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If you've got nothing to do - do it on
- Jack Smith
London always scares me a little. Even though the city has no towering skyline and the size of most buildings are within the limits of human scale, the city never feels human. In those parts of town where rows of terraced houses should suggest a certain amount of intimacy, the cityscape remains opaque. The streets don't appear to belong to anybody. Apart from the occasional pink front door, it seems impossible to leave a personal mark anywhere. Paradoxically this anonymity only boosts the intensity of individuals' display of themselves in everyday life. People project their personality outwards like an elaborate defence system. Everyone seems fully encapsulated within a bulletproof screen of individuality. If you walk down the street and try, en passant, to decode the many displays of identity that are casually offered, you quickly reach the point of information overload. There is just too much reading to do. Every passer-by is a complete text. Even the most mundane gestures, facial expressions or styles of clothing become part of a coded performance that is set off sharply against the blank background of the anonymous city stage. It makes you want to slam down the shutters and leave the urban theatre - or, alternatively, get a part in the play right away. Stop the show. Or, better still, take me on.
Hilary Lloyd's latest installation showing Monika, Darren and Darren, Sotiris and City Film (all works 2000) is resonant with this experience of urban performance. It presents a view of an urban scenario along images of four individual performers carrying out simple choreographed casual acts.
To fill empty time with the nervy stimulation of ripping out pages is an efficient strategy: apparently it is habitual practice for long-distance lorry drivers to tear out the pages of telephone books while driving at night, as the persistent tearing noises stop them from falling asleep behind the wheel.↑
It would be tempting to see the performance of Darren and Darren as a metaphor for male-to-male role-play, in which the positions of dominant and submissive partner are constantly exchanged. But there is simply not enough testosterone involved in their acting to justify that kind of reference. The performance seems far too abstract to be understood as 'gendered' in this obvious sense.↑
A fascinating parallel can be seen in the early experimental films of Maya Deren. Deren celebrates the surreal magic of self-referential, repetitive performances in empty time. The most intriguing example is Meditation on Violence (1948). Here Deren films a martial arts fighter in a non-descript space whilst he steadily performs a series of formalised moves. Whether these moves are an exercise, a dance or a ritual remains unclarified. In an introductory note for her film Ritual in Transfigured Time (1945-46) Deren defines this type of performance s 'ritual': 'A ritual is an action distinguished from all others in that it seeks the realisation of its purpose through the exercise of form. ... Being a film ritual, it is achieved not in spatial terms alone, but in terms of the time created by the camera.'↑
Andreas Spiegl further elaborates this point of how theatricality and constructions of self are interconnected in his essay 'A conflict at the heart of the Identification' on pp.39-46 of this issue.↑
Fried's description of the specific spatio-temporal perception of minimalist (in his terms 'literalist') installations as ' theatrical' could easily be used, mutatis mutandis, to rephrase my description of Hilary Lloyd's video installation: 'The literalist preoccupation with time - more precisely with the duration of experience - is, I suggest, paradigmatically theatrical: as endless not just of object-hood but of time, or as though the sense, which at the bottom, theatre addresses in an infinite perspective...' See Michel Fried, 'Art and Objecthood', in Gregory Battcock (ed.), Minimal Art. A Critical Anthology, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968, p.145↑
Fried emphasises that 'the experience of literalist art is of an object in a situation - one that, virtually by definition, includes the beholder'. Ibid., p.203↑
Kaja Silverman, The Threshold of the Visible World, London: Routelege, 1996↑
M. Fried, op.cit., p.126↑