Tiny Funny Big and Sad

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Tiny Funny Big and Sad, originally uploaded by matlock.

The BFI have just launched their new venue next to the NFT – BFI Southbank. At the launch last wednesday, first impressions is how it seems to resemble the FACT centre in Liverpool, which is no surprise, as Eddie Berg left the FACT centre to set up BFI Southbank, and took curator Michael Conner with him. And Fact also launched with an installation (Soft Rains) by the same artists – Kevin & Jennifer McCoy.

Actually, the space is almost a carbon copy of FACT. There’s a couple of cinemas, a ‘mediatheque’ to view the BFi archive, and the exhibition spaces themselves. Its as if Eddie has taken the plans from Fact and grafted them onto the BFI. But this is not necessarily a bad thing…

Tiny Funny Big & Sad – the project launching the BFI Southbank gallery – is a gorgeous installation. It builds on Soft Rains, using tiny cameras on flexible mounts to project live images of models of cities. These models evoke the paintings of Edward Hopper, Raymond Carver novels, Film Noir – generic american suburbs from the last 50 years. Some elements move – cars on tracks, and a carousel of anytown model people – and the projected images cut between the cameras, given an uncanny resemblance to a real film.

The McCoys’ work has long explored the grammar of film. An earlier project dissected the 70’s cop series Starsky and Hutch according to various taxonomies (every shot including a pot plant; every shot including a kiss). Soft Rains and Tiny Funny Big & Sad are like live performances of these archives, perpetually played on ‘shuffle’. There’s no narrative, just a series of evocative scenes that never resolve into a story. In their potentially endless cycles of recurring narratives, they remind me of Tim Etchells’ durational performances with Forced Entertainment (such as Quizoola) that blur the boundaries between performance and installation.

TFBS is an exquisitely realised homage to the grammar of 20th american film, and therefore to most of western visual culture of the last 50 years. It has an emotional punch that is underplayed by its initial geekiness – you’re first attracted to the perfect simulacra of the models, then moved by the poignant films projected on the wall. It’s live, yet drenched in nostalgia; staged yet uncannily charged with life. If their earlier work dissected the corpse of moving image culture, this is its reanimation – a fitting opening installation for the BFI’s ambitious new project on the southbank.

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