Tuesday 3 January 2012

Jennifer West – 'Heavy Metals: Iron and Zinc' At Vilma Gold, London

Taking old footage of the film, ‘Jaws’, and a promotional trailer, West superimposes scratchy erasures and layers of erratically applied colour. This process almost eviscerates the underlying celluloid surface but not entirely, as fragments of discernible images and sound occasionally re-emerge to remind the viewer of the film’s original intentions. By deploying diverse materials such as metal compounds, dyes and vitamin residues across the surface of this old footage, West achieves multiple formal effects that resist coherence. The resulting moving image is formless and awkward. A degraded soundtrack accompanies snatches of original narrative so that the two altered films lead the viewer into a destabilizing sensory experience.

The longer film is titled ‘Heavy Metal Sharks Calming Jaws Reversal Film’ which alludes both to the metal degradation of the super-8 film and also to a reported soothing effect of Heavy Metal music on sharks. This strategy of appropriation and manipulation takes us towards a virtual negation of the original source material. Projected from the floor onto the wall, the setting speaks of redundant home entertainment resurrected in West’s blend of anarchic nostalgia, quotation and alteration.

Two further projects adopt a more focused interest in analogue film and its exposure to specific effects. West shoots inside a special chamber at MIT to document the movement of Neutrinos in single image frames that are strung together in sequence. Delicate yellow, green and pink curling lines move across a dark void as the fixed camera traces the trajectory of these tiny particles, invisible to the human eye, which are being orchestrated within an artificial environment. Film here literally offers a new form of vision. In the same gallery ‘Mascara Rorschach Film’ is made by running mascara brushes down the film surface to create a series of flowing shapes reminiscent of the inkblot test in psychology. West again rolls numerous single frames together to animate areas of dark dye that become brightly purple where thinly applied. Firm, parallel brush lines sit beside less rhythmic, darker splashes. Resembling an unfurling Chinese scroll illuminated by inky brushwork or the subjective, urgent marks of Abstract Expressionism, this film is the exhibition’s most successful exploration of the formal and symbolic properties of this increasingly redundant medium.