Artangel presents the British artist’s most ambitious work in the BBC’s vacant drama building.
Artangel is known for putting on shows in unusual and one-off spaces – and this one’s a doozy. The location is the soon-to-be-demolished drama block at the BBC’s defunct Television Centre in White City, and as you wander around its labyrinthine levels, through gargantuan industrial spaces and cramped prop cages, past abandoned offices and along corridors marked by the paint splatters from generations of set-designers, you sense the former life of the building everywhere – a palpable, ghostly sense of desertion.
As for the art, well, appropriately Ben Rivers is a filmmaker. The show’s title comes from a phrase once heard by the writer Paul Bowles while living in Morocco, and that country provides the unifying motif for the five films here, most of which are projected within large, makeshift wooden spaces built from salvaged BBC sets. There’s a loose adaptation of a famously brutal Bowles short story about desert bandits, using local Moroccan non-actors – except that the film also reveals its own making, with scenes being redone and clapboards being clacked. This theme of fabrication extends to the other works too: from recordings of Mohammed Mrabet, Bowles’s muse, telling enthralling and long-winded stories to two films using behind-the-scenes footage of other movies simultaneously being filmed in Morocco, to material shot by Rivers when he was working for one of those other filmmakers…
Confused? That’s sort of the point. The idea is for different levels of reality and fiction to blend and intertwine, with the Moroccan landscape acting as a sort of stage set, a background against which different imaginings can be projected – a Morocco of the mind, you might call it. Yet while Rivers’s footage is often austerely beautiful, the intertextual referencing occasionally starts to grate and the sheer, meandering length of some pieces can render them a little mundane. In the end, it’s the location – the real, BBC environment – that’s the star of the show.