I wake up and reach for my phone, the news has only gotten worse; the war is escalating, house prices are increasing, the left are feeling threatened by the right, and the right are trading logic for gut feeling.
As I drink my coffee I watch videos that bring me close to people I can probably never meet. Their stories are compelling, but does feeling something for others have any affect on the world? I’m not sure what to do with this knowledge, my fear is that this fascination with the news of the world is a form of pornography, intended to rouse emotions of horror and elation, but without intention to be involved.
My gestures of solidarity are miniature, barely perceptible beyond comprehension. A leaf falling unseen in a distant forest.
I create fiction. I write, arrange collages of images, words, bodies in action and situations that are not intended to be real but bounce out into the real world none-the-less. Real events are food for thought, the world revealing itself despite history, changing what is already known and affecting our view of the present without guarantee of any future.
My morning ritual moves on to email, messages from other places and times that connect me to people. I respond to questions, I ask questions in return, I think we are closer to agreeing on things; places, times, objects, ideas. Many of them are fictional, they exist in minds but not in the physical world. I confirm a meeting time, to meet face to face, or perhaps screen to screen, synchronising time for a moment of focussed conversation. We will toss some fictional idea around on its head, try to imagine it from all angles, stretch it out, attempt to agree on how it might look in the real world.
When our idea finally falls in the forest, will it be heard and felt? will it be ‘for’ something or will it turn the moment of falling into pornograpy?
A thing emerges, digitally pieced together from fragments of a moment, prodded by aesthetic choices and a desire to stand fiction alongside the real present. Forget the fact that it’s all just numbers, colours, symbols, and treat it as reality. My fingers flutter over the keyboard, advancing and deleting in rapid succession, this present is layered with potential moments that never come to fruition.
I fold my laptop, hitch it onto my back, climb onto my bike and head out into the world.
It is a pleasure to ride a bike in this city, I am seen and unseen, darting between real and imagined traffic rules, between roads and footpaths, between fleeting openings and crushing closures. Death is closer to you on a bike, it flashes in front of you at every intersection.
I arrive at the hall, flick the power on and head out back to retrieve the transistor radio. As I drift out of earshot toward the broom cupboard I catch a snippet of the presenter introducing his guests, experts with experience, informing and commentating. I put broom to floor and gently slide, feeling for tell-tale signs of sticky patches and wads of dirt.
Cleaning is an activity with a clear purpose, I enjoy it even though it’s never finished. Cleaning is only done when you’ve had enough of doing it, or when you’re satisfied that the dirt is too small to worry about, but it will never be completed. The dust is settling, every movement is stirring the order of things, merely by looking you realise everything needs cleaning again. Cleaning is an intention towards an impossible goal, it knows its own defeat from the moment you begin. When I clean I am hovering between doing and undoing,
There is a strange distinction that distorts this action beyond the walls, I am paid to do this. Every hour I spend cleaning I get 25 dollars in my bank account, a simple transaction. Is this the work, or another layer of fiction to enable the work to begin? More enabling than destabilising? Does this make cleaning more real than unreal? Does cleaning enable a future that could not be realised otherwise? An economic arrangement that defines a life of art, from a life of not-art? Is cleaning taking me closer to myself or further away from it?
These are some of the questions that kick off this video essay about work and art. These videos are works of fiction, in some cases I get people to do things they don’t normally do, at other times people are presented in their natural environment, except for the very unnatural presence of me with my camera. All of them identify with living a life of art, without necessarily seeing a product of art. Their experiences are complicit with the camera, consciously enabling the fiction.
They were all paid for their time, $25 per hour. The action of cleaning, guarding, watching, is both real and unreal, art and not art.
The intention behind most essays is to articulate an argument, here it culminates through bringing individual elements together as it unfolds. These begin as portraits of around 4 or 5 mins, I will add a new one each week for the next few weeks, then finally re-edit them all into a single video essay. Everything has been shot on my mobile phone, removing some of the barriers that bulkier film-making equipment creates, while providing its own limitations that seem glaringly unlike television, and more like the ever present Youtube clips that document our times.
Stephen Bain is a New Zealand performance maker, he has directed and designed many original plays and performances since the early 1990s. For the past 10 years he has been specifically engaged in public-space performances including audio interventions, theatrical shows and interactive installations presented in Western European countries and throughout New Zealand. He lives in Tāmaki Makaurau where he is working on community projects and public space performances.