April 2018 paper delivered to 2018 SAR conference, Plymouth


A collector of Displacements


I began the artistic research fellowship I’m currently in the midst-of with a representational practice founded on photography and with a set of preoccupations which took as their loci the untenanted spaces to be found in post-war modernist institutions, social housing and religious buildings, and the circumstantial evidence left behind by the departed occupants of such architectural interiors. The other “site” with which my research was concerned at the outset was that offered by the photographic depictions of buildings’ interiors, created by professional architectural photographers. However, a series of radical shifts in my practice and focus over the past eighteen months have witnessed both the objects and methodologies of my research redefined in response to a series of impasses and revelations. This presentation is in part a testament to these shifts and in part an attempt to articulate their consequences for my current research practice.


i). Departures



[open with Elizabeth][2.25 of music, 7.12 over all]

[run time 2.25 playing then a further 2.00, some under speech]


This short piece of video marks a departure in more than one sense: as well as the act of departure we witness: an event creating an absence, the work marked a point of departure for my research practice. My use of video here - as opposed to the still-photography which had previously been my representational medium of choice, for the first time lent an explicitly time-based character to my depiction of [the] unoccupied sites [which had been the original focus of my work].


In so doing, it recreated what I’d previously regarded as “absence” as an unfolding interval: giving a new and specific form to a phenomenon with which my work has become preoccupied, and offering me a means of articulating a previously unspoken conception of my inquiry’s object: namely, “the pause” or perhaps more specifically, “the hiatus”: that singular interval or “gap” between articulation, between action, between the occupation of a room or space, which might in each case be characterised by the idea of an absence, whether it be of sound, of activity or as has repeatedly been the case in my own work, the absence of the human body.

Although they are not in themselves the originary objects of my research, I want to position these notions of the interval and the hiatus at the centre of today’s presentation, as they have begun to offer a peculiarly illuminating means of addressing the various works which have cumulatively begun to comprise my image-making practice and drive my current research.



ii). The Interval



(chairs in gymnasium, video recorded at Cultural Centre Sofia, nr Helsinki)

[run time 2.00]




(rolled bedding, temporary staff accommodation, University of Bergen)

[run time 2.00]


Ostensibly, it could be said that I’ve become interested in the “private lives of buildings”, however, attending to the hiatus and the pause through such apparently mundane objects of curiosity has placed them at the nodal point of an interrelated complex of phenomena, which emerge when attending to these concepts in this particular context. Many of these interwoven phenomena can be traced, threaded through the warp and weft of my work and this presentation: they include the properties of silence; the legacies of quotidian acts or rituals and the status and agency of unattended objects, their role as anthropomorphic proxies for the absent body; embodiment and its antitheses; absence and displacement and their politics and also the curious spatio-temporal properties of the interval itself and its Janus-faced power to open up a space looking both backward and forward in time.


Initially eschewing the overt evidence of human presence which characterised the performance and its aftermath filmed at Voksenåsen, a series of similar video works realised over a number of subsequent months and at different sites, allowed me to gather more evidence about the properties of and the phenomena that surrounded other intervals of absence manifest in terms of the human occupancy of… and displacement from typically anonymous interiors.


Depicting the aftermath of occupation and / or the circumstances which anticipate its return, these videos feature the same fixed camera and a single take as the Voksenåsen film, recording whatever may happen within the frame and whatever can be heard within the space, over the duration of the recording, in a manner that allows the unanticipated to unfold performatively before the camera and the microphone: that is to say, as my camera records, it both depicts and creates the hiatus which unfolds within the frame: the work becomes performative, in that it constitutes an articulation which enacts what it represents.


Far from representing “parenthetic” non-spaces, these sites typically bear some pronounced trace or intimation of individual presence or collective interaction and that “trace or intimation of presence” emerges as a recurrence, a constant-in, and as central to my work. It presages the emergence of embodiment, its traces and antitheses as themselves significant themes in my research. [?]


[allow how much ??? time for “Ng bed” to play out]






My attempts to situate the objects and approaches that characterise my research have begun to suggest some unexpected analogues for my emergent practice, including practitioners - some historical, some fictional - whose work offers optics through which I can begin to delineate the nature of my own activity and its manifestations.


One such optic is offered by the fictive work of a literary character, whose own pursuit of the complex phenomena contained within the pause, the interval or hiatus[1] is described by the author Heinrich Böll. The character in question is known simply as Murke. He features in a 1958 short story (with which some of you may well be familiar), in which he is introduced as a “collector of silences”. This description refers to Murke’s practice of using his job as a radio producer to collect the “silent” pauses which he edits out of the recordings he makes, splicing them together to form loops, that he then plays-back to himself. At the same time, we are told, Murke also “collects” silences by making recordings solely for that purpose: that is, recordings of people present and yet not speaking.


