Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Free Association: John Wood and Paul Harrison at The Frist

Posted By on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 at 7:00 AM


John Wood and Paul Harrison are a British artistic duo who make deadpan video installations that cannily draw from both high- and lowbrow culture. Answers to Questions, which opens at The Frist on Feb. 3, features 10 video installations that span the length of the pair's collaboration — from 1993 until now.

I'll write a more in-depth review in an upcoming print edition of the Scene. But in anticipation of the exhibit, I went on a YouTube excavation to come up with some videos that I think lay a pretty broad and interesting groundwork for Wood and Harrison's work. Basically, if you don't know much about contemporary art but you like Buster Keaton, you're closer to understanding these guys than you might think. If you're already pretty familiar with contemporary art, and you're a fan of Gilbert & George, Wood and Harrison might be up your alley, too.

Check out more cultural touchstones after the jump.


Gilbert & George are Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore, two artists who have been performing together since they met in the late 1960s. This is their most famous piece, called "The Singing Sculpture," which they first performed in 1970.


Buster Keaton mixed extreme physical comedy with a deadpan expression, and even though he probably inspired more second-rate sidewalk performers than anyone has ever needed, his work is still really funny.


Photographer William Wegman used Weimaraner dogs the way some people would use puppets, and with hilarious results. The nursery rhyme videos he made for Sesame Street are some of the most beloved non-Muppet segments in the series — in my household, at least.


Jacob Tonski's "Balance Study: Threshold" was my favorite part of Cheekwood's recent Material Apparatus exhibit. His experimentation with movement and steady camera angles is both simple and captivating.


And surely I'm not the only one who couldn't get "Sprockets" out of my head while watching Harrison and Wood. The matching all-black clothing, the eternally straight faces, the stiff movements, the veil of pretension — it's all there. I'd love to see all the takes Harrison and Wood cut, because I'm sure they couldn't keep a straight face every time.

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