This is an extremely dull and earnest show by an American artist about very serious themes. These are alluded to in a series of monochromatic photographs on the right-hand wall of the downstairs gallery. Here we see pictures of the various devices we have used in recent years to record what happens in our lives, like cassette tapes from those small, portable tape-recorders that, technologically speaking, used to be the newest of the new. Video tapes are here too.
Sean Snyder has a great archive of such things, and from it he assembles his works. His technique seems to consist of picking out bits and pieces here and there, rearranging them, and splicing them together until he has something new to tell us about what all this stuff represents. Much of this archival material is interesting because, in short, human life is interesting. We can't get enough of it. That's what newspapers are for, to keep on telling us about human folly in its ever new disguises.
So we look at these photographs – there are three sets of them on the walls in the first half of the gallery, sometimes displayed in a fairly higgledy-piggledy way, and, at other times, properly squared up as if they are about to be inspected. I have to say that this space does feel terribly empty. Nothing on these walls make you feel excited about the prospect of being alive five minutes from now, not even the picture of Brezhnev as a young man. Especially not the picture of Brezhnev as a young man.
The gallery is divided into two. In the darkened back half a film is being shown. Here we get to watch a quite interesting film from the Communist era in the Ukraine. We see a small museum getting ready to put on a politically correct show about propagandistic Mexican art. We see earnest young people gathered around the paintings. And then there are older people peddling a Communist line about what purpose art will serve in the greater utopia which will surely come soon.
This is how it was back then, and it's interesting to be reminded. Snyder has juxtaposed a few things to point up this and that, but it is not clear to me how much he has intervened, and what good his intervention has done.
Upstairs there are two films which, once again, consist of archival material. In the first we are in Russian-occupied Afghanistan. Soviet soldiers in their uniforms are pretending to enjoy a display of traditional dancing, and tribal elders and drum-belters are pretending to enjoy doing it for them. Suddenly the film cuts off, the screen goes white, there's a splattering of Cyrillic, and the whole thing starts up again. It takes a little while to realise that the film is very short because it is so inconclusive and so repetitive that the mind drifts off.
The final film involves Snyder lecturing us about the evils of photojournalism, and how people manipulate each other.
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