New attractions at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne are incisive and engaging—but both make unsettling viewing, writes Janet Sang
The Towner Gallery in Eastbourne is good at putting on exciting shows with a wide appeal.
Exhibition At Altitude and film installation 5000 Feet is the Best, which have just opened, lives up to this reputation.
The exhibition has lots to enjoy and engage with.
It includes early aerial photographs, a 1970s film illustrating the scale of a human being in relation to the universe and continuous footage from an ascending weather balloon.
There’s also a witty model of what might be the result of a meteorite landing on Buckingham Palace and one of Peter Lanyon’s wonderful paintings based on his gliding flights.
All elevate us and offer the exhilaration of seeing the world differently.
Part of that excitement is because we can imaginatively take the place of the camera, the pilot or the balloonist, a place beyond our everyday reach.
But this exhibition is unsettling in other ways. The work implicates the technologies involved and points to their development in the arms industry, imperialist wars and mass surveillance.
Innocent delight and wonder is interrupted as we look.
The breathtakingly beautiful film Shadow Sites 1 (2010) by Jannane Al-Ani, sweeps over what seems like an empty desert landscape in the Middle East.
But all kinds of marks, scars, intrusions and traces come into view in the low sunlight.
It’s a kind of archaeology—a discipline and practice with an imperial past. But here it’s used to investigate the landscape and challenge the widely-promoted myth that
Israeli-occupied land is unpopulated.
Mishka Henner also tries to uncover secrets.
He has trawled through Google Earth and located many sites obscured by governments for military, commercial or security reasons.
Here he shows two screenshots from his Dutch Landscape (2011) series.
Multi-coloured blots were used to cover the details of the site and interrupt the familiar language of the satellite image.
This work too is turning the tables as we can locate the ruling class’s secrets instead of them watching us, and have a laugh at their bizarre aesthetics.
It’s a stroke of genius to show Omer Fast’s film alongside this exhibition.
5000 Feet is the Best (2011) is a film about drone warfare and the pilots who operate the machines from a distance.
Simulations, dream sequences and interviews with a former drone operator are woven together in the film and explore many of the themes touched on in the exhibition. The title refers to the optimum height for a US Air Force Predator drone.
It sounds icily objective, in contrast to the chaos, death and destruction it metes out.
With Omer Fast, 5000 Feet is the Best
Towner Art Gallery, Devonshire Park, College Rd, Eastbourne BN21 4JJ.
Both until 30 September