Covent Garden Review: 2008

Sam Taylor-Woods, Sigh
written by Ashley Eldridge-Ford in London

To what extent Sam Taylor-Woods photographic series, Ghosts, inspired by Emilly Bronte's novel Wuthering Heights, is based upon the turbulent love stories in said novel that are representative of her own marriage's dissipation remains to be seen. The ground-floor show in Covent Garden contained photographs by renown photographer and video artist taken on the Yorkshire moors. The photographic scenes are meant to be expressive of the novel's brutal take on the themes of desire, thwarted love and suffering. These are chilly, wintry landscapes reminiscent of Dutch 17th century landscape painting - the tilt of long grasses and leafless trees bowing to a strong incessant winds; the silvery gold shimmer of sunshine breaking through the moody clouds to caress the grasses and unmoving cold stone. This reference to the work of the Old Masters is not unusual for her (A Little Death, 2002; Still Life, 2001). Minus two or so, these photographs contain nothing that professes to be anything more than hastily taken snapshots that are chosen for their superiority over the remaining shots. This is not what makes a trip to the gallery worthwhile.

What does justify a visit to Covent Garden however is downstairs. Here, Taylor-Wood presents Sigh, a large-scale multi-screen video installation made in collaboration with the BBC Concert Orchestra. The musicians and the singular composer are divided by the function of their instruments - strings, wind,  percussion - per screen. Flautists prepare their instruments for play at the indication of the conductor, and they come in on cue - heads beating time - lips pursed, cheeks controlling the expulsion of air, brows furrowed, intense concentration on their faces. Violinists' arms hold steady their violins and move their bows rhythmically across the strings, their feet tapping time. Drums are beaten. Trumpets blown. But - and here is the beauty of the piece - there are no instruments in this orchestra. The musical score was commissioned from composer Anne Dudley and it soars and moves sweetly from one screen to the next - from one ensemble of musicians to the next. The setting is an empty run-down studio and the musicians are dressed in casual attire. The composer, at the front of the room, solitary, controls the musicians performing a private tai-chi-esque sequence of movements. The power of the piece is not only in the music but also in the performance of the musicians who have been stripped of definition without their instruments. Their concentration and intensity in creating this performance - of perfomance itself as art - is stirring.


Until Wednesday 5 November, two more bodies of Taylor-Wood's new work can be seen at No. 1 The Piazza in Covent Garden.

Sigh, 2008, copyright Sam Taylor-Wood, courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube