When Ansel Adam’s famously stated that “there are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer”, he inadvertently set the stage for the boundary-blurring work of Leah Capaldi. The viewer has always occupied a certain space within an artwork but in Capaldi’s new works for ‘Witness Matter’, a two-person exhibition at Vitrine Bermondsey Street, he or she becomes an active participant in an ever-evolving artwork. In her 'Chorus' Installation, Capaldi combines pre-recorded video with on-site surveillance footage of visitors to the gallery, exploring the relationship between the artist and the audience.
Material of body parts interacting with gym equipment demonstrates the very physical relationship individuals can experience with objects. The installation of the surveillance equipment and flat screen televisions is extremely deliberate in its relationship to the body. Wooden mounts interrupt the gallery space from floor to ceiling, forming ad-hoc pillars that partly obstruct the viewer’s path and combine with the continued surveillance to result in a keen self-awareness.
In a back room, a fish tank occupies the space, linking to footage on one monitor of the artists’ hand in the water interacting with the goldfish and on another screen material shot of the film shoot, cameraman and artist. Once again, the watcher becomes the watched; the artwork here is not a mute canvas or photograph, but a group of living organisms that survey the audience mutely from behind a glassy screen.
This awareness of the literal life of an artwork leads, in turn, to the interactions experienced by the sculptures of Lebanese artist Stéphanie Saadé. Saadé calls many of her works ‘Re-Enactments’, referencing her remodelling of the objects back into their previous forms. In 'Scarred Object', the viewer encounters a metal bar welded together in five parts. The bar had been broken only to now be remade. Today, residing on the gallery wall, it references not just its past self but also a new reality; the scars will not allow it to sink back into its original identity. The viewer is lent a heightened awareness of aesthetic form and clarity, but the object also represents a performative action that is simultaneously very present in its physical evidence and yet strangely absent; in the midst of so much footage, the viewer can only imagine the artists’ reworking of the metal.
In ‘Stolen Material’, Saadé assembles door handles, nuts and bolts to form an elegant cascade of objects reminiscent of a delicate mobile or modernistic light fitting. As the title suggests, all of the objects have been stolen and hang tauntingly on the gallery wall, daring us to question the status of the artist as one who need not abide by moral conventions. Again, the process behind the piece taunts the viewer; the title catapults the act of the theft to the surface, but the viewer can only imagine the comical image of the artist ‘liberating’ the various elements from DIY stores.
Saadé’s same delicate touch can be seen in 'Re-Enactment LB/ Taxi', where she has reassembled a dispositif used by taxi drivers in Lebanon to embellish their cars. Removed from its cultural heritage, the piece generates new meanings, reading as both an aesthetically elegant symbol of consumer luxury and a pleasing combination of two now-worthless forms, re-energised in their new role as a sculpture. The pleasing form and shiny surface echo the traditional circular motif beloved by designers of advertising, brought to prominence by the aesthetic theories of Bruno Munari.
Saadé’s appropriation of this device, whilst not necessarily deliberate, prompts the viewer to consider the piece as both sculpture and object; representing as it does both the bonding of two ready-mades into a sculptural whole and the aspirations of the Lebanese taxi drivers to own and exhibit a piece of the luxury that the object inhabits in its reference to the Mercedes brand.
Watching people has long been the employment of the artist. “We were created to look at one another, weren't we?” mused Edgar Degas. ‘Witness Matter’ invites the viewer to embody the eye of the artist, granting them a privileged glance into the lives of the object, the maker and themselves.
Text by Susie Pentelow
All images courtesy of Vitrine