- Nottingham Trent University
My first introduction to this whole experience was the listing in a-n's What's on section: an advert for the Mid-Point-Review exhibition at Nottingham Trent University. I decided to go; to see what trends and ideas would be coming out of this East Midlands institution come June 2009. I didn't really know what to expect, but was nearby so thought I'd take a look.
In the first exhibition room that I entered I found myself gravitating towards a bright yellow wall with writing on it. Abruptly this crisp edged colour field seemed to illuminate the room and called to me: a visual siren. On this large wall were several numbered statements in blue capital letters. So I began to read Tom Duggan's Blue and Yellow Following Piece (2009) and this is what it informed me:
1. THE VIEWER HAS CHOSEN TO ENTER THIS ROOM. BY DOING SO THEY HAVE CONSENTED TO EXPERIENCING THIS ARTWORK.
2. THE VIEWER MIGHT BE FOLLOWED AFTER LEAVING THIS BUILDING.
3. THE POSSIBILITY FOR THE VIEWER TO BE FOLLOWED WHEN THEY LEAVE IS PART OF AN ARRANGEMENT MADE BY THE ARTIST.
4. THIS ARRANGEMENT DOES NOT ACCOMMODATE FOR ALL VIEWERS TO BE FOLLOWED.
5. THE ONLY CONDITION THE ARTIST HAS ESTABLISHED WITH THE FOLLOWER IS THAT THEY WILL ATTEMPT TO REMAIN UNDISCOVERED BY THE VIEWER.
My initial internal response was along the lines of: "how dare this artist force my consent; take away my freedom of choice." I was a little unnerved. And then secondly that there were such blatant connections to Vito Acconci's Following Piece (1969) and then to Sophie Calle's Suite Vénitienne (1981). Two works of art, two artists both obsessed with following others. They had a sense of the voyeur about them, yet here it stated that it would not even be the artist himself doing the following. I thought to myself: "Does that mean this artist, Tom Duggan, is depriving himself of the pure pleasure that Calle and Acconci relished in?"
Reading those words on that wall, I found myself in uncertainty. The probability was that I would not get followed, even more likely that there probably wasn't even a follower to follow me. But still, there was the small chance that there was, and that I might be chosen. I felt that tingle up my back. The ambiguity of the situation was affecting me and I found myself sheepishly and suspiciously looking around at the people in the room, studying the faces, wondering whether anyone was watching me read this wall? I looked out of the window and into the street. There was no one blindingly obvious to suspect.
As I left the building, a spark hit: to the possibility that I might be followed as I leave, perhaps someone was already on the case. I walked out into the cold, crisp but luminous air, across a cobbled street and instinctively looked back and up. I could see that yellow wall watching me out of a window, and as I squinted back, on tiptoes, I could re-read those first two points: "I had consented. I might be followed".
I vulnerably scanned the area looking for culprits; for stalkers. There are the odd arty looking students: tobacco rolling kids in their trendy, yet geeky jumpers and peculiar haircuts. I see a man who seems to remind me of another. I notice his tweed jacket, his beard, his cigarette and familiar mannerisms as he gets up. He's not looking at me but he seems awkward. "Stop it" I say to myself and I continue down the road. I can feel there is someone not far behind me, watching me, my every move. I look round, as if to be casual, and it is him: the stereotype with a beard. Strangely enough, at the same time as this is bringing a slight fear to my chest, it also brings me comfort: almost to say, "everything is fine, you haven't gone unnoticed": that there was a point to my day. I keep going and I feel this connection building up between us: this bond we have that nobody knows is there as we keep our distance. My mind stumbles; he might have nothing to do with this piece of work, a follower taking advantage of the situation it provides; a more sinister feeling develops. Caught up in my thoughts, the pedestrian crossing brings me to a halt, and without warning, as I wait, I feel he is next to me. I pause. The space between us is full of such energy. So many thoughts running through my mind and over my body, he must be able to see them.
Unexpectedly, he's not there anymore; he has moved on. I seem to be the only person standing still while the world has continued to stream on around me. I look up and see my pursuer ahead of me. Instead of him following me, it is now I who is following him.