Shadow Play

An accomplished exploration of the 'actual and the apparent' at Belfast Exposed, writes Joanne Savage

German conceptual artist Hans-Peter Feldman made his name during the 1960s and 70s experimenting with photographs, picture books and found objects. He is best known for works of wry Dadaist-humour like 'Secret Picture Book', which showed a scholarly tome with images of women’s torsos interrupting the text, whilst 'Photographs Taken From Hotel Room Windows While Travelling' (2000) clustered 108 nondescript snapshots of buildings, streets and parking lots.

Shadow Play, an installation displayed at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009 and now on show in Belfast Expoed, is unquestionably intriguing to look at. It’s odd, clever and weirdly eloquent about the relationship between appearance and reality.

All kinds of objects are placed on revolving plates with strong lights fixed behind them, projecting their outsized shadows on a facing projector. This creates a flickering sort of pop-Bayeux Tapestry or an animated frieze of strangely converging and revolving figures. The figures seem grand and imposing in their shadow-form, the brilliantly transforming trickery of the light brought into focus.

The objects are really just plastic kitsch, the kind of tat gathering cobwebs in attics or hawked at car boot sales. There’s a Barbie doll, a fat plastic mermaid, a kitchen knife, a splayed pair of scissors, a Japanese action hero, a toy gun, a weather vane, a figurine of an entwined bride and groom, a cardboard cut-out of a house, all kinds of little models of animals from frogs to bumble bees and suspended butterflies, a silver model of a woman with her tennis bat poised, a cherub blowing a kiss, a crescent moon.

Their shadows project an Alice-in-Wonderland-size warped display of silhouettes: giant bride and groom circle behind a vast weather vane; someone holds up the crescent moon; giant Barbie reaches upwards near the shifting Arc de Triumph and a huge woman prepares to lob her tennis bat, not minding the frogs, farmyard animals and looming crossed swords.

What’s most fascinating is the disconnect between the seemingly insignificant actual object and the light-projected illusion. The installation pinpoints the relationship between the actual and the apparent, asking, perhaps, how frequently we might be duped into mistaking the trickery of appearance for truth.

And if this is so, look how disjunctive the relationship between solid object and projected illusion can be, how this shadow that seems like the outline of a gun-toting hero is only a poxy figurine, the kind that could fall, disappointingly, out of a Christmas cracker.

Shadow Play highlights how the work of art – the aesthetic illusion – can be created from the simplest things, in this case collected ornaments, kitsch trash and a few lights. And even though we see the illusion-making process here wryly demystified, we are still willing to be beguiled by the shadow play with its flickering, beautiful untruths.

Shadow Play runs at Belfast Exposed until December 20.