What does the reflection of a projected image of a mirror on a silver screen look like? Actually, it looks more or less like nothing. I’m not being facetious – it really does create a kind of indeterminate, unfocussed muddle of non-tones that most resembles a shimmering mirage. The artists conduct this experiment in 'Compact' (all works 2009), a sculptural video installation in which the image of a compact make-up mirror is deflected onto the surface of a collapsible photography reflector by a hand mirror, standing on a table in front of the projection.
In ‘Glare’ their exhibition at S1 Artspace, Sheffield’s dynamic artist-run space and residency programme, the duo bounce light around the gallery like kids at a pinball machine. In Model, the principle work in this tightly devised conference of video installations, a projected image of a woman – presumably one of the artists – striking poses in a beehive wig is thrown onto a mirror and back onto a translucent screen. The other half of the projection, which is actually an inversion of the original image, falls partly onto a further screen, and partly onto a small mirror that flings it onto a nearby wall. As if that wasn’t enough, the woman in the image is holding another small rectangular mirror, which reveals flashes of the studio in which she is standing though never, perplexingly, the photographer whose line of sight we are sharing.
The abiding impression left by ‘Glare’ is, intentionally, one of thinness; the flimsy projection screens, the digital images that weaken and defocus as they are sent from surface to surface, and, not least, the sense of hollow glamour evoked by the artists’ use of imagery. Filling the end wall of the gallery, for instance, is a close-up of a champagne flute, through which we see a sunset over a glassy lake. Starbursts of light glint through the glass, and bubbles slowly rise and pop in the liquid. While there is nothing so satisfying as a good cliché, it’s not a very elegant glass, and despite the magnificence of the sunset, the composition seems somehow tawdry and unconvincing. Instead of being seduced, we are left wondering why someone might wish to construct and preserve such an image. We are thrown back, in other words, into a contemplation on what’s going on behind the lens. Just beneath this work, Sunset, is Flash, a small video projection of a woman behind a Nikon digital SLR, snapping away. The sound of the camera shutter is inescapable throughout the show, and the camera’s flash, due to the translucency of the screen, is directed in both directions: back towards the video projector, in a kind of endless loop, and also towards the door, shooting the viewers as they enter.
This is where the show’s title is most revealing. ‘Glare’ describes an optical malfunction, the overload or feedback that sends either the human eye or the light sensor of a camera into a squinting confusion. But it is also that acute, controlled form of looking intended to produce discomfort in the viewer – a form of aggression instead of a symptom. It is something that happens to you, and something that you do to others. Coleman and Hogarth acknowledge that both senses are at play when artists put themselves, and their work, on display for a viewer.
Jonathan Griffen for Frieze online, 2009