thu 25/07/2024

Exhibition | reviews, news & interviews



Joanna Hogg's third film is a triumphant marriage of style and substance

Home is truly where the heart is in writer-director Joanna Hogg's extraordinarily astute and artistically alive third film, which takes in the minutiae of a marriage. Exhibition is the story of two artists as they prepare to move out of the beloved home they have lived in for the best part of two decades and it imaginatively illustrates how where we live can challenge and define us.

The star of Hogg's previous films (Unrelated and Archipelago) Tom Hiddleston - who has since gone stratospheric - sportingly cameos as a smarmy estate agent.

The couple in question, known simply as "H" and "D", are played respectively (and terrifically) by the conceptual artist Liam Gillick and the musician, director and sculptress Viv Albertine (best known as the guitarist in punk group The Slits). They live and work in enriching West London environs, a spacious eye-catching modernist pad, with huge windows connecting them to the bustling, frequently aurally intruding world outside. Like it or not, their life is a permanent exhibition.

During their working hours at least they live compartmentalised lives: her behind a sliding door where we see her experiment with poses; him in a small, more conventional office, usually facing a laptop. They communicate via an intercom, sometimes lovingly and sometimes they squabble and throw each other off their respective artistic strides. They lead an enviable, unusual life  – and this is a rare, authentic-seeming glimpse into the world of the creative – however Hogg also utilises just what makes them remarkable to illustrate how relationships exist in a shared but divided, and sometimes even guarded space - how relations can fluctuate not just over the long-term but from hour to hour, slave to our moods and frustrations (be they artistic or otherwise).

D is traumatised by the prospect of the move – she attributes their marriage's success partially to the bricks and mortar itself, noting that the architect and his wife lived there into their old age. D's love for her home is epitomised by her physically attaching herself to spaces and aping their character: curling herself around the spiral staircase, floating face-down naked in their pool, hugging a giant garden stone, laying taut and straight across a window-ledge; sometimes it seems that she's quite literally trying to hang on to her home.

Working for the third time with sound designer Jovan Ajder, Hogg presents us with what she describes herself as a complex sound-scape. Exhibition illustrates how a home can be a sanctuary but how it also unavoidably attaches us to a community; those living in urban areas will be inured to the sound of sirens, road and building works and wailing drunks and the film shows how, for those who are accustomed to it, it's not an irritation, just part of the furniture. Yet in certain circumstances – when we are alone, or when sounds seem particularly hostile or close-by  – familiarity can give way to alarm and the walls around us seem to disappear.

Exhibition is stylistically playful and charmingly romantic and even contains the occasional flight into fantasy. It boasts a fabulous, fearless and rather lovely performance from Albertine (also a friend of Hogg's) as a woman who you could say was belatedly blossoming, sexually and artistically. Albertine is a highly appealing and complex presence – tender, protective of her husband and her work, occasionally sheepish and increasingly daring  – and she proves herself quite the dexterous physical performer. Gillick too is believably changeable, somewhat crabby but there are hugely touching glimpses of H's loving and vulnerable sides. Both have the ever so slight unease of amateurs but there's great subtlety and detail to what they do here and they entirely convince as a couple.

Hogg is a quiet genius. With her low key films and their ostensible focus on the anxiety of the privileged (never a particularly popular topic with us Brits – save in period drama) she's still creeping about under the general public’s radar like the cat-like D. Yet for many she's amongst the most exciting and original directors working in the UK  – a fledgling auteur, a deft depictor of communication failings and discomfort. Exhibition is a fascinating, left-field examination of our relationships with each other and our environments. By embracing the possibilities of the medium and honing in on the batty elite, Hogg has created something astonishingly, almost improbably insightful.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Exhibition

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