Mediamatic Magazine 2#4 Simon Biggs 1 Jan 1988

The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Men

A recent retrospective of the work of GRAHAM YOUNG at the INSTITUTE OF CON TEMPORARY ART, London, allows the opportunity to see the completed cycle of six video's which belong to the series Accidents in the Home. Made between 1984 to 1988 all these works are characterised by their being short (two to six minutes in length) and focused on the small paraphenalia of domestic objects and events.

We see the artist, on video, opening a door and entering a small room. The camera's low position and angle create the illusion of a flat space, as through the frame of the door another identical door is visible. It is as if the door has been simultaneously opened and not opened; as if an event and non-event occupy the same position in time and space. The artist therefore emerges as a ghostly figure from this shallow space, lending a tentative quality to his relationship with the things about him. It is this space of convergence and divergence that fascinates GRAHAM YOUNG, occurring in various forms through much of his work.
This opening sequence, from the work Untitled, contains many of the basic properties we expect in YOUNG's other work. Made in early 1984 it is actually a precursor to the Accidents in the Home series, and not part of it. In all his work things and events are concentrated, the minor inflection of detail critical in effect and reading. YOUNG contains in small domestic things a multiplicity of properties rich in metaphor which, if it were not for the considered paradoxes they contain, could be regarded in terms of metonymies.
YOUNG encapsulates this concentrated vision of the human and its relationship with things within the small paraphenalia of any home. An electric pencil sharpener can, by turns, take on a psychological reading or become an element in a political allegory (Putter, 1988), as a business man type character engages its nefarious functions. GRAHAM YOUNG's approach is essentially that of the poet. Not the poetry of haute-culture, but of the contemporary nursery rhyme - the poetry of the 18th and 19th Century street, most often politically pointed. So, where an egg can signal the vagaries of political alliegance (Humpty-Dumpty) then in YOUNG's work a bicycle wheel can be invested with the role of shattered certainty - the wheel of fortune spinning out of the control of those who wish to master it (Domestiques, 1986).
Although poetic YOUNG's tapes are not textual, for he relies upon he play of things upon things, things upon people and people upon things for poetic structure. His use of music is essential to his approach, as choice of soundtrack (whether off the shelf or especially commissioned) is made prior to editing. In this manner YOUNG is able to choreograph the action of his tapes around the music, establishing an integral relationship between the two elements. That he does not attempt to compose his own soundtracks and that all the sound is produced seperately to the visuals is significant, for in a sense YOUNG's approach is an interpretative one .
However, to regard YOUNG's practise as formalised around preexisting material would be to lose sight of the value he ascribes to the use of sound. Many cf YOUNG's tapes use music of third-world connotations, even in Putter and To Swing a Cat (both 1988) where the score was composed for the tapes. In his work the character of the sound is significant, for it can be seen as a political referent in the allegory - a sign of YOUNG's vision of a collapsing moral economy in the Post-War period , in an engagement not dissimilar to perhaps the work of ERIC ROHMER.
It is this area dealing with collapse and control, the entropic nature of things, the accident, that is central to YOUNG 's project. On the surface the artist is exacting a high degree of control upon the production of the work, with attention lavished on lighting, editing and the minuti of the video frame. And yet, the action of things within this space is entirely opposed to this, as mice disrupt reality (Putter), electric fans engage with coffee cups (Gasfires, 1984) and fingers are caught in mouse-traps (Indoor Games//, 1986). The order of things is thus apparently irrational, or at least defies our limited ability to enclose their relationships. Perhaps there is another process at work which binds these disparate elements together.
Thus, the accident takes on metaphysical properties. Not only are things continuously running down, but it cannot be expected that the same thing will occur twice in the same way. The connectedness of things does not always function at those points which are generally expected, although to regard the work as surreal would be an error. In YOUNG's video the traditional elements of poetry are replaced by visual representations of the things themselves. Everyday things that interact in such a way we can see them juggling in the poetic space of YOUNG's imagination. In this manner the signifier's relationship with the referent is displaced, the space for potential association opened up and the author placed at the front of the creative process their presence implied in every detail, whether on or off the screen and therefore their control over the proceedings evidenced.
Thus a scene from Putter, where a men engaged in an oblique and Carrolian dialogue with a white mouse is given reason to doubt his own materiality, as the mouse is seen simultaneously on each side of a mirror but engaged in different activities. This is placed in conjunction with a pair of those little plastic devices for putting golfballs into, and which automatically return it, whilst in the office (many of the things in YOUNG's video are nameless in their banality). As these two devices continuously return the golf-ball to one another we are left to feel that perhaps the only option to an entropic universe of mistakes is one of a self-referential and infinitely boring mechanical, perpetual motion machine . Is the viewer thus always relegated to the outside of what is an hermetic process - the process of authoring - or are the y integral to the accidental.
YOUNG's work is concerned with the small , which compliments he nature of his chosen medium. Video is a small medium, lacking both the dramatic scale of theatrical release cinema and the endless and pervasive presence of broadcast television. In its intimacy and programmability video allows a mode of address and engagement by author and reader which finds its values in immediacy and dialogue. As such , the viewer can see himself reflected alongside the author in the reflective surfaces of the domestic objects the camera focuses upon (Gasfires).
YOUNG always utilises the static camera, not a zoom or pan to be seen, and the cleanest of editing techniques - cut, cut, and the occasional dissolve. Although technically precise and sophisticated there is no evidence of special effects. They are there - for instance, the complex inter-fades required in the multipling bicycle wheel sequence of Domestiques - but subdued and never a central issue. The use of the static camera functions to reinforce the contiguity of the viewers space with that of the subject and establish a tension between what can and cannot be seen , for some of the action does occur off camera. It evidences the hand of the artist as it emphasizes both the authors control of our vision and the lack of control YOUNG seems to have in adjusting to the events that unfold before the camera. If an egg rolls off camera (Indoor Games) we have to employ our imagination and expectations so as to retain narrative continuity although we quickly learn that this is no aid in forecasting the outcome of events.
The use of the static camera could be regarded as related to a purist approach to the medium: where the object is to exclude the camera from the subject. However, YOUNG is emphasizing the camera's presence by establishing such a fixity for it, which is in direct conflict with the world before it. This lends a tragic humour to the Promethean task of keeping all the action before the eye of the viewer.
So, we return to the issue of control. The author's control over his subject (tentative at the best of times ), and the relationship of power between author and viewer. Certainly, there are likely to be other available permutations upon this small set of cardinal points that
describe YOUNG's geometry of interdependent factors, although this is quite enough to go on with.
In YOUNG's work there are no simple answers or solutions on offer , as the balance of power continuously shifts its centre of gravity, at first in favour of one player and then another. It is like an absurd game of musical chairs - where the furniture is involved in the dance as well - where the accident is the only rule. To quote ROBBIE BURNS: The best laid schemes of mice and men...