First seen in the mid-1960s, the 35mm carousel slide projector died in 2004. Kodak killed it with the termination of its production. Still, we have not only seen slide-based artworks continue to be produced in the ten or so years since but also grow in numbers and variety. Britain’s 2014 Turner Prize featured slide-based works by two out of the four selected artists. Beyond the so-called Euro-American centres of the art world, I have come across artists still working with slides from different parts of the world in my research: Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, India and, represented in this exhibition, Egypt (Basim Magdy) and Brazil (Tamar Guimarães). A younger generation of artists who don’t recall its use in domestic spaces and art history lessons have begun to show engagement with it. They discovered qualities that attract them beyond its nostalgic evocation of the past. In an age where the advent of digital technology declares media obsolete at an accelerated pace, considering the afterlife of outdated technology allows us to rethink our relationship with contemporary media.
Media’s resistance to death has been coined ‘zombie media’ by theorists Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka. Not only do they believe that the unused media apparatus continues to ‘live’ in its threat to nature as abandoned decaying toxins but it also survives through reappropriation into unfamiliar artistic contexts. Floris Vanhoof’s Fossile Locomotion (2016) engages with the opportunities posed by the latter. Setting up four slide projectors to face a spinning wheel with intermittent holes, he generates a rhythmic flicker that accelerates and intensifies the oscillation between darkness and light, a key characteristic of the slide projector. Its contemporary status as historical artefact is toyed with in Basim Magdy’s A 240 Second Analysis… (2012), a double-projection work in which temporality folds in on itself as destruction becomes construction and, through chemical manipulation of the slides, images of the immediate present appear to be distant pasts or even untold futures. The slide projection’s ephemeral quality is evoked in its use as a platform to tell the story of a Brazilian psychic medium in Tamar Guimarães’ A Man Called Love (2008), a work in which a tale of missed opportunities and elusive truths are mixed against the all-too-real social realities of military dictatorship. In the computer-based era of copy-and-paste, Alexandra Navratil’s Sample Frames reinterprets the failures for photochemical film to produce precise replicas and remain intact into its aesthetic characteristic. As we swipe and scroll on our smartphones, the works in this exhibition call for our attention on the individual images and consider how it comes to exist in front of us.
Mixing slide-based works from the 70s, 90s and its posthumous period of the 2010s, this exhibition is a call to remap the evolution of the projected image according to artistic practice rather than technological development determined by capitalist values and a need for perpetual newness. Made in an age when slides were still in common use, how will Dennis Oppenheim’s works compare to the millennial slide works? Made at a time when sound was still largely absent in exhibition spaces, the emphatic click that signals the switch from one slide to the next must have commanded attention. With no less than thirteen slide projectors in operation, the raucous noise at this exhibition will drown the thoughts of those who think its expiration date has passed. In its current zombie state, the slide medium still lives.
Research and text by Julian Ross