Sturtevant – Leaps Jumps and Bumps at the Serpentine Gallery
Conceptual art is more about the ideas behind it than the content of the art itself, and Elaine Sturtevant is a conceptual artist whose work uses images from popular culture and other artists to ponder the nature of art. She has been around long enough to have been ahead of her time for decades and only now is the world catching up with her ideas. Copied clips, endless small repetitions: if this sounds like contemporary information technology overload, this artist has been making such work since the 60s, and continues to examine and expose the way we understand images.
It’s not the sort of exhibition you can come to and let the work speak for itself – you really have to know what the artist is saying rather than figuring it out, although there is a wicked sense of humour throughout that needs no mediation. A three-screen video entitled Blow Job turns out to be a close-up of a mouth blowing red ribbons. Now that’s funny, as is a line of blow-up dolls against a bank of windows. Within the gallery we see their backs, while passers-by see their faces from the outside, a plaintive, ridiculous view. Sometimes Sturtevant’s work defies complete definition and is deliberately enigmatic.
John Waters Dorothy Malone’s Collar is a small three-piece video installation with film clips on loop of the actress Dorothy Malone placed next to stills, which occasionally match the film, like a frozen clock being accurate only when the right time comes around. This is an eloquent little piece on the nature of real and reel time. A much larger video fills a gallery wall: Finite Infinite shows a dog running on loop, seemingly forever. And yet Sturtevant allows jumps in her looped videos, destroying her own illusions.
In multiple screens playing seemingly random clips, she mixes up created video with stock imagery and TV, and after a while we realise that Sturtevant is not borrowing the imagery but examining the ideas behind them. She copies/repeats a screen-printed Marilyn Monroe, continuing the Warhol idea of examining popular culture as valid artistic material. Also with a light installation, wallpaper, a video, which rotates around a room and a Pac-Man animation, the Serpentine have managed to present Sturtevant in her first major show in the UK as an artist who uses the mechanics of readily available ideas to examine how we think about art.
Photos: Katie Harris
Sturtevant: Leaps Jumps and Bumps is at the Serpentine Gallery from 28th June to 26th August 2013, for further information visit here.