If Murke is a collector of silences – a habitual recorder of the absences (and presences) which comprise the intervals that form the objects of his obsession – his activity seems to offer a means of understanding my own, leaving me intrigued by the consequences of speculatively construing my own video recordings - themselves a collection of absences-become-intervals - as collectively, an archive of hiatuses and pauses; of “potentials”, “becomings” and “unfoldings”, after the manner of Murke’s works [and so, in my imagination, my own video recordings become for a while a part of Murke’s archive of recordings]. [?]



iii). (Dis)embodiment



(coats on hangers, video recorded at Cultural Centre Sofia, nr Helsinki)

(run time: to end or up to point where Ozu clip comes in)



I’m drawn to the figure of Murke not only on account of the striking parallels between his preoccupations and my own, but also because the uncertain significance of his recordings echoes the ambiguity which for me surrounds the status of my own recent videos.


As a thought exercise, I find myself exploring a world in which Murke, compelled to leave his post as a radio producer, perhaps on account of his unconventional activities, secured a succession of roles not in the media, but as a caretaker or maintenance operative at a range of institutions. I imagine that in this capacity he continued to develop his preoccupation with the unoccupied interval, the pause between… and the hiatus; working not just with sound, but with the visual image; making recordings identical to those I have been making; I imagine that he was able to discover in the role of janitor, care-taker or “custodian”, the quintessence of the opportunity to explore and record the "secret" or "private" lives of buildings during the pauses and hiatuses created by the absence of their erstwhile occupants. These pauses or hiatuses between activity and occupation become an echo of  the pauses between the speech acts which Murke recorded as a radio producer, not least on account of the sense in which the resultant absences in both cases are far from “empty” and are instead, fully freighted with what remains; recalling for example, the status of “silence” in John Cage’s seminal 4.33, with whose work Murke’s has (in actuality) previously been associated.[2]


If Cage’s work provides one reference point for thinking about the pause or hiatus in my own (or Murke’s) work, another is offered – in cinematic terms - by the lingering shots of unoccupied rooms in the films of Yasujiro Ozu, which in turn recall the singularly Japanese concept of Ma: broadly, the gap, the space, the pause or the interval in space or time[3]


(subject to copyright) 

Rooms after the departure of the bride, Yasujiro Ozu, 1949, Late Spring,

[show Ozu clip with v brief, factual intro.]


If absent anthropomorphic presences haunt both Ozu’s rooms and the recordings I make, in my work as on occasion in Ozu’s the human body is almost invariably replaced by some proxy highlighting once again (dis)embodiment (always here tied to its antithesis) as a recurrent issue central to reading the hiatus in my work and also bringing into play the as yet unresolved significance of my own embodied, but always unseen presence: an echo in turn of Murke’s unseen presence and that of his temporarily silent subjects before the microphone.



However, while Boll’s text offers an opportunity to perceive something significant about the nature of my own practice at an abstract, conceptual level, through the common denominator afforded by the recorded hiatus and the absent, disembodied presences which it encapsulates, the historical specificity and cultural significance of Boll’s own writing also serves to highlight the distinct limits to any generalised, abstract notion of the universality of silence and absence, and indeed dis/embodiment in my own work and elsewhere. Just as the ‘silence’ and disembodied presences referred to in the Boll text have, in the context of the post war politics of 1950s Germany, a particular power and significance, so for all that I have been engaged in the task of identifying a set of common, recurring themes or abstractions, which underpin my work and though I continue to be wary of deliberately making work in direct response to the “issues” manifest at any given site, each and every iteration of my representational practice is unavoidably a response to and an expression of a unique set of social, economic and political factors, as much as it is an instance of broader, more abstract themes.


recently vacated apartment, asylum reception centre, nr. Voss

from the series Almost Home


In each case, the significance of an interval or pause, the import of an absence and of disembodiment is differently inflected, just as the quotidian acts and rituals which create the circumstantial evidence with which my work, here as elsewhere is concerned, potentially have a different significance in different settings.


In this context, the power of a caption to modify the reading of an image is lost on none of us and this no less the case with my own image-making. The question of what is withheld and what expressed, with all that flows from it for the discourses which my work becomes a part, remains a vexed one for me.




 (coats on hangers, video recorded at Cultural Centre Sofia, nr Helsinki)

[still only, here]


It seems more than coincidental that many of the institutional sites which I’ve been drawn to as part of my research, date from the decades of post-war Northern European and Scandinavian redevelopment and video works like this one address albeit often very obliquely, the historical legacy of a particular aesthetic and political moment, a particular nexus of design and social aspiration. In so doing, they tend to capture a certain melancholy. In what I find a beautiful and telling phrase, for which I’m very grateful, one audience member recently noted in response to this aspect of my work, that ‘failing ideological forces are felt upon the subjective body’[4] and in my work, as in Ozu’s Late Spring, the absent body and its proxies, as much as the spaces it has occupied becomes a locus for the forces tangentially manifest in the mise en scene of my images.



iv). Reappearances


The various relationships within my work - between the interval or hiatus, quotidian actions and rituals, embodiment, objects, absence and representation - become explicitly entangled in the making of one final work I want to discuss, today: itself a marked departure from the work we’ve seen thus far. This was a piece made recently at KMD in Bergen. It was created “in communion” with the fictive Murke and framed as a recreation of a necessarily fictional original Murke work, lending to Murke some of my own past experiences of spaces and earlier responses in my practice to the pause and the hiatus, which re-emerge in synthesised form as elements in this work.




