24 Hour Psychoat VIVID, Birmingham, England.
31st October-1st November, 2008.
The VIVID art gallery in Birmingham, England, is a newish acquaintance to me: I have only been to two of their programs so far (and desperately wanted to go to three more but missed them, plus heard great things from one more): first was the Flux Fest, which commemorated and celebrated the Fluxus
-movement (with Flux happenings such as edible secrets, where the participants wrote a secret onto edible rice paper, which was then baked into food and given to someone else to eat; and a parking lot orchestra where visitors were invited to participate in their cars by following written instructions -- honking, slamming doors, flashing lights --; and a more reverent re-performance of Al Hansen's "Elegy to the Fluxus Dead", performed by his daughter Bibbe and made all the more poignant by the fact that Al Hansen's own name was now among the Fluxus dead). My second visit to VIVID was this past Hallowe'en Friday (31st October 2008) when they provided an unmissable opportunity: Douglas Gordon's "24 Hour Psycho".
The idea of Gordon's piece sounds simple: the old Hitchcock film Psycho played at the speed of 3 frames per second (as opposed to the usual 24 frames per second, which fools human eyes into believing they are seeing motion instead of a progress of pictures, which is what any film/video really is), causing the movie's duration to extend to a whopping 24 hours. The pace of the images is not yet slow enough to not clearly suggest movement, but is slow enough for the audience to be able to clearly see each image at a time. The work raises interesting questions about moving image and lens-based media in our time, when we are so used to seeing fast-paced moving image accompanied with sound. By slowing down the film and removing the soundtrack, Gordon basically eliminates narrative and meaning from the text (film), and leaves only its visual qualities. But at the same time, using such a famous motion picture as Psycho ensures that the audience isn't left completely in the dark as to what is going on in front of it (Hitchcock himself also probably helps some: rumour has it that he used to watch his films on silent while editing, to see if the sequences of material made sense, to see if the visual would stand on its own -- if that is true, and if he did that with Psycho, then that would definitely help Gordon in his undertaking). Also by showing us every frame of a film, the imagery is put under careful scrutiny. In a normal cinematic situation we do not have time to see all of the image in front of us before it is gone (and in the normal moving image there is lots of room for sending subversive unconscious messages by inserting single frames between other images that flash before our eyes too quickly for our mind to comprehend, but still being recorded in the subconscious), so radically slowing the sequence down allows us to look at the pictures without rush, taking everything in. This leaves room for a more critical approach to the viewing: for example, the famous three frames of the knife actually penetrating her skin are shown unhurried, and caused reactions from the audience ("oh"s and "eh"s and even some "ew"s)
The work was presented from 9pm on Friday night til 9pm on Saturday night. Entrance was free, and the visitors were able to buy autumnal soup or hot chocolate to fight off the cold fall night. The work was screened in VIVID's wonderful project space, darkened out, with chairs and cushions and beanbag chairs etc.. laid out for the audience to get comfortable (and even falling asleep was allowed). The images were back-projected onto a huge screen (3m x 5m or thereabouts?) which stood in the middle of the room, taking control of the space and almost becoming an art object (and thus overcoming my pet peeve of projection art: the flatness that comes when the image is made out of nothing but light hitting a wall or other 'dead' surface).
The night itself was fairly uneventful: there were various numbers of people present at different times (towards the beginning there were more people, with a peak of almost full house at around midnight; for the famous shower scene at 7:30am there were nearly ten audience-members present, while throughout most of the night and next day the undersigned was the only person there who didn't work for the gallery). Some of the more delightful occurrences of my 16-hour stay at the gallery were early on in the movie when a group of young people (art students by the look of it) entered and sprawled onto the cushions on the floor, giggling and merry but at the same time trying to keep quiet, as the situation was somewhat cinematic and they expected that silence was necessary (I saw it more as a gallery/art space, where conversation and noise is fine - there was no sound to hear anyway in the piece), and when a friend of theirs called, the girl who answered seemed very embarrassed and kept whispering into the phone - which the other participant in the call probably couldn't hear at all in her end (we on the other hand heard her in our end :P); another lovely little 'life'-moment occured around 10am when two young men entered, and the one - obviously well-acquainted with the movie - took one look at the screen and said "oh no, we missed the shower scene - and we missed it by only about 15 minutes!" In fact they had missed it by three hours, but I decided that it wasn't necessary to inform them of this. I suppose three hours of Gordon's Psycho would approximately be 15 minutes of Hitchcock's. :)
As mentioned, I didn't last all the way to the end, my 24 Hour Psycho was a 16 Hour Psycho, but even then I was the longest-lasting member of audience present this night - which was kinda cool. :)
If I understood correctly, this was the first time the piece has been screened in its entirety - and I think I overheard from someone that they plan to show it next in New York. That makes me happy: I got to it before New York did :P
More event reviews