Michael Dryden, 6,000ft Beyond Humanity and Time, 2015. Video, 1.04
David McCulloch, Still Life, 2015. Video and sound, 14.00
The two video installations by British artist Michael Dryden and Scottish artist David McCulloch compliment each other in their study of contemporary technological angst.
What the works do well is probe the notion of authenticity in contemporary times, but also more potently, they are heavy with that feeling you get when you’re in a dream and you can’t run any faster. But this time I wasn’t sleeping, I was experiencing your everyday mix of corporeal and metaphysical prompts.
I’m often in awe of the might of the Internet, owing to it being possibly among one of the most defining bits of technology that we’ve created. It has allowed an unbelievable reach of information at an unprecedented rate. We’re more technologically connected now than ever. But what is the impact of this?
Dryden’s two-channel video ‘6000ft Beyond Humanity and Time’ (2015) sees the artist on the left channel swimming back-stroke against a tide of mathematical equations, simultaneously on the right, Dryden is seen meditatively still. While struggling to remain on the surface, his mind and body is in absolute work. Dryden faces us with a philosophical dialogue of dualism, something Rene Descartes toiled over, the idea that we are a combination of two distinct foundations – the body and the mind. The material and the immaterial.
But there is a rift in Dryden’s video. A feeling of disjointed operations. Overwhelming anxiety, endless struggle and just simply feeling lost. I strangely enjoyed this mixed bag of feelings that I got from the work, because it’s not actually a nice feeling at all. I think I enjoyed it because it felt familiar, perhaps not solely through direct experience, but through observation of others also.
I feel privileged that I can look for a loose diagnostic, or at the very least solidarity, among Internet users who say they feel the same and who offer advice and tips on how to tackle the problem (is it a problem?). And in a way this is like going on a hunger strike during a famine. My means of reconciliation uses the same methodology which fuels the problem, sort of like a modern day uroboros, though less mythic and more virtual.
It’s widely considered that despite the instantaneous communication we have at our finger tips, offering contact with any of the two and a half billion Internet users out there, we find ourselves ever so subtly alone. Not so lonely that we turn to our immediate landscape for affection, but just enough to keep us to asking Siri.
David McCulloch, Still Life, 2015, Video with Sound – 14.00
These notions are echoed in David McCulloch’s video titled ‘Still Life’ (2015). The artist dressed in a bright white shirt, trousers and black tie, caught in an endless struggle to reach his destination. Again and again you see McCulloch emerging from the horizon, a coarsely ploughed field shot in his native Scotland, frantically clambering over the land, running towards us, only to freeze and fade out from the landscape. It’s a poignant and rather distressing piece of video art to watch. I found myself tightening my fist and tensing my muscles, desperate to help the guy resolve his nightmare.
What made Still Life so compelling is the brutalist way in which McCulloch tackles the relationship between the body, the landscape and desire.
Dryden and McCulloch argue that we are seeing a divorce from the binary relationship of Cartesian philosophy, moving towards a misaligned and out of synch relationship between the corporeal and the metaphysical. While our minds are engaged with being virtually extended and augmented, our bodies are struggling to navigate the cold, hard landscape of the material world.
I must have let my mind wonder while my body was left watching the work, but in the process it came back with some thoughts and apologised for leaving in the first place.
Michael Dryden is currently studying MFA Fine Art at The Slade School of Fine Art. He is next showing at his interim show on 3rd – 8th October 2015.
David McCulloch co-runs Nomas Projects in Dundee, Scotland, providing a platform for local and international contemporary artists to contribute to the growing cultural vibrancy in Dundee.
Written by Kosha Hussain