Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition continues the director’s exploration of families by eavesdropping on a short season in their lives. Where her first two instalments (Unrelated and Archipelago) focused on family vacations, Exhibition spies on two married artists H (Liam Gillick) and D (Viv Albertine) who are trying to sell their house — a modern, glass-walled architectural marvel, which they want to leave but also see preserved. These conflicting interests and the tensions they engender are emblematic of H and D’s relationship. They are connected by marriage and share similar professional interests, but there is a seemingly unfordable separation between them that stems from each of them trying to preserve the space to pursue their work. Many of their conversations take place over the intercom as they sit behind closed doors in their offices on separate floors of their house openly defying John Donne’s maxim that no man is an island.
Hogg finds a way to make the house itself — all clean lines, glass walls and stylish minimalism — if not a character, then a sinister force of oppression lurking in the background creaking, groaning and scraping. There is a sequence in which we watch D alone at home at night, and we can see that she’s in a state of barely-suppressed terror, the sounds of the house she loves tormenting her. After a while I desperately wanted them to get out before the house turned on them and asphyxiated them to death. I can’t over-emphasize how impressed I am with the manner in which Hogg accomplished that feeling of suffocation in a house into which light poured from nearly every angle — there were no dark shadows, and creepy-looking corners to exploit — it was all composition and pacing, and it was brilliantly done.
Exhibition is a more difficult film than Hogg’s previous offerings because of the inherent solitude of the artist’s life. There is way in which we can’t superimpose our family experiences onto the tableau Hogg presents us, but that works; it heightens the profound sense of alienation and disconnection that is at the heart of the film. There is also something about how wealthy H and D are and how little the way they spend their days seems like actual work that makes them easy to resent. It’s difficult to feel any sympathy for people who’ve gotten everything they want and still can’t find their way to contentment. In addition, their interactions with their more conventional middle-class friends show that they feel a sort of disdain for the way the rest of us live our lives. Nevertheless, if you can see your way past the urge to violently dislike H and D, there is much to chew on here, and Exhibition, if not exactly enjoyable, discusses the ongoing existential crisis that is post-modern daily life — dull, yet full of dread.