Kurtz Welle (text), 2008
Kurtz Welle (text), 2008

Kurtz Welle (text), 2008

text for Hotel Meridian art exhibition, curated by Mahony, with allsopp&weir; and others, London

Kurtz Welle

1898: A Voice The River

It had become so pitch dark that we listeners could hardly see one another. For a long time already, he, sitting apart, had been no more to us than a voice.

I listened for the word, the sentence, that would give me the clue to the faint uneasiness inspired by this narrative that seemed to shape itself without human lips in the heavy night air of the river.

(Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness)

In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness Marlow sits on a boat on the Thames telling his story to an unnamed narrator. He struggles continuously with attempts to describe his experience, gesturing repeatedly to the failures of language. As his figure becomes more indistinct in the flickering light, so his speech starts to structure around these failures and repetitions…’impossible, impossible, it is impossible!’…detaching from his body, echoing and ricocheting around the cabin like a lost soul. The more he gestures towards the essence and meaning of his tale, the more it floats away into the fluid container of the dark and dirty Thames water. A voice flickers across the surface of the river like light, and sinks like a dead rock to its depths.

To recover a voice lost to water requires sonar, or a dredger. The river unmoved flows on. If Marlow’s tale is his attempt to come to terms with his journey to find colonel Kurtz, the ‘impenetrable’ figure at the heart of Heart of Darkness, then his words, calling out to something beyond his experience, must be received as a signal, picked up by the river-ear and caught up in its flow. As Marlow’s figure becomes more indistinct and his words loop, repeat and melt into the inhuman Thames, his language becomes increasingly possessed by Kurtz. As storyteller he becomes a medium, a riverlocked antenna, broadcasting out over the Thames, through its histories, and over its waves.

For Hotel Meridian, allsopp&weir; pick up the call of one voice and transform it to another. In their video, Drawing The Front Line, Charlie Fuss tells his story in the darkness, lit only occasionally by the flicker of a lighter or tip of a dragged-on cigarette. Marlow’s colonial voyage to recover Kurtz becomes Charlie’s own navigation of the limits and thresholds of subjectivity. A sculptural assemblage, using pages of Heart of Darkness, is lit by a torch, cancelling out the text's legibility with an excess of light. Who is Charlie? He always eludes us. He throws us off the scent like a mischief spirit, or he withholds information like a sulky child. What is Charlie if not a ‘man of the sea’? All we have are fragments, recounted in the darkness, moments of subjective emergence, and moments of its collapse. We, the listeners, can hardly see one another, as a voice calls out over the water, shaping itself with inhuman lips.

Andy Weir