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Invisible Work

Gary Stevens

1984 – 1985

Performed by Julian Maynard Smith and Gary Stevens

Two men sit too close together; both have a bandaged left hand. The relationship between the performers uses comedy double-acts as its starting point and model. It is intimate and underdetermined. One performer listens intently while the other comments on a simple and mundane, but imaginary act. He describes action as if he is following it as it happens. The minute detail and consideration given to how a glass is held and passed to the other suggests a fear of failure. The imaginary conscious intentions are continually sabotaged by the equally imaginary detail of the practice.

They imagine their bodies. They imagine reaching out and holding objects in their hands. In their minds, the objects and hands can fuse together and become the same substance. One performer deals with a hypothetical loss of hands by constructing artificial ones operated by leather straps connected to modified muscles. The description of the artificial hands is given by the two performers talking in synch, while they clutch a chair to their chests. The identical chairs act as a standard measure to gauge and compare the two quite different bodies. The upright struts forming the chair-back suggests a skeletal structure. Perception, too, is altered in the imaginary realm. Looking at things seems to exert a pressure on what is looked at, the closer they look, the more pressure is exerted. One of the performers describes pushing his face through the wall and watching the neighbours, while the other tries to get his attention by a calling a catalogue of family relationship names, but nothing seems to stick.

In contrast to the complex of ideas, the staging is simple. A few objects stand in isolation, quietly resisting the effect of an interior.

Acme Studios, London; Goldsmith’s School of Art, London; Museum of Modern Art, Oxford; Midland Group, Nottingham; Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh; Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle; ICA Theatre, London; and the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

“…a powerful mood – half comic, half tragic – is built up. Whether someone is stretching to pick up a teacup or trying to fly, every goal appears to be out of reach. Yet what makes this so watchable is that the frustration of the characters is offset by the analytical description of their thoughts and actions, all spoken with chilling detachment.”

The Guardian

“While not actually playing for laughs, it is extremely and nervously funny and the spectator is held in rigid, quivering fascination.”

Performance Magazine

“goes beyond clowning and suggests a form of theatre that others may want to interest themselves in time.”

The Stage