A Scenario for an Experimental Video-Installation by Norman Lock
My scenarios for video-installations are unashamedly literary in their desire to relate stories, however much the narratives have been erased or reduced to gestures within an equally rarefied theatrical space. Gestures whose meaning is ambiguous, like the intention of the installation (or, as I call it, the cabinet theater) in which they are enacted. My wish is to produce, for the spectators, sensations, which they will organize into private mythologies.
Where All Is Always Winter is my private mythology for death, of course, but also for a profound isolation where the individual is separated, perhaps irrevocably, from all else and all others. The woman, who is the drama’s sole character, can be thought of as inhabiting a solitary world, which might as well belong to a different century or medium (the illusory dimension of the video loop). Death is not the exclusive haunt of ghosts.
A blacked-out passage constructed in a museum or gallery, serving as an entrance and a proscenium for the theatrical space: a shallow recess in a wall, separated from the spectators by a ponderous, ornamental iron gate. In this lightless passage, the spectators will become accommodated to the dark. Here, they will participate in the ritual estrangement that the drama enacts. Here, they will view, from a ‘safe’ remove, the moving images projected onto the back wall of the shallow space, to which they are denied entrance by the locked and imposing gate. A gate reminiscent of a cemetery’s or catacomb’s, as well as what it claims to be: a gate opening into a botanical garden. The projection screen (the back wall of the “stage or playing area” defined by the shallow space) is just beyond reach of the spectators. So, too, the woman.
A woman in middle-age, imprisoned in a time, place, and existential condition altogether different from that of the spectators who have assembled outside the gate to watch her.
The Video Projection (the Action):
Seen from inside the darkened proscenium of the installation space – through the actual gate that divides them (like a proscenium arch) – is the moving image of a garden under snow. The video camera is stationary – revealing from the spectators’ point-of-view, as they stand just on the other side of the heavy gate, the distant verge of a garden, which is obscured by trees or thickset shrubs laden with snow. All is stillness until, after a brief time, a figure – minute in the distance – appears from out of the trees or shrubbery. The figure moves slowly toward the gate, opposite. The figure will be seen, in time, to be that of a woman, walking with measured pace between banks of plants and shrubs hooded in snow. The moving image is continuous, i.e., without blackouts or fadeouts to interrupt the remnant of narrative. The woman, as she closes on the camera, is shown to be wearing a hooded cloak such as was worn, in winter, by Victorian women. The cloak is gray and austere against the barren prospect and fallen snow.
The woman approaches the gate, on the other side of which the spectators – in their space and time – stand watching her. (The gate is not seen in the video image: it is a part of the spectators’ space only.) When the woman has reached the limit of her passage across the garden, she pauses. We see, now, her face in close-up, registering profound emotions of loss, of despondency, of an irreversible and almost unendurable separation – from all that lies on our side of the gate: company, living beings, a different state of existence or mind. Her anguish is also ours as we realize that her condition is – to some degree – that of all men and women; her end, common to us all.
Inevitably, the woman will turn away from the spectators, whom she has appeared to see, and reiterate the futility of her role: to travel from one end of the snow-covered garden to the other – endlessly, as the video image plays continuously, without pause.
Natural sounds suitable to this bleak, winter garden may be desirable, such as the distant, melancholy cry of a bird or the snap of a branch breaking under the weight of snow or ice. But one feels instinctively that sound ought to be minimal. Her footsteps are most likely silent as if to underscore the mutual estrangement of the woman and her witnesses, where nothing more of her than an image can escape the gravity of so attenuated an existence.
There may be an opportunity for a composer to score the extremity of the woman’s desolation, her existence in a time and space that may be only a thought or idea.
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.