Every train station should have a gallery in it. Like all good ideas, it seems obvious once you think of it. There are ongoing attempts to make certain stations places to view art, but I have yet to find one that strikes quite the balance as the project space at Hackney Downs. It's new show, Light Writing
is brought to you by Banner Repeater, one of a series of projects supported by Hackney Council intended to bring empty shops and premises back to life. True, if you don’t live there, Hackney Downs station probably isn’t the first place you’d want to spend your morning, but after experiencing this exhibition, which consists of video works by a number of artists new and canonical, I felt, briefly at least, that there wasn’t any place I’d rather be.
A small space on Platform 1 houses the gallery. The exhibition space is a bit small, but for the programme of works, it felt just the right size. The relationship between text and image (and text as image) is the unifying theme of the show. There are classics like the lo-fi masterwork that is Richard Serra’s humbly coruscatingTelevision Delivers People
, a six and a half minute jeremiad about the corrosive power of a corporate media. Text crawls up the screen slowly, venomously raging against television as a tool of control and atomisation. The incidental music that plays in the background brings an element of lightness and humour to a work that is about as preachy as it gets. It’s an object lesson in how to make a work that is both more and less than it is. An extract of another classic, Unword
by Ian Breakwell and Mike Leggett, doesn’t quite manage the ferocity and early-days improvisational weirdness of one of the most enduring conceptual works, but it’s a welcome taste that, hopefully, will whet a lot of appetites to explore it fully. I can’t say Steve Hawley’s Special Loops
was quite as strong, despite a lovely image of water pouring back and forth through a dam as the film looped, the people standing in the foreground of the shot seemed to diminish the otherworldliness of the view. Still, though, there were very few truly forgettable works in Light Writing
which is a nice change from the usual exhausting quality swings of most group shows.
Another of the beauties of having a gallery in a train station is that, unlike almost any other gallery you’d care to name, the sense of social distance engendered by being in an ‘art gallery’ is significantly eroded. I was watching Louis Henderson’s A Video by Marcel Broodthaers
when someone from the platform came in and mistook me for a gallery attendant. She asked me who Broodthaers was and what the film was about.
It was a great experience, not least because she settled in for a while before her train to watch Henderson’s tonally deft meditation on art, geography, failure, and time. The video centres on a letter Broodthaers wrote to Joseph Bueys. Henderson reads the letter as the camera jumps between words, sometimes following the voiceover, sometimes, fortuitously, not. I don’t know if the lady in the station went off to Google Broodthaers’ (or Henderson’s)other work, but the possibility that waiting for a train might mean something other than being bombarded with advertising can’t help but make life seem a little more liveable.
True, the space at Hackney Downs isn’t going to be suitable for every kind of work. It’s hard to imagine a show of painting or sculpture being every effective there for a variety of reasons, but Light Writing
seemed to get the balance about as close to perfect as you can hope for.