Contemporary April 2002 - arts/architecture/books/digital/fashion

'The Expectant Image'
Mark Gisbourne profiles the work of Dryden Goodwin

While still a Slade School student, in 1995 Dryden Goodwin spent four months at the Stadelschule in Frankfurt working under Thomas Bayle and film-maker Ernie Geer, and in 1996 was subsequently awarded a years residency at Fabrica in Venice, the communication research institution funded by Benetton. At just 30, he has had solo exhibitions in Britain and Denmark, and has participated in group shows across Europe and in North and South America, alongside figures such as Pipilotti Rist, Tony Oursler and Susan Hiller. Until 5 May, an installation of his work can be seen at the Art Now space at Tate Britain.

In his book Aesthetic Theory, Theodor Adorno argues that the more integrated artworks are, the more what constitutes them disintegrates in them', concluding that 'to this extent their success is their decomposition and that lends them their fathomlessness'

Dryden Goodwin's work is about people and places, the urban, the mechanisation of life, and the observed moment. Thereafter, and by degrees, it is decomposed and re-configured in a newly structured relationship to both time and place. Almost immediately, therefore, one loses a sense of narrative continuity, despite the artist's use of devices such as repetition and simile. His works are not about a linear allegory or a story experienced chronologically so much as the impossibility of 'temporal redemption', the inability to firmly grasp and retain a precise moment of time leading us to identify memory as a state of human loss.

A feeling of flux has been evident from the very beginnings of Dryden's student work at the Slade School, where he was fascinated by life drawing as well as media practice. Throughout his drawings, films and video-based works, this 'flux' takes on two distinct forms: the repetition of frames and variation within a predetermined structure, and, seemingly by way of contradiction, an apparently organic, evolving structure which is more schematic. It is not that these two positions are exclusive, more that they serve a self-reflexive end. Or, as the artist puts it, 'increasingly there has been an ongoing or evolving relationship between myself as viewer and the viewer, and how that is transposed into the gallery or viewing space'."

In Hold (1996), a single screen film presented at his Slade School degree show, the first of these two working practices was already evident. Capitalising on the accessibility of the film process, Goodwin utilised the separate frames - generally recording a single person per frame, as shot directly by the camera - in a work designed to reveal the tensions the artist felt to exist between the nature of film as a time-based medium and its contradictory nature as a two-dimensional 'moving still image'. This was similarly explored in the re-orchestration of the extraneous sounds originally recorded when filming in London and Frankfurt, and which accompanied the finished work.

The second of these working practices was evident in his film Heathrow (1994), a fusion of several different ways of working that was shown at the British Short Film Festival in 1995. Shot on Super 8, this was his first film to develop out of drawings and photographs, and was made at Heathrow Airport immediately prior to his departure for Frankfurt. 'What became apparent were the temporal qualities there; how things changed and altered over time. I was trying to find ways to describe and capture the durational quality, to reveal the nature of what I found and experienced.'

This attempt to make tangible a practical and emotional space, 'to make a kind of structure to involve others', reflects a sensitivity almost invariably followed by this artist in relation to his editing of social sites. Finding an empathic context of identity and meaning from the fragments of what Marc Auge called the Non-place, his drawings operate as a leavening factor within identifiable experience.

This was something returned to in his larger three-part installation assembled for the SOLO x 9 exhibition held in Clerkenwell in 1998. Three works were shown there: One Thousand Nine Hundred and Ninety Eight (1998), a 16mm film loop comprising this exact number of single frame shots of aeroplane fuselages seen from below; Suspended Animation - 26 Drawings of the Same Photograph (1998), 26 self-portrait pencil drawings (one for each year of his age) looking skywards and transferred, flick book style, to a video loop; and Drawn From Memory (1998), an actual flick book of a hundred aircraft drawn from memory and imagination. Taking these three related works in conjunction, Goodwin managed to establish a tension between his twin points of departure. The relationship between the part and the whole was followed up in his two-part installation, One Thousand Nine Hundred and Ninety Seven (16mm film loop, 1997/99) and One Thousand Nine Hundred and Ninety Seven (light box, 1997/99), first shown in Copenhagen in 1999. Filmed in black-and-white in late August and early September 1997, that is in the days immediately following the death of Princess Diana, this work recorded not so much the strange, and some might feel bizarre, votive tendencies of the time, but rather one thousand nine hundred and ninety-seven single frame photographs of individuals seen near London's Royal Palaces at the time of the mourning. While the film loop ran continuously, the copy that had been cut into individual frames and mounted - in island-like groups - between two sheets of glass was there to be examined at leisure. Here, Goodwin was interested in 'the tension between the historical moment and the moments of individual experience'. Between them, film and light box represent something like a composed disjuncture, a narrative of sorts made up of arrested moments, images snatched quite literally from within the flow of time.

