No ticket, donation, nor reservation is required to walk along Calvin Street in the Spitalfields district of London. The street is dark and deserted. Somewhere perhaps where one would not choose to walk alone at night. But out of the darkness comes light. Tobias Zehntner’s Zeitfenster is the first in the Lightwall programme of outdoor video installations. A project which heralds the entrance of Eiko Honda – assistant to the internationally renowned artist Gonkar Gyatso – into the world of art direction. As it happens, establishing oneself as an artist is an arduous task. Eiko’s intention: to challenge the conventions of the traditional gallery space by providing an alternative platform for audiences to encounter the work of emerging artists.
To the Swiss artist observation is key. His undirected recordings urge the audience to reflect upon aspects of their daily lives. His editorial input; looping and sequencing, frames human behavior in an unconventional context. Zeitfenster takes the notion of the London commute as a starting point in which to explore the space in-between the home and the workplace. “I am fascinated by it partly because I am not taking part in the daily commute myself,” says Tobias, who also plays the role of the outside observer in his other works.
“Whenever I travel through London I see myself in this unproductive state, it’s a place where I spend a lot of time but also somewhere I feel unable to achieve anything. I find it to be an almost hypnotic state to which the work Zeitfenster with its repetitive nature makes reference. The passengers of this seemingly endless train do not seem to notice that they are in this non-space.”
Characteristic of time-based media is its request for the viewer’s time, which can indeed create limitations. The ‘endless train’ to which Tobias refers is the result of his looped video footage:
“By creating video loops I leave it up to the viewer when to join and when to leave. However, I find that the audience is generally willing to engage with Zeitfenster for much longer than I would expect them to.”
For the artist direction occurs in the editing of his observations from reality. The footage is never staged although its creator claims that the viewer often believes his work to be preconceived, as the behavior of the subjects appears to be too ‘comical’.
Video as a medium is often understood as destined to have sound and to be shown on screen. Instead the twenty-seven-year-old finds it to be an ideal way to present what he describes as the moving image. “Today the moving image is my favoured media, but I prefer to leave my visual observations without disturbance”, he insists:
“I worked with photography for many years. Undoubtedly this experience still influences my practice today. But through my shift to the moving image I found a way of describing movements in space and time.”
Certainly, Tobias’ photographic influence manifests in his use of static cameras and the waiver of sound in his work. Yet it is his keen interest in architecture and ‘artificial spaces’ that claims an almost secondary role within the visual content. Prior to his entrance into the art world Tobias’ studied for four-years on a vocational course for draughtsmen. Whilst he admits there is a strong architectural influence contained in his work it is, of course not the point: “Architecture is all about compromise, where in visual art I am able to follow my own interpretation of things.”
Rather than a form of institutional critique on the traditional art gallery, Tobias believes that the alternative gallery space enriches his work. “It gives you the possibility to show your work outside the usual art frame. As an artist I am forced to take a stand on the surroundings. I found it was actually more difficult to make Zeitfenster work in such a setting compared to a white cube.”
For an artist eager to become established in the competitive sphere of contemporary art, Lightwall cultivates the opportunity for a ‘different’ audience:
“Zeitfenster attracts a lot of people from the art scene, but its public display opens the work up to random passers-by. I hope it makes people stop up for a moment. I hope it makes them look at things differently.”
Lightwall’s art in the dark challenges perceptions of what an art gallery should be. Yet it can also be credited with marking Tobias and the other participating artists out as ones to watch.