Elizabeth Price: The Woolworth's Choir of 1979

4 out of 5 stars
CHOIR 12.jpg
Images courtesy the artist and MOTInternational, London Still from 'The Woolworths Choir of 1979' by Elizabeth Price

The internal architecture of Gothic churches; some 1960s, wall-of-sound era girl groups; the destruction of Manchester's Woolworths store by fire in 1979 – it's hard to imagine more apparently incongruous subjects than the three sections of Elizabeth Price's complex video projection, 'The Woolworths Choir of 1979'. To make the experience more fragmented, images and words only appear on screen briefly – momentarily flashing up to the sound of ecstatic handclaps or tambourine rattles.

Gradually the work starts to cohere as the recent Turner-Prize nominee adopts the format of a visual essay. It's full of textual exposition, making a case for some unexpected correspondences and elisions. In the first section of the video, she describes, using a mixture of archival photos and architectural plans, the wooden church structure known as the 'choir' or 'quire'. The hazy musical footage that follows features a type of choir too, in the all-singing-all-dancing sense, with images of chorus lines serving to amplify and echo the main song. Finally, there's the old BBC footage of the Woolworths fire, with the interviewed witnesses again acting as a kind of chorus, describing and interpreting events.

If all this sounds abstract or academic, there are other, visual metaphors elegantly threading everything together: mainly the repetition of a certain, flame-like gesture, a vital twist of the wrist – as embodied by recumbent statues, the sylph-like movements of backing dancers, and gesticulating BBC interviewees as they attempt to convey the inexpressible enormity of what they've witnessed. The fundamental idea, then, is of grasping after the ineffable; of the human desire to somehow encapsulate or resurrect a vanished moment – a point which is rather beautifully illustrated, of course, by Price's video itself, with its revived footage flickering, intermittent and flame-like, in the darkness.


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