New York

Evan Calder Williams: T-1 at Artists Space

Ice, compromised vision, and colonial geography: These formed the conceptual scaffolding that supported Evan Calder Williams’ live essay, T-1, performed at Artists Space on July 21, 2015.[1] Despite the three subjects’ ostensibly divergent histories, Calder Williams wove them into a complex web that expanded into several narratives that highlighted epiphanic and unexpected connections. The dynamic multimedia event—comprising video, text, and images projected on perpendicular screens, and a narration by Calder Williams—made me resent the limitations of my binocular human vision. From where I sat, I could either blurrily see the two projections with my peripheral vision by aiming my eyes at the gap between the screens, or frantically switch my focus from one screen to the other, continually wishing my eyes could turn like those of a chameleon to 360-degree vision. The multisensory experience made me feel my perception was torn in opposite directions, like the cognitive cacophony of a passionately brainstorming mind.

Evan Calder Williams. T-1, 2015; performed at Artist Space on July 21, 2015.

Evan Calder Williams. T-1 (2015) (video still); two screen projection. Courtesy of the Artist.

To call the performance an essay is both fair and unfair. Or, perhaps more importantly, it questions the history and potential future of a form so familiar to the literate world. If we consider the origin of the word essay, from the late-16th-century essai, meaning a trial or attempt, then T-1 was a live attempt. The spirit of experimentation and uncertainty associated with attempts and trials exemplifies the nature of Calder Williams’ performance; though the presentation was highly considered and intentional, it escaped the safety and finitude of sentences strung together on a page. Instead, T-1 opened itself up to an unexplored method of conveying information, becoming an expedition in search of new visual and sonic languages.

Throughout the performance, plump, white, slightly out-of-focus words faded in and out on the screen to the audience’s left. The transitions happened so slowly, and the window of legibility—when the new phrase was sufficiently visible and the old phrase sufficiently faded—was so brief that it prompted dizziness, as I snapped my head back and forth, trying to follow the unraveling narrative on the left while keeping up with the more rapid narrative on the right. On this right-hand screen, videos and images played in secession or were layered, accompanied by audio clips and Calder Williams’ voice as sonic elements, all punctuated by numbers delineating sections of varying duration.

Evan Calder Williams. T-1, 2015; performed at Artist Space on July 21, 2015.

Evan Calder Williams. T-1 (2015) (video still); two screen projection. Courtesy of the Artist.

With a tone that ranged from dark humor to ominous prophecy, Calder Williams led his audience down a circuitous path toward his elusive thesis. T-1 made connections between lab rats that had their eyes removed for behaviorism experiments, shipboard slaves who were blinded as a method of control, a ghost ship crewed by cannibalistic rats, and the essay’s namesake, T-1, an enormous Arctic island of ice classified as top secret by the U.S. Air Force that went mysteriously missing for several months. In addition to the main narrative, Calder Williams also entwined a series of quasi-tangential information and images, such as appropriated black-and-white film footage and a first-person perspective of a roller-coaster ride that seemed to hurl the viewer around and caused a sensation of physical disorientation. In another section of the performance, a video of tall cornstalks looming over the camera made a pun of the homophones maze and maize. Later, first-person, multiscreen video games portrayed search-and-rescue scenarios through labyrinthine, submarine interiors. With each reference—I mention only a fraction of all included—Calder Williams managed to wrangle the chaotically varied subjects, always linking them to the main narrative.

Evan Calder Williams. T-1, 2015; performed at Artist Space on July 21, 2015.

Evan Calder Williams. T-1 (2015) (video still); two screen projection. Courtesy of the Artist.

I can’t imagine a way that T-1 could exist as a solely text-based essay; the use of any single medium would suffocate the sensory pleasure produced by the performance’s fluctuation and expansion. Instead, Calder Williams rejected literary constraints and allowed disparate pieces of information to enter a conversation, making it possible for new meanings to arise. The durational nature of the performance further challenges the essay’s static presentation of information that can be reread, cross-referenced, and confirmed; my understanding of T-1 relies on my memory of the experience. As a result, Calder Williams’ work requires both our dogged attention and our acceptance of the radical impermanence of the present. If we can embrace these contradicting states, hovering between the known and the hazy cloud of probability, then perhaps we can break away from a world of binary definitions. We can venture into the unknown—not to conquer but to learn from it.

Evan Calder Williams: T-1 was performed at Artists Space in New York City on July 21, 2015.

[1] T-1 is the first presentation of Evan Calder Williams’ 2015 residency at Issue Project Room.

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