Accompanying the Adventures of the Black Square exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery is a roomful of thematically-related works by Scottish artist David Batchelor. Over the course of the past 20 years or so Batchelor has taken photos of white squares or rectangles wherever he’s come across them, in urban settings from London to Sao Paolo.
I like going on long walks – years ago in London, more recently in the country – during which I always take photos and occasionally arrange found objects to create a subject, so I have a fellow feeling for the efforts of psycho-geographers like Iain Sinclair or Richard Long or Batchelor, or for long-dead Bruce Chatwin’s meditation on the centrality of walking and singing to human nature, Songlines (1987).
Walking at our own pace and not at the rush dictated by cars, coaches, buses, trains or planes, moving at the natural tread and step of the human animal through the three dimensional world, allows thoughts to unfurl in a civilised amble, at our own stride, whether the trajectory of those thoughts is a slow ironing out of the mind towards the emptiness of nirvana, or a squirrel-like alert, ever-stimulated response to the continual bombardment of new sights and impressions.
Batchelor’s squares combine both: they are apparitions of blankness in the hectic over-colouring of the urban environment, emptiness in the midst of overwrought plenitude, visual pauses in the unremitting gallop of metropolitan media, two dimensional escape routes from the pentamerous assaults on the senses.
The gallery is a single large room, the walls of rough industrial brick, no windows, the feel of a cellar or crypt, immediately likeable and surcharged, a good setting. There were a dozen or so static blow-ups of individual photos. BUT I think the curators (or Mr B) made a big mistake in having 2 or 3 video screens with slideshows of the photos moving at stroboscopic speed. Too fast, too fast.
The entire purpose of the images – pause, reflection, quiet amid the haste etc – destroyed by the frenzied flicker of barely-registered images. The strobe-speed encouraging you not to stop and study but to recoil and walk past. 20 years of close observation and attentive framing thrown away in milliseconds.
- Monochrome Archive, 1997-2015 @ Whitechapel Gallery
- David Batchelor’s website
- David Batchelor Wikipedia article