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TV Eye on You

The installation is self-referential in the sense that, first and foremost, it is ‘about’ the specific spatio-temporal experience it creates. From this point of view it might seem appropriate to abandon any interpretation that introduces a socio-psychological narrative in favour of a strictly formalist reading. This approach would probably start with pointing to the pivotal function of City Film within the structure of the installation. The motion of the revolving lookout point on the BT tower mirrors the look of the viewer. As he or she steps into the circle of monitors and moves around in circles to see the individual videos, his or her motions become an analogue of the circular pan of the camera. The viewer comes to occupy the impersonal vantage point of the look introduced by City Film, the empty gaze on London operating as a significant blank. In the same way that the viewer can be said to 'fill' the vacant vantage point of the look, the individual performances in the other videos can be said to 'fill' the vacant space and time induced by the empty gaze of the camera. The whole installation comes to be seen as a continuous play of emptying out and filling up space and time - a continuous play of zero and one. In principle these two interpretations of the installation - one that suggests a socio- psychological narrative and the other that proposes a formalist account of a change in spatio-temporal perception - operate on the basis of two different concepts of theatricality. On the one hand, theatricality can be understood as a mode of performance that governs the coded presentation of the self in everyday life.&sup4; On the other hand, theatricality has been described, by Michael Fried in reference to Minimal Art, as a purely formal node of altered spatio-temporal perception - the confrontation with 'specific objects' in material space combined with the temporal experience of empty duration.&sup5;

The first concept of theatricality can be applied to characterise the performance in which individuals offer themselves to the gaze of other people. In this case to perform means to strike a pose, to show some attitude, to do something, to be somebody. A 'narrative of becoming' (a recognisable person, somebody, yourself) is implicit in this kind of theatricality. Such a heightened awareness of this narrative dimension of everyday theatricality has become common sense. We know how to read the way people perform their own 'selves'. And we know how to offer ourselves to be read. The second concept of theatricality, however, is opposed to any idea of 'reading' or 'narration'. It refers to the factual presence of an object (and in an extended sense also of an image or a performer) in space and time. This factual presence is self-contained, non-referential and not expressive of any underlying meaning. Fried's concept of theatricality also does not apply to everyday situations. It demands a specific stage, an exceptional perceptual situation in which the effect of the vacancy and non-referentiality of minimalism can be obtained.

Despite all their differences, however, these two approaches coincide in one basic idea. Both concepts of theatricality are centred around a specific transaction between the viewer and the subject of his or her perception. The subject of perception provides the means to be seen in a particular way. He or she confronts the spectator actively, creating a situation in which the relation between the viewer and the subject of the look is defined. Fried describes the effect of minimalist objects as theatrical on the basis that they not only confront you with their materiality, but also establish a complete situation to encompass the position of the viewer.&sup6; In a similar way, each subject that performs or poses to meet the gaze of other people, creates a theatrical situation: the viewer is confronted with the material display of the body and involved in the 'scene' of visual communication. So it seems that both theoretical approaches to this situation of confrontation are structured similarly.

Kaja Silverman has proposed a structural analysis of precisely this situation with regards to the theatricality of everyday life.&sup7; She argues that every subject who poses an offer to the gaze of other people, performs a 'photographic transaction’. As the subject anticipates the moment of being looked at or 'photographed' (by a real or imaginary camera), he or she adopts the form of a 'pre-photographic photograph'. In this sense the pose is a 'gesture by which the subject offers him or herself to the gaze already in the guise of a particular "picture"’. The theatrical act not only transforms the subject but also turns its environment into a stage. Silverman ascribes this effect to the 'reverberative qualities' of the pose:

The representational force which the pose exerts is so great that it radiates outward, and transforms the space around the body and everything which comes into contact with it into an imaginary photograph... The pose always involves both the positioning of a representationally inflected body in space, and the consequent conversion of that space into a 'place'.&sup8;

It is fascinating to see that this structural account of the transformation of space during the presentation of the self is analogous to the statement by Robert Morris that Fried quotes to explain the spatial politics of minimalism: 'the total space is hopefully altered in certain desired ways by the presence of the object'. Fried goes on to compare this 'presence' which can transfigure an entire space, to 'stage presence' or the 'silent presence of another person'.¹0; So on a basic, formal level we experience the presence generated by the theatrical self-presentation of a person similarly to the way we experience the presence of a sculptural object that confronts us by designating its own co-ordinates of space and time (and vice versa).

