SaF05, 2019 is the last in a trilogy of videos that began with Stoneymollan Trail, 2015, commissioned for the Margaret Tait Award, followed by the Turner Prize winning BRIDGIT, 2016. This autobiographical cycle traces the accumulation of affinities, desires and losses that form a self as it moves forward in time. SaF05 draws upon multiple sources—archival, scientific and diaristic—and combines footage from a number of geographical locations (the Scottish Highlands, the Great Basin Desert, the Okavango Delta and the Ionian Islands). SaF05 is named after a maned lioness that figures in the work as a cipher for queer attachment and desire. This animal was the last of several maned lionesses documented in the Okavango Delta, known only to Prodger through a database of behaviours and camera-trap footage logged by conservationists.
Prodger’s ongoing preoccupation with perspective and the physicality of the camera as a sculptural device is expanded in SaF05. Film industry cameras, a smartphone, a camera-trap and a flying drone are each used for their inherent material properties. The drone’s whirring is taken up as a sonic motif that mutates throughout the soundtrack via a bagpipe, a cicada mating call, a saxophone, a battery alarm—syncopated equivalences between animal and human, instrument and machine. Prodger’s autobiographical voiceover traces a chronology of intimate gestures and interpersonal connections from pubescence to the present, inscribed with the wider political structures of sovereignty, land use and territory. SaF05 is a meditation on relations, however tangible, that expand and diffuse conceptions of intimacy, sexuality, and kinship.
Charlotte Prodger’s 6-month artist residency in Berwick-Upon-Tweed (a small town in Northumberland—3 miles south of the Scottish border) in 2017 marked the beginning of an open-ended period of research into an idea of ‘queer rurality’; how queer lives are lived beyond the densely-populated urban contexts that generally dominate LBGTQI narratives, and what happens to the contingent coded signifiers of queer bodies within wildernesses.
Throughout LHB, Prodger recounts her fixation—which began during her Berwick residency—with the Pacific Crest Trail, a 6-month, 2,663 mile long hiking path stretching from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada that traverses some of the most uninhabited wilderness in the US. Simultaneously, she repurposes the Northumberland flag—which marks the turbulent and patriarchal history involving territory, borders and identity of England’s most sparsely populated region—as a rectilinear framing device for her footage. Prodger uses this formal template to tessellate a personal camera-phone archive she has accumulated of urinating in various rural landscapes—an intimate queer territoriality with the gender-delineated spaces within which bodies are either permitted or prohibited to piss. Fluctuating between the macro of geopolitical land use and the micro of the personal-political body, LHB continues Prodger’s ongoing exploration into the complex relationships between bodies, identity, technology and time.
Commissioned for an event in Glasgow hosted by LUX and LUX Scotland, to celebrate the life and work of Ian White (1971–2013) and to mark the publication of Here Is Information. Mobilise: Selected Writings by Ian White. Found footage of a female biologist mimicking the call of the male Great Grey Owl is counterposed with video of the legs of women as they urinate in various wildernesses. The collision of these activities in landscape points towards an exuberant queer territoriality. This work includes a passage from I am (for The Birds), the final text in the book Here is Information. Mobilise: Selected Writings by Ian White.
BRIDGIT, 2016 takes its title from the eponymous Neolithic deity, whose name has numerous iterations depending on life stage, locality and point in history. BRIDGIT explores the shifting temporal interrelations of name, body, and landscape through the work’s narratives where ‘… the force of time is not just a contingent characteristic of living, but is the dynamic impetus that enables life to become, to always be in the process of becoming, something other than it was’ (Time Travels: Feminism, Nature, Power by Elizabeth Grosz).
