The Otolith Group has been nominated for their project A Long Time Between Suns, which took the form of exhibitions at Gasworks and The Showroom, London, with an accompanying publication. The collaborative and discursive practice of The Otolith Group questions the nature of documentary history across time by using material found within a range of disciplines, in particular the moving image.
The Otolith Group’s Turner Prize display is pretty demanding of the viewer. The room is dominated by Inner Time of Television, made up of 13 TVs, each showing an episode of The Owls Legacy, a “groundbreaking” documentary on Ancient Greece first (and last) shown in Britain in 1989. So there are 13 episodes of 26 minutes each, and an accompanying book. On the wall is Otolith III, a 49 minute film piece. There’s a lot to take in. I stayed in the room for a long time, and still had the feeling that I hadn’t really given it enough time. While I was there a group of teenagers walked through, giggling in the darkened room. A few of them stopped and tried on the headphones but took them off pretty quickly when they realised they were watching a documentary about Ancient Greece, and then they left. There isn’t much reward for the casual observer. The work demands time and effort. And maybe that’s part of what it’s about.
We live in an instant world, and we expect everything to be provided immediately and easily. Our attitude towards the TV we watch reflects this – we exist in what the group call a state of “continuous partial attention” – and it’s a climate which is pretty hostile to the likes The Owl’s Legacy. Although the number of television channels has increased a hundredfold since this documentary was originally shown, there is little room left for a series like this.
The Otolith Group retrieve items from film history and force us to reconsider them in a new way. They liken it to an exhumation, although resurrection or reincarnation might be closer to what they seem to be aiming for. They have taken something which would otherwise be dead and forgotten, and have breathed new life into it, although in a different form. There is no space left for it out in the world, but it is maintained in the strange home of the art gallery (and perhaps here it’s given the status the group feel it deserves?). By bringing a TV series into a gallery, we’re encouraged to rethink the power of TV, and possibly even to mourn its decline from an enriching and versatile forum of ideas into entertaining froth.
The film on the wall, taken from Otolith III, was an adapted version of The Alien (1967) by Salyajit Ray, a film which was never made. The original film involved a young boy from Mumbai who befriends a visiting alien. Otolith III explores events from the point of view of four of the characters. In a similar way to The Inner Time of Television, the Otolith group have taken something which would have been lost to film history, and have given it a new lease of life. This time, however, they have brought something into being which would otherwise never have existed. The film raises all kinds of questions, most of which have completely passed me by. But it left me pondering the way some have the power to decide which films are made and which films aren’t. And these films may have a profound effect on culture (or, by being rejected, they aren’t allowed to have an effect). And if each film represents a voice trying to communicate, then how many voices don’t we hear? And why do we hear the voices we do?
I have to admit, I struggled with The Otolith Group. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I’m guilty of the lack of serious attention that Inner Time of Television addresses? But, for me, the work seems too self-conscious of it’s edginess, to the point that it becomes inpenetrable. I’m sure the work is addressing lots of important questions, but they’re very difficult to hear.
You can watch a 3 minute film about The Otolith Group’s Turner Prize 2010 Exhibition on 4OD.