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On some recent works by Ansuya Blom

Ian Hunt

In: Transformer, 2002, Pori Museum, Finland

Ansuya Blom: Chapter Three

“step . . . up
step up, see them . . . space
here, it was here, sshh
step up, up
near . . . sshh
chair, bed, stairs, stone
stony steps
see . . . it was here, this spot
it was here that
sshh . . . it was here that he
right, up . . . right up
very hazy, here . . . window . . . view
slow . . . more slowly
up, up, step up
far . . .”

(excerpt from text of Chapter Three, DVD)

A corridor is a space to walk through, one which hides other spaces. It is a mental space, like a footprint: a trace through time and pressure. Opposites and negatives track a mirage, words and sounds have stayed.

The memory of an event and the incapacity for recollection are traced by the hand, as a resonance: an imprint of something present and absent.

--Ansuya Blom

The voice that narrates Ansuya Blom’s film Chapter Three is a whisper, an instrument. But it is insistent, commanding the hearer to ‘step up’ and issuing a cautionary ‘sshh’ lest we disturb some one, or some thing. The title indicates that we have already missed two chapters -- it is as though we have been caught sleeping -- and promises no others. Or perhaps the voice is only talking to itself and we are simply being allowed, somehow, to hear it. Nevertheless it seems urgent. All the time we are in its company it is clear that we have to understand something that it wants to tell us, show us or help us to hear. Straining to hear the whispered voice means you start to hear other things too. From the very beginning you hear a door banging, a suspicion of a footfall at some point out of view, and expect a glimpse of a vanishing figure. None ever appears.
The camera moves through the corridor, or corridors of an apartment building or perhaps a workplace or a place of retreat. Repeated doors. Curious globe lights are fixed to the walls beside the doors, not to the ceiling. Occasionally a red light marking an elevator or exit door becomes visible, but the direction of movement is always onward; there can be no turning to one side. The movement of the camera is not entirely smooth, but it is not jerky in that over-rhetorical equivalence of first-person point of view and camera with which we have become too familiar. Indeed in some sections we progress through the corridor from a position unusually close to the reflective paint of the wall. This is a view of a building as we move through it that we have never seen before, and it quite changes the emphatic perspectival space of the corridor. A related series of drawings over photographs of the corridor is called House of the Invertebrates. It is almost, at times, as though the camera is experimenting with an insect’s point of view. (If it is a moth’s view, there are plenty of lights to bash into, and they go into deep unfocus as they are approached, becoming vast gas planets.)
Listening, ultimately, seems more important than seeing: what we see of the corridor and the lights goes out of focus more and more as the music and sound become richer, and the voice reaches the point where it seems about to divulge what we need to know. From the initial echoes of unseen closing doors and the darting, aleatory hints of forest music or living creatures out of view (the sound-track is no alien element but truly seems to move around the space and to inhabit it) we have heard the sound of a manual typewriter. This is an identifiable hint to imagine what lies behind the unopened doors that we pass, and also a time element, an instrument of pressure. Typewriters call to mind the stenographer in the interview room, taking down the words as they are spoken, cajoling them into print, into a definitive version of events. ‘it was here’ insists the voice. Which ‘here’? In a corridor with so many identical doors, any place could be seized on as ‘here’. And we don’t know what the ‘it’ was that took place, a crime on the scale of Bluebeard’s or something more familiar, less dramatic, not a crime at all? The voice fears facts, or is seeking for an understanding beyond them: ‘altitude and exactitude . . . thing not pleasing to the mind . . . wwhooom?’ A name is mentioned, but a generic one: ‘yes Jack on this spot’. For all the atmosphere of the interview room, the voice that speaks is not making a confession: ‘the memory of an event and the incapacity for recollection’, the artist says. An event. Voice and instrument interweave; a strum of a different music calls forth an unexpected phrase, ‘cool breeze’. Barbara Lüneberg’s violin music builds towards a kind of resolution, resonant not harsh, and you continue to hear the sound of the particular space through it. Asked about what interests her in music, Ansuya Blom replied ‘. . . Not so much jazz but a certain quality in music: when it’s polyphonic but not quite integrated. When things are going on at the same time, I recognize something.’1
Sounds are a trail to be followed. Although what I saw and heard was a particular corridor and its acoustic, what I remember of Chapter Three is more like a journey into a wood, sticks cracking underfoot, light sensed overhead and wind heard moving the high canopy. A place that you cannot navigate and in which you can get lost had somehow been superimposed on a rationally organised space that offers only one direction, forward, to another corner or another beginning. When confined to a space or a succession of spaces of this kind, you begin to hallucinate others, and hallucinations can be benign. That is certainly the impression I have of the series of drawings made in relation to this space in parallel with the film,
House of the invertebrates.

Over photographs of the corridor, printed in negative in a brown the colour of an iodine stain, she has drawn with a white gouache pen. The brown possesses a heat; and the globes of light and their reflections on the walls become obvious points for the white lines to suspend their energies from. The lines hang as though obeying gravity but also possess their own volition, it seems. Caressing the walls repeatedly, they can become a kind of hair, fur or -- following the suggestion of the title -- gossamer. Identifiable motifs can be found: clothing, lamp, single bed, hanging lamp-pull, rectangle suggestive of a window. The spaces behind the doors have partially come to occupy the corridor, even to obstruct it. Blom explained when working on a first version of the series, during a residency at the Centre for Drawing at Wimbledon School of Art: ‘It’s more that I’m trying to imagine what could be behind those walls. That was my initial idea, but it became a very rigid idea. There comes a point when the work says “No! I want you to do something else”. At first, I was interested in the spaces behind the wall, but then I was interested in moving into the corridor, as a space we stay in.’2 

Chapter Three is a film without actors, other than the whispered voice (Mark Glynne) and the location. One previous film, a favourite of mine, can be mentioned here. Joe Faces -- another generic name -- is seen in a sparsely furnished white room. He spends a long time each day staring through a window we cannot see out of.  He gives the impression of having moved into it only recently and of not knowing what to do with himself. He washes his hands, jolts suddenly to attention, and, though dressed in civilian clothes, marches up and down the white domestic space. The film is structured as a diary in which days have little to mark them as memorable; we cannot know if the woman who presses her stomach to the glass is an aspect of his mental life or a possible communication from outside the room. What is striking, in this short work, is that although it uses a character and a situation, and the conventions of a script that sometimes appears to voice his thoughts, we become aware of slow, almost imperceptible fades to white. They take on a particular significance towards the end of the film, as loss of focus and nearness to the lights does in Chapter Three. These slow fades to white, of the kind that seem to be happening inside our own eyes, introduce another dimension of time, alongside the intertitles naming days of the week. They are simple interventions into vision which, together with a heightened perception of sound, remove us from the feeling that we are simply watching a ‘fiction’, and that what is being enacted must abide by its rules and habits. They are the interventions of an artist who aims, in her films, to take some aspects of cinema but then to isolate them and find the appropriate short form: which is able to open out and sit in the memory differently.

1 Interview with Stuart Morgan in Ansuya Blom, Let me see, if this be real (NAi Publishers, Rotterdam, 1999), p.21.
2 Interview with Michael Ginsborg in Angela Kingston ed. The Centre for Drawing: the First Yea (Wimbledon School of Art, London, 2001), pp.80-1. This book also contains my detailed account of the drawings and their spaces, ‘Mental freedom: Ansuya Blom’s House of the invertebrates series’, pp.85-91.
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