24th January 2007 — 18th March 2007
I knew what to expect here, or to a large extent anyway. I knew if I
made a sound, the performers in Gary Stevens' latest commission by
Matt's Gallery, Wake Up and Hide, would 'react'. I put the latter in
inverted commas because I know they, the performers, will not really
react, but instead a microphone will pick up the sound of my steps, a
cough, whatever, before selecting one of several possible sequences to
play back at me (I read this in the press release). I'm very quiet and
the only sound present in the red, backlit space at Matt's is the
cushioned hiss of room tone from the playback. So, if I make a noise, a
footstep, a cough, whatever, I know the performers will do something,
probably hide or exit the scene. So I just wait and watch.
(2) The projection to my left is initially what strikes me most. There are 2 video projections symmetrical to one another, Wake Up (right) and Hide (left), shown here in life-size proportions. Shot from 2 different vantage points, both depict the same set - a comfortable, oak-paneled drawing room. I know it's a set, I know these people are performers. I also know this is just a video and they're not really here. Still, I'm a little uncomfortable in their presence.
(2.1) The one on the left, Hide - the one that strikes me as I walk in - shows 5 performers in a well-balanced composition, all doing nothing. This is what I thought at first. But after a few short seconds - that's all - I begin to see a wealth of activity; the tapping of fingers on the arm of a chair, the repeated stretching out of a leg, the ginger caress of the white keys of the piano. These were actors waiting to be directed.
(3) I think it was the door buzzer to the gallery that gave me a jolt. Then there was a split second where both projections froze, allowing time for the tech to kick in. It reminded me of those WW accounts of that momentary silence before the bomb detonates, that moment when one knew the game was up. I knew it was going to happen, but I was surprised and delighted nonetheless. Everybody runs off set or behind furniture. It is both amusing and discomforting in equal measure. You, the spectator, are left alone in the space before the cast slowly (but inevitably) return to stage. But they do it timidly - timidly in Hide, nonchalantly in Wake Up. They return, eyeing you questioningly, curiously.
(4) I remember a quote from John Cage: Talking about his constant appreciation of sound, he analogises, "When I leave a gallery or museum, I don't turn my aesthetic faculties off." I'm suddenly hyper-aware of any sound within the space. On tiptoes, I hear only the crackle of grit and dust underfoot, grinding on a well-swept floor. I slap my thigh tentatively - not a big enough sound to provoke reaction. It interests me that sound can have a size.
(4.1) I hear the scratching of my pen on my notepad as I write the following: NUANCES OF BOREDOM / 'BUSY IDLENESS URGES US ON' / SERIES OF LOOPED VIGNETTES / WHEN SITTING STILL, ONE CAN BE VIBRANTLY ALIVE / RAYMOND CARVER / PAINTERLY COMPOSITION / STANDING STOCK-STILL / SAM TAYLOR-WOOD'S THE LAST CENTURY / WHO'S LOOKING AT WHO HERE? / LAVISH SURROUNDINGS, A PLACE IN WHICH TO BURY ONESELF / and finally, I HAVE A PET CAT WHO ACTS LIKE THIS.
(5) As I exit the space, I feel I am among animals, and the mechanical trigger - the microphones, the technology - fades away. As I leave, I clap my hands and yelp, just to assert my dominance here, let them know who's boss.
(6) When I leave the gallery, I think of my cat again, then of Schrödinger's. A good show, an insightful spectacle, both when they're there and when they're not.
42-44 Copperfield Road
London E3 4RR