Visual art: I don't know what's there, because it would take hours to do an inventory

Duncan McLaren
Saturday 31 July 1999 23:02 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Tomoko Takahashi

LIFT, London

The gallery is piled high with hi-tech rubbish. There's a narrow gangway for the visitor to walk through, taking care to avoid being snagged by lengths of cut plastic and metal poles. The eye rests on a spot, but there's so much to see, so much clutter (coils of cable; clapped-out monitors; boxes of metal bits, plastic pieces, hard lines and soft loops) and complication (plastic hosepipe intertwined with a length of flexible saw blade; intersecting mass-material-texture) that it soon passes on ... to complications new. What the hell is this?

The gallery occupies space formerly used by a computer company which now designs websites on the floors above. Tools and equipment from the redundant basement workshop - which can be glimpsed through a grille in the floor - have been hauled upstairs. Three hulking great machines: a multiple vice, a Clarke's 5/8ins drill press, and a lathe, have been pushed back against the gallery walls, embellished with smaller items, and interspersed with free-standing shelving and filing cabinets stuffed with electric cables, light fitments, pots of paint, and who knows what else. I don't know what else because it would take hours to do an inventory, even if the mind could be persuaded to conduct one.

While the exhibition was being made, the upstairs office found that much of its stationery and written records had become obsolete. So lever-arch files and boxes of business cards have been incorporated into the installation. The relatively uncluttered area at the back of the gallery contains sculptural metal shapes - toppled cash dispensers and other interactive units, stripped of their touch screens and bristling with sticks. A ladder, perched on heavy metal, reaches at a rakish angle towards a displaced square patch in the false ceiling. The whole installation speaks of a bewilderingly fast-changing world, information overload, an oh-so- uncertain future, and an artist laughing amid the bedlam.

began the year producing the extremely large-scale installation which is still on display at the Saatchi Gallery. Since then she's done several more, including a three-week project in Lisbon which ended the day before this one began. She was ill during the four-week making of this show. A piece of packaging incorporated in the work states "20 effervescent tablets for hectic lifestyles and unbalanced diets". It's just possible she's been overdoing things.

Cigarette butts - detritus of her own working process - are scattered around. She slept on the premises during the final week (when she worked from early afternoon to six or seven in the morning), but as her collapsible bed was positioned in the hallway outside the gallery, she has not incorporated it into her art. Underpinning all the exuberant activity is a sense of restraint. It seems less contrived than the Saatchi installation, there's not so much technological virtuosity and the focal points are more fully integrated with the turbulent mass of the rest.

The nose of the drill press rotates horizontally, making noise and vibration in the process, but for periods it stops. The machine is on a timer so that it doesn't burn out, as are a computer printer and a dusty old grinder elsewhere in the work. The sounding and silencing of these machines diverts attention from one part of the installation to another, and is a main organising principle for the viewer. With the drill at rest I bend to examine a fan which has been whirring away, only to realise (with the cool air in my face that echoes the blast from a Toshiba air-conditioning unit when standing further along the gangway) that the noise is from a calculator with a print-out function, buried under a tangle of black flex.

Whenever someone telephones the building, two extensions embedded in the installation ring, as they did throughout the work's making, linking the artwork with the present business upstairs. The white phone is on a shelf with a wooden mallet pressing down on the receiver, a sign of the annoyance the ringing caused the artist, perhaps, and a hint to the visitor not to pick up the receiver.

What do we have in this installation? The question can now be answered more succinctly.

Bold and all-embracing site-specific work. The cutting edge (and circling grinder) of corporate art. An entirely untrustworthy ladder.

`': sponsored by Icon Medialab at LIFT Gallery, EC2 (0171 729 3445) to 29 August

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