Writing Art History Since 2002

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Michaelis Gallery | Cape Town

Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings installation creates a space to get lost in for up to hours on end. This is an admirably hard act to achieve in a visual art culture used to consuming exhibitions at “biennale pace”, that practice of rushing around from artwork to artwork as if late for the bus.Perhaps old hat for Eno, Michael Rush’s observations in Video Art (2003) of contemporary art moving from the white cube to the black box, the gallery to the cinema are apt in a review of this work. Eno’s striking installation of 12 plasma screens (technically, three concealed computers used to generate fresh and un-orchestrated combinations of imagery for four plasma screens apiece) and six CD players places the audience in a black box condition – seated or supine, eyes to the screens and silent. The piece is a sculpture in time: slowly flowering images and hovering notes create an ephemeral calligraphy that once noticed and studied appears seconds later to have shifted elsewhere and transformed.Refined over countless exhibitions spanning the length of his career, these seed images spill over each other in random order resulting in a hypnotic interplay of shapes and colours, all vivid and lucid in the haptic glow of the plasma. Hung in a whirling, angular spiral, they at times appear like flags, other times looking like a jewelled mandala. Each combination is different to the last, moving at snail’s pace so as to lull you into submission. What may have annoyed you in one sequence becomes the basis of an outstanding permutation a few moments later. The wall-sized black foil to the plasma screens becomes the frame to the overall visual ‘painting’ of the installation.The audio, equally evolved over time, contains elements from past works. It infuses the space with a calming haze, almost perfume-like. Wisps of splintered voice and glassy chimes unfurl as bass swells and crystalline notes explode on almost microcosmic levels.Descriptions aside, it is the experience of the piece that matters: it is immersive. I feel myself drifting off. I think about the shopping I need to do. (Must buy tea.) What could be anything from 10 to 20 minutes later, an occasional thought pops into my head: I should go back to yoga. Time passes. I am still in this space. I am not questioning it, nor do I question myself. I am in submission, and I am very happy with that.These are sentiments I don’t often have when consuming contemporary art. The piece is so much more than some clever concept, and its slow, confident evolution makes the experience of it that much more rewarding and captivating. In an art world full of riddles and questions, Eno might have, characteristically, placed his audience in a space to find the answers.

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