The Whitechapel Gallery invited three very different sets of dance artists to “animate” Shadow Spans, their long-standing gallery installation by Claire Barclay. Following last month’s presentations by Dog Kennel Hill Project, and preceding those by Royal Ballet artists Zenaida Yanowsky and William Tuckett, comes the work of Siobhan Davies and Matthias Sperling.
To Hand is not a performance in any theatrical sense: there’s no beginning or end, no trajectory. Rather, it is an unobtrusive accompaniment to the installation itself, presented over a period of several hours each day.
The way to experience it, I think, is not to wait for something to happen (not much does) but to get into the zone of the piece. Barclay’s installation is at once homely and uncanny: a cupboard with doors askew; small clay pots strewn across a fallen panel; frames as large as French windows standing aslant, draped with brick-patterned cloth. Look closer and more anomalies appear: doorknobs in the wrong position, half-made hats, glove fingers knotted to look like flies, peculiar golden keys and padded padlocks. It’s as if the people who once inhabited this place have left it unfinished, or perhaps the place itself has begun to mutate after they’ve gone.
Into this environment comes Sperling, intent on a single task: to move forward using only some transparent plastic cartons for support, without ever touching the ground himself. Thus, he seems to hover just above the ground, though it costs him concentration and effort. Carefully balancing knees, elbows, hands and shoulders on the cartons, he moves them forward one by one to plot his own slow, haphazard pathway around the flotsam. Zone out, and this can seem inconsequential. But zone in, and there’s an eerie sense of a strange, singular creature picking its way purposefully but pointlessly through an abandoned world, not unlike yourself.