In this new work Prodger focuses on female attachments—a process of identification that includes friends and shape-shifting deities amongst other figures of admiration. Prodger habitually names her hard drives after personally influential older figures she wants to have in her daily working orbit. At one point during BRIDGIT, her panning camera reveals the icon of a flash drive she has named after a set of recordings by musician Alice Coltrane under the moniker Turiya. Later, in quoting the virtual systems theorist and pioneer of transgender studies Sandy Stone, Prodger cites her different names (Sandy Stone, Allucquére Rosanne Stone, Allucquére Rosanne “Sandy” Stone) as extended embodiments and multiple subjectivities spanning time and space. One of the many myths surrounding Bridgit is of her birth—which is said to have taken place in a doorway, the threshold of inside and out—a transitional space that in Neolithic terms represented the moment of shift from nomadic existence to domesticated agriculture. The footage moves between the domestic interior of Prodger’s home in Glasgow to various locations in the Scottish Highlands where Prodger has worked, as well as transit between. Alongside the film’s voices, the diegetic soundtrack spans these locations with rural soundscapes and incidental background music indoors. BRIDGIT is shot entirely on Prodger’s i-Phone, which she uses as part of day-to-day life, accumulating an ongoing archive. This work utilises some of that archive of footage, just as past works such as Stonymollan Trail, 2015, have done. By utilising the device prosthetically, the technology becomes an extension of the nervous system whilst also providing an intimate connection to global social interaction and work—dissolving the threshold between daily life and the conventions of production. For Prodger, the iPhone presents a set of rigorous formal parameters not unlike her previous explorations in 16mm. Where 16mm film has a fixed length (eg 100ft rolls), the iPhone has data storage limitations that constrain her shots to roughly 4 minutes in length and under, just slightly longer than a roll of film. Through image and interweaving narratives, the video explores multiple registers of bodily time: the arc of Prodger’s own life; the period of a year she took to make the piece; the real time of industrial and civic transportation; the clockwork rhythm of the medical institution; the temporality of socio-political movements that bridge individual lives and generations, and the vast time of prehistory.
Produced for the 2014 Margaret Tait Award, The feature-length Stoneymollan Trail is Prodger’s first single screen video. Stoneymollan trail is an ancient ‘coffin road’ in Scotland linking the Firth of Clyde with Loch Lomond. Prodger’s video of the same name traces a history of recent video formats as well as the artist’s personal history. It comprises material from multiple formats: a personal archive of miniDV tapes shot between 1999 and 2013; high definition camera footage; iPhone videos; screen printed graphic forms and recorded voiceover.
Many of the tapes have corrupted over time, with emulsion breaking away and gathering at the edge of the frame. The geometric patterns caused by this degradation hover between entropy and order, a cubic aesthetic analogous with Prodger’s earlier rectilinear installations. Similarly, the video’s use of the geometry of the 16:9 (wide-screen) and 4:3 (standard) aspect ratios, bring the spatial concerns of Prodger’s former multi-monitor works into the linear constraints of the single screen. Stoneymollan Trail considers screens both as objects in the world (monitors, windows, folding screens), layered internal rectangles within the video, and as framing devices through which culture and reality are shaped. Throughout Stoneymollan Trail, language is used to explore subjectivity and the sequencing of desire. As well as writing from a personal perspective, Prodger includes a passage from the memoir of science fiction writer Samuel Delaney and an extract of an essay by post-minimalist artist Nancy Holt, exploring the contingent limits between self and other via intimacy and labour. Subject position in Stoneymollan Trail is in flux, since Prodger has no recollection of shooting much of the old miniDV footage she is using here (despite its personal content). She comes to it as found footage in a sense, being half inside and half outside it. Prodger considers her iPhone camera almost as a prosthetic device, an extension of the nervous system, intimately connected to global time, social interaction and work, its footage unavoidably revealing the visible rhythm of the body breathing. In contrast, punctuating Stoneymollan Trail are eight static shots of windows overlaid with screen printed indents featuring the names of cross-streets in Glasgow, where the artist lives and works. Each of these ‘chapter headings’ documents spaces that Prodger has produced work in over the last few years. The windows are presented as meditative surfaces of projection, hovering between introspection and output. Although Stoneymollan Trail weaves many images and experiences which shift around in time and space, it is locally grounded in its social attachments and means of production. It draws upon feelings Prodger experienced during the actual editing of the video, relating to technology, labour, care, language and loss.
Cinema may be dying but aspects of its experience are ubiquitous—its echoes are found in having one’s hearing tested in a soundproof booth, or sitting at the kitchen table watching a downloaded film. Often, when a film is re-shot in a cinema illegally, it is recorded at an oblique angle with some of the image lost. HDHB, 2011 uses this re-framing and compression to critique hierarchies of image quality. It suggests industrial modes of calibration as a process of sensory normalisation.
