Manchester’s HOME is all but full for this evening’s programme, a complementary retrospective of the short films of Chris Paul Daniels and Nick Jordan, both of whom also have themed exhibitions running in the gallery space below the cinema.
Such a packed house is, perhaps, a public vote of confidence in the strength of their respective works. Although their films themselves are very different, the two artists appear to share an open-minded curiosity about the world around them and, arising from this, a receptiveness to the possibility of making connections that may not, at first glance, be obvious.
Effectively screening as companion pieces to their more recent collections, the shorts on show tonight run through their back catalogues, in the process affording an instructive insight into their artistic development.
On the surface, Daniels is the more playful of the two, certainly in his loose-fitting words which associate freely over the images he cheerily picks. Appropriately enough, one of his earliest pieces, SAFE at HOME, was commissioned by the venue itself, and doubles as an appealing introduction to the deceptive density of many of his mannerisms. Drawing initial inspiration from Todd Haynes’ film Safe, and its depiction of a woman drawn into a New Age cult in an attempt to manage multiple chemical sensitivity, it references, too, Haynes’ earlier withdrawn biopic of Karen Carpenter in its use of dolls as its principals. Over a score by Graham Massey, a frequent subsequent collaborator, the plastic stars, shot through prismatic halos, blithely parrot the banalities and cliches of mass-market self-help, lapsing, for all they know, into the lyrics of The Carpenters themselves.
Daniels makes light work of this conceptual complexity, and the piece has a kind of eye-catching souvenir shop glitter that is ironically less evident in a later work, Northern Lights. Co-commissioned by the ICA and Blackpool’s own Grundy Art Gallery, its narrative voice, less clearly anchored in the undermining of defined conventions, at times threatens to inundate his images – shot by Daniels himself, but treated to look like found archive – in their tidal swell. The cumulative effect threatens to leave the viewer beached and pun-drunk.
Jordan’s films, by way of contrast, layer their own complexities with less insistence, allowing the images he settles upon the opportunity to be read more at the viewer’s leisure. Whereas Daniels has an ear for language, Jordan has an eye for image and composition. The Atom Station sets its Icelandic scenery beautifully, whether framing it through abandoned architecture or grounded aircraft. Language is used more sparingly, ceding the silence to other sounds, noises that could be either the ambiguous ticking of a Geiger counter or the drill-like trill of native birds.
His narratives, too, are devised to be less distant, more empathetic. Swalesong draws the viewer in to the remarkable life of Neddy Dick, an individual who might now be termed an outsider sound artist, a farmer who fashioned musical instruments from the natural limestones of his native North Yorkshire Dales at the turn of the 19th century. Interleaved with interviews with local folk who remember him are still images of pioneering wildlife photographers, the Kearton brothers, themselves sons of the same soil, and, in the present day, monochrome footage of Sam McLoughlin, whose river harp provides the streams of its unobtrusive soundtrack.
It’s an invitation to wade deeper into the fresh waters of both artists, a tributary to the more expansive scope of the exhibitions below.
Chris Paul Daniels’ Is There Anybody There? and Nick Jordan’s Natural Interaction are on show in the gallery space at HOME until June 4, 2023. For more information, click here.