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4.10.2015.


You Like to Watch, Don’t You.



























ELLA BERTILSSON (SWE) & ULLA JUSKE (EST)

Time is what happens when nothing else does

Presented by OPW & RHA

End of Ely Place, Dublin (adjacent to the RHA)

18 November – 23 December, 2015

Runs 1-2pm, Tues-Fri.

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9.12.2015.


Hut Life.

  1. ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ In boredom, we can only say, there are two assumptions:

                                                                        there is something I desire, and there is nothing I desire.

—Adam Phillips, ‘On Being Bored’



Ella Bertilsson’s and Ulla Juske’s artwork for the temporary project space, Hut, adjacent to the Royal Hibernian Academy on Dublin’s Ely Place, is an audio script filtered through interviews with security guards and attendants.1 The Hut, is just that, a hut, with not enough room to swing a cat without injury. The hut is now unmanned; automation replacing human labour. 


Inside the Hut any traces of the things that made the security guard’s vigil bearable are gone, replaced by a splash of magnolia paint and a couple of wooden benches. The artists have located a sound bar just under a window, the larger of two, that looks past the automated gate and down the length of Ely Place. Because Bertilsson’s and Juske’s intervention in the Hut is exclusively audio, you end up substituting the visual absence with the stuff around you.


There’s not much to visually grasp, however. The window panes in the smaller window and door are frosted, giving suggestive views of a floppy-leafed plant to your right, and the exodus of out-to-lunch staff from the OPW office to your left. In the Hut’s exposure to the public art is left open to the public’s indifference. Besides the soundscape of Bertilsson’s and Juske’s audio script, there’s the rattle of the automated gate and the sounds of its mechanism as cars pass through intermittently over the course of the fifteen-minutes duration of the artwork. 


Titled Time is what happens when nothing else does, the artwork is a meditation on surviving a job that necessitates waiting and standing still while civilisation works, rests and plays. More generally, we are forced to think (if not exactly experience) notions of waiting and boredom, class and exclusion, being and Time. A person who practices mindfulness would be annoyingly content in here.


A hut suggests the rural, where we are less attuned to the clock of capitalism but more in tune with place. Martin Heidegger would’ve had a few words to add here about the ‘hut life’ as someone who lived in one, on and off, for fifty years. He might agree that Time is slower in the countryside, relative to its speed and agency in the city. I get that; the urban landmarks of capitalism never let us forget we are always on the clock, or at the very least, suggesting new clocks to chime to. 


The character of the security guard, drawn out by Bertilsson and Juske from their interviews with relevant staff, is as charmless as the job description of a security guard. The rolling lilt of the narrator’s voice feels like you are bedside, watching the peaks and troughs of a life-support monitor. The diction is predictable, like that of a newscaster. At points of listening I wish for the flat line; to be done with it all. 


This portrait of a security guard comes across in the listening as a prison sentence; clock-in and clock-out, serve and observe and obey, and make do with your civic servitude. There is no reward at the end of the security guard’s shift. It’s about getting through. Surviving waiting. Surviving boredom. Surviving Time. Surviving yourself. 


Because the possibility of crime is slim in this context, you would think that someone so experienced and skilled at surviving this fifteen-year vigil, alone, would have greater insights into being and Time beyond the common or garden. Some anxiety or excitement around the notion of waiting or being bored. Even confusion over the difference between anxiety and excitement. In a sense this is a portrait of the security guard as nothing more or nothing less than a security guard. It doesn’t inspire confidence in the human race no matter the circumstances of his circumstance. What a waste of Time?


This is the main issue for me, Bertilsson’s and Juske’s characterisation of the security guard is a little flat. Fifteen years on the job and nothing to tell beyond surviving being a security guard and staving off thinking. Sure, there are curious moments: the nightly check-in-phone-call to someone in a petrol station on the other side of the city whom the security guard has never met; the swapping of shifts on New Year’s Eve to experience the mechanism of the Victorian clock that regulates the clocking system on the property; ghosts appearing after 3pm.


But the bricolage of voices that makes up this character is fixed in his denial of the job situation that he finds himself in. He is armed with defensive clichés and rhetoric that are offloaded with the regularity of his job routine: “a job doesn’t define you as a person”. The fact is, the specifics of a particular job gives you a perspective on the world that other jobs don’t. Whether it is how people interact or behave in the job, or how the institution and public treats you on the job, in the end your job will grind you down and define you as a person, in some cases over-define you, in which you become the institution, block and mortar, and its cheerleader. It’s just a matter of Time and circumstance. 


Being the first project for the Hut Project the artists are just tipping their toes into what is possible here. Bertilsson’s and Juske’s Time is what happens when nothing else does achieve in anchoring the context and history of the site, so artists can now upend that context and history.


The lunch-hour opening is strange and creates its own context for viewing. I would love to have the choice of experiencing art in the Hut on a Summer’s evening when the pulse of city changes from work to play. If the Hut becomes an annual project we will get a chance to see artists and art push beyond site-specificity to who knows what and why. Bertilsson’s and Juske’s artwork is the valuable curtain raiser; it sets the scene so others can follow. Jonathan Mayhew is up next, so, let’s see.


[James Merrigan]


Through 23 December.


Notes

1    My father was a security guard; well, that’s what it says on my birth cert. He also worked in the coal mines, but for some reason he put down security guard. Maybe security guard was more official than miner, a step up – I would have put down miner. Security guard may suggest potential risk, but miner... there’s something stupidly heroic about digging black stuff out of the ground.