Northern Dancer, 2014, considers the video monitor on one level as a blank, interchangeable vessel for the purposes of channeling content, and on another as a discrete entity with its own design history, social context and relationship to the human body. Central to this is the slippery notion of the version, where something produces a mutation of itself.
The Hantarex monitor has been a core component of Charlotte Prodger’s recent installations and performances. She reroutes elements of display and design alongside decontextualised narratives to create an itinerant space of desire. Multiple subjectivities and coded erotics are held in tension with the stark formalism of her installations that consider the contingency and intimacy of materials both physical and textual. Prodger considers what happens to language and other representations of the self as they metamorphose via time, space and various technological systems. For this installation, Prodger has designed steel display structures for The Block’s new monitors which support her work, Northern Dancer.
Prodger references the ever-shifting multiple temporalities of internet video in parallel with the Paleolithic relationship between language and technology. The speaker stands anthropomorphically at the scale of the human body, bringing Prodger’s voiceover up from the ground (where it was previously positioned in the boomboxes of handclap/punchhole, 2011 and :-*, 2012) to the height of the viewer’s mouth. Percussion Biface 1-13, 2012 utilises philosopher Bernard Stiegler’s theory that the development of the body and brain were symbiotic with that of early technology.
The prehistoric emergence of language was driven by structural changes associated with becoming bipedal, where erect posture freed the hands and mouth from grasping on the ground, stimulating a suite of intertwined developments among the trio of hand/mouth/tool. Prodger continues her exploration of the videos of anonymous YouTube user Nikeclassics. Here we see a ripped video of him wearing a pair of Adidas trainers gifted by one of his YouTube followers, where he scrapes the trainers repeatedly against a slab of bedrock. Simultaneously, Prodger describes her experience of watching an unrelated YouTube video by Paleomanjim, a hobbyist flintknapper cutting down a large spall of Back Oregon Dacite to form a prehistoric tool called a biface. Throughout these formal observations, Prodger describes formative fragments of her own autobiographical history that shaped the evolution of her queer identity. Percussion Biface 1-13 interweaves multiple temporalities: prehistoric time, the time of the digital archive, deep geological time, the sonic time of language, the bodily time of craft or eroticism.
:-*, 2012, marks a significant shift in Prodger’s practice: a turn to digital material—ripped YouTube videos—after years of using exclusively 16mm film. An anonymous YouTube user called Nikeclassics posts domestic videos documenting acts of adoration and destruction to his pristine collection of trainers. Prodger interprets his videos as a desire to see every part of the object—a fetishism opposing part to whole—thus framing them within the historical context of structuralist film where the processes of measuring, cutting—of visual and material pleasure—were privileged over content. The Hantarex monitors used here subsequently become signature objects in her work. Here, Prodger uses these echoes of minimalist sculpture as boxes to contain these artefacts pulled from the endlessly shifting terrain of internet video.
Beneath each of his YouTube videos, Nikeclassics asks for comments. This installation is Prodger’s way of commenting. Weaving fragments from her own personal history between comments lifted from his YouTube page—she writes through an intimately queer lens (then records onto audio cassette) to ‘meet’ his seemingly inexplicable material actions. Her writing is removed one step further in terms of fragile, haptic physicality, as it’s recorded as voiceover onto audio cassette. Fragments gleaned from different places and points in the artist’s life are shown in parallel to reveal an ongoing enquiry into the contingency and intimacy of materials.
The unstable notion of the ‘version’—where something produces a mutation of itself—is played and replayed throughout Prodger’s work. In this installation, she again uses a Sharp boombox, but it is the later version (GF777) than the one she used one year previously in handclap/punchhole (GF767). The GF777 is considered the holy grail of boomboxes, it was designed in 1982 to drown out all other boomboxes on the street. Prodger repurposes this rarified object by using to transmit not music, but a cross-pollinating collection of personal histories. These narrative fragments shift between tenses and persons just as the edgelessness of Internet video can be experienced everywhere simultaneously.
