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Precious Time

Polly Staple on the works of Hilary Lloyd, from Untitled, Spring 2000.

It's so easy to get distracted, so difficult to focus on a purposeful task when something more frivolous catches your eye and demands your attention. You know what you should be doing but somehow this other thing seems so much more exciting; this activity, this event, this person absorbs all your time and becomes peculiarly more important. If you look away, if you don't let the surreptitious glance transform itself into a blatant stare you'll be alright and you shan't have revealed yourself. But you won't have risked anything and you will always wonder.

I admire Colin. Colin spends ten minutes taking his top off and another ten putting it back on again. I quite like Maddy and Kate. They spend twenty minutes standing in a meadow, staring at each other and unravelling an enormous ball of string. Then there's Fiorenzo who's sporting sailor pants and a nifty haircut, stumbling around some urban wasteland hashing up cardboard tubes for four minutes. Dawn doesn't really do anything except wear a suit well, smoke two cigarettes and wait, for about half an hour.

Colin, Maddy and Kate, Fiorenzo, and Dawn are characters from Hilary Lloyd's most recent installation. Their performances are shown on video, playing on an assortment of television monitors displayed on stands with the flight cases stacked nearby. These sculptures comprise a seven part installation which includes Constructors, (all works 1999), a video depicting construction workers forming impromptu sculptural poses; Landscape, super eight footage of the view from moving skateboards, and One Minute of Water, which is exactly that, but looped so the video of the pool of water seems endless, except for the subliminal jolt you get every minute to break the day dream.

Although the builders acrobatics which form the heart of the piece are impressive and entertaining, it's Colin who really carves a space for himself. Set against a deep black ground his carefully modelled torso and shaven head are sharply lit. He moves incredibly gently, lifting his arms slowly through the air to remove his red vest. On another monitor - they are placed back to back - he repeats this action in reverse, however the piece is synched implying continuous movement. The video works because his performance is perfect and completely self-absorbed. He seems unaware of the camera, stripping not for us but for himself. Yet this is a generous act, the narcissistic effect diluted by a voyeuristic pleasure derived from watching this feat of extreme self control, and from the erotic intimacy of the gesture. If Colin triumphantly defies time then Dawn is his more anxious twin, a model of glamorous inactivity. Sitting on a designer chair, dressed in a chic cream trouser suit she looks both laid back and hyper tense, faintly louche yet assuredly composed. As she waits she stares at the ceiling and looks around, fidgets slightly, smokes and moves her feet. She seems almost consumed by the stark white backdrop as the seconds drag.

One of Lloyd's early videos Broad Walk [sic], (1994), consists of a series of short films of roller skaters skating in a delineated space - repeatedly skating forward, turning, skating back - an exhausting and challenging task if you are used to freewheeling, but absorbing to watch. More interesting than Broad Walk itself is the fact that Lloyd had noticed and then approached this distinct, group of professional skaters, a close knit community set apart from rollerblading arrivistes. At the same time Lloyd produced Puma, 1994, a video in which the artist is shown in the cubicle of a public toilet changing her shoelaces from straight line to criss cross patterns, an act provoked from hanging out with the rollerskaters; an acknowledgement of a seemingly insignificant but tribally crucial code. Lloyd, wearing functionally androgynous denim, is tightly framed and only partially revealed. This is contrasted with the flagrant public performances of the roller skaters who dominate the sunlit vistas, their brightly coloured garments emphasising the sexuality of their display. Both videos show actions performed deadpan and direct to a static camera, but communicate both an urgent investment of time and the possibility of individual control over public space.

E1 (1993), published by Imprint 93, documents a series of meetings with strangers around the Whitechapel area into which Lloyd had just moved. Charting the flirtatious suggestions and observations called out to her in the street, E1 is an unconventional diary of her movements through the city, a self portrait determined by the asides of passing strangers; the potential of chance emphatically ordered and typed. E1 establishes Lloyd's role as both performer and spectator, setting the tone and pattern for her working method as a combination of accident, persuasion and design. Although Lloyd's videos are becoming more contrived or controlled, the impetus for their making still relies to a high degree on spontaneity and collaboration. Lloyd has found many of her protagonists in bars or nightclubs: attracted to them out of curiosity or plain fascination, from the way they move or just because they seemed to look right. Rather than just staring, she approaches and asks if they'd like to make a film. Sometimes it even works.

