A Collage of Reflections
The abandoned East Tower was an eerie place in its last days: flickering lights, creaking doors and lonely scrawled-on whiteboards. You might say it was a good place to set a horror film, but you could equally call it a dull empty office block, a great view of London, or the nostalgic home of CBBC.
The fragmented images and sound of Steffi Klenz's film pay tribute to the complexity of architecture and the infinite layers of meaning it encapsulates. Here's the work from her artist residency in the building.
I'm reminded a little of those old-fashioned greetings cards, the ones whose expansive oval borders hem them in, encircling a teddy in a wheelbarrow. Yes, the framing of Steffi Klenz's East Tower film is the first thing you notice. A circular frame funnels your gaze to the centre of the screen, ox-blood red and tightly wound around the video's content. It seems intrusive. This is a video that asks if you're sitting comfortably – then does its best to ensure that the answer is “not really.”
This film contains flashing images.
Klenz is a London-based artist working in photography and film, often probing urban spaces for their unexpected stories. Places where narratives are made get her attention; one of her previous projects, Plotting Spaces, explored the architecture of theatre fly-towers in a series of stills. That's what attracted her to Television Centre's East Tower, an office block she accurately describes as “very boring,” which nonetheless has a proud broadcasting history as CBBC's HQ.
She began the work by constructing a circle of mirrors on an empty floor of the tower. Inside them, Klenz built a circular dolly track on which the camera runs. It captures reflections of the empty office space inside, of London outside, and of the camera crew themselves, caught in the act of filming. Cutting through the interior and the exterior, the mirror shards break down the boundaries between them, unifying and fragmenting inside and outside at the same time.
Sometimes the mesmerising swing of the camera's movement slows and you find yourself staring straight into its lens, and a sense of being watched intensifies. Its gaze is not the hungry gaze of the voyeur, or even the invasive one of a security camera, rather it simply invites you to question your own experience of seeing. The questioning gaze and the tight red circle alike take their influence from René Magritte's 1928 work, The False Mirror (below). The painting's giant eye is the frame for a cloudy blue sky beyond. Without a body and without a face, the eye's secret is that its body is your own. Similarly, Klenz's audience find themselves in the presence of the building, but also in the presence of their own act of seeing it.
The camera never stops moving and the film itself is a loop. Instead of forming a single perception of the place, her work presents itself as incomplete, its processes “operating on a threshold between collage and photography.” The work remains intentionally unresolved, reflecting the building's many layers of meaning: historical, psychological, aesthetic. You can't exhaust the tower, you can only walk away. Like the images, the soundtrack is intricately composed from banks of material. The click of her own camera mixes with BBC theme tunes, and you can even catch a snippet of Super Mario in there.
You'll notice when you watch the work that the red circle will surprise you just as you've learnt to ignore it. Watching the film again, I found that it didn't seem intrusive any more. It seemed to belong. I wondered if its connection to Magritte's eye had changed my mind, or if it was the gentle hypnosis of film's motion itself. One thing's for sure, just when you begin to sit comfortably, it'll disrupt the understanding it's created.
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