In addition to the boombox, Prodger includes another device in this installation: mounted on the wall is a small, hand-held film splitter—an obsolete tool formerly used in film labs to split 16mm film in half, resulting in a format called Double 8, representing Prodger’s repeated motifs of doubling, splitting swapping and reproducing.
handclap/punchhole, 2011 is a continuation of Charlotte Prodger’s exploration into the tension between language and material, through the use of audio cassette tape and 16mm film. The title of the exhibition takes its name from two actions which are used in the synching of sound and film yet can also allude to two autonomous gestures.
The installation handclap/punchhole orbits two optical devices: Sherborne Abbey’s mirror-trolley which enables visitors to view the ornate medieval ceiling without straining their necks, and Tony Conrad’s seminal 1965 minimalist film The Flicker which is composed of alternating black-and-white frames. By juxtaposing the ornate spectacle of Sherborne Abbey’s ceiling with the anti-image of structuralist film, Prodger contrasts the Reformation’s stripping away of excessive ornamentation with the supposedly subject-less surface of minimalism.
The black/white motif of The Flicker is stretched out and dispersed throughout Prodger’s new film, used as spacer between images and appears as a hoodie on the figure in the abbey. In the final section, Prodger has directly appropriated the form of The Flicker and as the monochrome strobe accelerates, a voice on the recorded tape describes a recent domestic video found online of two anonymous boyfriends engaging in a curious footplay ritual. In this context, their interchangeable black and white sportswear and back-and-forth gestures reflect Conrad’s formal structure.
The installation also includes a Sharp GF 767; considered the epitome of boomboxes, designed in 1982. Here, it is competing with the mechanical sound of the silent images traveling through the film projector. While the film documents a small intervention—a queer countercultural body in an historical environment which has been repositioned into a mainstream tourist attraction, the boombox plays a collection of cross-pollinating oral histories, which thread in-and-out of the projected film.
Prodger proposes a nexus of language and technology as a conduit for slippages and cross-association, where for example, the increasing obsolescence of analogue cinema is seen as being simultaneous with the obliteration of public cruising spaces: queer subjectivity brushing up against the formal parameters of reproductive technology.
Two identical monitors face opposite directions at head height on a custom-made powder-coated stand. One monitor 1, a man scrapes his Adidas trainers repeatedly against a slab of bedrock. On monitor 2, with the sound stripped away, is a ripped domestic YouTube video by Paleomanjim (an amateur flintknapper) demonstrating the ancient laborious process of whittling down a large rock to make a biface—a paleolithic flint tool.
Prodger’s voiceover describes in minute detail the visually obscured flintknapping video while monitor 2 faces away from the viewer. Throughout these formal observations, she describes formative fragments of her own autobiographical history that shaped the evolution of her queer identity. Forest Hills/Oregon Dacite interweaves multiple temporalities: prehistoric time, the time of the digital archive, deep geological time, the sonic time of language, and the bodily time of craft or eroticism.
This work remixes elements of Prodger’s 2013 installation Percussion Biface 1-13, revolving around philosopher Bernard Stiegler’s theory that the development of the body and brain were symbiotic with that of early technology. The prehistoric emergence of language was driven by structural changes associated with becoming bipedal, where erect posture freed the hands and mouth from grasping on the ground, stimulating a suite of intertwined developments among the trio of hand/ mouth/tool.
Compression Fern Face, 2014, powder-coated monitor stand with wheels, Sony 14L5 video monitor, Pioneer V73000 DVD player, headphone amp, Beyerdynamic DT 770 headphones, looped DVD, extension cable, A/V cables
A video monitor displays a monochrome wireframe animation in which two ambiguously coded symbols move in hypnotic tension with each other like negative magnets. The monitor stand, scaled to human height, forces the viewer to confront the body twice in absentia, both as disembodied voice and dematerialised abstraction. On headphones, Prodger’s voice reads a series of short descriptions—cribbed from the Electronic Arts Intermix online catalogue—of Dennis Oppenheim’s early 16mm films, each documenting inexplicable material actions such as scraping a fingernail along a dusty corner and crushing a large fern slowly with one hand so that it disappears inside his fist. Many of Prodger’s video works explore what happens to speech—and the self for which it is a conduit—as it metamorphoses via time, space and technological systems, here as much a crossing of gender as the spatio-temporal.
