April 4th is spent sitting in front of a large computer at the head of a five-part hot desk. Four workers are busily labouring in the five-metre square room. Embarking on a research placement grounded in watching, I press play:
An interior: a wok; a crock-pot; a pan; a pair of plastic rubber work gloves with a ribbed sleeve litter a table, a man enters. He is dressed in lounge wear, he has tattoos, he tries to turn the TV on. Are we on a boat? A clock shows that it is 10.45pm, another man enters, goes into the fridge, takes out a gallon of orange juice and takes a swig from a paper cup, he points at the crock pot.
The phone rings, a coordinator picks up, “Good afternoon,—————- , how can I help? Oh hi, hi yes!”
The first man is watching the TV, the camera must be positioned right above it, discreet. The other man is back, this time for milk, partially obscured by a pillar, he pours himself a cup and one for the other man, there is some dialogue but it is also obscured. The first man does not like the milk, he sticks his tongue out twice, he is tired, a long theatrical yawn. At length, they watch TV, the camera watches them, I watch the video, they appear bored, more yawns. A third man arrives. The second man picks up the gloves and prizes them apart then twists one of them in his hands, it becomes a phallic tube. Is he warming it? The third man stays in the periphery, he smiles at the TV, at me? He was warming the gloves—he starts on the second. He goes to open the crock pot but then gets distracted by the TV, the camera?
Where was this film initially shown? Where are the men from? How did I become a viewer here? The men are speaking in English—it was hard to tell until now over the roar of—an engine?—you can hear the men saying “hello, hello, hello” to each other as they come in and out of the room.
The director leaves for the afternoon and biscuits come out, “anyone like a drink? How are you getting on? I haven’t watched that one before, is it good? How do you take it, milk or sugar?”
Is it good? The piece is called Still Life, however life is the only thing that is moving, the camera is fixed as is the set, but if we are on a boat and that is an engine then we must be moving. And if this is real then it is not a set. The first and third man have left, I’m not sure when—the second man picks and pinches the skin of his wrist, the first man walks through the space and opens a door on the far left, of the scene, increasing the din momentarily. I wonder if they ever imagined a woman sitting in an office in Scotland watching these intimate moments as work. The second man brushes his moustache with his fingers, he wears frameless glasses. He rubs his hands—is he preparing for something? The gloves, the hands, the pinching—he bites his nails, work.
The first man returns, he tucks a grubby tank top into his shorts before sitting down. They speak again but it is very difficult for the viewer to discern, “yeeeaaah there you go”. The second man continues to warm his hands, their working environment must be very cold. I guess at what this all means to me, from this office. I am thinking about the film in a gallery, I imagine an intention is for it to be encountered as opposed to ‘watched’—I suppose this is very interesting—the video buffers giving me time and space to have this reflection, and another; if I write down an action-play of someone else’s film, whose work is the writing? The second man reaches over his shoulder and passes the first man—mayonnaise?—no, it’s a bottle of pills—he says “owh, owh, owh”.
In a big reveal—the second man lifts the lid of the crock pot in the centre of the table. Inside it I think there is a slow cooked ham. Yes, it’s a ham. He eats a slice sloppily and drinks his cup of milk. Buffering—if this action is incidental then can the story of it be mine? An elsewhere document. Or is it simply theirs. I look forward to reading about the piece further. The man eats the ham, the sound changes—perhaps it’s a siren of some sort? The second man takes his gloves in response and gets up, no I don’t think it is a siren, but maybe it is a change of pace, of, the boat? The film is 30 minutes long—how long could I do this for? How would it change if I did this for Battleship Potempkin?
Over headphones, I peripherally watch and hear comings and goings of the office, phone calls about films, artists, workshops etc.
The second man leaves—the third man returns—this ‘man’ system of notation is not working, I will refer to the characters by their attire: Blue and Tank watch the TV, I watch them, sort of watch me. A high-pitched noise, Blue laughs, Tank breathes heavily with his mouth open. They chat, Tank looks at the TV and says “Whaat the fuuuck”, Blue is the chirpiest of the three, if this is a staff lounge, which is my suspicion then I guess he is the most recent to his break. Not bored yet. It is lucky I can touch type. I was taught in middle school in America, buffering, alongside the other girls in my class, the boys, I suppose, were elsewhere.
There is a new aural landscape—it is very hard to tell whether this is the ‘boat’ or the TV, singing? A dog whining? An engine whining? All the same we could be in a portacabin on a building site. Blue cackles, wipes his mouth, takes a sip of his milk from his paper cup. Buffering—but I could see that Tank was about to open his mouth! The film skips, I could go back. When nothing really happens, what does happen, becomes more and more important, contrast I suppose. I go back too far in the film, am I wasting my time?
What Tank was opening his mouth to say was “oh yeeeahhh”. Then—wait—am I sure? Did Tank just see me—the camera, for sure? I suppose unless this film is very unethical, he must know it is there. I suppose the maker is relying on the mundanity of the everyday to make the subjects forget. I think of breaking the fourth wall, of theatricality; in fact, I think of this so much I forget to watch the film for a bit there and I will have to go back, my eyes were looking but my brain was out of focus, not watching.
I notice the pill bottle again, but I can’t remember seeing Tank take any pills—maybe when I look back through this text, I will have notated it. Blue left at some point, again, I didn’t notice, but it can’t have been long ago.
Tank does a grotty cough, he is on his own now, he looks at the clock and so do I, he looks at the door and so do I. The flickering of the TV changes the lighting of the space, reflecting from laminated notices on a cork pin board. Tank coughs again, phlegmy and disgusting. He leaves the scene, toilet? I am on my own now, he’s back lurking in the left, coughing phlegm. He leaves through the door in the top left corner and I am on my own once more.
I glance over my shoulder; another woman is watching the screen. It goes black, in the reflection my face and hers, she starts in surprise, the engine continues, the directors’ names, copyright, studio, to fade out.
As I exit full screen, I see that under the video title and settings there is a small line of description:
A theatre of exhaustion.