ON LOCATION | Exhibition

The paper-thin wall between space and character in Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition. By Louis Rogers

 

In 2015, the Daily Mail incredulously reported the £8.5m price tag of an “unsightly 1960s concrete building” which had just gone up for sale in Kensington. That house – designed by architect James Melvin – is both the set and the star of Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition. The film is “about” this house in a rich and enigmatic way – it gets as much camera time by itself as the two (human) leads. They are D and H, an artist couple who rattle around its handsome late-modernist rooms “working” in an opaque, experimental way (there’s more than one moment where the line between working and wanking is seriously blurred). D can often be found curling around or slotting into parts of the house, possibly developing her performance art or perhaps trying to tap some kind of energy or guidance. The house drives the plot and inspires and afflicts its residents. Its spaces seem to mould states of mind, even personalities, but also function as neutral vehicles for projected frustrations and fantasies.

Even in the moments when this experimental probing of domestic space tends most toward abstraction, the fact remains, inalienable, that it is situated in a real house, with a real value. When we see D and H sweeping rain off the flat roof or fiddling with the boiler, they are interacting with and maintaining that “concrete building”. There’s an authentic documentary tone to these scenes of practical, unsimulated engagement, which distinguishes the film’s abstract affective explorations as, so to speak, cemented. It’s no surprise to learn the actors lived in the house for the duration of the shoot. Their characters’ internal lives are always bound to and never separate from it: the film’s first and last fact.

D and H end up selling (the price is never mentioned) and for their leaving party have a cake made in an eerily accurate replica of the house. With exhilarated delight, they watch how walls and floors that have been immovable for 18 years collapse so easily under the cake knife. Looking down into their bedroom strewn with rubbly icing, D laughs and says: “It looks like a squat!” It’s typical of Hogg’s style to include an understated line like this, quietly revelatory of assumptions and attitudes formed ultimately by class. The house doesn’t exist in a microcosm; neither do D and H, however much they would like to. It and they are defined oppositionally, too. “This is everyone else’s bit,” H spits at a contractor who has parked in the house’s two exclusive parking spaces, “and this is my bit.” Exhibition is a study of multifaceted values of space in the contemporary city, as well as its real costs.

 

Exhibition is part of TANK’s season Beyond Varda. Subscribe for just £3 a month for access to a new film every week.