Here and Now 2015: Sculpture in an ever expanding field: Abdul-Rahman Abdullah: The Accidental Traveller
We close the door and turn around, a series of dim chandeliers lights our path to the dark end of the corridor, a cat that looks beyond it, into darkness to which our eyes slowly adjust as we move further in, through the humming space. A chair is all that sits at the end of the corridor, an absence in the space where, on the cover of one of the catalogues, a figure in white stands. To me, the language of this space is the language of film, and images. I can understand as I move through the panelled walls that I am witnessing an illusion, but one with a different relationship to the real. A film made real, an image transferred into the bounds of a structure. It is a relationship that runs deeply in the world, in every building, but here it is intensified with a soundtrack and two characters and that theatrical lighting. The process of entering an image is one that we rarely do physically – images, Jean-Luc Nancy tells us, are ‘distinct’ from us – but we find here that this space too is separate, a divided media. We let ourselves over to the image, the illusion, from the space that we can see outside it. The construction is clear to us, and yet the image that we enter is distinct from this construction. ‘An image is a thing that is not the thing: it distinguishes itself from it‘(Nancy). When we enter this space, we experience the expansion of the image out from its detachment and into space. It still fulfils its separation, but enacts it as separation from its construction, and not from us.
The movement of the image into space is one thing, yet this is a peculiarly unreal image. A demised cat, fixed in one position, stands watch over the end of the empty corridor, watching and waiting eternally for nothing to happen. There is this strange longing, the terrible sensation of something that hasn’t happened yet, or has just happened, but which meets us with every step we take. The image lasts only as long as we close the door, and take those steps towards the cat. Then the illusion is gone, we see only a chair, an empty presence with the implication that something will come, or has been. The expectancy is all the image can provide to us. There is no presence; there is no ‘thing’ in the image. If we enter an image, it is to find ourselves ultimately disappointed. It is only in sustaining that walk eternally – and the glimpse that we have of this sensation through the work – that the magic of appearance sustains itself. There is something there, but nothing. It is not the thing, but it is something. The image is only ever interstitial, even here in space it is only interstitial – it inhabits a realm between things, between referents and realities, between a surface and a space.
This is a filmic image – perhaps if it were only a space, without any sound, it would be theatre, or sculpture, but there is something decidedly cinematic about the experience of walking the corridor with sound and light like this. It is as if we have become a camera, and are watching the world through a lens. Film is, of course, just a way of understanding this image in space, but one that I think is appropriate. This is because there is a peculiar sensation, when entering this space, that I am not myself. Perhaps it is the dimming of the lights, its disappearance into darkness. Upon closing the door I feel a strange separation within myself, and I understand it as if I am playing a character in a film, but am watching a film play out. Perhaps this is the disjunction of entering an image, we become distinct, an irrevocable part of the image, but watching it through our eyes. We are like the camera, catching the image from a first person perspective.
The corridor is also like a set – we can tell it is not ‘real’ – it is not a structural corridor. The things that greet our perception are appearances made physical. Because of this they sit on an uneasy edge between the image and the real for the duration of our walk, and it is here that the work extends itself out, not only in space, but also in the space of the image. It pertains to the same distinctness as other images, but it expands itself in the world. The only breaks with this image are the ends of the corridor. Beyond the cat, and out the door are the spaces where the sensation of the image disappears, and we become aware again of the limits of the image itself, the fixed cat, the empty chair, the flat, wooden construction and beams. The image is a kind of magic built on hidden surfaces. All this work, all this construction, is manufactured in order to perfect its disappearance and thereby emergence into the world, like some kind of Pygmalion complex. It never comes to pass, and the image always sits distinct, yet there it troubles and changes the borders of the real. For a moment, a short walk up the corridor, the image functions.
So what is the function of this image? As I have outlined, it seems related to the nature of images. Not reflexively, but rather it deals with the nature of appearance - with the apparition of things - a function that the image also pertains to. There is a peculiar kind of terror also bound up in it, not only from the somewhat cliché sound effect, but the very nature of the image. The image of the corridor holds a particular kind of dynamic, especially with its implacable, darkened end. It is a dynamic that is both expectant and oppressive. Corridors are the agents of distance, and they express to us a number of things in walking them – a passage, a movement through space, a movement through time. One is reminded of Kubrick’s corridors in the Shining, endless rooms lined door by door in the walls, long paths with no where else to go. There is inevitability here, too.
Images, though, often function to provide us a glimpse of what is not present, and in this case this function is compounded by the eventual absence of anything reciprocating our expectation. There is no event or occurrence. It is for this reason that the function of this particular image is synonymous with the functions of images more broadly – it deals with the absence and the presence of what appears. It is difficult to ascribe it any specificity, because the entire corridor is pointed towards an ‘other’ that is never revealed. The cat functions powerfully here, its gaze facing away from the arrival of the viewer, and focused towards the unknown, and the absent. It is this dynamic, one of apprehension, that is the function of this image, but which also crucially fulfils the function of images that always hold themselves apart. There is a fear of appearance – that something may come to fill the seat, but also a fear of disappearance - that something has just abandoned it.