Prodger has transcribed the translated voiceover from the short film Les Mains Negatives by Margeurite Duras that describes the prehistoric, pre-linguistic hand prints found in caves in Southern Atlantic Europe. They were made by blowing pigment mixed with water through bone onto the hands so that a negative shape remains. These multiple hand prints were, in Duras’ interpretation, people simply recording their existence, in front of the immutability of the sea and the granite.
Here, Prodger presents Duras’ voiceover as silent subtitles on a black screen without images. On either side of the work, Prodger places screen prints that use found imagery: matrilines, compiled by marine biologists, of Orca pods off the coast of British Columbia. The biologists who name the Orcas identify them by their individual fins. As indexical objects, the fins represent the whole animal beneath the surface just as the handprints on the cave wall represent the whole human. Just as Orcas are identified by the monochrome markings on their skin, Prodger has overlaid on the screen prints scale 1:1 ventilation hole patterns from the sides of the specific monitor and DVD player used in this work. The function of the ventilation holes is to ensure longevity of the machines by allowing them to breathe. The hole patterns are also used to identify one model of machine from another if they are similar of design. The yellow hue Prodger has chosen for these patterns corresponds to the standard yellow widely used in subtitling throughout the film industry.
Max The English Bull Terrier Trancing, 2014 and Mini The English Bull Terrier Trancing, 2016, take as source material the unexplained phenomena—unique to English Bull Terriers—of ‘trancing’ while gently rubbing against foliage. These ripped domestic YouTube videos represent marginal documents of this largely unrepresented activity.
Prodger has repeatedly used the Hantarex monitor to investigate the video monitor in one sense as a blank, interchangeable vessel for the purposes of channeling content; and in another as a discrete entity with its own design history, social context and relationship to the body. Prodger has designed a custom steel stand which holds the monitor at head height, as though an anthropomorphic encounter.
For the first iteration of this work, Max the English Bull Terrier, 2014, Prodger repurposed the iconic Hantarex monitor by presenting it in its unpainted state. The absence of its final layer of black powder-coating reveals its stripped-back steel casing as a raw yet iridescent surface, opening up considerations of surface tension and material pleasure echoed in the intimate actions of the dogs.
Its second iteration, Mini the English Bull Terrier Trancing, 2016 has a 20″ Sony PVM monitor and a bespoke powder-coated monitor stand (RAL 1011).
Charlotte Prodger’s photographic series draws on material encountered during the making of SaF05, 2019, the artist’s single-channel video work commissioned by Scotland + Venice for the 2019 Venice Biennale. The series comprises pages of a book showing 6th Century BC Assyrian stone relief panels, in the process of being cut and collaged by Prodger. In palace reliefs of this period, the distinction between foreground and background appears flattened, counter to linear perspective’s illusionary depth. These spatial systems echo Prodger’s ongoing preoccupation with perspective, framing and time in relation to bodies and landscape.
Sophie With Sheets, 2010, is a series of four photographic prints made while studying at Calarts in 2009-10 where Charlotte Prodger was absorbing herself in their 16mm film darkrooms, taking semiotics classes and probing the reproductive properties of Xerox. Sophie with Sheets is composed of images within an image. Prodger used monochrome 35mm slide film to document a woman’s hands unfurling four photocopied sheets she found in an empty classroom at Calarts. The sheets – a teaching aid left behind by an animation drawing class – depict a man’s fist rotating in sequential units; their function to teach students of cell animation how to draw anatomical movement frame by frame. This framing of bodily gesture through a queer lens is an early example of Prodger’s ongoing interest in the tension between language and material – rubbing the formal parameters of time and technology up against autobiographical explorations of coded queer identity, female masculinity and the intimate contingency of materials.
