Reviewed By Charlotte Bonham-Carter
Edward Hopper’s iconic American painting, Nighthawks (1947), depicts three solitary individuals sitting – and apparently waiting- at the counter of an all night diner. The street outside is empty, but the effulgence of the diner lends an unnatural glow to the scene. Like the contemporaneous film movement, film noir, the painting makes cinematic use of light and dark to suggest depravity, corruption and loneliness, particularly the sort that is attached to modern city living. In Flight, Dryden Goodwin, as in much of his previous work, explores a similar metropolitan terrain.
Goodwin often works in zones of transit, investigating isolation and alienation in the urban setting. Closer (2001) is a three-screen video installation in which the artist moves through the streets of the city at night, filming solitary individuals, waiting in bright lit spaces. He surreptitiously captures his subjects with a zoom lens, and traces their profiles with a laser pen. This act of intimacy is an investigation of relationships between strangers, and also the fleeting moments shared between viewer and subject.
Dryden Goodwin’s installation for Chisenhale Gallery explores some of the same concerns, but expands upon them, signifying a pivotal moment in the artist’s career. While most of Goodwin’s work has originated in the city, Flight is a desperate attempt at escaping the place. The installation consists of two inter-related parts: five vitrines arranged in a vaguely circular formation, and a film shown in a specifically demarcated area of the same space (no attempt at sound proofing is made). The clinically white vitrines display hundreds of black and white pen and ink drawings, ranging from frenzied portraits to more organic scribbles. Each vitrine showcases the erratic development of a single small-scale drawing. The sheer quantity of the drawings, which are stacked up in varying states of order and disarray, lends them a slightly compulsive quality – some are obsessively over-worked, while others are just barely-there scratches on the page.
The film component of Flight, is composed of live action, animated intervention, and a haunting multi-layered soundtrack. The film begins with a shot of an index card in an unidentified hand, which is being drawn on by another hand. It then switches to a static view of a city skyline, and the camera slowly zooms out. Encroaching on both sides of this vista are two weather weary trees, which create a sense of the last-remaining-city-on the-earth, post nuclear desolation. As the camera zooms out, an invisible hand traces the skyline of the city in black ink, filling in gaps in the cityscape. The animated interventions are the same drawings we have just seen in the vitrines, but are given new meaning by their contextualisation within the film. Experientially, the installation is three-fold; going back to look at the drawings as narrative elements of the film is a completely new experience; however, although the drawings are now a record of the process, they are not subsumed by this status.
The film moves from cityscape to motorway, and a rushing succession of headlights in the dark reifies the viewer’s brewing notion that the protagonist of this film is on some sort of escape path. Goodwin doesn’t provide a narrative for the film, nor does he set forth an explanation for the intermittent interjections of pen and ink animation. Instead, he diminished the distance between the film’s protagonist and the viewer, developing the action of the film through the protagonist’s eyes.
The forward motion of the film suggests that perhaps it is movement itself – not any particular destination – that is the imperative of this journey. However, there are interludes of stillness – shots of solitary individuals dining in fast food joints along the motorway, a moment in the forest, and the final panoramic movement towards a peaceful sky. These moments, and the use of animation to trace seemingly superfluous details, establish a tension between motion and stillness and between passing and sustained looking. The tension is further elucidated in the film’s soundtrack, which switches back and forth from minimal sounds found naturally in the environment, to a more orchestrated din.
The film’s continual juxtaposition of opposing forces, and the installation’s conflation of still (drawings) and moving image (animation), seems to mirror Goodwin’s own experiment to transcend the confines of his practice, out of the city, and beyond conventional formats. While Flight can almost be read as a dramatisation of the great urban retreat into nature, it resists such triteness in its overall ambiguity, it desperation, and its clever unification of form and content.