Helen Kilby-Nelson reviews Sam Belinfante’s, Accordion, (2014) at the CET Building in Coventry.
In the old press halls of the brutalist Coventry Evening Telegraph building (CET), currently a pop-up art space, Sam Belinfante’s, Accordion, (2014) is currently being exhibited until Thursday 14 June, thanks to Artspace Coventry’s, The Art of Coventry Professional Development Programme. A moving image work originally shot on 16mm black and white film and then transferred to HD video, the film was made in collaboration with accordion player Mark Knoop and composer Neil Luck. I knew the work was an exploration of ‘Ins’ and ‘Outs’, and I was intrigued to find out how the work responded to, and within, the dark industrial basements of this amazing building.
It always feels a bit like stepping back in time when you cross the threshold into the reception area of the CET, and no matter how many times I go there I always get lost amongst the many corridors, staircases and doorways. It’s a bit like being in a dystopian version of The Shining’s, Overlook Hotel but without the carpets. As my eyes struggled to focus in the dim light, all sound was amplified. The rustle of clothing, the distant sound of voices, the soft splash as the surface of a puddle was broken by the sole of a shoe. The eerie sound of Accordion echoed around me and called to me like a Pied Piper.
Walking through the maze of twisting corridors, unexpected encounters occurred. Turning a corner I saw the retreating back of a stranger being swallowed by darkness, before being rewarded with a view of one of the two screens below me. In the cavernous basement the ‘Out’ movements of Mark Knoop play out, they are almost imperceptible, they could appear painstakingly considered, separated as they are from their ‘In’ partner. However, there is a calm expression on the face of the accordion player before me, even though the movements are stilted.
After navigating the enormous print press and carefully descending the high metal staircase, a dampness enveloped me, mingled with the smell of old oil. This did not detract from the work but became a part of the experience. It felt alien and despite the previous glimpses of the work, there was still a sense of not knowing, a disorientation of the senses.
Eventually I found myself in the first basement, an even darker space, despite the light emanating from the projector. A large screen, at least 20ft high hangs from the ceiling off to my right. To view it straight on I need to walk in front of the equipment, I felt a sense of qualm, “am I allowed to do that?”. It felt wrong to break the beam of light, the connection between the two. There had purposely been no attempt to disguise the audio visual equipment. Much like the signs of the buildings previous incarnation, it is laid bare, little red dots of light seem to hover in the darkness until the light reflecting back from the screen allows you to see the technology and the dialogue it creates with the industrial space. Stepping in front of the screen felt like breaking up a conversation and my shadow overlaying the moving image seemed an intrusion.
The floor was wet beneath my feet and my eyes drifted as I walked past towards the next basement room. I was distracted by the perfect reflections playing out in the large puddle at the foot of the screen, a mirror image which creates a continuous moving canvas across the floor. I realised the other side of the screen was also showing a reversed image. The back could be the front, the front could be the back depending on the direction of approach. Fragmented shapes on the brick wall to my right flickered and danced like a modern day Plato’s Cave. Tiny shapes of light appearing and disappearing all around me.
The second space is less intimate, it reminded me of the long aisle of a church, the screen a large tapestry, fooling me into thinking it was the full width of the space. More patches of water reflected disembodied images as I approached. Walking up the aisle in an imaginary Miss Havisham(esque) dress I felt that intimacy I thought was missing. The space became just me and the accordion player. When I turned to leave I was instantly stilled by the first screen, framed perfectly within the double doorway ahead. I was caught between the two, trapped within a stereoscopic image and soundscape, surrounded by the discordant sounds of the accordion. The in and the out separated and layered one on top of the other, the music altered from a continual flow to allow them to happen simultaneously. I felt a moment of panic which passed quickly by taking one step to my right, allowing me to see the room around the screen. I relaxed and once more become mesmerised by the movements playing out on both screens. Another dichotomy created in an exhibition that contains many, both within the work and within its relationship with the space and the audience.
Images on screen, on brick on water. Ahead, above, beneath, around. Breathe in, breathe out. A completely immersive experience.
Accordion can be seen at the CET Building until Thursday 14 June. The pop-up space closes its doors for a final time on Saturday 16 June.