Duet

Stephen Horne

B-312, Montreal / Canadian Art

Andrew Forster, like Bettina Hoffmann, another compelling Montreal-based video-installation artist, has relied on the cyclical gesture to structure his recent performance and video work. In 2005, he presented MOAT, a performance event in London's Trafalgar Square that comprised live video mixed with pre-recorded materials. Cinema (2004) was an ambitious and confrontational performance split into two parts; one was staged in a public Montreal park and the other in a glass-fronted theatre space across the street. Each site presented its performers as the audience for the other performance.

Duet (2008), Forster's latest video installation, extends his interest in the motif of cyclical repetition by staging a Sisyphean program of unproductive labour. One set of images is presented on a small flatscreen monitor in the gallery office; viewers discover them (or not) by chance. The imagery is vaguely recognizable; it has been appropriated from television news feeds and features a young boy struggling to remove what appears to be an explosive vest resembling those worn by suicide bombers.

The second video is projected in a black room. We inevitably enter at a random point in the work's narrative; however, it's not long before the story concludes and the actions repeat: a man in a suit and tie removes his jacket, his tie and finally his shirt, leaving him in trousers and a T-shirt. The T-shirt he struggles with, as if some hidden force is impeding its removal. A woman appears and begins to assist the man, and also to calm him. The success of the T-shirt's removal is undercut by the video looping back to its beginning, with the whole process of removal starting anew. The man's gestures resemble those of the boy in the news images. In this way, the small screen seems to be presenting the source or origin of the performance in the projection.

The protagonists' behaviour reverberates at a greater level as well. The two performers' actions go nowhere-they are subject to fragmentation and repetition, and in this are microcosms of the films themselves, which are structured by cyclical repetition. The performers' isolation mirrors our own, their frustration proportionate to our desire to grasp or exert control over the work of art.

Forster's work takes the form of a narrative that fails to narrate, of time caught in a loop. The ensuing sense of remoteness asks us to rethink the nature of our attachment to the other-an ambitious but rewarding prospect.