NightwatchJuly 13, 2010
Yesterday was the last class in this term’s Tate Poetry class, led by Pascale Petit. I managed to get to the Tate Modern a little bit early for once and catch the Sophie Calle Exhibition, and then in class itself we worked in Francis Alys. Coming out of the Calle exhibition I was surprised by coming across Alys’s piece, Nightwatch, which I had seen on TV (Channel 4, I think), and which is still available on commissioning agency Artangel’s website and on Alys’s own website.
What surprised me was the display of the piece in several TV monitors arranged into a landscape rectangle shape. On TV (and in the weblink), the fox, Bandit, is constantly visible, constantly the focus of our attention. In the physical piece in the gallery, there are far more iterations of the gallery empty of the fox. He does not progress sequentially from one monitor to the one next to it, but appears and disappears in different monitors almost randomly. There were several children (and parents) in front of the monitors, and the sheer delight of spotting the fox was visible on their faces, and the excited pointing and cries of “There he is!”
It made me think about the order in which art is constructed, the importance of the narrative versus the imagistic sense. It also reminded me of the serendipity of historical research – we start looking in a broad area in which we expect to find answers to our research question and then hone in piece by piece, often discovering something quite different from our expectations.
As a student I always started writing essays so late at night there wasn’t much hope of finishing them properly. They began in a leisurely way but became more telescoped as they went on until they read like sketches with connective tissue left out. And they didn’t end, but came to an edge, which they simply fell off.
At the time I thought I’d been defeated by circumstances and that if I’d had more time I would have produced well rounded pieces of work. Now I’m not so sure. By now I’ve learned that there are those who find a deep fascination in incompleteness and will go to enormous lengths to undermine easy sensations of wholeness. In many realms of art and thought Modernism put bombs under certainties and rejoiced in the fragmented confusion that resulted. Picasso, Schoenberg, Wittgenstein and Joyce seemed to some observers to achieve little else. Artists like Duchamp went even further, at least conceptually; he proclaimed The Large Glass ‘definitively unfinished.’
As Paul Valery said, ‘A poem is never finished, only abandoned.’ With the clock to deadlines ticking, perhaps essays and research projects have the same tendency towards the partially resolved?