6.  “Fugitive (Thinking about not thinking about the Coronavirus)” Anon. (GB), 2020. Interactive installation. Ars Lockdownalia, Linz, Austria. (Runner-up, Der Goldene Virus prize.)  <<Critic's notes>>

 

Write up soon. Second half in +/- finished form. Get photos from them as well as mine. Remem. to give A. that phone no.

‘Anon’ in the attribution: joke, easy to guess. Clue is sponsorship by ‘AFR Finnish timber’. (Write that or not??)
Say “to experience it one has to go through a procedure so long and tedious that one would almost prefer to undergo a test for Covid-19 antibodies.” (not funny?) But worth it.
2 large cacti have apparently undergone same: application of sticky electrodes (EEG or ECG). Parts of the participant's body shaved for electrodes. /See Guardian story re. controversy engendered (sic! use this!) by people scandalised at being asked to shave when they deemed it unnecessary, or at not being asked to when they claimed a certain hirsutedness (sp.?) Or something/

My experience: had patches of hair shaved from various parts, and was then festooned with electrodes “whose gaily coloured wires connected to a formidable array of electronic devices” (use). In addition to the EEG network on one’s head, a large pair of steampunk-like goggles are obligatory, some form of eye- or gaze-tracking device. The spiny opuntia (check name) placed either side of the leather dentist's chair have no goggles but are similarly covered, like anachronistic Christmas trees, with wires, clips and flashing lights. They are also, of course, covered in dangerous glochids or spines. Their red flower buds are doppelgängers (sp.? Cap. D or not?) for... the coronavirus /too obvious?/

Expand above, append to this finished part.


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In such a position a fear arises that electricity might be passed into, rather than out of, one's body like some poor torture victim, but in fact the whole initial procedure is quite painless. On the large screen facing one there appears a grid of dots that one has to look at, whilst the system is calibrated afresh. Then the fun begins - and after the boredom of the set-up procedures anything would be fun.

You have to touch, indeed caress or squeeze, the painfully spiked plants. If you let go, everything stops. And by everything I mean music, or sounds anyway, that relate to how you interact with the plants, and a series of videos and still images that appear on the screen. It is difficult to describe the utterly disorienting events that occur when you do join the two plants together by, presumable, the conductivity of your body. (This latter is doubtless enhanced by the tendency of the spines to prick one’s hands. /Aloe Vera lotion/)

Put simply: whatever you look at, disappears from sight on the screen. Whether areas of still images of a dying patient in a hospital (slightly reminiscent of some of Bill Viola’s work), scientific images of viruses or videos, with disturbing sound, of intubation and ventilation of Covid-19 sufferers, your gaze causes what you are attending to to vanish. The rest of the image closes up around it. You tense. It is almost unbearable. I would not recommend those of a fragile disposition to undergo it. You even grip the cacti, the opuntia engelmannii (check! looks wrong!) harder, causing the sounds to change and a pain that jerks your eyes away from the screen, when you become peripherally aware that the detail you were attending to has come back. You turn back to look at it. It melts away again, like one of those floaters in your eye that always escapes your gaze. This is powerful stuff and I can only begin to guess at the digital image processing behind it.

It may lack coherence, but the overall effect is overwhelming. The pain and suffering onscreen. The sounds that you yourself change by your reactions to the virus-like plants, your attempts, always futile, to make sense of the images, to attend to the details. A huge feeling of responsibility descends. I saw people in tears. Actually, I was wrong: it is coherent. We make it so, paradoxically by our inability to see the detail. We are the bit that's missing, always fugitive. /If need to cut, cut emotional bits./
/tie in with N. Sc. Article re attention disorder/ see if ORF interested.

 

©2020 by Brian Reffin Smith