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John WOOD and Paul HARRISON: Some Things Are Hard to Explain

November 21, 2015–February 21, 2016



Based in the UK, John WOOD and Paul HARRISON have been co-producing video pieces incorporating elements of performance and animation, as well as architectural sets and various devices, since 1993. In their work, the artists approach all kinds of daily commodities from a fresh perspective, and demonstrate those objects’ respective possible alternative usage, or make viewers aware of modal changes triggered by that. In either case, the results are humorous, unpredictable, and highly suggestive artworks inspired by very simple ideas. Some are like experiments, others seem to be capturing a decisive moment or a scene from a movie. Truly unique and always seasoned with a touch of humor, the works excite the viewer’s curiosity to know “what these artists are doing” and “what’s going on there.” Above that, they are at once easily accessible.

In recent years, large-scale exhibitions have been held in and outside the UK, while in Japan the works of WOOD and HARRISON were introduced in the NHK Educational TV program “2355,” as well as in exhibition at Mori Art Museum and a travelling exhibition organized by the British Council. Six of their works enjoyed high popularity with the audience when exhibited at ICC’s “Open Space 2012” exhibition.

On display at ICC this solo show are a total of twenty pieces including some that are shown in Japan for the very first time. The first full-fledged exhibition dedicated to WOOD and HARRISON’s work in Japan, the show is thematically divided into the four categories “performance,” “animation,” “narrative” and “film.”

On the exhibition

WOOD and HARRISON, John and Paul... Well this isn’t about famous rock bands, but John WOOD and Paul HARRISON are two British artists operating in the field of contemporary art. Together they create moving images. Depicted in these videos are the artists themselves executing certain ideas in a straightforward, expressionless manner (yet sometimes obviously suppressing laughter); exquisitely timed, “decisive moment” sort of unlikely likely happenings staged with various mechanisms and devices; mechanical animations and automated processes that are all inorganic yet somehow charged with a sense of warmth; human characters doing different things in the same setting that appears again and again as the “camera” scrolls down; spectacular movie scene kinds of actions reconstructed in miniature sets, and suchlike. Some are funny and make the viewer chuckle, others astonish, while sometimes prompting the viewer to keep staring at the screen quite earnestly. Outlined in the details are laws of nature in effect during everyday occurrences, or the properties of physical matter, here and there spiced up with elements of comedy, drama, literature, contemporary art or cinema. The common thread that runs through all these works is an expression of occurrences as part of reality. This means that all those brief moments captured in their works (even the longer pieces are made up of multiple short sequences), those startling happenings, are unmistakably things that actually happen in front of the camera. The camera is a medium for recording the artists’ experiments conducted using objects or their own bodies, whereas the resulting works capture that one particular moment, that singular event that happened to happen there. Although different from how media art (or technology) apparently performs miracles in scientific/technical ways, they can be considered as highly suggestive demonstrations of ways of realizing odd ideas, and amazing audiences by doing things that seem rather impossible to do.

The title “Some Things Are Hard to Explain” reflects the artists’ awareness of the fact that some aspects necessarily get lost when translating ideas into certain means of artistic expression, just like one cannot precisely and completely translate imagery into text, or explain a text in different words. Being “experimental” supposedly means that “the result is unpredictable,” or in other words, that things don’t necessarily go as expected, which is why that one singular event begins to appear like a miracle, something that wasn’t supposed to be possible. For this reason, the works that emerge in such ways from the artists’ various experiments are perhaps just as “hard to explain”...

HATANAKA Minoru/Chief Curator, ICC

Date: November 21, 2015–February 21, 2016
Venue: NTT InterCommunication Center [ICC] Gallery A
Hours: 11:00am–6:00pm (Admission until 30 minutes before closing)
*On February 20 and 21 Hours: 11:00am–7:00pm (Admission until 30 minutes before closing)
Closed: Mondays (If Monday is a holiday, then Tuesday), The year-end and New Year Holidays (December 28 to January 4) , Maintenance day (February 14)
Admission Fee: Adults / University students 500 (400) Yen, Admission free for High school students and younger

Organizer: NTT InterCommunication Center [ICC]

Cooperation: FOSTEX



These are the first videos that we made. We had both just left art college, and would meet up over a period of 18 months. We filmed things without an end result in mind. We were just experimenting with ideas to see what happened. But in that time we began to form a vocabulary and a framework that formed the foundation of our work. Much of that is still in place today; it’s a system of rules and a kind of logic.

