by Gemma Evans
(inspired by the Installation of the same name by Atom Egoyan)
The technicians took us round and showed us how it worked, all the intricate mechanisms, how this bit went into that bit; it was a delicate balance and the artist has designed it so that one day it would stop working. It was conceptual, a representation of human decay. I knew I’d be there at the ‘stop working’ moment. I don’t believe in fate, that things career along predetermined paths, but a feeling in my gut said, yep this one’s gonna be on you.
I hated and loved the piece. I love anything to do with Samuel Beckett, any chance to explain existentialism to someone and I’ll come running, particularly if it’s to an unsuspecting member of the public.
‘You see,’ I say ‘It’s like Beckett says, we are born astride the grave.’
But then, when it’s actually your turn on the rota to go in there, to part the curtains and stand in this four-walled black box with nothing but the sound of two thousand feet of film squeaking and shuddering its way through a complicated maze of spindles stretching twenty feet up to the ceiling, and down to the floor, across and around, again and again. It all moves and you’re still but it resonates and you can feel it moving but you can’t really see it because there’s just a pinprick of light and the torch you have to guide visitors in.
Once the film has made its way through its complicated route around the room it runs into an old steenbeck machine and the image is projected onto a small screen before being pumped out the other side to repeat the journey. On the screen the actor John Hurt performs Krapp’s Last Tape, but the film is so old now, been around so many other galleries that his face has warped and you feel you need to squint at it to make clear. Speakers pump out the voice of old degraded, decaying John Hurt, but it’s not words anymore, just garbled sounds that repeat over and over, like the sound old people make when they’ve forgotten how to talk.
Nobody talks about it when they’re in the staff room. Nobody says the thing we’re all thinking. Please don’t die on my watch. Because that’s stupid, it’s just a piece of weird art; it’s not actually alive. But in the second week of the exhibition I’m in there, shining the torch on my watch to count down the minutes until I can leave, when the whole thing starts to shudder more than usual. I run and switch on the main lights and I stand and gaze at it. Now it’s fully illuminated I can see how it all works, I think it’s not so terrifying. Everything leans to the right, the film stretches and I think, this is bad. I remember the training and carefully step through the maze of film to the steenbeck machine in the heart of the piece and gently turn the dial and I can feel the movement of the film in the dial, I can feel the pressure lessen as it slows down, with one final groan the pressure disappears it stops. The room is still. The screen is blank.