John Timberlake: We Are History at Beaconsfield
The somewhat remote Beaconsfield gallery of contemporary art – tucked away among blocks of flats in Vauxhall – is currently house to the latest diorama-like installation by noted London-based artist John Timberlake.
Continuing a career-long analysis of landscape, and the marks and changes left upon it by way of natural or man-made forces, the artist has set up three painted screens or flats, that when viewed from a full-frontal position, recreate a view looking over the Thames from Vauxhall towards the new US Embassy Gardens. It’s rather akin to the effect seen at in an 18th century theatre. The somewhat uninspiring choice of viewpoint has been enlivened by way of a backdrop of cloudy sky, in which we can see two ominously shaped clouds that could be also be interpreted as the mushroom clouds of atomic blasts.
This motif is something seen before in his work. In 1999’s photo series Another Country, painted backdrops featured dramatic cloud formations among which that same mushroom cloud could be seen – a jarring inclusion against such a beautiful blue sky. Before these puzzling scenes the artist set up models of rock formations and cliffs upon which are perched little toy figures arranged as if watching them – like 1950s era onlookers watching US military bomb tests. These mushroom clouds are seen from a comforting distance, far beyond the mountains or out upon the horizon of the sea. In Timberlake’s latest work, they loom over the familiar skyscrapers of London, against a dark, stormy heaven, whereas in Another Country the pictures were already prepared, and reminded one of vintage photographs.
In his latest piece, entitled We Are History, the viewers are encouraged to pose before them for photographs themselves. It is an apparent nod of the artist’s towards the dioramas of the 18th century Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, where visitors could pose for photographs against idyllically painted scenery. His idea is to try and get us to decide whether we are active participants or victims; as bombs seem to explode in the background, leaving an indelible mark on the face of the city, we might also be reminded to take a stand in the light of recent events across the world. In this view, the installation is a success: entertaining in its simple, old-fashioned illusionism and thought-provoking in its dialogue.
John Timberlake: We Are History is on at the Beaconsfield Contemporary Art Gallery until 30th August 2014, for further information visit here.