On Off.


Curatorial essay for the START STOP. catalog.

Published by the Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery.

PDF version of the catalog here.

1 Heretofores

START , the pull of the switch, the act of beginning, the triggering—that first yelp into the air. The intoxication of beginnings, when all is ahead, including infinity. START , with an added space following the word to mark the leap which inevitably ensues from the action. STOP., followed by a period adding closure to the arresting word. STOP., the determined terminal, the waning towards cessation—that final gasp of air. In the stillness of the winter, the finality of knowledge, onwards to the unknown. This two-part project on rhythmicity features and examines various manifestations of continuities and discontinuities, of finitude and infinitude. Both titles always in caps, clamoring obnoxiously for attention, peering up from the body of the text, as if repeatedly needing to stall the text in order to restart it. They not only mark time, they instill it. The rhythm implied is a movement that encompasses its negative, its opposite. In other words, a stillness, a silence that enables the differentiation and hence the beat.

The basic proposition of any exhibition can be summarized with the phrase: Given a space for an allotted span of time. If we were to evoke the ancient definition of music as a science of measurement, the succinct phrase contains the essence of a rhythmic structure. After all, the exhibition is situated within a physical continuity that ends at walls and windows; it neighbors one and the other. It also has a due date—it occurs after the one preceding and, in turn, precedes the next. These givens are understood in the same manner the rhythmic properties of every breath, every step, every utterance are taken for granted. In both START and STOP., these every moves are of keen interest, and apt to be scrutinized. The goal, in short, is to perceive the heretofore imperceptible and consider the ontological implications of this act. The method resonates with Robert Smithson’s prescription: “Look at any word long enough and you will see it open up into a series of faults, into a terrain of particles each containing its own void.”(1) The two titles give the impression of assurance, determination, certainty, stability; but they become, as Smithson suggests, slippery terms if one fixes on them long enough. The subject who does the fixing is the same one who moves in and through the space and time posed, and even paused, by the exhibitions (be it in the gallery itself or via this publication). The works in the exhibitions navigate through manifold stagings of the subject, and all share a conception of the ‘I’ divided and multiplied, whole and fragmented, here and there, displaced and displacing, petrified and dancing. Sites where, Cixous’ resolutely carnal ‘I’ proclaims that “from all sides I beat, I pulse, I drip, Rhythmed” is made manifest and reverberates.(2)

2 Forth

START dwells on that moment of inception, sputters and stammers from the onset, and investigates the performative imbrications of these tentative movements with time and space. START presents works which address these concerns and engage the visitor with a variety of tactics; vacillating between potential and kinetic energies, they offer both participatory and contemplative manifestations of the rhythmic investigations underscoring an exhibition stuck on emergence. Featuring works in a variety of forms (performance, installation, audio, drawing, text, sculpture and video) the exhibition stages an inconclusive trajectory, one that eschews a culmination in order to present the perpetual movement of questioning.

Audible Breathing
Filling the wall facing the atrium, a text piece by Stephen Ellwood, UNTITLED (INSTRUCTIONS FOR SIGHING) (1996), urges us to become self-conscious with our breathing. The piece also took the form of a poster freely available for the taking by visitors and an answering machine where followers of the instructions outlined in the text could call and leave their breathy breaths. The text extended outward from the gallery into the traffic of the atrium and further by the dissemination of the poster and the participation involved in the telephone call. As with any set of instructions, the recipe remains incipient, even idle, until the steps are followed. Yet the effectiveness is not dependent on compliance for it also functions conceptually. The participation need not be actualized, one’s involvement is guaranteed de facto by every ensuing breath. That being said, the collection of sighs received had a particular appeal for they could, once auditioned, easily be interpreted as obscene phone calls. As soon as the breath is rendered audible, it becomes a breath embodied and heaving under its fleshy materiality. The reductive and disembodied telephone is, in fact, a mischievous appendage to the circuitry of desire. The yearning implicit in the sigh need not remain unfulfilled; it can be playful, anticipatory. The neutrality of the text with its imperatives directing us along a specific course of action cannot neutralize the erotics of the exchange or the singularity of each contribution. Each interpretation being different and rendered by a different voice every time, the text conveys the universality of the singular. Aristotle speculated that the breath was “a function of the soul, or the soul itself”(3)—therefore, a manifestation of being as it operates at its degree zero.