The work begins with this image from the University of Bergen archive and with my stating:




 “It is not clear whether this archive image, made in September, 1961, which shows students carrying chairs into a newly opened building was the inspiration for Murke’s work or in fact marks a documentation of the work itself. Either way, it seems that Murke was responsible for staging an action or intervention involving staff and students at the institution where he was then working, which ultimately gave rise to the placing of these chairs we see in the image or others very much like them, in rows, in an empty void within a university building, where they remained for some unspecified time and where their siting was later recorded on film by Murke.


I recently staged a reconstruction of Murke’s original performance and installation, working with university staff and students at KMD in Bergen.



(reconstruction of the Murke performance,

Andy Lock, KMD 2018 (photo Richard Launder)



installation created by KMD performance “after Murke”:

[show video here with [separate?] beeps]


As in Murke’s work, the performance culminated in the placing of the chairs, which had been processed through the building, in a void at its base, where they were left to stand, in keeping with my understanding of Murke’s original work. The resulting scene [or installation] was filmed and is to my mind, in retrospect, surprisingly reminiscent of a church or chapel or some other such place of worship, recalling for me the Rothko chapel, which I find interesting as a good deal of my own previous work has been preoccupied with other religious sites.


v). The objects Perform themselves


Despite the explicitly central role for human agency in creating this work, looking at the video recording which resulted from the aftermath of the performance [which we see here], I’m prompted once again to recall a fragmentary phrase from one of my recent diary entries, which reads simply “the objects perform themselves”. The phrase seems here (and indeed in the other videos of furniture and bedding I’ve shown today) to acquire at least a double meaning: namely, the objects themselves are “performing” and the objects perform being themselves.”


The agency of objects manifests itself in the KMD performance, in one further notable form. My “recreation” of the Murke performance and its subsequent documentation, contained a sound component, audible in this video recording, which was based on my own experience and which once again I transposed onto Murke’s biography, only for it to re-emerge in his/my performance.


Working in a high-rise tower-block, whose occupants had been abruptly evacuated before its demolition, I/Murke found ourselves moving through the building, recording the irregular chorus of electronic chirrups and beeps created by hundreds of failing smoke alarms, whose batteries were running down, understanding these disembodied calls and responses to act as proxies for the building’s displaced residents.


It is these disembodied sounds which reappear in the performance and installation work devised in response to the image of the students carrying chairs, forming the basis of an acoustic trail which led the “chair carriers” to their ultimate objective.



(reconstruction of the Murke performance,

Andy Lock, KMD 2018 (photo (r) Richard Launder)


Others have noted this agency and pointed out that significantly, this latest work marks a shift in my practice, from an emphasis on the production of a kind of mute “evidence” tied to a paradigm of authenticity, to the emergence of a more explicit agency possessed by the objects (and indeed images), which feature in my work. One spectator talked of my ‘giving the objects and the spaces a different way to perform’, another commented that (here) ‘the chairs speak to us. They sing,’ she said and wondered why that might be.


This latest work lacks a definitive form. Each facet – archive image, performance, installation, video, subsequent spoken account - exists in communion with the others and with the work of the fictive Murke. Each of these facets is held by their relationships to one another, in a constellation, which in its entirety forms a response to the constellation of themes emergent in my research around the point of ordonnance offered by the hiatus or pause, as it is manifest in “the unoccupied room”.


For me, this latest iteration of my practice seems to constitute an instance of inquiry (of knowing) through making (to make a reference to the work of Tim Ingold); with my research perhaps for the first time a thoroughly immanent feature of both processes and outcomes[, where previously, I had been creating work which could subsequently be theorised].


In looking ahead, the combination of complexity and immanence which characterises this iteration of practice is I believe, significant both to the future development and exposition of my research, not least because [in its very form,] it aspires not to resolution, not to be summative, but to identify, open and sustain a problematic, unresolved space for further work and collective questioning, and that is precisely what I hope this presentation – as a part of my work, not an adjunct to it – will also do.

[1] hiatus: a pause or break in continuity in a sequence or activity.

[2] (Dieter Daniels, Inke Arns eds., 2012, Sounds Like Silence: John Cage 4'33" Silence Today 1912, 1952, 2012, Spector Books) see also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRYOeOKXnm0

[3] Charles Wei-Hsun Fu, Steven Heine eds. 1995, Japan in Traditional and Postmodern Perspectives, State Uni of NY Press, p.57

[4] Sabine (10.17” in my recording of the Q&A) was making this point in relation to my depiction of the modernist project and its relationship to the specific post-war spaces with which I have repeatedly worked.