Dieter Roth @ Fruitmarket Gallery
“Dieter was heavy on collecting everything and including everything,” begins Björn Roth in a video accompaniment to his father’s collected diaries. “He didn’t know where to stop.” In trying to display this obsessive facet of Dieter Roth’s life, The Fruitmarket Gallery hits a similar impasse.
Flat Waste, formed from hundreds of dated ring binders, explores, as one plaque puts it, “the everyday detritus of Roth’s life.” Yet only a handful of folders are displayed for visitors to explore, the majority sealed in special shelves that allow them to be touched but not removed. It’s a disappointing decision, essentially funnelling the experience when it seemed open to the possibility of visitors finding something that, perhaps misguidedly, felt unique to them. That the folders are largely composed of poly-pockets filled with crumpled cigarette packs, used envelopes, unidentifiable scraps of broken plastic and occasional ticket stubs makes the decision to seal off the majority of these ‘diaries’ all the more bemusing.
Of course, Roth was making a point about the objects that permeated his everyday life having value in contrast to the collection of more aesthetic but equally meaningless artefacts society normally favours. Yet for someone who once painted with decaying foodstuff, it’s at least questionable whether he would have wanted these pieces treated quite so preciously.
More successful is Solo Scenes, a series of videos Roth made between 1997 and 1998 after diagnosis of a fatal heart condition. Displayed on 128 portable televisions, banked in a chronological yet bewildering array, they portray single-scene recordings of Roth working and living in his studios. Running concurrently, and with hundreds of hours of footage between them, the piece gives access to the entirety of the collection whilst allowing viewers to pick up on their own strands. A shuffle of paper or a creaking of furniture might direct attention in a certain way, depending on where you stand and the time you visit, whilst the mundanity of Roth boiling a kettle or eating lunch becomes strangely beguiling.
The final screen, recorded sometime in May 1998, a month before his death, is unsettling though. Showing a dimly-lit, empty studio, there are audible moans off-screen every minute or so. It’s a testament to Roth’s herculean commitment to documentation, essentially revealing the piece to be the visual chronicle of a man approaching death. A difficult ending perhaps, but fitting for an enigmatic artist in pursuit of showing us everything. [Darren Carle]