Materials: 4000 scallop shells, wooden structure with benches and confessional grill, black curtained walls, 2 x 1.8 diameter inflatable spheres, 2 HD projectors, 2 x 24 minute films, radio headphones with stereo soundtrack, an original newspaper from 1875
Toulouse International Art Festival, Hôtel-Dieu, Toulouse, France
One of Many was a newly commissioned work conceived specifically for a chapel in the Hôtel-Dieu in Toulouse. The installation was co-produced with Le Jeu de Paume (Paris) and selected by Penelope Curtis (Tate Britain), Isabelle Gaudefroy (Foundation Cartier, Paris), Christy MacLear (Rauchenberg Foundation, New York), Eckhard Schneider (Pinchuk Art Centre, Kiev), Philippe Vergne (Dia Art Foundation, New York). The festival Director was Jean-Marc Bustamante. Each of the six artist's involved in the festival were given a building in the city to work with. The other artists were Kiki/Tony/Seton Smith, Howard Hodgkin, Jorge Pardo, Julian Rosefeldt, Buckminster Fuller estate and Lindsay Seers. Authors of the accompanying catalogue were Jean-Pierre Criqui, Adrian Dannatt, Robert Seidel, Henry-Claude Cousseau, Marjolaine Lévy, Samuel Wagstaff, Jr.
Seers use of exhibition locations, referred to directly in the work itself, is a way of acknowledging where the viewer is specifically in time and space – so that the 'watcher' can be drawn into the narrative of their own individual encounter with the physical work. However this specificity does not end there it is in every element of the work, even in the method of filming which evolves through associations and chance events.
The evolution of One of Many began with a symbol on the chapel door in the Hôtel-Dieu of the all seeing eye of God, this is counterpoised with a wooden carving of St James (St Jacques) above the entrance to the chapel. With scallops stuck to his chest and hat, the saint gazes upwards to heaven but his eyes are the eyes of a blind man – he looks within. This question of perception and vision pervades the work, it pivots around the point of a monocular view, a binocular view and the eyes of the multitude (a direct reference is made to the hundreds of eyes of the scallop, the symbol of the Compostela pilgrimage walk).
Housed in a confessional structure we find two spheres separated by a grill accessed by two separate doors. The divided film plays out simultaneously on the two spheres but each sphere is 'seeing' different things – one more abstracted and the other more grounded in the material world. It is possible to glance through the screen to see what the other sphere is receiving but the viewer can also exit and enter the other space beyond the grill and watch the rarified 'priest's view' or the earth-bound 'human view'.
The work takes you on a journey out of the space of Hôtel-Dieu to Finisterra and Santiago de Compostela, Rocamadour and Toulouse where the artist encountered two protagonists with differently coloured eyes, a priest, and other pilgrims whose voices can be heard on the sound track (delivered on radio headphones).
Essay by Adrian Dannatt for the book associated with the festival : A ( ) C 1
One of Many
If I imagine a theatre with no audience where the curtain rises and shows an illuminated stage, it seems to me that the spectacle is in itself visible or ready to be seen, and that the light that searches the plans, draws the shadows and fully penetrates the spectacle performs a sort of vision before use.
Merleau-Ponty; Phénoménologie de la perception (p.357-58)
Create connections, if possible, between everything in the world.
The work of Lindsay Seers cannot be understood or enjoyed in any manner other than being present, one's physical presence is obligatory, as no photograph, no video, no clip nor description can convey its effect or intention. It is in no way reproducible and thus remains a sacrosanct experience, a personal engagement, in an age in which most artist's oeuvre can be clicked through on a website. Seers combines architecture, film, theatre, text, performance, in an all-encompassing environment, a gesamtkunstwerk, where each element is equally important and context is everything. Seers chooses or creates a special setting for each work, a literal 'structure' integral to the meaning of the piece, and within this unique space the audience engages with a set of stories relayed through a mise-en-scène of film and objects and characters. Seers has certain favoured tropes, her narrative is often elaborate and complex whilst based upon her own family history stretching back to distant relatives in exotic lands. There is a penchant for costume and ritual and esoteric orders, alchemical or occult, and an innate sense of drama which imbues everything Seers touches with a poetic resonance, until one is no longer certain what is part of the story and, as with any good artist, the whole world eventually comes to resemble the work.
Seers practice has previously included using herself as the site of such drama, a literal 'body' of work in which she investigated herself with a camera inside her mouth, the embodiment of Isherwood's 'I Am A Camera'. Partly a response to feminist physical essentialism this subverted 'objectification' by openly using her own mouth as an object, a way of seeing rather than talking, making the artist both subject and object of the work -inside and out. It also pushed photography beyond mechanical methodology into a celebration of its primal, bewitching possibilities, something strange and infinitely potent rather than rational. Seers is not interested in technology per se, but rather seeks to liberate its deeper energies, its uncanny resonances, root magic, in cinema as in photography. Thus her use of film seeks to recapture some of the mystery and intrigue of its origins, the sense of awe of its earliest participants, rather than to merely tell a tale.
Part of this is achieved through the setting. Seers creates or finds specific environments, a cross between theatre and film, sets that are inherently theatrical but with strong cinematic elements in which to contain her audience. Whether made out of tin or wood or cardboard, sometimes complete with stairways and balconies, or a tree trunk, moss, and fragments of a boat, these are charged-spaces the spectator must enter to engage with the narrative around which they have been constructed. Thus one enters a total work where everything is conscious and nothing a mere frame, even the screens have an autonomy and function in the work, the overall whole operating as a sculpture, an architecture. Each structure is different and likewise each story, or rather the many multiplying stories deployed, often involving neurological conundrums worthy of Oliver Sacks, whether memory loss or mutism, Seers herself not speaking until nearly eight years old.
