How do you describe the indescribable? Entering Gallery 1 at FACT in Liverpool, the only nugget of information I could recall from the guidebook was “hold on to the rope”. Moments later this instruction would suddenly make a lot of sense. The moment our guide opened the door and set our group of 12 loose into a dense fog, my right arm automatically reached out and groped for that all-important rope. I’d entered Zee – part of Abandon Normal Devices.
The fog was so dense that I couldn’t see anything beyond 2 inches from my eyes. With nothing specific to view, no point of reference, entering Kurt Hentschlager’s Zee instantly immersed me into a piece of his art. I was in the art. I was the art.
Take one room, add some fog and some continually changing strobe lights, sprinkle it with a low-toned musical piece and you have Zee. It sounds simple enough, so what makes this such a popular exhibition? Zee strips away the conceptions of looking at art and makes you the central piece. In that room with 11 other people for 12 minutes, you are completely alone.
The strobe lights flashed slowly to begin with as I fumbled to find the rope. I slowly began to make my way around the room. As the minutes ticked by, the strobe lights intensified in speed and colour. Patterns flashed across my eyes. The music volume increased. My heart rate escalated. My palms became sweaty. My steps became more disjointed. I lost the rope. I was panicking.
But why was I so nervous? There was only one door in the square room so I couldn’t get lost. There were 11 other people in there so I wasn’t alone. But that is how I felt – lost and alone. Bewildered. I suddenly felt myself between life and death. I had my memories – and the most frightening ones that had been so neatly covered up – were now being peeled away by the fog. Nervous glances over my shoulder. Quick gasps for breath. Awaiting the moment of death.
The lights turned to a continuous white glare. The music stopped. Our guide announced our 12 minutes were up. It was over.
Outside in the relative safety of the gallery, I turned to my companion whose face mirrored my own. As clichéd as it sounds we both felt as though we’d been reborn. You go into the room one person, and you come out another. When your fixed points are taken away from you, you come face to face with your own vulnerability.
Zee by Kurt Hentschlager is part of the Abandon Normal Devices Festival at FACT in Liverpool. 29 September – 27 November.
words Amy Ellen