Passers-by stop and stare down through an expansive glass window into a white space. But, wait, have the Health and Safety police been here? A large yellow warning sign has appeared “MAX HEADROOM – 3.373M (11’3/4”) It’s so very precise – is anyone going to check that exactly? Has someone been injured by walking through the opening with something taller, say at 3.375M? What is even more strange is the emptiness of the space beyond; often full of lively and colourful art as it was last autumn with a view of a tattooed man standing on a balcony, alongside which was a strange metal mesh door typically found on American houses to keep the mosquitos out.
On inspection inside, the same hazard warning sign is there, but the ironic thing is that, if there is a hazard, it is the steep drop between the ground level outside and the space inside – yet there is no sign warning about that.
German artist Ceal Floyer’s ‘Maximum Headroom’ draws attention to the futility of many such warning signs that proliferate our streets, our buildings, our waterways, our parks, almost our entire environment, sometimes one sign contradicting another, and to the limitless possibility for their use to enable people and companies to believe that they have avoided responsibility or liability. “Sorry, but didn’t you see the sign. Not my fault….”
Inside the gallery space is bright, the walls washed from the artificial lights, but all that is there is a transparent dome hanging from the ceiling, with a sound within it like rain on an umbrella. Upstairs, again with a view out over the adjacent buildings and school playground, an old 35mm slide projector is running. We expect a slide show, but all that is there is the image of a star bounced down from the ceiling from the floor below. Elsewhere are other conceptual works by Floyer, in particular the video work which asks you to suspend your normal view of life and imagine what would happen if, when you hammered a nail into timber, the wood rose up the nail rather than the nail going down into the wood and, at the far end of a long corridor, a montage of small illustrations of hotel bedrooms shown from the right or the left as the original photographer took them (though probably mostly taken with a wide lens). Will the guest’s perception be the same as the photograph?
The previous exhibition by Canadian artist Rodney Graham also asked the viewer to suspend normality with, in this same space, a huge four panel light box of an imagined art gallery from 1949 showing the tedium of running and maintaining a gallery as the owner vacuums the carpet, alongside which hang paintings by Graham very similar to those on show in the 1949 gallery, raising questions about the relationship of art, artists and art galleries (and of other artists who inspire an artist’s work) while, in the front space, the ‘tattooed man on balcony’ is Graham himself, as are the formal portrait images upstairs overlooking the street, sitting in poses copied from Pelican paperback book covers of the philosopher Graham Ayer. Again, what is the relationship between art, art galleries, artist and others who inspire artistic work?
Challenging perception further, the mesh screen door was not what it seemed – this one was a replica of the door on Elvis Presley’s home in Graceland and made of solid silver. What has the greater value – a replica from Elvis Presley’s house or a silver door? Upstairs, overlooking the street, a table contained a solid silver slipcase holding a rare book, the first Arab translation of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ from the early 1800′s. What was most valuable – the book, the slipcase or the words of Daniel Defoe’s novel itself?
Deep philosophical questions…….