I Won't let () Degrade, Isobel Harbison
I Won't let () Degrade, Isobel Harbison

I Won't let () Degrade, Isobel Harbison

I won’t let (film) degrade I won’t let (him) degrade I won’t let (you) degrade I won’t let (...) degrade
“I’ll talk to you.You’ll listen to me.You’ll talk to me. I’ll listen to you... They’ll talk to you. You’ll listen to them. I’ll talk to them. They’ll listen to me”.
[transcribed from Bruce Nauman’s World Peace (Projected) 1996, multi-screen projection]

In the late 1960s, William T Wiley stressed the importance of “seeing with a dumb
eye” to his then student Bruce Nauman. Throughout his career, Nauman studied the oft-unnoticed interdependencies be- tween language and Being, playing them out qua performance and installation until they felt foreign, again. He stated, “human activities no matter how limited, strange or pointless, [are] worthy of being exam- ined carefully”.

In a fenced-off waste-ground, behind a runway facing a city on high, Amplification Device follows an old man as he enters the space and endeavours to construct, refine and actively communicate through a device made of a plastic watering can, foam tubing and adhesive tape. His target is a chain of ascending aeroplanes but his message, shouted or drummed, remains (deliberately) unclear. The indecipherable nature of the message promotes the am- plification device to the subject of scru- tiny, rather than any literal entity that it might carry. This shoddily taped oddity, or amplification device, might now be inter- preted as a condition or set of conditions; of the film, of the man, and of you.
The entire sequence might be read as Russian literary critic and semiotician Mikhail Bakhtin might have defined an ut- terance; an abstract or literal statement as it is delivered in direct or indirect re- sponse to another utterance. Seen within this framework, Amplification Device becomes mobile, the provoked articula- tion in a state of delivery before it is else- where received. It is caught in a cycle, for as soon as it materialises, it takes effect elsewhere and then awaits a return. It re- sembles any urge to develop, to ascend, to stay within the body, which is stuck in degeneration, decay. It is the relationship between artwork and viewer, yet only as the piece plays through.

Forced redundancy of a central char- acter’s task is a device used in perfor- mance by Nauman, and similarly Samuel Beckett, in order, amongst other things, to engage the viewer with conditions of the present and to make visible inevitable (and sometimes unseen) human condi- tions. For Amplification Device’s old man, the process seems somewhat more im- portant than the outcome of his absurd
task. This old man might have been a Beckett character, hypothesising Vladimir or pebble-sucking Molloy, a wanderer, a stray, a filth with roadside hands and a sun-worn face. He is at the point where the cycle is at its most visible; beginning the delivery, before the literal is fully ar- ticulated and received.

Amplification Device appears like a film that has been shown repeatedly, like its old man. It is not however shot on 8, 16 or 35 mm film but shot and strung together digitally. It is stuck in the northern state of almost, between articulation and away.

Isobel Harbison
(text for exhibition publication, An Approximate Call, allsopp&weir;, Permanent Gallery Brighton, 2007)