The show is described as “a multi-layered conceptual exhibition by Etienne Chambaud in the framework of Vincent Normand’s project Permanent Exhibition, Temporary Collections. The Sirens’ Stage is developed with Kadist Art Foundation in Paris and Nomas Foundation in Rome. The exhibition, interpreted in a different language almost simultaneously in each foundation, is based on mechanisms of writings and transcriptions. Translation should be considered both the medium and the shared language of the whole project.”
I’m working as a Copyist for the duration of the exhibition along with two other writers. Our job is to transcribe whatever happens in the space, following certain instructions from the artist and curator. The Copyist is mute and has no interaction with the people in the room. The text produced by the Copyist is an impersonal documentary narrative told in the present simple. No invention, no interpretation, no metaphor. The Copyist has a fixed position in the gallery space so the text is written with the limitations of this single physical perspective, but should as far as possible lack the intellectual or emotional specificity of a subject position.
I’ve been working as the Copyist since the show opened, and it’s this last instruction that I’m finding the most engrossing.
A lot of the time the writing task is quite straightforward:
“A man in a black coat walks from the arrangement of plinths to the desk in front of the window. He picks up a piece of A4 paper from the desk and the woman gestures towards the far left wall with her hand. They both smile,” etc.
I can make these kinds of descriptions sound objective and the conceit is fairly unnoticeable. But when something or someone passes from my view, when speech is audible but incomprehensible to me, when someone approaches me or even speaks to me (as happens quite frequently), I have to be more careful in my transcription because these things demand quite close reference to my own activity.
So I’m finding ways to refer very closely to the role of the Copyist without ever quite touching it. I can refer to the typewriter. I can refer to the typewritten pages pinned to the wall. I can refer to the plinth accommodating the typewriter and the plinth accommodating the stack of blank pages to its immediate right. I can refer to the collection of drawing pins beside the typewriter. These static indications of a continuous activity aren’t always sufficient, and so to maintain the absence of the Copyist as a subject, I refer to my activity in terms of the lengthening of the script, the noise and the silence of the typewriter’s keys, the typewritten sheets accumulating on the back wall, and the increasing depletion of the drawing pins.
These descriptions continue to home in tightly around every edge of the person of the Copyist, creating an increasingly precise outline of its silhouetted absence on the sheets of the script. It seems appropriate that the Copyist’s typing is the loudest thing in the room.