Still Not Out of the Woods

Artists and climbers Dan Shipsides and Neal Beggs recall an ascent to the summit of Lagazuoi

Sitting on the floor in the MAC's Sunken Gallery, amid the strange paraphernalia of the new Shipsides and Beggs Projects installation, it strikes me how rare it is that we stop and actually spend some time with a work of art.

So often we experience art in passing, always moving on to the next piece. As a result, our impressions can be vague, fleeting, insubstantial and, sometimes, unsatisfying. Deciding to sit down on the ground and stay for a while can be daunting. What if it's boring? What if it's meaningless?

Fortunately, in the case of Dan Shipsides and Neal Beggs' (otherwise known as Shipsides and Beggs Projects) collaborative piece, Still Not Out of the Woods, the move pays off. Besides, I have a comfy cushion offered by a kind gallery attendant, as protection against the cold concrete floor.

Shipsides and Beggs are both climbers, as well as artists, and this work grew from a climb the two men made to the summit of Lagazuoi, in the Italian Dolomites. It was inspired by a form of mountaineering called Via Ferrata – ‘the iron way’ – which was developed during the First World War as a way of accessing strategic summits.

This is no straightforward representation of the climb, however. Rather, the experience is refracted through the use of distorted sound and obstructed vision. A huge, free-standing five-pointed star provides a screen for the projection of glimpsed images from the ascent of Lagazuoi: booted feet crunch in deep snow and a rocky, bleak landscape skirted by clouds drifts by.

The documentary images are intercut and interrupted by flashing colours and kaleidoscopic patterns which swirl, spin and proliferate. The effect is disorientating, like being lost in the mist, and that sense of confusion is reinforced by the noises coming from a wall-mounted amplifier.

This is a disembodied aural account of the climb. There is rhythmic heavy breathing, the constant sough of the wind, a ghostly chuckle and then the sound of something metal clanking and falling – what it is, what it means, is unclear. Why, too, is there a small star, made from match-sticks and a torn piece of Rizla paper, mounted high on the wall?

Despite the lingering sense of disjointedness and disconnection, everything in this installation is, in fact, linked together. The space is criss-crossed by wires strung between concrete columns, and anchored in the walls – suggestive of barriers, trip-wires, borders and partitions. The giant flashing star, for that matter, evokes a weird mixture of celebrity culture and state propaganda, at once exuberant and vaguely sinister.

Visitors are invited to have a go at strumming the wires, like a deconstructed electric guitar. The noise is sudden and satisfyingly loud. This primitive instrument is connected to three amplifiers that bounce the sound around the space before it dies off into nothingness.

The title of this open-ended installation is Still Not Out of the Woods. The words are rendered crudely, formed from sticks lashed together. You don't walk away knowing what it means. Instead, you are left with a kaleidoscope of sensory impressions and half-formed ideas that linger suggestively in the mind.

Still Not Out of the Woods runs at the MAC until September 2