New and old possibilities

Documentation from performance – 10 seconds long.
Conditions: Trying to get as far away as possible. Exposure with self trigger. Three attempts each time.
100 x 120 cm. Ed 3+AP
75 x 100 cm. Ed 3+Ap

Before the advent of digital photography, half the pictures I got back from the chemist’s were either blotched with overdeveloped light or too dark to make out the features of anyone’s faces, so birthday parties looked like post-nuclear wastelands (which, in a way, they were, at least by the end). The worst were the self-timed pictures, cameras set up on concrete bollards, stabilised by a hasty arrangement of pebbles that invariably came back at a mad angle with a figure sprinting into shot.

Erik Berglin fuses that set-up and sprint in works that are part performance, part photography. In each work, the artist prepares a digital camera on a ten-second timer, usually choosing a backdrop of post-war architecture with a handy aperture or ridged surface for better purchase. Setting the timer, the artist then pelts away from the camera, straight on, trying to get as far away from it as possible. You see legs disappearing into holes, a body swinging as it’s pulled up over a fence or hoisting itself over a wall. Initially, these works recall parkour, the urban ‘free running’ phenomenon beloved of advertising agencies and undergraduate sociology dissertations. Yet they have a weird urgency and deadpan style that gives them a lightly held comic charm and surrealist visual punchiness. Magritte, as much as Bas Jan Ader, would have approved.

Sprinting and scrambling against the clock recalls a prison break, and some of the scenes – brutalist blocks and scuzzy back alleys – are lit by a blasting flash, like a searchlight, with the viewer as prison guard, the camera shot that of a rifle’s. It’s a comic riff on the old notion of ‘the gaze’ of 60s performance art with which these works have a distant aesthetic kinship. You might also think of Robin Rhode, whose temporary wall drawings similarly use photography to document a fleeting flash of beauty within a decrepit urban environment. Berglin’s works are slyer than Rhode’s, though, and more casual in their beauty. In “Pizzeria” the artist is caught clambering up a drainpipe on a shabby urban street: the interlocking geometry of window, brick and pavement offer a weathered abstract prettiness, a shopworn Mondrian. Fixed in place by a disinterested click, the artist sprawls on a pin, literally caught on camera.

/ Ben Street