EXHIBITIONS at Hollybush Gardens
The Sky Is Leaden In The South: An Evocation Through Grey
Andrea Büttner, Helen Cammock, Lubaina Himid, Ellen Lesperance, Liliana Moro, Ruth Proctor, Charlotte Prodger, Lis Rhodes
13 March – 31 July 2020
When my eyes saw and when my ears heard
Manon de Boer, Adam Christensen,
Simone Forti, Luca Frei, Charlotte Prodger, Kenneth Tam
22 September – 28 October 2017
New Artist Focus
Essay by Jaclyn Bruneau, LUX, July 2020
A Satisfyingly Fruitless Search: On Charlotte Prodger’s SaF05
By Jacklyn Bruneau, Brooklyn Rail, December 2019
Essay by Laura Guy, in Scotland + Venice publication for SaF05, for Venice Biennale 2019
The Queer Subjectivity of Charlotte Prodger’s BRIDGIT
By Frances Whorrall-Campbell, Another Gaze, September 2019
By Erika Balsom, Artforum, October 2018
Aesthetics and Anaesthetics in Charlotte Prodger’s BRIDGIT
By Mason Leaver-Yap, in NO.5 Bergen Kunsthall, 2017
Stoneymollan Trail / BRIDGIT
Bergen Kunsthall, Norway, 2017
By Paul Carey-Kent, Frieze, January 2017
Review: Charlotte Prodger at Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin
By Declan Long, Artforum, March 2016
Review: Charlotte Prodger at Spike Island, Bristol
By Adrian Searle, The Guardian, October 2015
Microsphaeric Howard Hughes Heaven Movie
By Jenny Brownrigg, Afterall, January 2015
By Brian Turner, The Wire, Issue 378, August 2015
Mason Leaver-Yap, catalogue essay in British Art Show 8 (London: Hayward Publishing, 2015)
Charlotte Prodger (b.1974, United Kingdom) is a Glasgow-based artist working with moving image, writing, sculpture and printmaking. She was the winner of the 2018 Turner Prize and represented Scotland at the 2019 Venice Biennale. She received the 2017 Paul Hamlyn Award and 2014 Margaret Tait Award.
Forthcoming solo exhibitions include Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Kunstmuseum Winterthur; and Mercer Union, Toronto. Solo exhibitions include SaF05, Scottish Pavilion, Venice Biennale (2019); Colon Hyphen Asterix, Hollybush Gardens (2018); BRIDGIT/Stoneymollan Trail, Bergen Kunsthall; Subtotal, SculptureCenter, New York (2017); BRIDGIT, Hollybush Gardens, London; Charlotte Prodger, Kunstverein Düsseldorf (2016); 8004-8019, Spike Island, Bristol; Stoneymollan Trail, Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin (2015); Markets (with The Block), Chelsea Space, London; Nephatiti, Glasgow International (2014); Percussion Biface 1-13, Studio Voltaire, London; Colon Hyphen Asterix, Intermedia CCA, Glasgow (2012) and Handclap/Punchhole, Kendall Koppe, Glasgow (2011). Group exhibitions include Nine Lives, The Renaissance Society, University of Chicago; A Sculpture & Six Videos, Wesleyan University, Connecticut; Freedom is Outside the Skin, Kunsthal 44 Moen, Denmark (2020); Palimpsest, Lismore Castle (2019), Ireland; Turner Prize, Tate Britain, London; Always Different, Always the Same: An Essay on Art and Systems, Bunder Kunstmuseum, Chur; ORGASMIC STREAMING ORGANIC GARDENING ELECTROCULTURE, Chelsea Space, London (2018); British Art Show 8 (2016); Weight of Data, Tate Britain, London; An Interior that Remains an Exterior, Künstlerhaus Graz (2015); Annals of The Twentieth Century, Wysing Arts, Cambridge (2014) Holes In The Wall, Kunsthalle Freiburg, and Frozen Lakes, Artists Space, New York (2013).
Prodger’s work has been screened at various film festivals, including London Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival; International Short Film Festival Oberhausen; Courtisane Festival, Gent; RAI Ethnographic Film Festival, Bristol, Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival; Lux Biennial of Moving Images, London; GIFF Festival of New Cinema, Manadaluyong; Seoul International New Media Festival; Bucharest International Experimental Film Festival and Vancouver International Film Festival. Performances include Orange Helvetica Title Sequence, New York Book Art Fair, MOMA PS1 (with Bookworks); Microsphaeric Howard Hughes Heaven Movie, Tramway, Glasgow and Assembly: A Survey of Recent Artists’ Film and Video in Britain, Tate Britain (2014). Fwd: Rock Splits Boys, Cafe Oto, London and Spike Island, Bristol; Re: Re: Re: Homos and Light, Artists Space, New York, (with Mason Leaver-Yap, 2013) and Querido John, Kings Place, London, John Cage Centenary (with Electra and The Wire, 2012).