Glenn Ligon at Thomas Dane

Typically for me and disappointingly for you I went to see the excellent Glenn Ligon show at Thomas Dane the day before it finishes. It's a small show consisting of one room with a film-transferred-to-video projection; a larger room with a single large scale neon light and a corridor space with two small neons and three drawings made of oil stick, coaldust and gesso on paper. The central piece and the one that offers the most clues is 'The Death of Tom', the 24 minute long video set to a jazz piano soundtrack. It's based on the final scene from Uncle Tom's Cabin, Edwin S. Porter's 14 minute silent made for the Thomas A. Edison studio in 1903. Ligon had set out to recreate Tom's death scene where Tom lies on the floor of the woodshed while visions of the future pass over his head. However, after the film was processed the images were both blurred and degraded but Ligon, liking the chance effect pressed on and transferred the 16mm film to video and added a commissioned score by pianist Jason Moran based on the vaudeville song 'Nobody'. The video is very dark, an all-black screen interspersed with flashes of light, so dark in fact that there's a real likelihood of falling over the viewing bench in the middle of the floor. What could be pure visual abstraction is held together by Jason Moran's plaintive soundtrack and the darkness of the room becomes a place for contemplation of what the gallery notes, quite correctly, call 'unfinished business'.