Adrian Piper’s Seriation #2: Now (1968) in the vestibule repeats the word Now at various intervals, constantly reminding us that the Now of the recording is but a distant Then. A start does not point to an origin, or an original, it’s not the first, it’s always already a repetition. Her utterance insists and persists, in fact her Now accelerates as the piece progresses. Through the speed-up she thereby voices an exclamation mark, and presents Now as the paradigmatic utterance of urgency. Piper notes that, “Some listeners have commented that this piece has sexual overtones. This has nothing to do with my intentions in doing the work.”(4) Her caution does not impede a reception of the piece as one which constantly reiterates the euphoria of beginnings. If that obstinacy emits no overtones, it could nonetheless be said to transmit an undertone, and effect an undertow, one that stages the meeting of movement with the present. In that encounter, rhythm surfaces, surges, even, “The queen of rhythm, syncope is also the mother of dissonance; it is the source of a harmonious and productive discord. […] Attack and haven, collision; a fragment of the beat disappears, and of this disappearance, rhythm is born.”(5) Now followed by an empty space, one devoid of Now, one devoid of the present but full of time. And then another, always different, Now is presented. Clément’s exposition on the syncope finds parallels in that the momentary “absence of the self”(6) is precisely the moment where the undertow takes over, and only the Now is operative, history is thwarted from producing marks. The track of time is derailed, and with Piper it is stuck on a single point.

The paradox, however, is conspicuous, for the work is a recording and it is playing back, hence it also functions as the epitome of history. A second Piper audio work makes this point even more abundantly clear. Seriation #1: Lecture (1968) was situated at the geographical end of the exhibition visit alongside Cal Crawford’s work. This time Now shifts to an explicit discontinuity between recording and playback times. Here the recording constantly confirms time’s implacable sequentiality: At the tone the time will be one twelve exactly (hang-up). The only comfort in the exercise is that the phone hangs up at unpredictable moments, “At the tone the time will be one twenty two (hang-up) / At the tone the time will be one tw(hang-up) / At the tone the time will be one(hang-up) / At the tone the time will be (hang-up) / At the tone (hang-up). It is as if, for the brief interstice when Piper dials to reconnect to the telephone time clock service, the seconds do not pass to past. Unannounced, they remain suspended as opposed to perished. The disjunctive nature of the work is further complicated by Jonathan Sterne’s astute observation that “recording marks an extension of ephemerality, not its undoing.” He was referring to the impermanence of recording media, in the context of the discussion his comment could be interpreted metaphorically as an allusion to the paradox that transience is the only permanent component of the equation—always and forever fleeting.

Automatic Pathos
Peter Courtemanche’s Preying Insect Robots (2006) scurry awkwardly on the floor, communicate rudimentarily with each other and mechanically underline the basics of a social framework. The whirr of the motors animating their arms, which are made of tree branches, resonates with the wooden floor. They struggle to move about with crude, stilted and haphazard movements that reveal machines replete with pathos. Their size is conducive to curiosity more than fear; their monstrosity is diminutive. The five of them, low on the floor, in an otherwise largely empty room of considerable size, produce a heightened contrast of scale. Like most insects, their threat operates in large part in our imagination. Some attempt has been made to dress them up them as insects (they display antennae), but they are largely an amalgam of circuit boards, wires and batteries. So, they are unmistakably machines, ones whose seemingly purposeless existence unnerves, and their self-sufficiency remains mysterious to us. In their simplicity they encapsulate the magic of movement. Our rapport to machines with regard to a timeline is on and off, and we claim to control that switch. Innumerable dystopic scenarios rehearse the recurring anxieties roaming through our imaginations with respect to this issue of control. We program them to start, start is all innocent and fresh. But the off switch is another matter (ref. Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey). The Preying Insect Robots were especially compelling because their movements occurred within a desert of idleness. Their preying was performed as accidents, as afterthoughts. They were neither efficient nor industrious, their revving up consistently surprised. The shift from wake to sleep modes and back again followed no discernable pattern or goal—lending therefore, despite the obvious mechanics, a certain organic substance to their presence. To put it simply, they rustle, as Barthes expounds in an essay where he turns to the machine as a metaphor for the irreversibility of language:

