Phillip Henderson, Time Machine Lecture #8 review by Harry Blackett
‘The Time Machine Lecture’ is an ongoing performance lecture by Phillip Henderson, first shown in 2007. As part of The Event 2011, Henderson was commissioned to produce the eighth iteration of the lecture.
Set in an unoccupied, spot-lit warehouse a leaking pale of water is suspended from the ceiling, its dripping contents collected by two buckets on the floor beneath it. A makeshift wooden tripod supports a loudspeaker, which is wired up to a microphone clipped to the deep V-neck of Henderson’s wool-ribbed jumper. A separate wire connects to a Hitachi CCTV camera that Henderson holds in one hand, arched towards his face. Ostensibly inactive, the peculiarly minimal, retrograde camera suggests the dual functions of capture and playback; its design has a displaced, sci-fi dimension that simultaneously recalls the ghost trap device used by Egon and co. in the 1980s Ghostbusters films, and R2-D2’s hologram transmitter in the original 1977 Star Wars (‘Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope’).
The lecture begins with a movement through the technology of holographic messages, and Henderson, elbow articulated, camera pointing towards himself, develops the tension as to whether his actions are a projection’a pre-recorded message firing from the camera’or live, being produced for a remote audience. Multiple voices are channelled through Henderson, including an organisational ‘we’ that apologises for their absence before introducing their ‘real fleshy time machine’ (presumably embodied by Henderson). The work further discusses its own operations and what the time machine might be, as a way of thinking more broadly about the mental processes of sight and thought. Words are repeated, dryly and deliberately, and are slowly pieced together to form elliptical phrases (‘the living machine that looks like a camera’).
Henderson’s 40-minute presentation is clearly marked out and he successfully establishes an ambiguous present. However, the piece never extends beyond a drained, drawn-out tempo and his word games end with an inconclusive stew of quiet drone from a pocket-sized modulator. Henderson rotates the loudspeaker, pleasingly bouncing the warped sounds off the walls of the empty space, but it is an indistinct close. The work has a nostalgic texture that is problematic and difficult to connect with; its filmic references and notions of the future and time travel all belong to the late 1970s, as does the obsolete technology that Henderson surrounds himself with, unable to make sense of. Perhaps this disconnect is the major goal of the lecture: a live demonstration of how redundant these cultural speculations about the future have become, and how distinctly time has shifted in the space of 30 years. Our fleshy time machine may not have reached the end of its own product cycle, but’if it is to re-emerge for lectures nine, ten, eleven’how it is used and where it’s programmed towards will be major points for consideration.