A knowledge of Lloyd’s working methods is not vital. Yet if the work can be said to be 'about' anything it is the relationship that Lloyd establishes with her subjects. This does not mean that the videos are portraits or even self-portraits. We know nothing of her characters 'real' personalities or desires, they are the largely expressionless performers of specific actions or staged durational events. Lloyd's videos articulate the engagement between the voyeur and the performer, between watching and being watched, intimacy and distance, wilfulness and self-control. This high degree of self-conciousness seems a particularly urban trait, it stems from moving - flaneuring - through the city, and articulates the paradoxical relationship between private impulse and socially acceptable behaviour, between the desire to connect and the need to protect yourself.

Lloyd's work has often evolved from infiltrating distinct sub-cultures: roller skaters, skate borders, professional clubbers and DJs. Tracking her subjects with an unblinking camera she has previously chosen to focus on those seemingly insignificant occupations which shape your day: getting your hair cut (Nuala and Rodney, 1994), walking your dog in the park (DJ Sal, 1997), selecting your records for a set you are going to play later that evening (Ewan, 1995), or travelling to a club to play your set and then travelling home with nothing more remarkable happening than stopping at a cashpoint to get some more money (Dominic, 1997). These videos all record the mundane ordinariness of (faintly glamourous) city lives; people whose activities and obsessions are consumed by leisure whilst paradoxically remaining undefined by regular clock time or validated by capital.

In this respect the labourers in Constructors - a very different social group from those listed above - are ostensibly malfunctioning. These men are employed to build the spectacular stage sets of capitalist production, but Lloyd enlists them as willing performers for a more modest spectacle. Surrounded by heavy weight paraphernalia and protective equipment the builders lift each other up, hold the pose and smile. The combinations are both acrobatic and ridiculous; the men are confident, or bashful and slightly embarrassed; they all seem to be enjoying themselves and the good humour is infectious. Constructors is the only video in the Chisenhale show which reveals the process of its own making; the locations are clearly identifiable as work sites, the pace is set in 'real time'; the men make direct eye contact with the camera. These men reveal a great deal, but so does Lloyd, her controlling presence manifest in their responses.

Constructors references performance and sculpture, formalism and construction. Its naturalness is contrasted with the sealed interior vacuums inhabited by Colin and Dawn. In turn the exterior location of Fiorenzo, a walled in back-lot, half lit by a sharp diagonal of sunlight is set in relation to the open field, bright green grass and blue skies of Maddy and Kate. Fiorenzo randomly thrashes about his solitary pen whereas Maddy and Kate purposefully unwind the string never losing eye contact; the women's clothing and haircuts signify urban style but they have been transported to a wholesome rural location. One Minute of Water is juxtaposed with Landscape: a clear view of the rippling water in contrast to the blurred motion of a shoe and skateboard.

As you move about the exhibition space you do not encounter the videos quite this bluntly. You become gradually aware of sonic and visual direction; the beat of Fiorenzo's sticks pervades the gallery setting a consistent pace while the more abstract videos establish a contemplatative tone, time slows and you become acutely aware of your movements through the space. The improvisational nature of the videos is transformed in the logical orchestration of their display. Lloyd has always chosen to exhibit her videos on monitors in bright white spaces revealing all the encumbent hi-tech paraphernalia. This is an aesthetically canny decision bearing in mind the resistance to dark spaces and the often bombastic ennui of video projections. Lloyd's decision domesticates the equipment and the flight cases ground the works physically, investing the sculptures with a modernist aura borne out by the minimalist performances.

Lloyd's protagonists spend time. Their activities raise questions about the value of that time, about why such energy might be invested. They are not however - and this is crucial - about killing time. That expression is weighed down by connotations of banal futility and brittle sophistication whereas Lloyd's work is loaded with nothing, preoccupied with triviality and consumed by suggestion. Lloyd's protagonists performance, or lack of it, reveals very little. Rather it is their intention and conviction which carries meaning. Through the merest of signifiers and the slightest of actions - a classic seductive ploy - Lloyd plays on our voyeuristic and fetishistic impulses, binding us into a fundamentally erotic relationship with her subjects. A pretty neat trick and a highly charged, formally composed, economic performance.

Polly Staple
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