…we dread the machine when it works by itself, we delight in it when it works well. […] The rustle is the noise of what is working well. […] Thus, happy machines which rustle. […] For the rustle implies a community of bodies: in the sounds of the pleasure which is “working,” no voice is raised, guides, or swerves, no voice is constituted; the rustle is the very sound of plural delectation—plural but never massive (the mass, quite the contrary, has a single voice, and terribly loud).(9)

Linear Convolutions
In Pipeline (2005), Liv Strand thrusts us inside a pneumatic dispatch system where a vertiginous and labyrinthine journey ensues. The sonic and visual assault that follows is amplified by the claustrophobic sensation of the capsule as it winds inexorably along the pipeline. Sharps turns have to be negotiated, the video image reflects the briskness of the movements with momentary losses of information in certain pixels. Therefore, the movement is not continuous (it shares the stop and go tension of Courtemanche’s robots, which occupied the same room). The video is, however, the sole piece in the exhibition where action is conjugated by speed—it takes the phrase action packed literally. The camera is in the capsule, and this point of view effects a propulsive force on the viewer. Our view is thrust through a path that appears to go on forever. The video also performs a remarkable shift of scale, the desolate expanse of the tundra with its shearing winds and cold blue ice is literally encapsulated in the claustral space of the pipeline. It sounds a Nordic note, one of interminable voyages, unbearable conditions, immense solitude.(10) Given that we are witnessing the inner workings of a messaging system activated by air pressure, it invites comparisons with our own physiological system for producing utterances. In this case the pipeline is more akin to an intestinal convolution than an alveolar branching. For the occasion, our own perspective is the message being sent. In this sense, the piece performs a reflexivity similar to Ellwood’s incitation to sigh. With Ellwood the tempo was anchored on the breath, here it is on the heartbeat, it is a pulsation. The mesmerizing motion operates on the somatic of the viewer and, as a consequence, the message is pre-verbal. The content is ensconced in the very act of movement. The imperative is to move, to avoid a clog at all costs, to reach the destination so that the message of a “secret psychic impulse which is Speech anterior to words” can be received.(11)

Still Dancing
Olivia Boudreau visits the gallery every day to frame herself by accretion in Salle C (2007), a performance embedded in a live video installation loop. The performance stages her continuous presence through every hour of the exhibition, where she becomes the persistent viewer of her own projection. She thereby fixes herself in a perpetual present, one where Now is one hundred and fifty hours long. It is an endurance piece where gaze and attention are brought to a standstill. The self-reflexive dimension amplifies the tableau vivant, thus the performance becomes a questioning, or as Acconci would advance, a spilling:

The emphasis Acconci added by the ubiquitous aggrammatical periods reverberates with Boudreau’s arrested pose, as if she had punctuated the space and neglected to start the next paragraph. The movement here is potential, not kinetic. Or at least, it’s minute kinetic, it’s vibratory, it’s on hold. Dance scholar André Lepecki has identified this as a choreographic mode where “stillness is a vibratile body engaged in a microscopy of perception which stages a critique of modernity’s fabrication of embodiment, subjectivity and the sensorial.”(13) The spill.off.stage suggested by Acconci earlier poetically hints at that critique. Likewise, Boudreau is not prescriptive. Lepecki, riffing on a formulation articulated by Jacques Rivière, outlines the radicalism of a choreography in which the body is allowed to “incline itself towards dance, [it is] potential dancing, [..] but it is not quite dancing.”(14) Alain Badiou pushes the envelope even further by conceptualizing dance as one where “movement has its essence in what does not take place, in what has been held back within movement itself.”(15) Badiou culminates by stating, “dance is not an art form because it is the sign for the possibility of art as it is inscribed in the body.”(16) Boudreau’s idleness (in symbiosis with the robots and the mixers) is amplified by a muteness. The performance consists of Boudreau, nothing more (much to the chagrin of misguided visitors who presume that a live presence is necessarily engaged in a relational artwork which fosters dialogue). It only takes a moment, however, adopting the shift suggested by Lepecki’s microscopy of perception, to realize that a formidable amount of activity is taking place. The space of potential is satiated with microkinetics; it does not move space, it takes space. It is an occupying force. We should note as well that, as with Piper, there is a recording component. In Salle C, however, there is no playback, only documentation: a long and narrow cabinet affixed to the wall houses the one hundred and fifty videotapes corresponding to every hour of the performance. The design of the cabinet enables it to function as a timeline, it linearly plots the three contiguous categories: what has been recorded, what is recording now, and what has yet to be recorded. The tape boxes from the past have been identified, the present one is empty, and the upcoming ones are blank. The cabinet evokes a corridor, a passage of time where, simply put and simply staged, what is documented is thought as it occurred in a body inhabiting a space.

