Hannah Rickards at the Whitechapel Gallery

Published on Culture 24

MaxMara Art Prize for Women: Hannah Rickards, Whitechapel Gallery, London, until September 23 2009

If Hannah Rickards’ latest work tells us one thing, then personal accounts are not to be trusted. So perhaps don’t believe all you’re about to read.

It centres on a phenomenon which takes place on Lake Michigan, where an inversion of temperatures causes a mirage of an inverted city. Nowhere in the show do we see photographic or video evidence for this – instead, the viewer must rely on a group of eyewitnesses.
The witnesses are all reliably dull locals, late-middle aged pillars of the community. Rickards has got them together in a non-descript institutional space. A projection screen on the back wall suggests we are in for a lesson of some sort as, indeed, we are.

Three chairs face the middle of the room, making the viewer feel they occupy a fourth. Sometimes we see empty chairs, at others Rickards blacks out the screen. She lets voice-overs speak out of the darkness or over the empty room. Competing testimonies are dubbed over each other.

One man says he can’t recall there being any colour. Another has a vivid recollection of red lights. A woman listening begins to shake her head, the shake eventually becoming a nod. Two men who are dressed identically cannot agree. The hallucinatory event is compared to a movie, a black and white photo, an Etch-a-sketch design. “I don’t think anything I actually saw actually had dimensions,” as one speaker puts it.

The 10-minute film is deliberately short on action and visual appeal. Nothing distracts from the divergence of subjective accounts. It’s a good point and well made, but the piece is so dry and economical that boredom is the occasional result, and this is not helped by poor sound quality.

Rickards herself takes an ironic standpoint on the debate. The film is called No, There was no Red. Whether you agree or not is up to you.

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