Review of Daniel Crooks Exhibition at Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, Adelaide

In recent years the cinematic narratives of Daniel Crooks have gained international recognition for their mesmerising visions of time and space. This is Australia’s first survey of the young New Zealand born multi-media artist. It presents several of his most renowned projects in relation to a new site specific commission installed in the main gallery space.

Time described in terms of duration was articulated by the philosopher Henri Bergson, who argued for a more nuanced and subjective conception of temporality. In contrast to the sequential logic of a clock, for Bergson time expanded and contracted with individual experience. Engaging with Crook’s art is an engagement with this understanding of time. In these hypnotically charged works, time seems to actively transform the material world, stretching, compressing and drawing out new kinds of bodies and environments. The viewer finds oneself in a state of suspension, as if trespassing into an alternate or parallel universe. The imagery is at times reminiscent of Gerhard Richter, as if the precision of the video screen has taken on the qualities of oil and palette knife. This almost painterly quality to the digital image is what gives Crook’s work such a unique and emotive public appeal. The creative innovation in so much video work occurs scenographically. In contrast, Crooks utilises often quite quotidian scenarios which are then precisely mined, manipulated and remade. What results is not simply something new, but an exposing of what lies deep beneath the moving image.

Static No.12 (seek stillness in movement) was first shown to much acclaim at the 17th Sydney Biennale in 2010. The subtitle could be a manifesto for Crook’s work, describing a central tenant of tai chi in which two seemingly incommensurate notions of stillness and movement converge. In this work Crooks deftly hacks into a scene of an old man performing a fluid rendition of tai chi, drawing a part the horizontal movements of the body to create an amorphous volume. Each gesture redistributes and reorientates this new form that expands, contracts and solidifies, sometimes multiplying body parts, reorganising then coalescing back into the man’s body. The new work Pan No.11 (cross-platform transfer), extends this preoccupation with the plasticity of time, expanding into the space of installation. This shift from the wall to the room marks a transition into a more immersive and publicly engaging format for Crooks and the effect is enthralling. Five screens zigzag the room, allowing an almost 1:1 scaled view through the caverns of the New York underground. The viewer begins to pace their stride to the elongated speed of the panning shot, as bodies transition in and out of focus and form, disappearing in the blur of a passing train or architectural obstruction, only to reappear on another screen.

This survey of Crooks work to date shows a developing international talent in the often disappointing field of video art. Crooks conflates and disturbs the logic of unfolding time, proposing a vision of the world that is subjective, tantalising and somehow irrationally real.

Sam Spurr

Daniel Crooks, 10 October until 20 December, Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, Hawke Building, City West Campus, University of South Australia, 5 North Terrace, Adelaide.

Image: Daniel Crooks, Static No.12 (seek stillness in movement), (detail) 2009–10. Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery