Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Saskia Olde Wolbers - "Deadline" Maureen Paley, 6th October- 11th November 2007

Daniella Saul

A rotund glass rabbit, with ears longer than its body and bulging eyes appears upright on the screen. Its interior filled with a glutinous, yellow liquid moves thickly around its insides. Slowly, little white syrupy globules of liquid start to drop off the mutant creature’s ears. But they fall off upside down, towards the top of the screen.

The rabbit appears twice during Wolbers’ eighteen minute new video called “Deadline”. The work is a narrated piece, spoken by a young Gambian woman who recalls an assembly of overheard stories about local legends in a local fishing community in the Gambia. Interwoven with the various local legends are recollections of experiences she and her family have as they attempt to leave the Gambia and cross West Africa on a sixteen month long journey for the airport in Nigeria in their bush-taxi with the word “Deadline” on its side. As the narrative progresses, to the sound of African drums playing softly in the background, several visual motifs appear on the screen, each forming its own scene. We follow the bodies of two silver snakes coiling upwards towards the top of the screen in abstract space, then slabs of a convex oval stone commonly used in African Modernist architecture appear, rotating in space, shards of glass appearing to grow from inside the stones. This video displays all of the hallmarks of some of Wolber’s previous video works. Her sets are meticulously handmade and the visual motifs all situated in a weightless, futuristic space.

What is at work here is the subtle creation of a disjunction in time between the aural and the visual in order to make fantasy a part of our experience. The camera movements are slow while the narrative progresses at a searing pace, starting from the birth of the narrator’s father to the family’s journey across West Africa. Truth and legend merge fluidly together as the visual motifs exude an apt snake-charming like effect on the viewer.

The journey is a function of the cyclical structure of the piece. The word “deadline” carries symbolic and paradoxical meaning. It is the beginning and the end at the same time. It is present at the starting point of the journey on the side of the travelling vehicle and at the end of the narrator’s journey as she recounts seeing a stranger carrying a book at the airport in Nigeria with a picture of her father’s bush-taxi on the cover. “ Do we all have journeys mapped out in our central nervous systems like migrating birds?” It seems that Wolbers’ piece isn’t our cue to try and untangle truth from untruth in the narrative, or beginning from end, but just to follow this journey and cling to the comforting idea that in our experience none of our journeys to an airport will ever seem that long again.

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