Ben Rivers, Kate MacGarry Gallery, London
Friday 23 April 2010
An industrial building by the canal on Vyner Street in London's East End is the last place you might expect to find a glimpse into a world of rural, isolated wilderness. But venture down that street you should, to spend a few moments listening to a man who lives alone in the wild, and to see the landscape of this very country as if it were totally alien – a glorious planet of fetid flora and kaleidoscopic colour. This is the first solo exhibition in a London gallery of artist Ben Rivers, an award-winning film-maker from Somerset in his late thirties, who has a long-term, almost anthropological interest in those who live in isolated locations. Inside Kate MacGarry gallery, you will find a shed-like structure built from discarded building materials: corrugated metal, old windows, garden gates and industrial waste. All surplus to requirement, unwanted and disregarded.
A noisy, rickety projector sits just outside, casting a film inside the ramshackle cabin, which announces itself as "An exploration into the nature of the world via the extraordinary S who lives in the wilderness". S truly is extraordinary, living alone in a cabin in the Scottish highlands in a structure not unlike the one in the gallery, and "evolution", as he says in the film "has been his bag for a long time". Rivers became interested in this isolated character after he heard a friend talking about a man who had spent 20 years reading Darwin's On the Origin of Species, though this turned out to be an exaggeration. S has had much time to ponder his surroundings, however, both through his observations of the forest around him and through his interest in the theories of others, which, we understand from this short film, include evolutionary theory and quantum mechanics.
Rivers's film provides more than an anthropological study of an individual however. Filmed using an old Bolex camera, he presents us with pictures of nature that are beautiful, yet complex. The dramatic splendour on film here is both immediate and nostalgic – the footage is scratchy and grainy, yet bright and too vivid – dappled sunlight is captured soft and yellow scattered over tawny leaves; a tattered spider's web is captured with a pale sunlight shining through it and surrounded by another pink light that is turned into a soft flaring hexagon by the old camera. The film has the appearance of something that has been discovered in a forgotten box in an attic, something from another time, and Rivers is fully aware of the power of this unequivocally gorgeous old material. S describes Darwin's idea that the world was waiting for humans, as if the world needed someone to come and have a look at it, to contemplate it and consider it. And here we are – looking.
From this particularly urban location, nature seems magical, and full of wonder. However, Rivers' film also plays to our fears about a life after some kind of catastrophe – an existence dredged from the waste of a ruined civilisation. Insects crawl over old newspaper pages lying on the forest floor, the new emperors of a forgotten civilisation. Watching S's contraptions at work, made from the discarded materials of others we wonder how we might survive if all the technology we have were to fall away, and whether everything that we have built might lead us further away from the bright twinkling, enchanted world that we see on screen – already it seems far, far away.
To 2 May (020 8981 9100)
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
comedy Erm...he seems to be back
tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Exclusive: Abusers using spyware apps to monitor partners reaches 'epidemic proportions'
- 2 Margaret Thatcher 'expressed fears of Asian rising' at Anglo-Irish summit in 1984
- 3 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 4 The Unluckiest People of the Year 2014 (and one very unlucky giraffe)
- 5 Magna Carta will be 800 years old next year – the perfect reminder of the rights and freedoms we must hold dear
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
Vagina canoe artist defends herself over ‘obscenity’ charges
The Interview film review: Controversial gross-out satire is broad, bawdy and bad - but undeniably entertaining
Doctor Who Christmas special, review: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever