Rokeby Gallery is easy to miss – hidden away and up a flight of stairs inside another gallery, Hollybush Gardens, which itself is hidden away in a tiny mews in between Clerkenwell and Fitzrovia. But do not miss the current show by American artist Conrad Ventur. Ventur is fairly well known in New York, with a successful show at Moma’s contemporary art branch in Brooklyn, PS1, and his work is in the collection of the Whitney Museum. For his PS1 show This Is My Life (Shirley Bassey) in 2009, Ventur used internet footage of Dame Shirley Bassey singing her 1968 hit song “This Is My Life” at various points during her career, which he filtered through rotating crystal prisms, projecting Bassey’s image across the walls of the gallery in a kaleidoscopic formation.
The same immersive approach is taken in the film Pink Seat shown at Rokeby, yet on a much more intimate scale, and the film is entirely shot by the artist himself. This is a highly personal project. Fellow artist and friend Rafael Sanchez lost his partner, painter Kathleen White, to cancer in 2014. Sanchez invited Ventur to live in the New York apartment where he and Kathleen lived, to archive her art and the objects that she loved. Ventur stayed for eight months.
The result is a film on a continuous 40 minutes-loop, showing each of Kathleen's treasured possessions as moving still-life tableaux – quiet, contemplative objects against the backdrop of the buzz of New York’s streets, construction works, birdsong. Life goes on, it seems to say. Yet someone’s memory can linger forever in cherished objects, such as this pink bicycle seat, weathered and still carrying Kathleen’s imprint, which she hung as an artwork on her wall.
Ventur’s technique of overlaying images is used here very powerfully, and it has the effect of softening the objects, turning them into a ‘reverie’ on life. And it is this sense of reverie that lifts the film above a very personal account of loss and makes it into something much more subtle and universal. Most of us have lost someone dear, and the film made me think how the tangible things that someone leaves behind can be as powerful as the memories inside our heads. But what really sets this film apart and makes it so much more than a shrine, a mere act of mourning, is its sense of place as a site for memory and reflection. How often do we take time to sit quietly and think and feel, looking around at the objects in our house, at the late evening light falling onto a beloved chair, listening to the noises outside?
Ventur reminds us that there should be time for reveries, taking time to look back, process loss or to fantasise about the future. Ventur's film Pink Seat made me think of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s seminal book of 1958, The Poetics of Space, which ponders over how we experience intimate places, and how perceptions of a house can shape our memories and thoughts. Poignantly, Bachelard uses the dream house as metaphor, saying that we should cherish but not get stuck in the past, and that we should realise that some dreams are better left unrealised:
“Maybe it is a good thing for us to keep a few dreams for a house that we shall live in later, always later, so much later, in fact that we shall not have time to achieve it. For a house that was final, one that stood in symmetrical relation to the house we were born in, would lead to thoughts-serious, sad thoughts- and not to dreams. It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality.”
Take a moment in your busy life to visit this show, and to dream.
Conrad Ventur, Pink Seat, Rokeby Gallery, until 23rd June.
Make sure to check opening times and directions.