Five cocktail shakers, all slightly differently shaped, sit idle on a table until the visitor decides to pick one up, tilt it and thereby activate a sound and light show which emanates from its innards. As the versions of Marla Hlady’s Mixer (2005-7) sound and light out of the profusion of pores dotting their stainless steel form, start might give the impression of veering towards startle. The startle, however, remains playful and subtle. The experience is an intimate one, the hands assess the shape and weight of the object, they hold and manipulate it, they control its location and dislocation. Activation is contingent on participation, on ignoring the preciousness of the art object and handling it as an instrument. The immediate tactility and ease of manipulability permits the viewer, now also player, to perform a mix. Or, in keeping with the instrumentation at hand, perform a cocktail. The ingredients in the mix are sound snippets from various locales; they are referential, sited. As such, the player’s shakes perform a movement of place in space, a recontextualization by way of a playable (and playful) object.

The mini light beams emerging from the shakers (veritable mini discotheques) are the visual analogues to sound waves, radiating outwards, fading with distance, but still tracing a path. Accompanying Mixer is a series of sonic drawings. They also propose a tracing, but rendered in a different medium. Hlady’s impressionistic drawings depict, in a detailed and delicate manner, the swirls of the invisible convolutions sounds perform as they are emitted and proceed to diffuse. These are diffusion maps that do not concern themselves with the physics of the event, but its metaphysics. Their accuracy lies in their power of evocation. With the drawings in the series, Proposition for tracing a sound (2006), the ephemerality of the sonic dimension is faithfully maintained by the contingent quality of the amassed strokes; they flurry and scatter in directionless directions, they come back on their word, they suggest rather than delineate. The twirly arrows cluster and then escape (or attempt to). Artaud spoke of drawing “not just with my hand, but with the gasp of the breath of my tracheal artery, and of the teeth of my chewing.”(17) Hlady’s approach, in contrast, is not centred on a voicing but on a listening. Her drawing is tuned not only to the retinal but also to the signals produced by her cochlea and the fragile filigree hair cells within. The auditory vibrations recognize themselves in these translations, their furtive tactics have been captured, albeit tentatively.

Opened Closures
Shifting to cosmic quandaries, Cal Crawford in Closed Universe (2002-2003) purports to find proof, amidst quotidian scenes, that the universe is shrinking and he attempts to obtain confirmation from leading astrophysicists. Crawford garnered the evidence from images found on the Internet which predominantly feature cracks in concrete, as well as other scenes of damage presumably caused by natural disasters. The speculation that these planetary manifestations can be transposed to universal proportions is where the theory unhinges from the plausible. But the project pivots on an altogether different set of criteria, and the success of these is determined by way of failure. Closed Universe can be placed in the fine tradition of epistolary pranks; predicated on the appearance of earnestness (whether genuine or contrived), these schemes often consist of attempts to communicate with established authority figures.(18) The unpredictability of the response (if any) is part of the play. The structure of the postal system is such that one can address a message or query to absolutely anyone, provided one has the correct address (the same applies to telephones and the Internet, with the same proviso). Crawford, neophyte astrophysicist, receives a measly two replies: one is an unopened envelope returned to sender, and the other is a letter from a professor at the University of Bath in the U.K. who advises that he has no time to reply properly, “circumstances judge that it is better that I do not start to address it.” The addressee’s succinct non-response forestalls the discussion. The investigation is closed. Yet the gallery visitor provides another route. After surveying the display case with all the components of this lowercase debacle, the visitor has the opportunity to weigh in and figuratively respond to the mischievous artist. The element of play is also operative at the level of Crawford’s commentary on the long-standing figure of the artist as researcher and investigator of arcane knowledge who is often isolated and misunderstood, often fated to find respondents only posthumously.

