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Mike Marshall: The Intimacy of Distance

At the Ikon Gallery, Brindleyplace, Birmingham, until 22 January

When architectural journals turn their attention to art projects, they do so perhaps to gain new perspectives on a common sphere or to see the world differently. In which case, Mike Marshall's new show 'The Intimacy of Distance' provides some exemplary lessons.

Two video pieces and seven photographs present diverse landscapes: from a European woodland path, to colourful, floral undergrowth of distinctly Asiatic character, to the barren geology of a canyon in Egypt.

But to dwell on the play between the exotic and familiar, or on the specificity of these locations, would be to miss the true value of the work.

Some of Marshall's largeformat photographs depict the kind of melancholic, peripheral spaces that have become a recurrent motif of landscape photography in recent decades.

But others produce very different 'moods'.

Marshall seeks to convey distinct ambient qualities, and so the somewhat banal flora of a city park receives the same scrutiny as the vegetal abundance of a wild Indian thicket. The photographs share a subtle optical effect:

an ambiguity in their focal attention, like the condition of the eye in a moment of daydream. As a result, an unresolved tension arises between the vegetal matter of the foreground and the wider landscape.

The show includes the remarkable video work Not Far From Here, which is set within a woodland clearing. It's shot from a bench suspended from a tree, in a realm somewhere between the domestic garden and a more virginal wilderness.

The camera sways gently, recording surrounding vegetation. The creaking bench, bird chatter and chiming can be heard, and the faint articulation of the beginning of words - a 'st', a 'ch' - are interspersed with a bass-note beat: the images of the clearing are mixed with an ambient 'music'. It is in fact a score reconstituted from recordings made in situ.

This work clarifies that it is the nature of perception and attention itself that is Marshall's core subject matter. It could be said that he aims to bring us into contact with our own sensory limits.

Robin Wilson writes on architecture and art

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