I first saw Guy Sherwins’ 16mm films when I was a student of his, studying Fine Art at Wolverhampton Polytechnic in the 1980’s. These were the last days of a liberal, experimental, non-modular, art curriculum: imagine an education without feedback forms or customer (nee student) surveys. The long list of visiting lecturers at Wolverhampton included artists from all disciplines, alongside writers, musicians and simply unclassifiable performance groups. To mention just a few from the impressive cast list that corrupted my formative years: Max Eastley; Ivor Cutler; Jo Spence; Fast Forward; David Critchley; Roger McGough (who marked my dissertation, generously granting it a first).
I consider myself fortunate to study at this time and to subsequently teach alongside Guy (and Paul Harrison of Wood & Harrison) at the University of Wolverhampton. Guy’s films and poetic investigation of time, film and perception, remain a vital influence on the development of my own practice.
The installations at Siobhan Davies Studios continue to question and impress. I was particularly interested in the Staircase projections, which reveal the choreography of stairs whilst disrupting the tacit anticipation of movement: the distinction between previous and present movement becoming less distinct, as people now ascending and descending the staircase make shadowy journeys through a layer of projected space covering the present situation. Such ghostlike presence is reflected in the architecture of the building, the flight of previous stairs remaining as visible scars upon the tiled walls intersecting the new staircase.
Tree Reflection #2 passes a single loop of film through two 16mm projectors: one running forward and one reverse. Guy had engineered a ‘common drive-shaft’ between the two projectors to ensure the speed of both projectors remains constant.
Having seen the film as part of Guy’s Short Film Series, I ashamedly ignored the projectors and stood fixated on the slow reflected progression of a coot moving across the surface of a canal and the simultaneous inverting of the film, which exchanges the landscape and its reflection. The flip, which echoes the visual inversion of eye & brain, occurs at such a slow rate, that it seems to sneak beneath the boundary of visual perception.
Guy watched me whilst I watched the film, when he pointed out that I was ignoring the projectors, I turned around and only then noticed the mirrored second projection on the wall behind me.
Beautiful films that simultaneously soak up my attention and make my head ache with thinking.
You can see one of Guy Sherwin’s films, with links to others and his perfomative collaborations with Lynn Loo here: Man With Mirror
I wrote an essay to accompany Guy’s first DVD Optical Sound Films 1971-2007. This can be bought from Lux, where a biography of Guy and video interview are also available.