3 Counterendpoints

STOP., the concluding part of this twofold exhibition project, examines strategies of resolution and termination in the form of a heterogeneous mix of works that thrust the viewer towards the wall delimiting the finite and the infinite. The installations, objects and videos featured plot endpoints and stage endgames. The appearance of corpses as well as the discussion of entrapment and mortality is broached with an implicit and incongruous irreverence. Breaks are on, whether marking an ultimate end or a momentary hold, STOP. acts as the snapshot of an incessant rhythm. Detained and arrested, but only provisionally, the works propose tactics for escape. The exhibition abounds in repetitions and multiplicities, all summoning abundance over paucity.

Untitled (John Baldessari, 1972) (2002 – ongoing) by Thérèse Mastroiacovo furthers Baldessari’s famous repetitive self-admonishment, I will not make any more boring art, by erasing the qualifier. By performing a repetition upon the already repetitive act, what is produced is no longer just an image but a volume, the repetition is rendered in space. Furthermore, an uneven volume, where it is the very portion that is silence(d) that makes its irregular mark. The silent interval in I will not make any more ________ art produces a lump, a mass of nothing, a “lump of air.”(19) An abundance of plenitude and an abundance of lack. A space to fill, filled by liquid paper, in other words, marked by an erasure, a blank covering. The intervention, however, is palimpsestic for the liquid paper applied follows the contours of the word; boring’s presence remains, it merely shifts from the semantic to the material. Therefore, the act is more amplification than negation. In fact, the elision functions as an opening, one where further reductions suggest themselves:

I will not make any more________ .
I will not make any.
I will not make.
I will not.
I will.

In the final entry the entire phrase would collapse into an ellipsis, and fulfill the following Warholian objective:

I don’t want it to be essentially the same—I want it to be exactly the same. Because the more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away. And the emptier and better you feel.(20)

There are 17 iterations to expunge per page and 588 pages, for a total of 9996, so far. Of course, in Mastroiacovo’s project, inexactitude is part and parcel of the gesture, and of the tension between the voluntary and the involuntary that is at the heart of the statement. I will not is coupled with the I will that is inherent in the act of writing. The desire to unmake the work is replete with paradox. Given that the project is ongoing (in fact it is on an indefinite timeline) implies that the contradictions are not intended to be resolved. Rather, the research is directed towards a fine tuning of attention via boredom and repetition, one that is prompted by the oft-quoted aphorism by Cage: “In Zen they say: if something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on. Eventually one discovers that it’s not boring at all but very interesting.”(21)

J’ai entendu un bruit, je me suis sauvé (2003) [I heard a noise and I ran], the installation by Samuel Roy-Bois, consists of a room where every surface is in conversation with the outside; holes have been manually poked through its walls, floors and ceiling and the resulting pores are breathing in light. The room is contoured by a double set of walls which renders the holes discernable only once one enters inside. The internal room is the architectural analogue to Deleuze’s depiction of the schizophrenic’s body-sieve where “there is no surface, the inside and the outside, the container and the contained, no longer have a precise limit; they plunge into a universal depth or turn in the circle of a present which gets to be more contracted as it is filled.”(22) A schizo architecture where porosity has a dissociative and disorienting effect. The very conventions that denote a space are rendered tenuous; the walls are as much hollow as they are solid. The inside-outside trope is now blurred, we are surrounded by the concrete manifestation of ecstasy (from Greek ekstasis ‘standing outside oneself’). Roy-Bois uses the term “uninhabit” to describe “the fact of feeling outside a world that is nonetheless familiar to us.”(23) This echoes closely with Freud’s notion of the uncanny; Derrida makes the link explicit when he poses the question: “How would unheimlich, uncanny translate into Greek? Why not translate it by atópos: outside all place or placeless, without family or familiarity, outside of self, expatriate, extraordinary, […] strange, but also ‘stranger to’?”(24) The installation creates a place that is so intensely here by being barely there. With every surface suffused with handmade light beams, the installation whose sound is heard by way of its title, could be considered a site of synesthetic resonance. This is corroborated in another text where Derrida cites Hegel, who depicts an Ancient Egyptian monument, the Colossi of Memnon, in the following manner, “the figure, until now mute, needs the rays of the sunrise to emit a sound, which, triggered by light is still only resonance, and not language.” “the soundless shape which needs the rays of the rising sun in order to have sound which, generated by light, is even then merely resonance and not speech.”(25) In that space of resounding, of ricochets, entry and egress are synonymous.

