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The Cabinet Theatre

On the Edge of the World, by Norman Lock

  • Norman Lock

On the Edge of the World


Artist’s Statement:
The video-installation, or cabinet theatre as I call my theatricalized appropriation of the form, allows me to confront elemental questions of how it is we are and how it is we know – or think we know – ourselves and the world. On the Edge of the World concerns our ready acceptance of illusion as fact. The illusion treated here, however, has everything to do with ontology and epistemology, nothing to do with all the many lesser forms of deceit to which we daily succumb. In other words, I intend that the spectator should regard the work as a figure for our inability to discern the true lineaments of the source of life. My theme – a grand and common one, both – is that the life we believe to be ours and the world in which we have it are masks concealing an essential radiance, which may be glimpsed rarely if at all. Here is immensity, here the inexplicable.

Having penetrated, though doors and by a passage, to a mystery, the spectator is confronted by a moving image and its accompanying sound whose intentions are to beguile and deceive him or her into regarding artifice as genuine, representation as antecedent, image as original – within a space whose reality is belied. The mystery, here, is nameless, though one senses that it belongs to those deemed to be great.

A narrow passage with an opposing door at each end. The passage is in darkness, except for a spectral light seeping under the far door to which the spectator, having been admitted into the passage at the near one, makes his or her way. Sound of wind is heard as the spectator approaches and will increase, gradually, until the door is reached, but never so loudly as to be other than faintly heard. To one side of the far door, unseen from within the passage, is a much shorter way by which the spectator exits the site through a black drape.

Having reached the door at the end of the passage, the spectator will open it (perhaps with difficulty, though not so much as to frustrate). The door opens into the passage, revealing a space whose opposing walls, floor and ceiling are black. The walls ought to be as high as practicable, so that one may look upward into an indeterminate, seemingly remote region.

Mirrors applied to the surfaces of the ‘room’ behind the door, including its floor, may be preferable to the black-box treatment in order to further the illusion proposed by the moving images, below. The spectator will be momentarily persuaded that a door has opened onto the interior of a cloud formation – or onto a primal vista or transcendent actuality – by the strength of the illusion. An illusion that the video or film itself will shortly disavow.

The Video or Film Projection (the Action):
We see, projected onto the back wall of the space or room revealed when the door is opened, a full-color moving image of clouds. Massive and towering, the clouds are seen developing and altering their formations at a slightly more than natural speed.

After a brief time, during which the spectator has allowed the illusion of this sky and these clouds to possess him or her, the quality of the film or video image begins to change: the color gradually drains away until only a black-and-white image remains; then we become aware of imperfections in the image – of visual noise as might be seen in a silent-era film, not yet fully restored. The moving image may become fitful, abruptly stopping and starting again, playing in reverse or reiterating visual passages. Its focus may blur. When we are convinced that we are watching a representation – an image – of what can be thought of as real, a sudden light (as though the print has been overexposed) overwhelms the moving image of sky and clouds – creating an instant of radiance within the room, almost too great for the spectator to bear.


We hear the sound of wind modulating from what can be scarcely heard to faintly so, as we near the far door and open it and as we watch the beginning of the film or video. A wind such as may be heard on a mountain’s summit. But as the visual medium increasingly becomes apparent, so too will the sound be proved part of the theatrical artifice. At that point, the sound of wind will yield to the noise of a poor audio recording: a hissing or crackling. But like the wind, this effect should be faintly heard. When the moving image has abruptly ended (the blackout), the hissing – like rain, like the sea – will continue a while until it, too, ceases.


Norman Lock

Norman Lock

Artist’s bio:
Norman Lock’s newest book is Love Among the Particles, stories published by Bellevue Literary Press, New York City. His play The House of Correction will resume its Turkish-language production in Istanbul, in the fall. He won the Aga Kahn Prize and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. He lives in the U.S.

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