You enter an empty room. On the wall is a projection of a computer screen, displaying some text. From time to time a new sentence appears. If you look through the doorway into the next room you can see a person seated at a desk with a Mac laptop, typing.
I approached the typist. She had typed the words displayed on the wall. She told me she writes down what she sees in the room. I went back into the room and waved my arms about. After a delay the words 'man stands in the middle of the room flapping arms frantically' appeared on the wall.
I went back there on Monday lunchtime. I sat in the room with my little Asus eee laptop, and typed the narrative that I saw displayed on the wall. There was a different typist at the desk this time.
Some people walked straight through the room and hardly paused to look at the dull text on the wall. But when people realised that the text was about them they tended to linger, waiting to see what thought would appear next and giggling at descriptions of themselves.
It is the usual gallery scenario of people looking at a wall, but the difference here is that the wall is looking back at you, commenting on you, and commenting on your reaction to it.
There were times when the people in the room were motionless. The wall had nothing to comment on, so it didn't comment. There would be minutes with no addition to the narrative. The wall's silence echoing our silence, its lack of reaction to us mirroring our lack of reaction to it.
The set up adds to the tension. The typist is obscured, seated in the dark of the next room (where a Barbara Visser film is showing). The words don't appear as she types them: when she has finished a line she presses a button and then the whole line appears at once. We cannot be sure she hasn't already typed something that will appear any second.
The pauses don't go on for ever: one side would crack: someone would leave the room, or the wall would make a comment. At one point the wall that ended a prolonged pause with the sentence 'The man stands motionless. like a statue, his face hiding any expression.'
What would happen if no-one visited the ICA on one day of the exhibition? Would there be a narrative? Would there be an artwork? Would the wall periodically say 'there is still no-one in the room?' What happens when the typist goes to lunch? Does someone else take over, or is the wall silent until she comes back?
It becomes hard to leave the room, you want the person to say something about you. When you do leave you want to come back to see whether the wall has described you leaving.
I would like to go there for a whole day. From the moment the exhibition opens until chucking out time in the evening. I'd bring sandwiches, a flask of tea, and my little laptop. The wall would tell the narrrative of my day, the people I came into contact with, the times I got up and stretched to avoid getting cramp from sitting cross-legged on the floor, the times when I left the room to go to the toilet.
Below is the complete narrative from the twenty minutes I sat in the room on Monday lunchtime. There are only four sentences about me, I have put them in bold.
a man steps in behind them, hands rummaging in his coat.
he takes a crossed leg seat.
the girls giggle in unison.
another slips in behind them, obscured.
A woman, shadowing the blonde girl in front
she steps out into the light smiling
heels tap across the floor into the dark
the two friends retrace their steps
three women huddle in the dark
still reading these words from its black safety
the woman behind them swings her heavy leather bag as she walks
a metronome in motion
a smiling face of the invigilator at the letterbox doorway.
two girls sit closely.
watching the film in comfortable silence
they twist heads back to read glimpses
a woman shuffles into the space.
red and tartan, her coat keeping her hands warm
she crosses the floor and takes a heavy seat.
the blonde friend shifts in her seat.
the pair raise and exit together.
hesitating at the door.
an obscured person appears from the corner
two more enter to take his place
supported by the back wall.
a man and woman read in silence
white pages held in hands.
the man stands motionless.
like a statue, his face hiding any expression.
his female counterpart moves to the side.
the woman in red and tartan interupts the space
long dreadlocks and red jeans
she steps across the projection
barbara visser printed onto her clothes
she peers out into the light
still he stands reading.
balanced by his right hand on shoulder strap.
he glances round the ceiling corners suspiciously.
the woman loiters in the doorway before she leaves
idle fingers twist in her hair.
the statuesque man gives way to a smile.
two more men step inside the room.
they stand transfixed their eyes glued to the screen
the tapping of a keyboard echoes around the space
the two friends look into each others faces talking.
they shift positions slowly.
minor movements. feet crossed at ankles.
a nod of a head.
eyes cross the room into the dark.
watching and waiting
time to move on
the male couple step into the dark
'long dreadlocks and red jeans
...she peers out into the light'
is my flatmate from last year (she has confirmed)! Which seems quite an astonishing coincidence as I only read your blog because we sat opposite eachother on the train and you were painting Tin Tin comic strips.
It was a pleasure to meet you,
I know this was over a year ago, so...I don't even know if you'll read this! But I wanted to say thank you for typing up such a detailed account of this piece. I work at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, which is hosting this piece of work from July to October this year. I've volunteered (taken the king's shilling perhaps..!) to be the typist for the majority of the exhibition. I'm a little nervous about it, and although I will be given some sort of training on what the artist wants, it's really helpful to see what other people have written in previous incarnations of the show, and to get some insight into what people are thinking when they're in the gallery! So thank you for that.
All the best,
Again, not sure if you'll read this, but I came to the exhibition at Norwich Castle last weekend and absolutely loved it. Are you the still the typist? I thought you were brilliant if so - unnerving enough with the direct eye contact and well timed smiles, but seeming unthreatening enough to make the exhibition still enjoyable rather than disturbing.
I was really disappointed that we came so late everything was closing before we'd really fully explored it, and are unable to come back anytime soon. My boyfriend was the one that drew you a picture on the response forms and handed it to you. We were surprised to see your response on the wall, and were thoroughly bowled over by the whole exhibition. I was very impressed not only by the art itself but by the layout, allowing you to discover the model and typist pieces in two, or even 3 stages. I was unnerved to know that someone round the corner was moving the camera while we were looking at the model, probably knowing from your narrative that we were looking at the model at that time. Reading the sign telling us our movements were being recorded after having been in the room for a long time, then seeing you looking at us made me feel suitably uncomfortable, and to *then* discover that everything was on the wall in the next room for anyone to read sent a chill down my spine. I wish I had come and spoken to you about the piece, but unfortunately the gallery closed and we had to leave. We both agreed that it was possibly the best art exhibition we’d ever been to…..and to think we nearly didn’t go upstairs!!
Anyway, I hope you do read this sometime, perhaps I will send some feedback to the castle too. I just wanted to let you know that the exhibition was brilliant and will most likely stay with me forever.
Oh dear, I managed to get so excited about this but I've just realised I've managed to miss the fact that I went to Nottingham Castle, not Norwich Castle. Oops! That's made me quite sad, I thought I'd found our typist!
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