Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art 10 October – 20 December 2013
Nine video works by Daniel Crooks from 2002-2013 are brought together in this major exhibition. The showpiece, Pan No. 11 (cross-platform transfer), a new work commissioned by the Samstag Museum of Art and the Adelaide Film Festival, is staggering in its immersive human scale. Despite the selected videos on show being only a fraction of Crooks' oeuvre, together their presence inside and (by night) outside the gallery space, convey his preoccupation with time.
Crooks uses time as medium; he literally works by manipulating splices and fragments of videoed time. He also works within time; noting in the catalogue interview with Lawrence Weschler, his background in stop-motion animation trained him to face, and now embrace, time-consuming tasks. These materials and methods transform the gallery, where for minutes on end mesmerising sequences cause audiences to pause and notice time itself. This is especially true of his latest videos which are projected to life-size scale, shown in darkened spaces with slow-rhythmic soundtracks, and all of which affect a bodily slowing down. Though this physical shift occurs less with the smaller screen time-studies, such as Train No. 1 (2002-2013), or the four Imaginary Object works (2007-2008), the exhibition overall is surprisingly arresting.
Trains are a reoccurring feature of Crooks’ practice, most recently using footage shot in the New York Subway system in Pan No. 11. Here the train system with its tangle of commuters, platforms and underground labyrinths, symbolically stands in for human movement and connections more generally. That this is an underground space, with non-descript white tiles, concrete, staircases and tunnelled platforms shot in black and white, causes it to be read as a non-space where time operates differently. Commuters moving and repeating across alternate screens, are met with non-linear plays with time where they contort against a streaked and stretched station background, moving out of sync with their surrounds. In contrast it is intriguing that video taken in Japan, Static No. 19 (shibuya Rorschach), in a culture which is so organised by and reliant upon its extensive train systems, takes as its subject a homeless Japanese man standing rather still amidst typically heavy foot traffic. In each of these videos, sites, subjects and systems move independently to their own spatial pace.
In her essay, Erica Green points to a lineage of predominantly filmic references, all of which, like Crooks, play with the large concept of time; The Time Machine, The Matrix, Inception, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Particular to this lineage (and its extended version) is the technical filmic language used to signal skewed movements of time. Screen audiences have evolved to understand speeding linear or tubular streaks of colour, flashes, blurring, elongated sounds, super-slow movements, and the fast-forwarding or reversing of film, as filmic cues for abnormal passages of time. Crooks uses this same language, albeit in his own unique way, but diverges from their often sci-fi and futuristic content. Instead of proposing propositional scenarios his videos are relatable and perhaps richer for their connections to the everyday present.
In interview, Crooks revealed that in his videos "the trick- and this is the real trick - is maintaining a tether back to the familiar". After seeing this exhibition it became clear that the familiar was not only found within Crooks’ work, but his work can be seen in the familiar. Either side of the gallery, in the emerging architecture on Hindley Street and North Terrace, the reflective panelling creates micro fractures, mirrors and repetitive elements of time, not dissimilar to the linear flashes of trains, track and tunnels of Train No. 1. But Crooks also effectively uses the familiar as a stepping stone into other realms. Operating similarly to a Haruki Murakami novel, his orchestrated series of moments in Static No. 12 (seek stillness in movement) when a hand reaches for the next tai chi move, wavers, slightly splits and widens into a slither of space operating on a different time scale, invites the fantastic into the realistic. Here time goes back, forth and elsewhere. Seen together Crooks’ videos, which create minutes out of mere milliseconds, transcend skilful mechanics and sleek execution to form a contemplative temporal experience where non-rational human experiences of time have found their place to move.