As with the body-as-camera there is a fusion here between the human presence and the mechanics of perception, between embodiment and dis-embodiment. The very place of the viewer, the physical locus of the work is essential, the built-environment and the story it contains existing as one. There is also a direct link between the mouth and the eye as one of Seers regular devices is the projection of her films onto a spherical surface which in itself becomes another sort of eye, as if we are watching the film upon an eye, whilst the eye watches us perhaps. This might recall Gil Wolman's 'L'Anticoncept' of 1952, infamously projected upon a weather balloon, though that work was entirely abstract whilst Seers is utterly factual and actual, and uses the sphere for associative if not symbolic resonance rather than as a formal innovation in itself.
In a glancing homophonic chain of associations one might dare suggest that 'Seers' is following her own name, that of a 'seer', a clair-voyant who 'sees' into the past as well as the future, her use of this globe recalling alchemical practice, Elizabethan theatre or even St Lucia, she whose name means 'light' and who so often in art presents her eyes, her severed spheres, upon a tray. Seers interest in perception and ocular physics is reflected in another of her long-standing themes, that of 'heterochromia' – having eyes of two different colours-something which runs in her own family and whose most famous representative is curiously David Bowie, an artist whose own work with its manifold semi-fictional life stories and mythic identities, it's vivid dramatic engagement, is rich as Seers.
Seers is emphatic about the honesty and reality of her stories and often includes a book, a 'novel' for every member of the audience to take away, a story which will exist long after the work has faded, offering an alternative to the individual memory of this event, another fictional version of these issues of history and identity. Research is an essential part of this work, the ‘archive’ in itself as a central generator of ideas and material but always grounded in a humanist way, focusing on the stories of personal individuals rather than grand historic narratives. Part of this is an emphasis on those family histories stored in such public places, that still retain a kind of intimacy even in the national archive. Seers has traced many of her own family stories, whether her mother's encounter with a voyant when they lived in Mauritius to the exploits of her great-great uncle, a British sailor who served in Zanzibar, yet somehow simultaneously linking this with the story of Moina Mathers, artist, occultist and sister of one of Seers most important influences, Henri Bergson.
Michael Fried claimed that true modernist art required a resistance to ‘theater’, an essential anti-theatricality, which now seems to have been reversed, up-ended by work such as Seers, as if a certain extreme ‘theatricality’ has its own integrity. Such spectacle and ritual is also, of course, fundamental to almost every religion, a performative model which Grotowksi claimed came down from ancient spiritual gestures, which remains highly active today whether in Catholicism or semi-clandestine Masonic orders. It’s been said that 'after Late-Capitalism comes more capitalism' and one could likewise surmise that after the ‘Society of the Spectacle’ comes just more spectacle, a potential radicality in pushing ‘spectacle’ all the further, into an excess of spectacle. This is as true in the avant-garde as in the self- flagellating penitents, the 'Inquisition' characters with their bare feet, drumming, chains, and symbols, the effigies to be seen nightly in Santiago de Compostela.
Without wishing to give away any secrets regarding Seers project for Toulouse part of it revolves around the history of this pilgrim path with its own signs and symbols such as the single eye of God contrasted to the multiple 'eyes' of the scallop shell, long the symbol of this pilgrimage. Here the ritual seems a constant, a primal force from even before Christianity, a way of acting in relation to what we cannot comprehend, an embodied response to forces at play upon us. The walk in itself has its own place in contemporary art, whether the conceptual step-counting of Stanley Brouwn or the English tradition of Fulton and Long, but Seers suggests the pilgrim's walk more as a way of resolving a metaphysical problem. As always Seers has created a specific environment in which to enjoy the film-element of the work, in this case a specially built 'Confessional' booth, locus of the personal secret and the ritualized confession, the act of talking and seeing. The structure of the 'Confessional' creates a link between the film and the given architecture, allows them to join correctly, with the lens of the projector as a mediator between interior and exterior worlds. The singularity of this experience, the one-on-one of confessor and priest and the individual spectator engaging with the artist, contrasts with the numerous pilgrims, the communal spirit of Santiago, the one and the many. Here theatre could be construed as a way of pointing to what lies beyond the surface by making a surface, the central issue for Seers being above all context – of the location, the spectator and the very story itself.
Just as the nature of the 'spectacle' has shifted enormously since Guy Debord published his book back in 1967, so even more so has the issue of 'reproduction' changed since the work of art had to deal with its repercussions as suggested by Walter Benjamin in his 1936 essay, the digital revolution ensuring the inherent diminution of any 'aura' along with instantaneous dissemination of an outer form. One might even posit that Seers is part of a generation of artists who specifically create work to resists such facile reproduction, work which requires the viewer to actually be there, which simply cannot be experienced through any other medium. Seers deliberately makes environments that give people a chance to listen and to become absorbed, if not trapped, work which quite literally stands by itself and requires isolated time and attention rather than the usual frenzy and fractured span. Here, above all affect is important, the question posed otherwise of true 'spectacle' in an entirely debased arena, the potential of an artist like Seers to transmute theatre and cinema, not to mention that vexing category of 'contemporary art', through a sort of higher synaesthesia, a union of senses, both local and historical.