Bruce McClure Program 1: Crib and Sift Series (Parts 1-4) Saturday September 10, 2005 4PM
“This is Art?- Bruce McClure
Catie O’Keefe
I’m reminded of an English Turner Prize winner in 2002 where the art piece was an empty room in which the lights turned on and off. Ironically the piece was called “Lights turning on and off.” And the winner of the installation piece took home £20,000 and a new found fame. All that I took away from this piece, at the time, was “What is art?” I find myself asking this again of Bruce McClure and wondering what he would have to say about the matter.
Let me try to describe this collection of films as best I can. I’m sitting in the Guild Theatre surrounded by other excited TBA film goers when Bruce gets up to introduce his work. “It’s not until the work comes into a room full of people that it comes to life”, he says. Now I’m really excited and I can tell the rest of the theatre is too. The lights go dark and an image comes up on the screen. It’s colorful and at first reminds me of cells dividing under a microscope. I think to myself that this must just be the set up and I wait for the real action to start. And I wait, and I wait and I wait some more. About five minutes in, it hits me that this is it. During this waiting time, I’m also waiting for the sound to change to something more manageable. It sounds like we are in a cockpit of a Cessna 152 with no headphones or ear-plugs. The sounds of the whirring engine just get louder and louder until I think my eardrums are going to implode.


I immediately hate this work and I kid you not when I write in my note pad the words, “I want to die!” in all capitals. The images on the screen are now making me a little sick to my stomach so I close my eyes for a minute or two. I open them only to find that I’ve not missed anything. The same black dots are still moving around the screen to the wail of the jet engine. It’s like a soap opera in the manner that I can stop watching for a few months and when I finally get around to turning on the TV again the story line hasn’t moved or changed. In fact, the only changes are the random movements of the dots which hold no meaning for me besides to point out how meaningless they are and the ever so slight volume and pitch change of the eardrum shattering death siren. Fourteen minutes after it started, it comes to an abrupt ending. I thank god or whatever that the second piece is silent.
The lights come up a little and the audience claps. About a fourth of them leave the theatre while Bruce sets up for part two of Crib and Sift. The set up time lasts too long and as he’s testing the image of his projectors I start to wonder if this is part two. But no, soon the lights fade again and the four projectors are rearranged to form a square like donut on the screen of white light. The next fourteen minutes are the donut being blurred and focused over and over again. It reminds me of what driving at night was like before I got my glasses. A long tunnel of light with darkness at the end. Since there’s no distracting sound in this piece my mind is at least allowed the pleasure of wandering and I ponder if this is the point. Are we supposed to be so bored with this work that we resort to self reflection? And then it ends and I think, “Wow- it’s over.”
Again the audience politely claps as the lights come up and then another fourth of the people sitting there leave. You may be thinking they went to the bathroom but when the next projections starts up again they don’t return. After the next long break I glance at my watch and realize that the show is running about twice as long as it was supposed to and I think it’s due to the long amounts of set up time. This only makes one think that if art goes on for too long it looses it’s meaning. In addition, I think art should know when to stop.
The third part starts and it is very similar to the first minus the color but the deafening soundtrack has returned and I try to find ways to plug my ears without making it look like the sound is too much. (As a side note: You may think I’m one of those people who brings ear plugs with them to concerts and clubs when I go out. I do not thank you very much and I’ve never thought that music or sounds has been too loud that I can’t stand it so this was a first for me. I only wish I could attach a sound bite to this blog to help everyone understand just how horrible this noise was.) I start to think that I’ve seen screen savers with more depth but maybe I just can’t appreciate the work because I’m not stoned or maybe ‘cause I just don’t get it. I understand the mechanics of it and yes, I think it’s an interesting idea to put ink on a bunch of film reels and play them all at the same time to create original and timeless art but when it’s put into practice it seems meaningless.
The third part has ended and I look around to see that almost 3/4th of the theatre has emptied out. I’ve never walked out of a performance in my life, even if it’s horrible, because I feel it’s rude to the artist who is just trying to express their art. However, I pack up my things and head for the door. That’s right, I’m not proud of it, but I leave. I don’t think I can withstand another minute of this so-called art. I leave feeling a bit sick to my stomach, annoyed, and deaf. Perhaps it’s part four that ties everything together and even reaches a point of film nirvana, but I can not wait that long nor do I have the patience to endure another fourteen minutes. I will never know how it ends.
I’m sorry Bruce McClure that I didn’t like your art. I tried, I really did. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought it was horrible and I’m also glad there’s someone out there who thinks it’s worth while for you to spend two years on such a project. Keep it rockin’ and who knows maybe someday I’ll see your art in the Tate Britain as part of the Turner Prize.