Elizabeth Price: SLOW DANS

Elizabeth Price
Gallery 1
27 January – 14 May 2023

SLOW DANS is a cycle of three multichannel videos – KOHL, FELT TIP, and THE TEACHERS. These three works present a fictional past, parallel present, and imagined future, interweaving compact narratives that explore social and sexual histories and our changing relationship with the material and the digital.

The physical layout of the installation expands on the subjects and themes of the video-cycle. The projectors are oriented vertically, standing in, at various points, for mine shafts, ink wells, the human throat, and the format of a book page. They sit at two different heights, representing spaces below and above ground, the relation between a hard drive and a desktop computer, the interconnections of our geological past and technological present, and explorations of social and economic hierarchies of labour.

SLOW DANS is a collaboration between Artangel, Film and Video Umbrella, Nottingham Contemporary, the Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and Glasgow Life Museums.

Image: Elizabeth Price, THE TEACHERS, 2019
Commissioned by Artangel and the Whitworth, The University of Manchester
Image courtesy of the artist, © Elizabeth Price

ONLINE RESOURCES: courtesy of the artist, © Elizabeth Price

The Chorus and their memory is the first of a series of video lectures created by Elizabeth Price during the Covid pandemic. Unable to deliver lectures in person, and with creative projects interrupted, Price began to make a series of intricately composed video-lectures. Conducted not only from the solitary space of her studio, but deep within the digital repositories and computer interfaces where she creates her videos, they offer a forensic encounter with artistic method and motivation.

In this lecture Price speaks about SLOW DANS primarily focusing upon the two channel work FELT TIP unpicking its processes and analysing the social history of the textiles it features. Dwelling in particular upon a series of neckties that seem to be decorated with the image of a computer chip instead of a historic, institutional crest, she addresses the differing notions of long or deep cultural memory at stake.  

The links below are for FOOTNOTES – a cycle of related, single-screen films. These express some of the social, cultural and technical histories that underpin SLOW DANS, including the etymology of the stiletto heel; the formal conventions of academic robes; the geological origin of coal; and the expressive symptoms of Miner’s Lung disease.

Created under the isolation conditions of COVID-19 during the Spring of 2020, the FOOTNOTES cycle was produced within Price’s studio using ad-hoc props and sets built from things to hand, as well as repurposed animations; abandoned musical compositions and the archival remains of previous projects.

To emphasise the atomised conditions of its production, all the live-action video footage created for FOOTNOTES was made in total darkness, using infra-red light not visible to the human eye. Live sound from the studio captured on camera is retained in the edit, including solitary breathing, laughter, singing, foot steps and the manual handing of props.
STILETTO unravels the history of the word stiletto, which relates the shoe heel of that name to the needle, the pen and the stylus of a gramophone.

SUPERTUNICA is a curt and sardonic description of the formal robes used in academic rituals.
COAL explores the geological origin of the UK’s coalfields. Hand-made props are used to imagine the flora and fauna of the Carboniferous swamps that produced coal, and to stage the events of their extinction.
INKY SPIT explores how regular exposure to coal dust can lead to Black Lung, or Miner’s Lung Disease. One of the first symptoms of the condition is known as ‘inky spit’. The short video acknowledges the horror of this expressive symptom, when a body traumatically turns coal to ink.

Further information:
Elizabeth Price is an internationally renowned artist with work in collections around the world. She has had solo exhibitions at Tate Britain, London, UK; The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, USA; Chicago Institute of Art, USA; Julia Stoschek Foundation, Dusseldorf, Germany; The Baltic, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK; and The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, Scotland. In 2012, she was awarded the Turner Prize for her video installation The Woolworths Choir of 1979. In 2013, she won the Contemporary Art Society Annual Award with the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in partnership with the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art.

Four-channel video projection, running time: 6 minutes

KOHL features the archive of former miner Albert Walker, who photographed UK coalmine architecture between 1970 and 1990. Walker’s images are presented upside down and in negative, representing the erasure of these industrial landmarks from our landscape. They also gesture to what remains, mine shafts still descending to a vast network of tunnels.

This is the basis for a short ghost story, in which the tidal water running through these tunnels becomes an expressive medium, carrying sound from one mine to another. It also appears as inky discharges in the foundations of new buildings, echoing ‘inky spit’, the fatal symptom of miner’s lung disease.

The story is conveyed by four narrators, the spectral ‘visitants’, via typewritten text. Each ‘voice’ appears within a separate projection, announced by a different keyboard sound. The only other visible trace of the narrators is a pair of ink-soaked feet, dancing slowly between the screens.

Two-channel video projection, running time: 9 minutes

Price has described this work as key to the cycle. In FELT TIP, she uses a collection of men’s neckties to explore the changing demographics of the office workforce in the period 1970–90. The ties connect this social change to interrelated histories of writing, weaving and data storage. The phallic symbolism of the tie also recalls the ink pen nib, another representation of those who traditionally held the power to write our history.

The narrators of FELT TIP imagine a different pen, another body. They tell us of a near-future corporate realm where they are employed to store documents in their own DNA. As they do, they touch upon the technical histories of data storage and of the necktie, and the class and gender politics of office life. Their tale turns on a series of visual echoes, proxies and substitutions which are communicated through wordplay.

Woven ties and computer data storage do share a technical history – both are descended from the jacquard loom, a predecessor of computer-aided weaving. Many of the ties feature imagery and patterning that echo emerging computer technologies. Motifs that look like memory chips replace the crests and insignia that silently indicate social class.

Four-channel video projection, running time: 10 minutes

The visual imagery of THE TEACHERS is drawn from photography of women’s formal wear featured in UK fashion magazines between 1969 and 1995. The dresses are elaborate, the models’ poses never natural. They use exaggerated gestures to demonstrate the distinctive features of the clothes. Removed from the context of the fashion magazine, these disembodied gestures acquire different expressive powers.

In the parallel reality of THE TEACHERS, the dresses stand in for the formal robes traditionally worn by men in academia, the clergy, and the law. A chorus of four narrators describes how silence has spread contagiously through these groups. Those affected refuse to communicate other than through ambiguous oral sounds, and exaggerated gestures.

The visual effects in THE TEACHERS were not created digitally but by animating props and light sources. The dresses were reprinted on lightweight bookwove paper, and laser cut to create delicate stencils. These printed paper sheets were rotated slowly in front of a camera, imitating a solemn dance – and also echoing the turning of book pages.

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