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Anthony McCall
Ian Hunt reviews Anthony McCall's Between You and I at Peer, London. First published in Art Monthly, issue 296, May 2006.

The new work by Anthony McCall presented by Peer at the Round Chapel, Hackney, is another in his series of works known as 'Solid Light Films'. The principle of their operation is that a two-dimensional animation of lines, digital now, not celluloid, is revealed by a smoke machine or hazer, as three-dimensional form.

But I'll get to the new installation, Between You and I, later because there is a long gap in McCall's biography. The solid light films were enthusiastically repudiated by him in the course of the 70s. He was part of the group of artists that edited the magazine Wallpaper, he made fire performances, some with the help of a grouping called Exit, who would not too much later emerge within the punk collective Crass. His film-making became strongly investigative of political meaning, and determinedly collaborative. Then the big gap, during which time McCall has run a successful graphic design partnership in New York. Since 2000, when a work was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the restoration of earlier solid light films and the appearance of new works has continued healthily, the repudiations have been revised, and the works are claimed as more readily comprehended within a minimalist and postminimalist trajectory. Interestingly McCall's notes for the new work stress a connection with cinema and still imply an argument against it. These installations, which are really events, are enjoyed wherever they're shown, and are anti-sublime. Unusually they depend on and welcome the presence of others, and feel wrong when encountered by a solitary viewer.

The strange calendar of revival also means that this year LUX, independently of the new work shown by Peer, have put into distribution a restored version of Argument, 1978, a provocative film McCall made with the writer Andrew Tyndall (now a media analyst), based on one copy of the New York Times. What does 'put in distribution' mean with this kind if film? It means it won't get reviewed; that you can find out more from; that it was first screened at the Whitechapel Art Gallery's film programme, where it was followed by a public phone conversation with the makers in New York. It means that subsequent screenings are likely to be in the world of experimental film, as and when it attaches itself to the possibilities of an audience using the alibis of art and education - in which, however, films like Argument still fit uncomfortably. For all its vulnerability and overstatement it was not merely a comically redundant challenge to one's ability to read a film, advert or newspaper and a lively response to New York political conceptualism and fashion photography. It was also a series of discussions following screenings, a publication which put the filmmakers' ideas in context with reviews and responses, and a clear provocation to a specific audience of peers. The makers' main contention at the time was to urge acknowledgement that audience and distribution were primary political factors, that the limitations and context of screenings and the events into which they can be transformed (in pleasurable, as well as educative ways) be understood as of more importance, ultimately, than the political content of this or future films.

Back to the present. A marvel of slowly changing solid light coming down from two projectors 12 metres above, in a chapel still used by various church groups, and a new audience that can't, indeed shouldn't, be expected to know this interesting history. What do they see? Between You and I (I wanted to ask, 705 fashion, who's this you, who's this I?) dares an initial impact redolent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It's irresistible to look up, but this is not at all like looking back into McCall's best-known work, Line Describing a Cone, 1973, where the projector levels with you in a charmingly matter-of-fact way. Each of the two forms alters slowly, in a 32-minute cycle they appear to exchange places and then return to their original position. It's more complex than that: what McCall refers to, following the cinematic convention, as two 'parallel actions' both enact a cinematic wipe, extended from the second or so it usually takes to 16 minutes. The ellipse itself is not simple, but narrows and then widens as it is replaced by, or replaces, a form 'based on a travelling wave and a line'. The initial hit of the work is its charm: it is an abstract sculptural hieroglyph and a toy that works. Standing in it I felt put on exhibition, like the living figures shrunk and put in bottles by trick photography in that hopeful film Bride of Frankenstein. Solid light films are, among other things, tricks enacted without malice. But the complicatedness of the slow transitions is a snag. It made me aware of a time cycle I was not able to fully attend to, whose transitions I missed. These transitions lack meaning in any cinematic sense, while seeming to stand in for it. It is this residue of meaning withheld that stops Between You and I being merely delightful. Nevertheless, however much we love marvels, it can be noted how institutionally and functionally separated are these revived parts of McCall's career. That only one torn half of that career continues is not a quirk of biography, but symptom of a wider difficulty.

Ian Hunt
Anthony McCall review by Ian Hunt, originally published in Art Monthly, issue 296, May 2006 pp. 38-39.
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