A Critical Reading by Jim Barrett

Run with the Heart of the Blind (2013)


On a large screen projected onto a wall, a body assumed postures surrounded by sharp lines and hard edges, sheer right angles create the effect of broad cross-hatching or boxes. To the right and left large wall screen projections drag the viewer down abandoned corridors, by doorways that open to empty classrooms, past deserted desks and ancient specimen cases. The school is closed, but the cleaner remains. The sound of footsteps fills the space, footsteps and the grind of trolley wheels. The relentless head-height corridor and classroom scans unwind to the left and right. Straight ahead is the Butoh stillness of a body trapped by the architecture that surrounds it. The sound sets a hypnotic rhythm, which after a time begins to be mirrored in the breathing of the viewer.
Gabriel Bohm Calles’ Run With The Heart of the Blind at Umeå School of Art is a room size, triptych video installation that explores and questions important concepts of movement and space, the body and architecture with themes of discipline or control running through it.
The School is an architecturally constructed space that performs a defining role in the lives of millions of people. In Run With The Heart Of The Blind school corridors, the long rectangular prisms that do not bend (literally and metaphorically) are blistered by dozens of glass panes that allow visual access to other rooms. These rooms are empty classrooms, closed in by low ceilings, small doors and beige flooring. Bohm Calles performs exaggerated maneuvers in slow motion, often with cleaning utensils; mops, dusters, brooms. In each sequence the body occupies a foreground position in the inflexible extended rectangle of the corridor, time flows away into the distant background of the space. We the visitor/viewer share the same space visually with the body, as we are at equal head height with Bohm Calles, we see the intimate contrast between the soft form of the body and the building-sized box in which it and we are packed.
The tasks performed by people in architectural spaces are most often regulated by the space itself. The classroom is the perfect example of the regulated space in form and purpose, and one that we have all experienced. The classroom is utilitarian in form and function, divided by desks, chairs, and tables for working, with the relatively large teacher’s desk as a monumental point. In Run With The Heart Of The Blind the human body defies the structures of the space. This defiance is accomplished by the sense of time generated by the movement of the body, and the visual field in the side images down the corridors. This movement is a slow paced progress, not unlike what one would imagine is the final walk of the condemned prisoner. Bohm Calles caresses a mop head for minutes with a vacant stare into the middle distance, rubs his head along the frame of a window in a sensual act of body dusting, follows the reflections in the glass of windows with a mop handle (or is his reflection following him?), sits in the posture of a child, as he straddles a javelin-like broom, with a cocked head, seeming to listen to the thin line in the eternal corridor, waiting for some signal from far away. Finally the desk is violated, as Bohm Calles lies half-fetal upon it, a soft non-geometrical form dressed in black and collapsed upon the shiny cold surface.
The floor, the wall, and the utensil are mixed with the body in Run With The Heart Of The Blind. We can join with Bohm Calles in asking, “What can this be other than a mop?” but I think the answer to the question is more complicated than the choreography offered by the artist. The mop remains a mop even with the repurposing by Bohm Calles, it does take on a broader visual range of possibilities in the manipulations of the performance. But it is not altered in itself. What is more dramatic in the performance are the visual and spatial juxtapositions between the body, the utensils and the architecture. The results of the interaction between the audio of the heavy footsteps and trolley wheels in a loop, the two moving images of the
corridor on opposite walls and the third screen of the body of Bohn Calles in contortions (often with utensils), are a enclosed claustrophobic feeling for the viewer, accompanied by the sensation of being drawn apart in ones own body. The footstep is the point the body touches the world, the continuous monotonous rhythm of the heady thud-thud-thud of the fall is symbolic of the transfer point between the body and the world. In Run With The Heart Of The Blind the tools we are given have failed. There is no work going on, only a slow agonizing struggle with the space around the body.
Michel Foucault wrote famously of the school, “Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” (Discipline & Punish (1977) Alan Sheridan trans. p. 228). The controlled space of the school encases the body in a finite range of possibilities for movement, posture and visual appearance. Within this constricted space Bohm Calles extracts a limited range of movement, postures and actions, which do not make sense when framed by the structures of the school and its utensils. In achieving the range of postures and actions the structures of the space are not disturbed permanently. Elements of the space are remixed for as long as Bohm Calles occupies the space, and then the vacant classrooms and empty corridors return to silence and immobility. These structures await the next group of students they will train. Amidst this collection of tensions, between he space and how it forms behavior, actions and ultimately discourse and knowledge, it a sign, a small indicator of the history of formalized space designed to provide training. A specimen case, of glass, filled with preserved birds stands at the end of a corridor. The glacial cleaner slides past the case and continues to struggle with the asphyxiating lines around him. The stock-still birds in the glass case watch through the dusty glass. They are stacked and packed. They are arranged and disciplined in their display. The birds are totally visible, totally controlled, totally perfect and totally dead.
Run With The Heart Of The Blind is the anti-panopticon. But its tragedy is how small the actions are, how little space there is to move within the boxes we build to educate our children in. Between the rows of desks and sharp lines of the corridors, there are small possibilities to find new ways to stand. The heavy footsteps and trolley dragging through the center of my brain after two hours of sitting with Run With The Heart Of The Blind convince me I am in a machine of infernal intention; but on the other side of the room I see a friend, who seems to be fashioning a statue from his own body and the tools he was loaned to work with. From between the straight lines around us emerges a single shaking curve, trailing away into an uncertain distance. It is very difficult to see, but possible.


James Barrett Umeå
March 21 2013