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TV Eye on You

“If you've got nothing to do - do it on stage!”

London always scares me a little. Even though the city has no towering skyline and the size of most of the 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 bullet-proof screen of individuality. If you walk down the street and try, en passant, to decode the many displays of identity 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, alternately, 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 zooo) 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. Four different video-sequences are presented on four separate monitors. These standard professional monitors with plain grey housings rest on single-column stands. Three monitors showing the individual performances are set facing each other in a circle. The fourth monitor, is placed slightly off-centre and faces away from the others. Here the video City Film is playing. It shows a panorama of London taken from the British Telecom tower. The camera remains static, but as the observation platform rotates very slowly around the tower's axis, the lookout point moves along in a circular motion. The maze of façades and rooftops gradually reconfigure as new buildings come into view. The video seems like an endless establishing shot for a film that never actually begins, setting the stage for events that will not occur. Human figures or movements remain invisible. The video renders an image of a vacant gaze and the city is introduced as an impersonal field of vision. In the same way that the camera, it seems, will endlessly monitor the urban scenario, the city will always 'see'. It forms a visual continuum. The city is a silent witness that remains unimpressed by the events it witnesses and the ambitious show its citizens put on every day. Nothing changes. Neither the city nor the gaze of the camera is stirred by individual performances. No matter what happens, the vision of the tacit TV-eye goes on and on and on.

This sense of empty duration is maintained in the three other video sequences. They each show individuals who perform simple repetitive gestures. The videos are looped, adding to the circular manner in which the performances unfold. There is neither a discernible motive nor a clear goal that might give them a linear direction. All the same, the performances 'fill' the empty space opened up by the first video. Something happens. Nothing much, but still, once you get absorbed in the narcotic drift of circular time, every little detail about the performances becomes significant.

One video shows Sotiris, a young man, stretched out and relaxing on the floor, leisurely leafing through some fashion mags. Whenever he turns a page, he tears it out. After a while the floor around him becomes covered with torn-out pages that begin to form a corona of glossy images around his body. Even though this performance is carried out lackadaisically and at a steady pace, the persistent noise of tearing provides a nervous edge to the atmosphere in the exhibition space. Zzzip. Zzzip. Zzzip. Zzzip.¹

Sotiris might be comfortably at rest on the floor, but there is something restless about him. His performance seems to articulate the subliminal agitation produced by fashion papers: the pleasurable feeling of vertigo that arises from the dislocation of the self in the face of all the possible identities offered by the magazines (maybe I should change, restyle my wardrobe and remodel myself, or maybe I should just tear up the glossy that makes me want all this). The tearing noise thus feels like it is charged with the subtle tension of a cursory self-destruction (or iconoclasm). Nothing spectacular. It is just that the ambience is tinged with an underlying tension.

The monitor opposite shows Monika, a young woman who tries to build a house of cards over and over again. From time to time she collapses it, either deliberately or by accident. She concentrates on balancing the cards on top of each other and manages to muster a certain amount of patience. However, she seems more interested in the process of building than in producing an end result. If she succeeds in finishing the house she only pauses for a brief moment before she starts anew. She seems to toy with the cards to keep herself occupied. It is something she does to kill time. The subdued atmosphere her performance creates is reminiscent of a Sunday afternoon stretching endlessly into the evening.

On the third monitor, Darren and Darren perform. In a strict sense they are the only ones who 'act'. Their fluid motions come almost as a release from the feeling of arrested time produced by Monika and Sotiris. Their performance is staged in a vast empty office space. The reflective marble floor, monotonous rows of windows and white pillars confuse any clear sense of space. Against this abstract backdrop the two young men, casually dressed in jeans, tank top and trainers, carry out a repetitious sequence of movements. Darren 1 faces the camera and stands with his legs apart, his arms hanging loosely at his side. Darren 2 gets on his knees and crawls through the legs of Darren 1. He gets up again, and for a split second the men freeze, the right foot of Darren 1 beside the left foot of Darren 2. Then they begin again and Darren 2 stands with his legs apart while Darren 1 gets down and crawls through them. This procedure is repeated with reversed roles over and over again. The nature of their circular movement is impossible to comprehend. It could be a game. It could be a ritual. It might as well be a minimal dance performance. And although the absurdity of their actions defies any aspiration to serious posing, the two young men still manage to convey a certain attitude: 'Here I stand. This is me. Now who are you?'²

An empty gaze on London; a young man ripping pages out of a fashion magazine; a young woman building a house of cards; and two young men performing a self-contained routine of posing in a vast unoccupied space - all three performances seem to evolve directly from the underlying sense of vacancy. They give a shape to it. It is as if the feeling of vacant time and anonymous urban space itself created the impulse to perform. To fill space. To kill time. The edgy tearing noises produced by Sotiris reverberate this impulse - the nervous itch that urges you to do something, to be somebody. The sense of floating in a void gets you all wired up. Whatever de-centres the ego - the effects of boredom, the impact of urban anonymity or the thrill of glossy surfaces - makes you want to go out, get on stage, put on an act and present yourself, like Darren and Darren do.

Or maybe this socio-psychological interpretation is misconstrued. Hilary Lloyd's videos are no empirical study on the presentation of the self in everyday life. Even though the performances in the videos are casual, they are not part of a real-life scenario. Perhaps they could be because they are neither too bizarre nor too outrageous to be noticed in an ordinary environment - in a busy gym even the performance of Darren and Darren might pass as a "basic warm-up exercise. It is not the degree of spectacularity that sets these performances off from common behaviour, but rather the context in which they are presented. The installation establishes a specific 'situation' that creates its own space and time. The repetitive structure of the four video sequences produces something like a self-contained time zone that seals itself off against linear time and the speed of daily life. Inside this zone, time is stretched and slowed down. Perception is made to adapt to the circular rhythm of the loops. No matter how casual the performances may seem, inside this time zone they come to be perceived as microscopic choreographies of formalised acts.³

The sculptural arrangement of the monitors transforms the exhibition space into a 'place'. Installed at chest height on single-column stands the monitors occupy the room as a group of people might. The factual appeal of the professional equipment emphasises its 'objecthood'. The technicality of vision is exposed. As a result perception becomes 'embodied' as a physical process. You are made aware of the way in which your own movements between and around the monitors determine how you perceive what you perceive. The constellation of videos you see changes with the position you take. Step into the circle of monitors to see Darren and Darren's activities in contrast to Sotiris's passivity. Step out of the circle and you see the exterior view of London's architecture in the foreground, a striking contrast to the interior spaces in which Darren and Darren perform. However, the ways of encountering the work are not entirely open. The installation determines the set of possible positions for the viewer in relation to the monitors - a fully defined perceptual environment in which every component is designed to bring about a change of perception.

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