A Stutter Form and Time: Trisha Donnelly and Ceal Floyer at Documenta (13)

A pulsating diagram, a truly metronomed space […] One’s mind hops from connection to reference to memory to imagined memory […] [1] When the everyday object is taken apart it becomes defamiliarised and we listen to or look at it anew.

In different ways, both Trisha Donnelly and Ceal Floyer deconstruct and defamiliarise the ordinary, transforming images and sounds into enigmatic and elliptical presences, here presented to us at Documenta (13) in the form of a silent film and audio installation respectively.

Trisha Donnelly (b. 1974), who works across sculpture, sound, photography and film, is occupying Kassel’s Gloria Kino, an elegant cinema opened in 1955, the year of the first Documenta. On its silent loop of around ten minutes, Donnelly’s film denies us any narrative or referential certainty, its images – six or so in total – are all ‘a bit like’ recognisable objects, but the framing is so tight and the camera so resolutely static, that we come to understand Donnelly’s desire to present objects obliquely and with mystery.
We feel our way into Gloria’s seats. The auditorium is silent. On screen, delicate white rigging flutters from what might be a mast standing over to the left of the blackness. The shot cuts to a highly reflective surface resembling chrome, which seems to be reflecting the ripples of liquid running against it. Later, an opaque and stony block is filmed and suddenly the auditorium around us appears. Bathed in white light from the block on screen, the space is beautiful.  It is rounded, upholstered in a plush, pistachio green, and entirely empty on this bright morning. Further into the film, a round-edged and luminescent rectangle is reminiscent of a 35mm slide, and this association is only reinforced by the image’s stuttering motion, flashing on and off, illuminating and plunging us into darkness by turn.

Trisha Donnelly

The loop starts again, and slowly, softly, we feel for the aisle, the door, the street outside. Not sure what we have seen, it looked a bit like a lot of things, and a lot like beauty. 
Meanwhile, sheltered in an ante-room to Ryan Gander’s cold breeze that blows through the Fridericianum, Ceal Floyer (b. 1968) has installed and audio piece made in 2005 called ‘Til I get it right’. The room is empty and stark white, with a hard resonant floor space of about 8 by 4 foot. Floyer has dissected and looped Tammy Wynette’s love song, removing the ‘falling in love’ section from ‘I’ll just keep on/ ‘til I get it right’, and thus leaving us with a more elusive and ultimately tragic declarative that plays on a continuous loop. This looped repetition does something similar to Donnelly’s silence and ambiguity: it amplifies the formal properties of what we hear – after three or four loops the words detach from their romantic referents and sounds at first foreign and then purely acoustic. We notice the insistence of the rhythm and the femininity of the tone. Like much of Floyer’s work, we experience the mundane readymade – in this case, Wynette’s song – anew. In his book 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life, Roger-Pol Droit describes the power of repeating a word until it empties itself of its meaning and demands a new, raw reality. [2] In her 2009 installation Things, shown at the Lisson Gallery, Floyer sampled the word ‘things’ from several pop songs and played them from over thirty white plinths. While at first the ironic contrast between the many aural ‘things’ and the absence of actual ‘things’ from the empty plinths was explicit, the second experience of this installation was more profound. Hearing so many ‘things’, we suddenly wondered what the vague and all encompassing noun means. Repeated across the space, the sibilant endings seemed to wash out the word’s meaning, and it floated in the air like a question. Perhaps this question concerned our expectation of art pieces, and perhaps it is floating with Wynette’s loop in the Fridericianum too, as the breeze outside continues to blow.

[1] Trisha Donnelly speaking at MOMA, 10/11/06
available at http://www.moma.org/explore/multimedia/audios/107/111

[2] Droit, R-P (2001) 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life