Earlier this year I was commissioned by the live art festival '(In)xclusion' to create a work, and I made 'Revelation in a Dark Room'.
This was a live performance utilizing three 16mm projectors, and situated in a photographic darkroom. I performed this piece many, many times over the 24 hour event, and loved every minute of it! There were three colours involved in the piece - yellow, red, and turquoise light. The photo below shows just a small section of the room. The projectors and their speakers were separated (connected with leads) and placed all around the space, so the sound often surprised people by coming from an unexpected location. The audience were invited in while the red darkroom safelight was on, but once they were all in and the door closed, the light went off and the piece began in pitch blackness, with an explanation of the rayogram method of filmmaking. I then 'played' the projectors, turning on first the sound, one by one, feeling my way in the dark to do so, and only later the lamps, again one by one. The lights were filtered through colours and prisms and reflected off pieces of mirror and glass to create a totally immersive colour environment. To draw the piece to an end I repeated this in reverse - turning off the lamps one by one. Except once all the lamps were off and the room was black once more, I increased the volumes of all three sound pieces for a while. Then I switched them off one at a time, pausing for the very last one, and letting it build and build in volume until I suddenly cut the power and left the audience unsure of what was going to happen, in deep blackness. I maintained the silence for as long as possible, letting it move into a feeling of unease, and invariably it was the audience members themselves who broke the tension at some point with a sound or action. The torch was switched on, there was often some therapeutic laughter and clapping, and the performance came to its close! I think it was a very intense experience, for me as well as the audience. Many people said they found it a lovely environment to be in, and could have spent ages inside the piece. Some found it very spooky and thought I was wearing night-vision goggles and could see them in the darkness! Some said it was their favourite piece of the evening. Some liked its short structure (it lasted about 10 minutes), while others wanted it to last longer, and perhaps some wanted it to be a lot shorter!
Here is my formal explanation of the piece, and the concepts and practice behind it.
Revelation in a Dark Room, a 16mm film performance by Martha Jurksaitis
Most people think of a photographic dark room as a very solitary place, but I often feel someone else in there with me. Call it a spirit, a lost soul, a ghost, or trapped energy, but there is a presence that makes itself known to me. I feel it wants desperately to be recognized, acknowledged, and included. The French word for film developer is ‘revelateur’ which means something that reveals. In the dark room, sombre images lying hidden and lonely in the undeveloped film stock reveal themselves: brilliant illuminations, felt before they are seen.
My piece embraces this connection between a lonely soul and the photographic image, between latent potential and active creation, between the process of seeing something, internalizing it, and then creatively expressing it. A 16mm projector plays a film that has been made by hand in the dark room by laying objects and pieces of film directly onto the filmstrip and exposing it to light before developing it. Because of the way the film has been created, the image spills over into the area that is normally read as sound by the projector. In this way the image creates the sound to become both an aural and visual revelation of what the filmstrip itself has felt via the objects that have been laid upon it. These revelations are then refracted and spatially expanded via pieces of mirror and prismatic devices to create an aural and visual installation celebrating the inclusive exposure of light and sound through material. When working with film in a dark room you are not able to open the door until the film is no longer sensitive to light, since film developing is a durational process. In a self-reflexive and site-specific approach, this installation is truly inclusive by requesting that the audience remain inside the dark room with the door closed for the duration of the piece.