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British artists John Wood and Paul Harrison combine physics and humor in video installations
John Wood and Paul Harrison. Night and Day (video still), 2008. Single channel HDV, 24 minutes, 18 seconds. Courtesy of the artists.

NASHVILLE, TN.- Work by British artistic duo John Wood and Paul Harrison, whose humorously dynamic video installations speak to the triumphs and trials of creating art and living life, are on view in the Frist Center’s Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery February 3–May 6, 2012. The exhibition, entitled Answers to Questions: John Wood and Paul Harrison, is part of the creative team’s first United States museum tour of their work and features 10 video installations and a selection of the artists’ print posters.

Presenting works from their collaborative inception in 1993 up until 2011, Answers to Questions provides insight into the way the pair’s work has developed throughout their career. Their work is, in its essence, an artistic exploration of a problem; their videos reflect the exercise and outcome of their inquiries. Basic physics and gravity act as the protagonists in these videos, and the artists frequently employ their own bodies as raw materials in addition to using simple props and everyday objects. Considering themselves to be sculptors who use video as a medium to document their work, the artists characteristically use uncomplicated staging and filming techniques. The straightforwardness of their videos helps highlight their physical activities, as well as other kinetic elements at play in their sequences.

Wood and Harrison are recognized for their dry, deadpan delivery, which serves to create a sense of silliness that is only heightened by their apparent self-awareness in the videos. “Wood and Harrison bring a wry sense of humor to their work, which can be very conceptual and is steeped in minimalism,” says Frist Center Associate Curator, Trinita Kennedy. “They create a unique blend of the philosophical and funny, intellectual and inane. These juxtapositions reveal the inventive play behind all art, even in its most esoteric forms.”

The sense of experimental play informs the duo’s work, as seen in Three-Legged (1996), which features the artists—one of Wood’s legs tied to one of Harrison’s—as they attempt to dodge tennis balls being fired at them from a high-speed serving machine. There is a palpable slapstick quality to the scene as the “three-legged” pair stumbles and fumbles in an effort to escape the speeding tennis balls, only to be beaned a moment later. Additionally, Three-Legged recalls the work of New York artist Vito Acconci, specifically his Blindfold Catching (1970), a work in which a blindfolded Acconci attempts to catch balls being thrown at him. This subtle reference demonstrates Wood and Harrison’s firm grasp of the conceptual strains of art that have shaped the pair’s projects.

Answers to Questions also includes a series of print posters produced by the artists since 2009. Entitled Some Words, Some More Words, the posters present witticisms that play on the ideas of both time and space. These stark statements, regarding anything from one’s physical location to an abstract state of mind, cleverly invite subconscious reflection on one’s own position in the story-line of reality.

John Wood and Paul Harrison met in the late 1980s while attending art school at the Bath College of Higher Education in England. Wood, born in 1969, lives in Bristol, England, while Harrison, born in 1966, resides in Birmingham, England. During the history of their collaboration, the artists have never lived in the same city; instead, they convene for a few weeks at a time in a studio they have set up in Bristol. The duo is well-known in the United Kingdom, and their work is widely shown in Europe. The artists are represented in permanent collections of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Tate Modern in London, and Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

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