In 1993 we made our first video. We were looking at the human figure in relation to the immediate architectural space and how the figure can move in that space and either interacts with another human being or with various objects. We were trying to work out ways of making decisions and what to do with your time. We wanted the videos to be working three-dimensional diagrams, a way of explaining how to do certain actions or to see what would happen if you put a person in various different situations.

(John WOOD and Paul HARRISON)


Point, line and plane. These are elements of drawing. If you add time to this list you have a type of animation. These were aspects that we were interested in, particularly as we see our videos as a type of drawing.

In 2003 we began to make videos that did not feature the human figure. We concentrated on objects and used them as physical manifestations of point, line and plane. Sometimes it was to animate the architectural space, a way of making drawings three dimensional as in “Blind/Spot.” Or sometimes it was to look at everyday objects and use them in a way that they were not designed for, as in “Notebook.” In this video we were using the table and objects as a space that you could project your imagination onto. The table could be a landscape, a river, a mountain, an accident, a map, or anything for that matter. It was also another way of marking time, and deciding what to do with your time.

We used actual objects to investigate other lo-fi ways of creating moving images, such as “Photocopier” and “Grey Painted Chair.” In the latter the chair becomes a stand in for the human figure and the video explores the idea of weightlessness. We wanted this three-dimensional object to become a two dimensional drawing or painting.

In all these works there is an element of illusion, and for us a fascination, or sense of wonder when attempting to bring something inanimate to life.

(John WOOD and Paul HARRISON)


Many of our videos contain multiple sections, linked thematically, but often operating as separate vignettes. Up until 2005 all of our videos used a single shot from a locked off static camera. In “The Only Other Point” we used multiple sections but we linked them by an apparent single tracking shot. The event and the camera both moved through space. Architecture has been a consistent aspect in our videos and by moving the camera we felt we could expand this exploration. We could also take actions and processes and capture them with different shots, but link the process seamlessly through camera movement, and in this way create a flow and build momentum.

We also began to look at narrative structure more closely. We attempted to achieve this by linking the filmed activities not only in terms of content but also through the architecture (the set) and the camera movement from one action to another.

We were also looking at narrative devices, or formats; things like the three or five act dramatic structure. In the work “Erdkunde” the format we used was that of a lecture. We could include a wide range of materials and seemingly disparate elements and make some kind of unified sense out of them. If nothing else, there is a beginning, middle and end.

(John WOOD and Paul HARRISON)


We have always watched films. They have been a huge influence on us, and we will watch anything. We have watched some of the worst films in the world. At first we used to work all day in the studio and then stay up half the night watching film after film. We need more sleep now.

In “DIYVBIED” we took a classic film moment: the car explosion, and put it in a mundane environment and exploded fifty vehicles. In effect we took a very dramatic moment and removed the drama, similar to the immunity we build up to seeing such events in the news.

“100 Falls” is also a video about repetition. We were interested in the idea of suspension of disbelief. The artifice in “100 Falls” is very obvious but we hoped that the viewer would almost lose focus when watching the seemingly endless falls and at moments see it as a real human being falling, whilst at the same time knowing that it was not.

“Car/Lake” is partly a homage to certain American films, a classic scene, dumping the car in a lake, disposing of the evidence. Even though the viewer almost certainly knows what is going to happen there is a certain satisfaction in seeing the resolution of the event. We wanted to make a really boring video, and make it look like a painting.

(John WOOD and Paul HARRISON)



John WOOD and Paul HARRISON make single-channel videos, multi-screen video installations, prints, drawings, and sculptures that elegantly fuse advanced aesthetic research with existential comedy. The artists’ spare, to-the-point works feature the actions of their own bodies, a wide variety of static and moving props, or combinations of both to illustrate the triumphs and tribulations of making art and having a life. The videos maintain a strict internal logic, with the action directly related to the duration of the work. Inside this ‘logical world’ action is allowed to happen for no apparent reason, tensions build between the environment and its inhabitant, play is encouraged and the influences on the work are intentionally mixed. In their not-always- successful experiments with movement and materials, many of which critic Tom Lubbock has described as “sculptural pratfalls”, WOOD and HARRISON employ exuberant invention, subtle slapstick, and a touch of light-hearted melancholy to reveal the inspiration and perspiration - as well as the occasional hint of desperation - behind all creative acts.

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