illumination Rig is both the lit illuminated object (site) and the points from which it is or can be viewed. For as much as its film lights are static its environment is not, altering as natural and ambient light levels establish and re-position themselves, and as viewers congregate, pass through, or move away from lights. Cinematic score and drama is played out in real time, as cameras take photographs, as conversations occur, as images are shared, uploaded and distributed.
Adding to this Gussin activates and plays with the tolerance of the land sites he works with using landforms, architectures, earthworks and objects to conjure and provoke a plural set of relations; cinema, sci-fi, political and cultural narratives, social legacies and local histories. An earth ramp connecting two levels of land across an earth torn urban redevelopment site (Elephant & Castle 2012) at once becomes a re-imagining of Robert Smithson’s Asphalt Rundown (1969), of John Latham’s Derelict Land Art: Five Sisters (1976), and with a light positioned directly on to it, a primal etched image from Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). The sites Gussin is drawn to are wastelands and hinterlands, contested environments, urban peripheries and land caught between water. Illumination Rig itself replicates these uncertain temporal thresholds, challenging the delineation and marking of a site, the making of an image, for as darkness deepens and the film lights intensify less and less of the peripheral world is seen beyond the encroaching edges of the illumination. In-being the work’s focus and vision becomes smaller and sharper.
Originally produced in Argentina Lamelas restaged Signalling of Three Objects in Hyde Park, London in 1968 and repeated the work again a year later in Slovakia. In Illumination Rig as with Lamelas’ work material and site are bound together, established through each other based on their temporal meeting. This intersection holds firm even when one or other of the two elements is displaced, either the material (lights – Gussin / metal plates – Lamelas), or the site (Margate, Elephant and Castle – Gussin / Buenos Aires, Hyde Park – Lamelas) as either element is replicable. By re-staging Illumination Rig Gussin evokes and activates previous sites and enables new narrative layers to accrue that may or my not repeat actions, alter intentions, contradict actions. A re-visiting of site therefore occurs also in the marking of a new site.
In truth we rarely experience dusk in process, in its tipping diminishing light. More often what we experience is an arresting shift as we switch a light on, or pass indoors from bright artificial light to darkness outside, to a blinding blackness where spatial depth is often lost to us. And yet if we experience the fall of dusk into darkness then we find we can see more than we anticipate. Gussin’s film lights perform this slow retinal adjustment in reverse. Their ineffectual lit presence through daylight into dusk marks time at a different speed, both to our expectation and lived experience. Gussin materialises time by presenting us with a mirror set against itself, light-to-light, but the balance is uneven. As one component of light (sunlight) diminishes so its counterpoint (Gussin’s bulb) appears to heighten. We are presented with a cross-fade of image, not unlike the transitional inversion of image in Guy Sherwin’s short film Tree Reflection (1998), a tree and its reflection. Sherwin’s image sequence is printed twice on the filmstrip, forwards and backwards, and through this the tree becomes its reflection and vice versa, and the transition of images becomes almost impossible to unpick. While alluding to such an optical paradox Gussin’s film lights remain passive objects, their output unchanged and their illumination constant. Set against nightfall their cross-fade is other than it seems, not equal (in reverse) to the daylight. The daylight that first renders them ineffectual and then as beacons penetrating the night.
Gussin is interested not in the thing but in that which enables the thing to be; that which leads into it, pronounces it, in-being becomes it. The transition of unseen light to piercing light (Illumination Rig), the score that alerts us to an impending moment of cinematic drama (Hum 2012), the moments that films never watched could have been watched (Walk Unseen Films 2012), possible film actions leading to possible film actions (Film Poster 2008). In Illumination Rig Gussin presents us with the folding of an image through the activation of both the ‘real-time’ of the mirror (as reflection), and the ‘contingent-time’ of the mirror (as portal). The work is both here and elsewhere (in-being), it draws and attracts and catches us, but only when its slow retinal transition – that which pronounces it – has already been played out, when its artificial light has burst through and pierced the darkness, when the work is the becoming of something other.
Charles Danby 2014