‘Strange Glow’ is primarily an exercise in compacting disparate sources – a play on the associative and nonsensical. As assemblage, these pieces feature backdrops of architectural reproduction, super-imposed with seemingly random objects and extracts from the news.
The so called “formatore” or plaster casters of the 19th century, used reproduction as a means of study, for the outlining and defining of architectural canon. In a summarisation of western tradition and motif, they later expanded to include the ethnographic, the exotic. Whilst employing similar technique, Beckett’s selections are based on the inhabitants themselves, on the social-political implications of these buildings and their surroundings – at times circumstantial in terms of the architecture itself. This focus on the people, the users, renders the façades more human and grounded, less grandiose perhaps than their great-grandparent plaster casts of Palais du Trocadéro in Paris.
A contrasting layer of found objects and extracts from the news, mounted directly on the reproductions, seeks not to unpack, but contrast these architectural examples. Recalling the ‘cut-up’ technique essential to Burroughs and Gysin, this layering is a gesture toward the unlikely combinations of events throughout history – at times of fatal circumstance. In an associative chain, these parts look to create a kind of remote magnetism or odd relation of parts, much like the unlikely occurrence of events in life itself.
This odd combination is consistent with earlier experiments of Beckett, which reflect modes of reading and structural play of elements. Working with examples from both Post-Soviet states and western European countries, complex interrelationships and geo-political status are implied.
In “Chunnel + Light Bulb Lolly” a news article documents a dangerous online challenge in China, whereby one forces a whole light bulb-shaped sweet into their mouth, which then often gets stuck. This is mounted on a reproduction of a door from a late 18th century farmhouse, which was demolished whilst building the Channel Tunnel, the only fixed link between the island of Great Britain and the European mainland. The piece was originally made to commemorate the first Brexit deadline, March 29, 2019.
James Beckett’s work in diverse media examines subjects of a historical nature, from the development (and subsequent demise) of European industry, to the more metaphysical aspects of dowsing and voodoo. His constructions favour an obscure and rambling logic, often within a strict formalism reflecting the mechanisms of display. A sometimes-dubious approach to his subject matter entertains the historic as suspended in a state of constant re-interpretation, a portrayal of a world where anomaly and change are fundamentals.