The dead delicate leaf in Patrick Beaulieu’s Bruissement (2007) reveals a post-mortem existence. Thanks to a small, invisible, wireless electronic device behind the leaf, a palpitation, a heartbeat, can be discerned. The pulse is subtle, slow and regular, “the breathing of death’s sleep”(26) as Jean-Luc Nancy writes. Nancy elaborates and provocatively theorizes that:

We can state that sleep is a temporary death, but we can also say that death is inevitably temporary since it only lasts as long as time. Where time no longer lasts—where, of course, and not when, because no time is given for that. Only a site apart from all sites, not another site, nor a u-topia, but the off-site of the gap itself. The spacing, the open, in brief, the beating of rhythm—where, therefore, time no longer lasts, it immobilizes on itself.(27)

With this we return to START and the immobility of Boudreau and Courtemanche. Time suspended, place out of place, a limbo, but the process of congealment induces the viewer into the microscopy of perception discussed earlier. Immobilization merely shifts the magnitude of the lens by which the viewer is asked to perceive. The discarded leaf, solitarily displayed, with no branch or tree to hang onto, cycles from asleep to awake with the understated magic of the rudimentary hidden pacemaker. By this faint tremor the fallen leaf seems to be repeating M. Valdemar’s famed retort “I am dead.”(28) This phrase works as a tense scrambler speaking to the impossibility of conceiving death. It is impossible to utter this utterance—the verb ‘to be’, I am, cannot couple with death. The frail leaf is suspended in a state of constant evanescence. It is trembled.(29)

Bare mystery
Scripts in hand, three non-actors proceed through three scenes on an extremely minimal set. Each of the scenes ends with one of the characters dead on the floor. Knock (2006), by Simone Jones and Lance Winn, employs the strategies of the barely there. The conventions of a film narrative are stripped of their artifices in order to relocate the attention to the frame. For Knock does not merely show, it literally moves as it shows. A robot was devised to move the projector to the left and right as well as up and down. Furthermore, the movement is synced to the content due to the fact that the video was shot utilizing the same device, that is to say, the robot also determined the movement of the camera. The added mechanics produce a double movement in a doubled space. As the characters move in the space the camera follows, and the very same action is reproduced by the projector. But the motion does not occur within the frame that is itself static, as per usual. Here the robot enables the frame itself to move. Here the flat projected image is truly able to merit the appellation ‘installation’. Cinema and video art have certainly not exhausted new approaches in intra-frame movement, but Knock puts forward another maneuver altogether: an outer-frame movement, a kind of choreography of the screen, a performative projection. The video bears some similarities to Brechtian techniques but dwells on the proprioceptive experience it effects on the viewer. In other words, a dance is made present and the viewer shares the stage with the projection. In fact, it is the thrice-repeated moment where each character is dead on the floor that encroaches on the viewer’s space the most, for this moment is projected on the floor at the centre of the room, precisely where the viewer is most likely to stand. Whether that is a commentary on ocularity and the proscenium is not made explicit. From the start of the script, “Oh dear, now what? What do I do? Tell her? It’s so difficult to know which path to take,” we are introduced to a threadbare suspense tale downplayed “by the intentional lack of drama in the actor’s delivery.” The amateurish tone is comic rather than prescriptive.

