Thomas Sutcliffe: They're boring for Britain

Share
Related Topics

Phil Collins's piece They Shoot Horses - in which a group of Ramallah teenagers bop themselves to a state of exhaustion to a soundtrack of Western pop songs - accounts for a staggering seven hours of that total, but there are plenty of other pieces which do their bit, too. And if you think I should have better things to do with my time than work out just how much time it would take to watch these things - well, I'm inclined to agree with you, but the train had come to a stop somewhere outside Darlington, the view out of the window was uneventful even by the exacting standards of video art, and my mind started turning over the question of boredom and its uses.

Nobody ever would watch all the video pieces all the way through, of course - and several of them, not just the Collins piece, seem expressly designed to make sure that they will outlast your attention span. The point is to enter the room and leave the room with no notion of when they began or when they will end. But there are others that can't help but raise the question of the relationship between the running time and the artist's intention. An artist called Anna Barriball has a video work called Projection. It consists of a static, framed, shot of the artist standing in a sunlit window. At least four fifths of the screen are filled with the wall of the room, onto which spangles of reflected light are thrown by sequins on the artist's T-shirt. They move gently as she breathes. It runs, the label asserts, for five minutes and 54 seconds. Why, exactly? It can't be that this is a guess as to how long it will take the average viewer to get what's going on. With that helpful nudge from the title you should be able to gather the essential elements of the piece within about 20 seconds. One assumes, too, that this is an arbitrary running time, rather than a precisely calculated one. The piece wouldn't be substantially different if it was 30 seconds longer or shorter. The subversive thought occurs that five minutes and 54 seconds may mark the point at which the artist got bored with her own creation and simply couldn't be bothered to carry on. But the crucial thing is that boredom isn't an unwanted side-product of this work - it's one of the materials from which it is made.

The video artist Tacita Dean acknowledged something like this recently when talking about her own work, which has made its own substantial contributions to spectacular inertia (she made a 44-minute film in a revolving restaurant in which almost nothing happens). In an approving piece about her art, the novelist Jeanette Winterson quoted her as saying: "I do not think I am slowing down time, but I am demanding people's time." The demand for time really isn't the significant thing though. A Vin Diesel action movie does as much, and usually asks for considerably more than Dean does. What she really meant was that she demands time for things people don't really think it's worth spending time on. The mismatch between their expectation of what a film or television screen usually does for them, and what this screen is doing, is the point. And another name for that mismatch would be boredom, which we are expected to endure with stoicism in return for an unspecified reward. Those who think the pay-off will come as an explanatory flurry of action - just as some minimalist music will suddenly break its repetitions for an overwhelming flush of melody - are almost always disappointed. Most video artists don't want to distract the viewer from the morally instructive tedium of their images.

The obvious problem with this is that it can be a very time-consuming business telling the difference between good boredom and bad boredom. This is one reason why video art can feel so presumptuous and diva-like, so queenily demanding, to use Dean's word. It has to have its own room, it insists on being the centre of attention, and it doesn't care that there are 49 other artists waiting and your time is short. Sometimes you long for a curatorial Mr Bennet to step in and say: "You have delighted us long enough". At other times you emerge on the other side of boredom into a richly unfamiliar world. But at all times I think that old adage about culture risks acquiring a tetchy, impatient undertone: life is short, art is long.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko prior to the start of the European Council Summit in Brussels last month  

David Cameron talks big but is waving a small stick at the Russian bear

Kim Sengupta
 

Isis in Iraq: Even if Iraqi troops take back Saddam’s city of Tikrit they will face bombs and booby traps

Patrick Cockburn
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003