FROM MIKE PARR TO JAMES BOYCE:
The container was very carefully equipped. It included three video cameras angled to continually record every moment of my 72 hours of occupation. One of these cameras was an infra-red camera which was trained on the mattress where I slept at night. There was also a small screen linked to an external CCTV camera that enabled me to see from a high angle a portion of Macquarie Street and for long periods I was absorbed by the traffic flow outside and the way pedestrians would wander up to the edge of the road, stand, stare and arrange for “selfies” to be taken. At night and in the early hours of the morning gangs of youths would rush out into the road to jump up and down on the bitumen-covered lid of the box. Neither I nor the technicians who had constructed the box had anticipated the level of noise that was to be transmitted into the interior of the steel box. The steel lid had been put in place without being bolted down to enable immediate uplift in case of emergency evacuation. This inevitably meant that the constant impact of the traffic, in particular the weight of the semi-trailers, caused some rocking of the steel plate, which produced an increasingly fearful din in the space below as wear and tear continued, but at no point did the surface fully give way. Noise together with confinement were the most difficult aspects of doing this performance. Only now, three weeks on, is my headache beginning to subside. Inside the box I attempted to manage the increasing strain of incarceration by a constant program of activities. Every morning I would walk five paces forward and five paces back at increasing speed to try to induce a walking meditation state. I would keep this up for around one hour in the morning and again for another hour in the afternoon. Time keeping was very important because I know from experience the mental confusion that can come from losing one’s place in the passage of time. The videos of the 72 hours in the box that I am now reviewing are very interesting. The rigid repetition of my activities is disturbing to watch. I am seen crouching over a small shelf-table attached to the wall of the box. I am writing in red ink in a notebook. The writing goes on and on with crab-like mechanical absorption. I look up. I am lost in thought for several minutes. I begin writing again. Then I am drawing. Staring hard at a mirror, struggling to force my image into a manageable stasis. I’m reading. Sometimes The Fatal Shore induces a kind of paroxysm and I begin reading aloud with increasingly violent vehemence. Then I’m staring for long periods at nothing, because the cameras can’t see the screen high in the corner of the box. Greg Lehman’s suggestion that the work draws its power of effect from being an anti-monument is very apposite in a double sense, because what is extraordinarily salient I think about the video documentation taken from inside the box is the way task-performance breaks down the dangerous notion of the artist-hero. I am fully revealed, much to my consternation, as an old man struggling to keep his mental equilibrium in a cell of increasing claustrophobia. The oblivion of the road as the blank screen of modernity brings into tension two buried subjectivities: the mental turmoil of the historian above and beyond and the buried pressure of the performer below struggling to mentally introject increasingly Procrustean limits. I think that it is this structure of blocked transmission that is so sensitively imagined by your own account. You’ll excuse, I hope, this very detailed account of the occupied box which need not deflect your text at all because only small changes are needed, but I felt that I owed you a full disclosure before you went to print. Finally, this documentation of the 72 hours of my habitation of the box together with the footage from a video camera angled down to look at the road [fixed angle and area of view] from the top of the Mercury building will become a new work for public exhibition. This exposure induced by documentation is crucial for my work as a performance artist, because it comes to show the deep realism of the event, a realism now that is increasingly lost to us, as virtuality, mediation, the seduction of the digital and the media everywhere constitute the degradation of the hyper-real.