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Johanna Billing: Pulheim Jam Session

  • Art, Film and video
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

A premiere of new video work by the Swedish artist

Getting stuck in traffic is a frustrating waste of time. So, watching a video of an orchestrated traffic jam on a country lane for 20-odd minutes might seem like a tedious and annoying thing to do in a gallery. There is, however, some method in Swedish artist Johanna Billing’s possible madness and a list of questions posed: how do we engage with our immediate environment? What impact does industry have on social structure?

Billing advertised for residents in Pulheim, a city comprising multiple villages in western Germany heavily reliant on cars, to take part in a snarl-up. Over 100 people volunteered. The film documents 60 cars as they take up stationary positions on a narrow road flanked by dense cornfields. With clouds of smoke billowing out from power stations in the background, people entertain themselves inside their motors. A father reads to his sons, a girl texts and picnics are eaten. All this activity is interspersed with a pianist playing in a barn. The music flits between intense crescendos and delicate lulls. And then horns sound and the cars pull off before the film loops and plays all over again.

Surprisingly, it’s a contemplative and calming experience. It makes you appreciate what might occur if you were to give in to unexpected events. Billing toys with the concept of spontaneity, whether a musical jam or a traffic jam. Yet, as crew members wander in and out of shot, she also makes us acutely aware of how every aspect of the event has been meticulously stage managed. And it’s this sense of conditioning – being a cog in the machine – that Billing wants to emphasise. Something us Londoners can all empathise with on the morning commute.

Freire Barnes


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