The end
Helen Tak’s The Beginning (2004) echoes the corpse in Knock but foregoes the humour in favor of an eerie and mysterious mood piece. The video also, unbeknownst to the artist, pays homage to Michael Snow’s Wavelength. The film moves from outside to inside scenes by way of a photograph of trees hanging on a living room wall. And the last scene of Tak’s film zooms out from the picture to reveal a corpse on the floor. The Beginning is depopulated, save for the appearance of the corpse. Allusions to Wavelength aside, the stop motion animation utilized in the largely desolate scenes creates shimmering and pulsating sequences. The nocturnal permeates every frame. Throughout, a sleep, both quotidian and eternal, rumbles and reverberates. Roger Caillois described ‘darkness’ as a condition that “is ‘filled,’ it touches the individual directly, envelops him, penetrates him, and even passes through him: hence ‘the ego is permeable for darkness while it is not so for light.’”(30) One could reformulate the ending as follows, the ego is permeable for sound while it is not so for light. For the sonic thrives on opacities, lurks in the shadows, and indeed is a protagonist in Tak’s film. The unanswered phone rings and rings, kettle boils and boils, floors creak at every step, water pours out of a faucet. Later, the receiver is off the hook and the warning tones beep incessantly. Dialogue is replaced by the exaggerated and intensified room tones and the aforementioned disparate sonic events. The soundtrack seems to constitute a perfect example of the type of narrative Conrad describes in Heart of Darkness, “[a] narrative that seemed to shape itself without human lips in the heavy night-air of the river.”(31) Stitching a singularly solitary series of images (both visual and sonic) on the tenuous fabric of the Night, The Beginning uncannily resembles its opposite.

Concluding the trajectory of the exhibition is an entrapment, endgame, dead end, in the form of a pair of video works by Charlemagne Palestine: Island Song and Island Monologue (both from 1976). Both are set on a small, unnamed island. The first starts at a pier with Palestine on a motorbike embarking on the island’s roads as he drones and intones, in a seemingly exalted state, along with the sound of the bike’s motor. The harmonics with the engine wobble and warble in reaction to the bumps in the road. The celebratory incantatory tone is abated once the agitated and anxious mantra is voiced … gotta get out of here… gotta get out of here… gotta get out of here… I gotta get out of here… I gotta get out of here! Throughout both pieces, Palestine, as both cameraperson and performer, is heard, but never seen. The point of view shot serves to enhance the pervasiveness of the entrapment. We are stuck with him, lost, castaway. We are joined in this stranded situation by Baudelaire, a spiritual kin to Palestine, who ends one of his prose poems with these exclamatory lines, “Anywhere! Anywhere! provided it is out of this world!”(32) By the end of Island Song a ship’s horn resounds repeatedly but is never seen, and it is obvious that the promise of rescue is illusory. In the second piece, the fog becomes a character that shares the spotlight with Palestine, who is on foot and, as the title implies, more verbose. Here the psychological dimensions of the adventure become explicit, I feel this pain. I feel this incessant pain, this incredible pain. […] I’ve come to this island to try to get rid of this pain. […] They followed me here, those demons, they followed me here. The despair grows palpable, the fog reduces the landscape to a collection of hazy shadows, the monologue is delivered in a tense whisper, edging towards paranoia. They’re trying to kill me, they want to see me dead. […] Maybe I can hide. Finally, a light pierces through the thick fog, he heads towards it, maybe the light’ll burn away these demons inside of me, maybe it’ll burn away the fog, the light in the fog of my mind. The end is unsurprisingly inconclusive, it shares the nebulousness Palestine once declared at the end of a concert: “Normally, I would do an ending but this is just the beginning.”(33)

4 Conk

In START and STOP. the various manifestations and interminglings of holes, loops, repetitions, shifts, missives, stills, strike a fitting figure, for life is an oscillation, a rhythm, a stutter between birth and death. A momentary burst of noise and activity. A rhythm on a landscape of befores and afters. Or a rhythm of in-betweens on a landscape. Lacoue-Labarthe’s notion of a poetic existence is pertinent in this context because he defines it as “that which makes holes in life and shreds it, now and then, putting us outside ourselves.”(34) The rhythm of the now and then, the inside outside, with its note of violence, bespeaks the stakes undertaken by the entries in the exhibitions. All diverse but sharing a poetics of space, in other words, a rhythmic proclivity. Their collective signature is one of infinitesimal vacillations and minute events… Well? Shall we go? Yes, let’s go. The famous last exchange, replete with naive hope, between Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot echoes in the gallery. The paradox of standstill motion, the inchoate dynamics, the porous conditions, all intersecting in these exhibitions that switch enthusiastically to on and then inevitably to off. From vital to mortal. They do not move.



1. Robert Smithson in Craig Dworkin, Reading the Illegible (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2003), p. 130.

