IN THE CRITIC’S CHAIR | Exhibition 

 

Joanna Hogg scrutinises the fraught intersections of domesticity, architecture and intimacy in Exhibition, which stars Viv Albertine of The Slits, Turner-nominated artist Liam Gillick, and a high-modernist house in west London. The film is a meticulous, unsparing portrait of a longstanding relationship and the built environment that has shaped and been shaped by it. Hogg’s film divided critics: it is unhurried, meditative and untempted by exorbitant dramatics. While baffling some, Exhibition seduced many others.


In Exhibition, Joanna Hogg approaches minor-key subjects that are both discomfiting and hard to grasp. In a recent New Yorker profile of Hogg, an incisive Rebecca Mead praised the film’s articulate subtlety in confronting them:

It quietly explores the unstated rivalries that arise between creative people with differing degrees of recognition; the sometimes asynchronous nature of sexual arousal; the solidarity of two people who have escaped the framework of bourgeois family life.


Writing in Sight & Sound, Andrew Tracy noted a deliberate and precise engagement with the figure of the modern house, which Le Corbusier famously decreed should be “a machine for living”:

Hogg quietly subverts the cultural expectations we bring to such modernist monuments, in films and life both. These spaces do not signify sterility but offer spiritual succour; and, contra the claims of D and H’s neighbours that the house is suited to artists rather than families (ie ‘real life’), the film’s final shot shows children playing within the house, not transforming the space but using it.


Plenty of critics were struck – if not overwhelmed – by the rich suggestions of the house’s central role. Peter Bradshaw, in the Guardian, found that it became alternately a vehicle and an instigator for D and H’s states of mind:

There is something disturbing in the way feelings and alienated emotions have been displaced outwards. The house could be their prison, or their refuge, or their private exhibition space for emotional pain. As for D’s mental state, is she losing it – or gaining it?


Stephen Holden, in the New York Times, was preoccupied by the architectural-psychological connotations of exteriority and interiority inferred by Hogg’s disorientating visuals:

The most intriguing tableaus study the world glimpsed through the slats of wall-length Venetian blinds that thoroughly confuse a view of the outside world with what is reflected inside the house. The metaphoric implications are as endless as a hall of mirrors.


A was Jordan Cronk, for Little White Lies:

In Hogg’s hands, every surface is both a literal and figurative mirror; space is expanded in many instances by reflections in glass, marble, and aluminium façades.


The film may be about listless, semi-aimless artists, but, as argued by Paul Dallas in Cinema Scope, there’s no doubting the exacting intention behind every component of Exhibition:

Hogg’s austere formal approach – the fixed camera placements, extended shots, and music-less soundtrack – ramps up the ambient tension and sharpens the edges of the naturalism without ever tipping over entirely into surrealism. (The near-thunderous sound of H’s Eames office chair rolling across the wood floor above D’s studio is a comically ominous motif.) 


And for Antonia Quirke, reviewing for the Financial Times, it’s Hogg’s carefully deployed reticence, which flourishes into fertile absence, that allows the film to swell with the significance of an empty house:

She has a light (as opposed to consumingly bitter) contempt for the middle class, a talent with the deadpan and for stillness, and a taciturnity that builds into an extremely charged and distinctive silence. 

 

Exhibition is available to stream as part of TANK’s season Beyond Varda. Subscribe for just £3 a month for access to 40+ films throughout the year.