To sum up, one may say the complexity of the experience produced by Hilary Lloyd's video installation arises precisely from the fact that it touches this intersection of 'everyday' and 'minimalist' theatricality. Hilary Lloyd takes theatricality off the street into the perceptual space of minimalism. In the course of this displacement, she isolates the structural features and 'reverberative qualities' of performing. She excludes all personal and biographical aspects of self-projection to bring out the basic spatio-temporal mechanics of theatricality. Yet, as she keeps her performances casual, she preserves the moment of direct address that marks the presentation of the self in everyday life. (Here I am. Look at me.) As a result, these performances are more confrontational and suggestive than a purely formal reflection on physical gestures in space and time could ever be (as in, for example, a Merce Cunningham dance performance).

Picture one last scene: a standard professional monitor with plain grey housing installed on a single-column stand set at chest height in a gallery. Close to its base the video player rests on a metal flight case. On the screen, Dawn sits on a light metal chair in an empty white space. She wears a cream-coloured suit and black high heels. Her arms hang loosely at her side as she sits motionless and gazes into the empty white space. From time to time she slowly changes the position of her feet, balances one foot on its high heel, turns her head slightly. Then she sits motionless and gazes into the empty white space. Her left shoulder drops a bit as she shifts her torso a little more towards the camera. The lapels of her jacket open up just wide enough to reveal that she is not wearing anything underneath. Again she freezes and gazes into the empty white space. She picks a cigarette from her pocket, lights it, leans back and crosses her legs. She puffs and gives the camera a challenging look. After a second, the provocative expression disappears from her face. It goes blank again as she looks away from the camera and gazes into the empty white space. She lights another cigarette, straightens her black hair, tilts her head back. Then she sits motionless again and gazes into the empty white space.

With infinitely little effort Dawn takes control of the situation. She captures the look of the viewer and directs it to the details of her body. Playfully she pronounces her ankles, her wrists, her neck, her chest, her hair. Every move she makes is a visual and visceral event in time. Like the gallery that surrounds the viewer the white room she occupies is a blank space. She fills this blank with her theatrical presence. Her transaction with the camera is charged with the tension of an erotic power-game: how long can you stand watching her when she scarcely moves, and yet everything she shows you makes you want to see more? She holds onto your gaze without every fully articulating the erotic implication of her. Above all her performance evokes a specific idea of beauty. A beauty which emerges from the impression that Dawn seems to have dropped out of the busy traffic of the everyday and into a vacant space of her own. She revels in the beauty of vacancy.

1. 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.
2. 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 this kind of inference. The performance seems far too abstract to be understood as 'gendered' in this obvious sense.
3. 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 nondescript 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 (1946) Deren defines this type of performance as '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 time created by the camera'.
4. Andreas Spiegl further elaborates this point of how theatricality and constructions of self are inter-connected in his essay 'A conflict at the heart of the identification' on pp. 39-46 of this issue.
5. 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 endlessness not just of objecthood but of time; or as though the sense, which, at bottom, theatre addresses is a sense of temporality, of time both passing and to come, simultaneously approaching and receding, as if apprehended in an infinite perspective ...'. See Michael Fried: 'Art and Objecthood', Minimal Art. A Critical Anthology, edited by Gregory Battcock, University of California Press, 1968, p.145.
6. 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. 125.
7. Kaja Silverman, The Threshold of the Visible World, Routledge, London, 1996.
8. Ibid. 'p. 203.
9. Fried, op. cit. at note 5 above, p. 126.
10. Ibid., p.127 and 128.

Jan Verwoert
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