Blindman’s buff

(A review lately salvaged from unpublished notes to ‘CYBERNETICS 33’, Fordham Gallery, LONDON E1, 27 October 2001)

Inner Guard: Whom have you there?
Tyler: Mr.John Smith, a poor candidate in a state of darkness…
J.Dewar, The Unlocked Secret: Freemasonry Examined, 1966

This intriguing techno-performance fashioned by two recent graduates, Anthony Stephinson and Brendan Cortes, used Fordham’s shoebox sized space as a base camp. An array of laptop, cell phone, video, speaker and wall chart, all manned by Cortes, provided a direct visual feed from Stephinson’s West End WAP and webcam.

The action began with a flurry of pencil lines made on a sheet of tracing paper, which was hung over a large superplan of central London, as the designated ‘Anchorman’ guided his blindfolded protégé, referred to as ‘Everyman’ in their PR, into position. Terse yet considerate instructions come from Cortes: “Go straight to Piccadilly” and “If this is a bad area stay out in the open”. There are the inevitable teething troubles, and communication breakdowns due to sheer demand for net access. During these unpredictable gaps tension mounts in the gallery. Where is the trekker? Suddenly his incoming call breaks the silence and gets accepted. We see a half formed black and white urban scene, both on screen and wall projected. “Nothing yet. Are you hoodwinked?” The sign for Air Street W1 becomes visible. Cortes, a hard taskmaster, continues his demanding voiceover: “Turn the eye, I want to see you are blindfolded”. Yes there he is, a masked bladerunner. “Turn left” he orders. The Arch. But contact is lost yet again.

Meanwhile a small band of groupies and fascinated casual onlookers are treated to a colour video sequence of Trafalgar Square, spying on a pair of lovers necking against a lamp post. Footage of the statue of Eros at the bottom of Shaftsbury avenue reminds the viewer of local co-ordinates, this prepared interval film deepening the context to the main randonée. Then Stephinson’s live clips begin to come back on-line, and this jerky expedition continues, literally a private view of ‘Everyman’s’ world, except that he is kitted out in unlikely masonic regalia: a sash and apron with the usual pentagrams and tassels, a thick blindfold that is regularly checked by a team of discreet minders on hand to ensure he isn’t run over by traffic.

Despite being hampered, and dependent on Cortes for instructions, this candidate undergoing initiation, successfully passes on visual scans and occasionally some snatches of slurred commentary. Gradually it starts to become clear too that ‘Anchorman’ has his own agenda, a route tuned to ancient resonances. We are travelling amid what Iain Sinclair refers to as “smudged Egyptian ritual detail” and tracing “the line of the old Swallow street”, according to the proto-psychogeographer Harold Clunn, “a dingy, dirty thoroughfare” boasting “a livery stable which was a noted house of call for highwaymen”. Briefly a close-up of a Regent Street arcade resolves itself, a rough Xerox of Saturday afternoon consumer bump ‘n’ grind.

Apparently ‘Everyman’ has made progress towards the end of the trail, a bronze triangle in the road marking the former site of Tyburn gallows at Marble Arch, but we are uncertain of his precise whereabouts, and suspect he has slipped through the net. By now Cortes has finished his gridwork and we can study for ourselves a tracery of marks: VULNERABLE with an arrow pointing to Piccadilly circus, which is itself denoted by an eye of Horus; BEST TRANSMISSION etc; a blob next to TYBURN TREE; and most sinister of all HYDE to refer to the park.

Game over then, and the performance peters out, allowing time for the audience to try a glass of absinthe, and watch more jerky hand-held video slugs of Fitzrovia. According to Cortes and Stephinson’s press release the artist’s formula “synthesises the movements of people with the stone, illuminating the arches and chambers of historical power”. Well perhaps, but it also touches a darker human chord, namely the way individuals remotely inhabit and influence each other for good or ill in the difficult passage from birth to death. The whole event had a makeshift feel but with a vital human edge, its loosely structured narrative drawing power from the umbilical relationship between the two technicians, who together set about exploring the compulsive modern need to be in touch at all times, to bridge and ultimately nullify time and distance, whilst simultaneously transacting and transplanting a cod masonic rite to the throbbing streets of London.

‘CYBERNETICS 33’ managed to be both generically novel and freewheeling in its construction of an accessible virtual space.

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