Tony Sinden: Everything Must Go – Installation, Video and Film

By Lucy Reynolds


How does one communicate the experience of film and video installation on the page? It could be argued that the most effective exhibition catalogues are those which don’t try to compete with the experience of an exhibition but create a context around it by sticking to the word. Stills of previous works, interviews and essays can do much to enhance understanding of an artist’s practice beyond, or without recourse to the exhibition itself. It is in this context that the publication for Tony Sinden’s exhibition Everything Must Go at the Reg Vardy Gallery in Sunderland is most successful, adding a retrospective element to an exhibition that is mainly new works.

Sinden has been working with film, video and performance since the late 1960s and the publication presents a fascinating picture of the range of his output. It shows a committed experimental practice with a strong collective element, from the single screen films he made with David Hall in the early 1970s to the projection events of Housewatch in the 1980s and early 90s. The publication is divided between the different facets of Sinden’s career; historical contexts are addressed in essays by AL Rees and Jeremy Skoller, with further sections devoted to the exhibition itself, an interview with Sinden, chronologies and an intense, idiosyncratic tribute from fellow artist Eric Bainbridge.

In his thoughtful essay, Jeremy Skoller describes Sinden’s work as being about ‘the relationships between the materiality of objects and how their meanings are transformed by technologies of representation.’ This is notable in Sinden’s use of the television and video monitor, which acts not only as a conductor of the moving image but also functions as a sculptural object. The catalogue includes documentation of a significant early work Behold Vertical Devices (1974), recreated for the exhibition, in which a row of small video monitors, neatly stacked along a builder’s ladder held in place by a plastic chair, has the quality of minimalist sculpture. The use of domestic materials and objects as holding structures for the video image occurs throughout Sinden’s work. Is this a Duchampian affiliation to the ready-made or do these objects, with their DIY connotations, refer to the hidden labours behind the pristine gallery spaces experienced by the viewer?

I was struck throughout the publication by the many photographs of the artist himself; the sober figure in a neat grey suit seen on camera in Cool Room (2002) is reflected in a younger flared and booted self, caught mid performance with a tennis ball in a 1970s Brighton street. Sinden is in many of the installation photographs, sometimes within the video frame, as in Elevation (2002) or as the onlooker and participant in the Desert/Oasis installation of 1977. These images evoke not only the passage of time but also represent a central element of his practice.

Positioned in spaces both on-screen and off, the artist’s presence alludes to his continued engagement with how the viewer negotiates the temporal and spatial relationships between the moving image, the object and the gallery space. The careful installation photographs from the Reg Vardy Gallery cannot supplement this actual experience of the gallery exhibition. However, the publication does offer an effective ‘afterlife’, tracing recurring influences and concerns in Sinden’s diverse and pioneering practise through its retrospective details and the additional voices of comment and reflection offered by Skoller, Rees and the artist himself.

Everything Must Go, Edited by Judith Winter, is available from Art Editions of the North, Vardy Gallery priced £12

Lucy Reynolds is a writer and curator.