Paul Becker: ‘FLOOR/CEILING/WINDOW/WALL’ and ‘In Camera’
CIRCA Projects, Stephenson Works, Newcastle upon Tyne
7 February - 1 October 2013
Review by Josh Wilson
Space is expansive - time seems to stretch in non-linearity, the weight and words of characters in polymorphic tales that transcend material proximities are presented as expanded texts in constant alteration, as scripts that are never finished. Commissioned by CIRCA Projects, Paul Becker’s works take into detailed account a space that is real, and then suddenly un-real, by re-formulating the site-specificity of the Stephenson Works into a departure point for fluctuating narratives of materiality, humour and the unimaginable. The artist and writer creates texts which undergo subtle edits or significant mutations in conjunction with their various physical and/or formal manifestations.
Currently three of Becker’s four artworks have taken place within CIRCA Project’s Space Release programme - ‘FLOOR/CEILING/WINDOW/WALL #1’, ‘FLOOR/CEILING/WINDOW/WALL #2’, ‘In Camera’ - and the fourth and final part of the series is to be presented as a special closing event in December 2013. Space Release is a 15-month curatorial endeavour encompassing artists such as Emma Hart, Heather Phillipson and Ruben Grilo among others. The overlapping collation of exhibitions, events, screenings and performances has contributed to a flow of discussion around the re-positioning of artists and indeed curators, relative to site and the intricacies of the exhibition environment - principally based at the Stephenson Works, a renovated 19th-century locomotive factory in Newcastle upon Tyne.
The first event: ‘FLOOR/CEILING/WINDOW/WALL #1’ was presented as a performance-monologue in the centre of the Stephenson Works factory floor. The industrial shell was illuminated only by a single light bulb draped from an overhanging beam; the circumnavigating audience stood focused on the emitting light and the starkly lit actor who held a manuscript beneath. With stern expression the actor began: ‘Here I am, I cast off from the fire door eyes fully focused on a floor I convince myself is painted with grey paint but is in fact a wooden floor covered in slate-like linoleum’’. The reading continues quickly revealing a correlation between details of the spoken text, and the details of the room; inducing a state of presence from the author and the audience’s own corporeality in the dark, cavernous space. In the first act of three, the actor speaks of a gender-less protagonist scouring the floor, coming into contact with ‘minute cracks’ and ‘pitterings of dried emulsion’ - his or her quest for the room’s centre only producing drudgery and frustration. The second act saw the performer constrain limbs into embryonic-like form describing a woman in a painful predicament where her fascination with ancient crusted layers of thick paint begins to engulf her body, forcing her to ascend its compression whilst trapped in this densely stratified space. For the third narrative: an acute and contemplative entry with humorous - verging on obscene - observations. The performer was absent entirely and only her voice carried from an open window in the upper mezzanine, dimly lit from below. Evidently Becker’s co-existing practice as a painter underlies much of the content of the spoken text with language saturated in exhibition tropes and sculpturally loaded descriptions.
‘FLOOR/CEILING/WINDOW/WALL’ in its second draft, took form as a rising stack of risograph prints which were placed on a wooden platform for attendees to take away. Intersecting with the exhibitions ‘The Need for Speed’ by Ruben Grilo and ‘Scene shifts, in six movements’ by Jani Ruscica, the A3 prints were devised in a rather confusing layout where the same page of text was repeated on two of the sheets while the flipside contained two separate pages of text. This created a loop of sorts where the reader was constantly fed back to the beginning and the ending of the text.
The third and final text in the series, ‘In Camera - Draft 3’, was written with the sole intention of being pasted onto an external locked door of the Stephenson Works, usually an entrance into an exhibiting space. One stands at the foot of the gallery, denied entry; reading about a place beyond human cognition situated outside of rational thought. The text literally takes form as a whole, and through lack of any punctuation we as readers are denied any break in rhythm, rendering what seems like an everlasting stream of breathless suggestions. Characters present ephemeral suppositions or empty predilections towards this mysterious, unknowing space: ‘‘and nothing is decided and the circle of things continues the watching the waiting of signs the spying the leaving of messages on the door’’ Pace is Becker’s vital tool in the text - the writing tightens in its latter stages reaching a crescendo to which a sequestered woman kneels close to the door and proclaims ‘nuh ch ch ch ch whuh whuh k k k’. Her stutterings are stripped bare of meaning - an adolescent/atavistic reaction to her ineffable vision through the key-hole.
The movements of Becker’s malleable narratives, in dialogue with one specific act of reification - be this verbalised, object-based or action-led - have been movements of reflexivity interpolating at a select moment in the Space Release programme. In contrast to Ruben Grilo’s reflections on the historicity of the Stephenson Works in his exhibit, Becker approaches the converted locomotive factory as if it were a painting, a sculpture or something in between. The works then begin to present their content almost as objects in themselves, induced in dialogic materiality - on the brink of reification. Their forensic look at the space’s interior and its nuances collapse with ease into fictitious paradigms where protagonists are subsumed in rich details of forgotten exhibitions, scatological visions and unintelligible rooms. The subtle evolution of the text’s body and its intersection with the three coalesced presentations provide an invigorating insight into the artist’s authorial process through prose in a continuous state of flux, extending beyond immobility.