Text - @ the speed of light - an interactive installation of self developing photograms - © Lloyd Godman 2002
Slowing down the speed
in 2002, Lloyd Godman installed the bromeliads with which he often
works by stringing them up vertically along the suspended surface
of a net-like partition along the spine of the Blue Oyster Gallery.
Their forms cast shadows across the space between them and opposing
walls on which light-sensitive photographic sheets of paper arranged
in a grid absorbed the shapes of their silhouettes over a period
into the installation on closing night, it became clear to visitors
that time was the factor which linked this installation to an
audience through the duration of a performance. At a careful and
leisurely pace, the artist removed modules from the grid of sheets
of paper and developed them in pre-arranged trays of photographic
fluid. Very slowly the images became fixed and permanent as he
replaced the sheets on the wall and a bigger picture reflecting
the wall of bromeliads strung along the partition emerged as the
artist went about his tasks in “…a littoral zone,
a space between a space that defies orthodox understandings of
art, life and theatre…a zone where the ‘art world’
and ‘life worlds’ overlap.” 1 Jennifer Hay discusses
the history of such performance work in New Zealand and refers
to the work of artists such as Bruce Barber, Phil Dadson, Andrew
Drummond, David Mealing and Billy Apple.2
was dressed in the white uniform and mask associated with the
scientific researcher working with volatile chemicals in a laboratorium.
He invited his audience to participate, but many of them declined
and preferred to watch the performance – probably because
the white uniform suggested a dangerous element augmented by the
almost totally darkened space. Boundaries between art and science
seemed blurred and trumpet jazz by Trevor Coleman complicated
the scenario further. The effect extended one’s sense of
time passing extremely slowly: the artist developing each sheet,
walking measuredly as if in a cumbersome space suit; the music
moving in and out of the activities; audience members moving stealthily
around in the near darkness, some holding sheets of developing
paper; the grid of silhouettes slowly coming together; minutes,
At the Speed of Light forced one to reconsider time and how it
has been used in Western science as a measure for dating planets,
calculating cosmic distances and providing us with an historical
framework which seems measurable and comprehensible. But there
– in the Blue Oyster Gallery – one could feel the
effect of time slowed down and how this affected one: slowing
one’s movements down to an almost catatonic state; slowing
one’s thinking down to a torpor; not allowing the fast pace
with which we normally negotiate early 21st century life. Unexpectedly,
the audience was forced to hear it all and to see it all in slow
motion, and again, and again.
artist used the tools of his trade – photographic sheets
and developing trays; light and dark; silhouettes and shadows;
images appearing as if magically on paper; the bromeliads’
photosynthesis as analogous to the photographic process –
to ask questions about cultural assumptions and certainties in
the era of post-photographic digitalisation. Exactly by using
the now almost archaic processes on show during the performance
and slowing down their effects, he referenced current scientific
realisations concerning light as being after all not such a relatively
dependable measure of calculation as popularly accepted since
Ole Roemer estimated its velocity at roughly 130,000 miles per
second in 1676 while observing fluctuations in the time of arrival
of the eclipses of Io, Jupiter’s first satellite. Later,
modern measurements give a value of about 186,282 miles per second.
problem is that these calculations approach light as if in a vacuum.
More recently, scientists have realised that the speed of light
is dependent on its context as certain gasses can, for example,
slow it down considerably and thus its dependability as a measure
for calculation has become contentious.
an analogous way, the work of art in contemporary practice can
hardly be considered in a vacuum either. Audiences are now considered
an integral part of the production of meaning; and each particular
context will alter the processes through which the artist’s
clues and choreography of an event will result in variable outcomes.
As Marvin Carlson writes: “The audience’s expected
‘role’ changes from a passive hermeneutic process
of decoding [as in theatre] to become something much more active,
entering into a praxis, a context in which meanings are not so
much communicated as created, questioned or negotiated. The ‘audience’
is invited and expected to operate as a co-creator of whatever
meanings and experience the event generates.”3
installation in the Blue Oyster Gallery had to morph into a performance
culminating in an exaggeratedly sluggish closing event because
this was necessary for him to emphasise that speed slows down
depending on where we are; that nothing happens in a vacuum; and
that the archaic processes of manual photography are not merely
relics from a pre-digital time but can become the very materials
with which to unsettle some of our assumptions.
the closing event, the artist made sure that the installation/performance
was carefully documented in full, later to be circulated digitally
on the web. Thus, the slow came to be absorbed within the fast
again and other questions arose: how can the processes of photosynthesis,
photography and digitalisation be read across each other; which
aura’s do they conjure up for 21st-century audience members;
and how does Godman’s practice fit within the contemporary
extension of earlier, 70’s and 80’s performative interventions
in New Zealand art?
Bugden recently provided one critical perspective on much of current
performance art in this country4; while Jennifer Hay agreed with
Ian Hunter in 2000 that a “future comprehesion of performance
art, recognising the need for a shift in understanding, will enable
the performance repertoire of this country to relocate –
in meaning, message and position…Thus a resulting parallax
of perspective can displace and side-step conventional attitudes
toward performance practice, opening parameters within, across
and beyond the ‘margins’.5 entails an apparent displacement
of an object or objects due to the different positions of observers.
All audience members present at the closing event of Lloyd Godman’s
At the Speed of Light were invited to ask themselves where his
contribution intersected with their own positions and with current
ideas – such as those of Bugden, Hunter and Hay -- about
recent performance art in New Zealand.
Hay (ed.), 2000. “Trans-Marginal: New Zealand Performance
art 1970 - 1985” in Intervention Colloquim. Christchurch:
Robert McDougall Art Gallery & Annex, p.6.
2 Ibid., pp.6&7.
3 Marvin Carlson, 1996, “Conclusion: what is performance?,
in Performance: A Critical Introduction, London & New York:
4 Emma Bugden, 2001. “I wanna be a performance artist or,
a lesson to all of us about losing your youth” on the “Symposium
2000”: An international Conference on Post-Object and Performance
Art in New Zealand in the 1970s and Beyond” (Christchurch:
Robert McDougal Art Gallery, 10-13 November 2000), in Log Illustrated,
13 Winter 2001, pp. 46 &49.
5 See endnote 1, p. 25.