Senseless at Arnolfini, January 1998
We build three corridors. They are 30' long and 4' wide. The walls are made of translucent plastic, the ends covered by solid wooden board, the sort you get on building sites.
In each corridor we place a performer. We blindfold them and leave them inside for ten hours a day, for three days. As they move about the corridors, they trigger overhead security lights, like you get outside a house, next to the garage.
We can see the performers through the walls of the corridors: when they are close to the plastic we can see them quite clearly. As they move away, they become out of focus. It's sort of like the frosted glass in a bathroom window.
In the doors at each end of each corridor, set at different heights, are three fish-eye security viewers, sort of like the ones you get in front doors in high-rise flats. Looking through these you can see the performers live, the perspective accentuated by the black and white checked lino on the floor, like in a kitchen.
Corridor One is the Heartbeat Corridor. The performer wears headphones, listening to the sound of their own heartbeat, measuring time. Every hour they put a notch into the leg of their wooden chair with a Stanley knife. Outside the corridor, next to the spy-holes, hangs a set of headphones, allowing the audience to listen to the performer's heartbeat with them.
Corridor Two is the Rooms Corridor. At each end there are headphones, through which we can listen to the performer, who is speaking very quietly into a microphone taped to their face. This is an audio close up to contrast with the wide shot presented by fisheye lenses in the spy-holes. The performer's job is to describe, in as much detail as they can, every room that they have ever lived in, and then to invent their ideal bedroom, bathroom or kitchen. As they describe these rooms, they draw them in marker pen onto the walls of the corridor.
Corridor Three is the Photographs Corridor. The Performer is armed with Polaroid Camera, and a Dymo Sticky Label maker. Each hour the performer takes a Polaroid of their environment, and then, still blindfold, they print out a label for it, letter by letter. They hang the labelled picture in front of one of the spy-holes at the end of the corridor.
It is noon on Friday the 23 January 1998. Rachael, Heather and Jamie are in their corridors. Our friend, photographer Helen Sharma, is in the space armed with a digital stills camera. Every hour we will upload three photographs of the installation onto the Internet. The soundtrack, by Sheffield composer John Avery, begins, combining ambient music with sounds of the outside world: church bells, a police siren, wind and rain, a Tibetan monk singing...
We open the doors to the small audience that is waiting. The corridors glow with security light as the performers go about their tasks. For the next three, ten-hour, days, I watch the audience as much as the performers.
The performers get bored, pissed of, a little hysterical, tearful, desperate for a fag, lonely. On the first day, over the ten hours, two of them use the secret escape password: Is there anybody there? to be let out to go to the toilet. On the second day we prescribe a ten-minute break, five hours in. On the last day Heather and Rachael stay inside all day, but Jamie has to be let out three times.
The audience come and go. They begin touching the performers through the plastic, stroking their heads, playing follow-my-lead games. Unnervingly, quite a few people get into power games with the blindfold, imprisoned performers: trying to beat them in the hand chasing games, pushing against them through the plastic in some sort of show of strength. The performers, it seems to me, are often treated more like animals than people.
Some people do talk to them, ask them both banal and fundamental questions about the work, or about life. They play music to the performers, through personal stereo headphones. Some of them find cannot leave. Many of them come back, later that day, or the next. One man goes home, downloads a photo from the Internet, and writes us a poem underneath it, prints it out and brings it in for us the next day.
The blindfold drawings of rooms are quite beautiful and the audience co-operate to view this corridor, the person with headphones relaying what is being described to other people watching the drawing ten feet away. But it becomes apparent that this is the hardest corridor to occupy: the pressure is to talk constantly; describing rooms they lived in as children, the performers stumble across memories that are perhaps better dealt with in a less public arena. This corridor has the most tears.
Each day the audience thins out between 7 and 8 pm, and the performers go off duty, coming to rest in their corridors like giant stick insects, bored and hungry. As the end of the day nears, the audience picks up again, people who came at lunchtime, and then after work, come in as part of their night out.
They want to see the performers get released, to see what state they are in, but we don't let them. We close the doors to the public each night, before opening up the corridors at 10pm and letting the performers out.