Claire Hope: Group Photo this is tomorrow, March 2014

It is becoming difficult to know where we stop representing and start being represented; where the shift in agency from scriptwriter to actor occurs. Complicated by contradictory concepts of self and other, the individualist promise of capitalism and the consequent erosion of the social, it is this territory which Claire Hope’s assured new commission traverses.

The gallery itself, as befits its position on a university campus, is institutional; slightly awkward. Strip lights over-illuminate a blond wood floor, and a standard-issue office desk and swivel chair guard the entrance. A similar sense of sterility inflects Hope’s video, shown as three synchronous sections on separate screens: the artifice of the photography studio, a space defined by not being a space, validated only when hidden.

In front of the studio’s infinity curve, a group of people pose for a portrait. The cold blue light, the way they are dressed, the fact that they do not smile suggest formality, perhaps a corporate shot. The camera scans feet, torsos, heads in separate passes, and the men and women shift poses, presumably when directed, bodies swaying imperceptibly, faces stiffening.

Now under a magenta cast, the subjects begin to move. The colour motions towards its context via the tropes it assembles—work groups, family groups, groups of friends. An arm unfolds, white skin bright, its hand unclenched. But the people’s smiles fix and then wither, the scene stale, the poses rigid. The fingers of a man’s hand are opened out by someone else, a transgressive yet oddly formal act. The back of another hand methodically rubs that of its neighbour, not intimately but perfunctorily, in a businesslike fashion. Their gestures are all at sea.

The last section sees the group laughing together, clasping hands, hugging. They are so natural, so easy. It makes sense as a narrative, from the cold fixed poses of the first, through the loosening of the second to the overcoming of strictures in the last, a return to true intercourse. Except that the lights are still on, the scene still set, and there is the nagging sense that this, too, is neither spontaneous nor the end of a neat story but a warm-up, the trust exercise of the drama class, a foil to fool.

If this is not the group as themselves, where do they exist? Where does the script stop? It becomes unclear whether we are seeing actors acting or watching them acting acting.

It is this expert dissolution of the perimeter of script and scripted that activates ‘Group Photo’. The logic that the work exposes moves from specific incidences to general laws; types of group photo to sets of behaviour, our actions on a grander stage directed according to a defined set of roles. Its silence implies, demonstrates, that script robs us of voice: yet it is not so much that there is a problem with acting the parts offered, more the extent to which we perceive that we are doing so—and agree to accept the deterministic contract which they set out.


Read at this is tomorrow