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Jane & Louise Wilson - False Positives and False Negatives


Reviewed by Naomi Itami / 23.10.13


One can only hope that paradise actually exists after viewing what’s on offer at Paradise Row. False Positives and False Negatives brings together recent works from British twins Jane and Louise Wilson’s trademark fascination with abject architectural remains. By looking back to state-sponsored structures whose purpose it was to look forward, the military-industrial ruins on view are revealed as relics of failed systems of ideology. They provide an unremittingly bleak view of mankind’s obsession with power in modernity. This exhibition comments (perhaps unwittingly) on the pleasures and problems of lens-based looking, thankfully covering new territory around surveillance and ‘dark tourism.’

The b/w images in Blind Landing act as memento moris, drawing on the historical narrative of the former Ministry of Defence H-bomb test facilities on Orford Ness. The windswept skeletal structures, their floors sprouting weeds, evocatively conjure the secret, often lethal experiments that took place there. Likewise, the monumental glossy C-prints of Atomgrad (Nature Abhors a Vacuum) reveal the abandoned interiors of Pripyat, the contaminated city that housed Chernobyl workers. The press release states “…the city has maintained a human presence in the form of day-trippers creating an intersection between catastrophe and desire.”  A rotting classroom shot in sumptuous colour and at nearly 1:1 scale draws the viewer in to what photography does best: capturing decay and the passage of time into a poetic materiality. All of this makes for troubling viewing as one oscillates between desire and revulsion, in the recognition of voyeuristic pleasure.

Complicating both sets of images are interventionist sculptures made of yardsticks, the most successful camouflaged within the picture frame. Others assembled in the gallery space are a superfluous nod toward Constructivism that overstate the absurdist ‘angle.’ Acting as reminders of imperial (and empirical) standards of measuring, they allude to the futility of trying to quantify the intangible damage we’ve wreaked. A final ‘failed’ sculpture, The Konvas Automat, is a bronze-cast replica of the irradiated camera (now buried in a lead-lined sarcophagus) used by the deceased film-maker Schevchenko to document Chernobyl post-meltdown.

Representing a significant new direction in the Wilsons’ career, the film Face Scripting: What Did the Building See? was inspired by the release of a YouTube video by Dubai police of Hamas militant Mahmoud Al Mabhouh’s last day alive.  Atmospheric shots of the hotel where he was murdered are juxtaposed with the actual CCTV footage of his killers’ movements.  For once, we are firmly in the present, invited by the surveillance footage to witness and judge for ourselves. The inclusion in the film of the sisters’ dazzle-camouflaged faces–a technique used to thwart positive identification by digital cameras–though a clever play on twin-hood, also raises timely questions about privacy in the internet age.  

If the Wilsons’ work revolves around the architecture of power and the power of architecture, as we trespass across the remnants of other people’s very real suffering, it is the victims’ absences that are most startling. In the end, dark tourism is a natural tangent to photography’s uneasy relationship with trust; it takes centre-stage in this inexorably sad exhibition.

jane louis wilson

Jane and Louise Wilson

One image from 'False Positives and False Negatives', 2012, screenprint on mirrored perspex, 16 works: each 70 x 50 cm. © Jane and Louise Wilson. Courtesy of Paradise Row.


Jane and Louise Wilson

'Blind Landing, H-bomb Test Facility, Orford Ness, Suffolk, UK', 2013, C-type print mounted on aluminium with diasec, 255 x 180 cm. © Jane and Louise Wilson. Courtesy of Paradise Row.