Centred around a modernist house in West London, Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition exposes art, womanhood, relationships and architectural space.
Home Alone by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
After her delightfully sardonic studies of the summering middle-classes Unrelated and Archipelago, Joanna Hogg hits the cinema screens with her latest and altogether more urban film Exhibition. It’s the story of a husband and wife team of artists living and working side-by-side from home, but it’s the film’s unique location that takes centre stage. Shot almost entirely in the West London modernist home of the late architect James Melvin who died in 2012, there’s hardly a scene where there’s not at least some part of the house visible. And for the most part, Hogg has free rein with its steely spiral staircase, its floor-to-ceiling windows and its nifty mod-cons, placing her kooky protagonist D in its deepest recesses as she lies despondently along its window ledges and brushes its lofty ceilings. It’s the house that has the starring role within the narrative too, recording within its walls the long and happy marriage even as the couple try to sell it. And as it’s recreated in cake at their moving house party, Exhibition exposes the intricate and sweet relationship between a home and its inhabitants.
Married couple D (Viv Albertine) and H (Liam Gillick) are both artists, living and working in the same house, communicating when they get bored by interphone. Having lived there for 18 years, H has decided it’s time to move out, and has the house valued and put on the market by an estate agent (Tom Hiddleston). D doesn’t seem keen on moving, as she nostalgically bids the house farewell, gazing wistfully out of its windows and swimming in its basement pool. But once she’s contacted to assemble some new works for a new exhibition, D dives into her work with gusto, her usually distracted working hours replaced by creative urges of masturbation self-sculptures and light installations. Finally, as the house is sold and they pack their belongings into boxes, D tells H about her exhibition. And they celebrate their years in the house with a party before another family and their children move in.
Like Hogg’s previous films, Exhibition turns a wry eye on the aspirational mores of the middle classes. The husband and wife relationship in camera is a long-entrenched battlefield of barbed comments and long-range familiarity, as they telephone each other in their separate offices, alternately seeking diversion or bristling at the unwanted distraction from their work. But here there are also artistic sensibilities thrown in, as moody H lies face down in Kensington Park Gardens, swims naked in their pool or dictates her dreams into a dictaphone. D is fearful, afraid of the world beyond their fortress with its locks and alarms – the sirens and threatening noises she hears from the street or the voices she listens to on the intercom. She seeks (male) protection from H, who becomes enraged at a parked car intruding on their private space. And their intimacy is fractious, as an unsexed H quizzes a guarded D over whether her prison-striped clothing comes off ever, or as D struggles to evade her husband’s critiquing eye, refusing his derailing cleverness.
Exhibition however is also a portrait of womanhood as it’s stretched to the extreme through the prism of artistic endeavour, as D engages with the world outside her windows – alternately revealing herself naked or hiding behind the blinds. D goes from gazing out mournfully at the garden to exposing herself in hot pants and fluorescent tape, turning herself into a public/private artwork on a pedestal. Her peekaboo relationship with the world – half-in, half-out – inviting people to watch (should they even happen to notice her side-street installation) but remaining out of reach, isn’t dissimilar from her relationship with H. But as Hogg invites us to view the exhibition of their lives, we’re never quite sure whether it’s a sympathetic or a ridiculing gaze she’s casting.
Rather than the wry swide-swipes at the couple’s bourgeois quirks, demanding their prospective house-buyers remove their shoes, Exhibition is most interesting in its portrait of man’s relationship with space – D possessing their empty home as they move out with her body, the couple reclaiming their lost space through sex. Opening the blinds on a couple’s home, work, relationship and lives, Joanna Hogg’s film rides on the viewer’s very personal and individual attitude towards her characters – either graciously accepting their foibles and enjoying the wry scrutiny or exasperated by the couple’s sluggish inertia and infantile art. Without the warmth, tenderness or humour of Archipelago, Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition, like D’s collection of art, is a quirky mix of performance, improvisation and wrong turns that exists because somebody likes it.
Exhibition is released on 25th April 2014 in the UK