2. Hélène Cixous, Souffles (Paris: Des femmes, 1975), p. 70. Trans. by the author.

3. Aristotle, On Breath, trans. W. S. Hett (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986), p. 497 [482 b23].

4. Adrian Piper, <http://www.adrianpiper.com/art/sound.shtml> [cited 2 January 2008].

5. Catherine Clément, Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture, trans. Sally O’Driscoll and Deirdre M. Mahoney (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), p. 5.

6. Ibid., p. 1.

7. Transcript from the recording, see full transcript on page XX.

8. Jonathan Sterne, “Lost Recordings” in Traces, ed. Nicole Gingras (Montreal: Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, 2006), p. 74.

9. Roland Barthes, “The Rustle of Language” in The Rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989), p. 76.

10. The piece contains no sound other than the one produced by the device itself. The Nordic note is my extrapolation, though it is informed significantly by my first encounter with the piece in the context of the exhibit The Idea of North, curated by Rhonda Corvese in 2005-2006.

11. Antonin Artaud, “On the Balinese Theater” in Antonin Artaud: Selected Writings, ed. Susan Sontag, trans. Helen Weaver (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976), 220. Admittedly, the shift in context is drastic here, though there is something perversely pleasing in adjoining tropical Bali with a frozen landscape.

12. Vito Acconci in Kate Linker, Vito Acconci (New York: Rizzoli, 1993), p. 60.

13. André Lepecki, “Still: On the Vibratile Microscopy of Dance” in ReMembering the Body, eds. Gabriele Brandstetter and Hortensia Völkers (Hatje Cantz, 2000), 362. Emphasis added.

14. Ibid., p. 342.

15. Alain Badiou, “La danse comme métaphore de la pensée” in Petit manuel d’inesthétique (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1998), p. 95. Trans. by the author.

16. Ibid., p. 109. Trans. by the author.

17. Jacques Derrida and Paule Thévenin, The secret art of Antonin Artaud, trans. Mary Ann Caws (Cambridge, Mass. MIT Press, 1998), p. 82.

18. Two that come to mind are: Dear PM by Chris Lloyd, <http://dearpm.blogspot.com/> [cited 2 January 2008], and Experiment With Dreams by Leif Elggren and Thomas Liljenberg, <http://web.comhem.se/elggren/experim.html> [cited 2 January 2008].

19. Paul Celan, “SEWN UNDER THE SKIN” in Poems of Paul Celan, trans. Michael Hamburger (New York: Persea, 1995), p. 247.

20. Mike Wrenn, ed., In His Own Words: Andy Warhol, ed. Mike Wrenn (London: Omnibus Press, 1991), p. 16.

21. John Cage in Alan M. Gillmor, “Satie, Cage, and the New Asceticism” in Contact 25 (1982): p. 19.

22. Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), p. 87.

23. Samuel Roy-Bois in Gilles Godmer, Samuel Roy-Bois : Improbable et Ridicule (Montréal: Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, 2006), p. 21.

24. Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, trans. George Collins (London: Verso, 2005), p. 178.

25. Hegel in Jacques Derrida, Glas, trans. John P. Leavey (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996), p. 253.

26. Jean-Luc Nancy, Tombe de sommeil (Paris: Galilée, 2007), p. 77. Trans. by the author.

27. Ibid., 77. Translation by the author.

28. Edgar Allan Poe, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” in The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Vintage 1975), p. 101.

29. This intentional awkward phrasing borrows from a formulation used by Dominiq Vincent in a text about another work by Patrick Beaulieu: “The tree is trembled” (L’arbre est tremblé)” in Patrick Beaulieu La nature de l’objet (Maison de la culture Côte-des-Neiges, 2002), unpaginated.

30. Roger Caillois, “Mimicry and Legendary Psychaesthenia” in October 31 (Winter 1984): p. 30. The quotes within the citation are from Eugène Minkowski, “Le temps vécu” in Etudes phénoménologiqueset psychopathologiques.

31. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (New York: Norton, 1971), p. 28.

32. Charles Baudelaire, The Parisian Prowler, trans. Edward K. Kaplan (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989), p. 120.

33. Charlemagne Palestine, a sweet quasimodo between black vampire butterflies for Maybeck, Audio CD, Cold Blue Music, 2007.

34. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, “Poetry as Experience” in SubStance 18, no. 3, issue 60: Special Issue: “Writing the Real” (1989): p. 26.