© John Wood and Paul Harrison


Wood & Harrison (1969 & 1966 – )


Accession number


In Watering Cans(2000 – 01) we see a man dressed in black standing, expressionless, in a blank white interior space. He is standing precisely in the middle of the space, and also in the centre of a kind of shallow white frame that is marked out on the floor. He is also standing in the centre of a grid of 15 watering cans hanging above him, and directly above him is a white trapeze-like pulley hanging from white string. After enough time has passed for this set-up to sink in for the viewer (approximately 10 seconds), the man reaches up with both hands to pull the handle down towards him. As he does this, the watering cans simultaneously tip up, and bring streams of bright green liquid pouring down onto him. Much of the liquid is caught in the rectangular frame on the floor in which the artist stands, but much of it spills out, creating different saturations of colour, from pale to bright, on the floor around. When the watering cans are empty the man, who has kept his hands pulling on the handle the entire time, raises the bar back up to it’s original starting point and simply stares at the camera, a somewhat bewildered expression on his face.

The man in the film is John Wood, and Watering Cans is part of a larger installation made by Wood and his work partner Paul Harrison entitled Twenty Six (Drawing and Falling Things), which comprised of a 26 television screen installation of similar short works, all under three minutes, which are looped continuously. The action is always shot from a fixed position, rendering the space in which action can take place square, flat and un-moving, and, as the title suggests, explore situations and actions in which mark-making and gravity play a large part. Each shows the artists, sometimes one, sometimes both, as the only protagonists, in the midst of absurd experiments, like Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet, perhaps, although they have been likened also to comedians Morecambe and Wise, and Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon from Waiting for Godot. Here they experiment with the glorious, yet somewhat futile effects of gravity on liquid.

One can’t help but imagine the process by which the artists made the watering can contraption that Wood uses to tip the identical amounts of green liquid onto himself. The measuring out of volumes of green of water in each watering can, the identically measured and tied string, all painstakingly constructed for this one moment. Compared to many of Wood & Harrison’s video pieces, and even compared to the others in the series of 26, this is a painterly work, colourful rather than sombre. It is the splashing colour, perhaps, and the relationship with gardens and growth that lend this video a celebratory sense, a mood reflected in the sounds of the spilling water, which sound a little like a big round of applause.