Distinctive British filmmaker Joanna Hogg returns to London after holidaying in Tuscany (2007’s Unrelated) and the Isle of Sicily (2010’s Archipelago) with Exhibition (2013), a methodically constructed portrait of bourgeois self-loathing and middle-class paranoia told through an artistic couple whose lives have slowly begun to emulate their art. Hogg takes an intimate and supercilious perspective towards the couple, known only as ‘D’ (Viv Albertine) and ‘H’ (Liam Gillick), whose lives are about to be thrown into disarray by the sale of their home of 18 years – a monument to modernist architecture.
Both working from home with offices on different floors, D and H communicate primarily through a telecom whenever they wish to discuss their evening plans or arrange a quick fumble. Their relationship has hit a stumbling block, seemingly held together by the nostalgic memories that permeate the walls of their stylish abode. However, with sexual frustration, incapacitated creativity and social paranoia seeping into this fortified citadel of artistic innovation, how long will these fragile domestic foundations remain intact? Once again, Hogg’s accustomed use of extended takes, minimalist camerawork (and a returning Tom Hiddleston) combine with some tight pacing and chilly composition to build a prison of middle-class anxiety.
Inflicting a palpable sense of agoraphobia onto her audience, Hogg allows the vibrant, almost bellicose sounds of the city to infiltrate the walls of D and H’s home, with the house and its sliding wooden doors and temperamental boiler in a constant argument with the outside world. Continuing her examination of the estrangement felt amongst the higher strata of British society, Exhibition inhibits the artistic, emotional and imprudent nature of such a display of creativity. Here art doesn’t imitate life; rather, we witness how D and H have allowed their lives to emulate art. An abstract question and answer session that percolates the narrative like an unwelcome nightmare eludes to the pair’s use of art as a construct to separate themselves from the proletariat and prove their worth to society – whilst they ostensibly offer very little of economic value.
D and H continually critique their lives like a painter observing a mediocre watercolour, reciting dreams into dictaphones and asking questions such as “Where do you fit in?”. Their sterile sanctuary acts as the blank canvas in which they have projected their identity, anxieties and pleasures, with the couple clearly uneasy at allowing their lives and lifestyle to be held up for criticism by potential buyers, unwilling to allow the structure to be sold to land developers – surely the pinnacle of contemporary consumerist culture. A haunting portrait of domestic anxiety, reminiscent of the icy detached oeuvre of Michael Haneke, Hogg’s Exhibition succinctly expresses the fears of the broadsheet bourgeois in arguably her most astute and claustrophobic work to date.
The 57th BFI London Film Festival takes place from 9-20 October, 2013. For more of our LFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.