The interstice between expectation and affection is again apparent in the single screen films Ospedale (1997) and Closer (2001). The first records the fragmented conditions of human affinity in the work-space (a local hospital in Treviso, Italy), examining the nature of proximity through interdepartmental relations and their accompanying stresses, while the soundtrack integrates snatches of music with the ambient sounds of the hospital. The second, Closer, by means of a zoom lens, engages with total strangers in public places, appropriating them at random by means of a red laser beam. In both instances there is an implied engagement with the ethical aspects of film and narrative, raising the Kierkegaardian dichotomy between aesthetics and ethics. In Ospedale, the juxtaposition of the premature baby unit in the morning and the stainless steel mortuary in the afternoon touches upon the paradoxes of hospital life. Here we experience the intimacy and distance of such places, while the doctor-speak voiceover adds to the punctured and universal poetry hidden beneath the mundane repetition of hospital existence.

For Ospedale, Goodwin was given access to the hospital over several months. Closer, however, adopted a more invasive approach, taking forward the artist's interest in using the ambiguous space between more distanced observation and empathic identification. For while the illuminating laser beam affords a manipulative access to the subject, Goodwin also creates a sense of nurturing protection, a masking achieved by obscuring in part the faces of these people from the viewer.

As the working practices in the single screen and film installations tend to be elucidated in a direct manner, they provide a useful entree into Goodwin's approach to his multi- screen video installations. Closer, for example, is a precursor to the three screen video installation of the same name currently in the Art Now space at Tate Britain. This second Closer (made in 2002) starts from a point of laser light on the hand of the artist, from whence it opens out into the panorama and hubbub of the city. In passing, the light beam touches upon cars, windows, and people in offices, framing them as if in a drawing, transitory details creating a feeling of frustration and restlessness that in the end severs and defrays the continuity of the gaze.

Closer (2002) comes at the end of a series of multi-screen installations which have preoccupied the artist since 1998. These include About (three screen video with soundtrack, 1998), Within (four screen video with soundtrack, 1998), and Wait (five screen video with soundtrack, 2000). Like Closer, they share the same referent of interiority and expectancy. About is a video work which extends and intensifies Goodwin's engagement with the transitory as he travels about the city by bus, train, barge and foot. The flux of narrative is at its most evident as the four visual sequences and their accompanying sound tracks ambivalently reflect the ubiquity of both urban eloquence and ugliness as it passes before our eyes. Thus the film simultaneously records what it denies, making real then diffuse the myriad aspects of narrative potential grasped and lost within the accelerated urban environment. However, and paradoxically, on the one hand it is all speed, yet on the other there is an underlying sense of immutability in which only the appearance of things change.

If About was literally the camera as observer, the 'viewer viewed', Within takes this same idea further and turns it in upon itself. Made for the Pandemonium Festival (Lux Gallery, London, 1998), while questioning the nature of fleeting relationships in the city, through his use of the camera Goodwin makes us aware of the watcher being watched. Also, whereas About suggests a linear flow, the approach in Within is more obviously editorially driven, with reversals, moments of slowing down and speeding up, and looping of the film, techniques that are also mirrored in the soundtrack.

The most complex of this trilogy is Wait, a work which uses the theme of expectancy. Addressing the period immediately before the millennium, Wait again deals with the impossibility of capturing the actual moment. Here, Goodwin addresses commonplace situations: the awaited arrival at an airport, the football fan waiting desperately for the cathartic moment of his team scoring a goal, a bridegroom acknowledging the moment of binding as he says 'I do'. What we find is a confluence of future anticipation and expectancy), present (the transient moment of realisation) and past (the consequent or aftermath of the event), with the audience inculcated through a series of affinities as they stand witness to these moments of emotional transformation.

If Goodwin's works are narratives, they are of the sort that decompose in front of us and reconvene themselves in fragmented micro-narrative moments. Their outcome lies beyond the immediate and is never clarified or pinned down. We never know who won the football game, where the people in the arrivals lounge came from, or how the ceremony is resolved. These are lived moments of life that are never seen through to a scheduled outcome. What Goodwin's film and video works tend to engender is an engagement, an enlivened awareness of those many extraneous recapitulations that exist around us at any one time. The phenomenological aspect of this work lies in its attempt to ground the viewer, to reconnect the individual as 'see-er' to the thing 'seen' through a welter of expectant moments that: imply a distinction between self and other. He seems not to allow us to be simply voyeurs, but forces both himself and us to confront the ethical dilemma. If at one level this appears to be nothing more than reaching for an unobtainable empathy - a fanciful excuse for invasive appropriations from the urban flux, it is nevertheless what finally redeems the work, since it is always connected to the flow of human yearning and participation.

In developmental terms, the self-reflexive aspect of Goodwin's work ensures that the gaze is shared, while the sense of loss it engenders may be all that is left of our communality in an environment of urban fragmentation.

* Dryden Goodwin interviewed by Simon Wallis in Transcript vo1.3, no.3, 1998, p. 147.
All other quotes from the artist come from an interview with the author recorded on 15 January 2002.

Dryden Goodwin will be the subject of the 6th edition in the Minigraphs series published by Ellipsis in association with the Film and Video Umbrella, due for publication in May 2002.