My scenarios for installation art projects, whether or not they employ video projections, are often attempts at myth-making, in a mise en scène whose spare elements are the properties of dreams. In the Cellar of a Dying Star, romantic in its ‘alternative astrophysics,’ does not wish to deny that splendid science but to produce, within the small space of visual metaphor, a ‘singularity’ whereby immensity of scale and amplitude of force are replaced, briefly, by the marvelous. The title of the piece is, of course, essential to its enjoyment – I will not say ‘understanding,’ for it is not meant to be understood entirely, any more than a poetic text is – or, for that matter, the unimaginable revelations of astrophysics itself. In this piece, I was interested in how a title can, by its power of suggestion, contextualize objects set on a kind of stage – objects which otherwise would be an accidental arrangement – ‘theatricalizing’ them for a narrative that is all but erased.
A spiral staircase of cast iron descends out of darkness onto a dimly lit stage. Its upper reaches are unseen. The bottommost stair lands a few paces behind an iron door, set into the floor. The floor is gray; the staircase and door are black. Around the edges of the door, evidently ill-fitted to the cellar entrance it is presumed to secure, white light seeps.
The light escaping from the black iron door’s perimeter is fitful, modulating in its intensity from weakness to brief bursts of radiance. The lower sections of the spiral staircase appear ghostly in a diffuse white light. The remainder of the space is in darkness.
The action is implicit in the work’s title and in its mise en scène. But a much ampler narrative is intimated, however rarefied and, ultimately, unknowable.
Silence, except for the faint roar of a furnace, heard near the cellar door. Like the light from behind the door, the sound is variable and intermittent.
Sensation of Touch:
If practicable and desirable, the iron door set into the stage floor is ice-cold to the touch.
Norman Lock’s newest book is Love Among the Particles, stories published by Bellevue Literary Press, New York City. His newest play, The Monster in Winter, has just been translated into German by Per Lauke Verlag. His newest radio drama, Mounting Panic, was recently produced in Germany by WDR. Lock won The Paris Review’s Aga Kahn Prize (1979) and fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (2009), the New Jersey Council on the Art (1999, 2013), and the National Endowment for the Arts (2011). His work has been translated into Dutch, German, Turkish, Japanese, and Spanish. He lives in the U.S.