Karen Cunningham @ Collective, until 24 Nov

Review by J.D.A. Winslow | 18 Oct 2013

Contemporary art’s ongoing project to wean itself off philosophy and onto newer disciplines such as anthropology seems to be progressing well, particularly if Karen Cunningham's newly commissioned film at Collective is anything to go by. The first exhibition taking place within the temporary gallery space on top of Calton Hill takes as its starting point and title popular and (of course) French anthropologist Bruno Latour’s concept of 'factish' – a cross between fact and fetish. The film focuses on two young census takers in Fife, neither of whom ever do any real census taking, instead preferring to scribble abstractly on their sheets whilst speaking emptily into houses, scenes that seem to recall the pseudo-scientific games enacted in honour of those concepts put forward by the somewhat less popular (but also French) founder of pataphysics, Alfred Jarry. 

“It doesn’t really matter what questions we ask, as long as we ask a lot of people the same questions,” intones the female lead, one of many cute pop-anthropological phrases offered up to us in the first half of the film. Things seem to get a little more interesting once the concept of factish has become long-forgotten, the shots of our two census takers grimly pedalling a floating swan about a lake recalling the Finnish arthouse slapstick of Aki Kaurismaki’s lusciously shot awkward silences. Later, shots of our male lead standing at the mouth of a cave puffing on an electronic cigarette, sunlight glancing off the small mirror that takes the place of his ID card, preface some genuinely funny lines. There is a clear intentionality and carefully constructed aesthetic to the film, even if it does seem that art’s new diet of anthropology is ultimately still only tackling diet anthropology. [J.D.A. Winslow]

Until 24 Nov, 6-8pm, Free http://www.collectivegallery.net