The Waiting Room, 2002
The Swedish word for importantviktigt literally means “a thing of considerable weight”. Swedes often talk about heavy ideas and weighty thoughts. So, “importance” is somehow linked to gravity. Could this explain why a strong sensation of importance seems to slow down the experience of time passing? As demonstrated in the theory of relativity, gravity halts the velocity of time. Next to an object with endless mass and gravity - a black hole - time stands still.
The place on earth that most resembles a black hole is probably the waiting room. Here, mental gravity is so dense that time is stretched out infinitely. This fact lends that space its essential feature of being a non-space, a free port… a limbo “in-between”. It is a place separated from the normal timeline of society. It is a non-activity chamber.
In the installation “The Waiting Room”, nine spherical photos hang from a suspended "office" ceiling. In the photos the room is depicted in negative, yet the figures populating the images are represented in positive. The globes rotate slowly on their own axis, giving them the cinematic effect of a fish-eye lens panning the room. The photographs' individual positions and movements break up the room into nine different sections in time and space.
Art and text, Summer 2002
If you’re like me, you have credentials in waiting. You’ve stared dumbly at pebbled linoleum ceiling tiles, beige thin-pile carpets, and end tables loaded with redemptive profiles on burn victims, morbid obesity, and alcoholic comediennes pleasantly surprised to find that they now have their own sitcom. You’ve searched for Waldo amid a tangle of imagery, inhaled the antiseptic flavor of ammonia in the halogen-lit halls, cast apprehensive glances at doctors in candy-striped blazers, all the while shooting furtive glances at the 70-ish matron in a housedress with a skewed eye patch and an arm in a sling, looking like a retired pirate, looking like soft fruit. The horror’s right in front of you, a botched thesis on the aesthetics of neglect, all low-center-of-gravity and bony wrists. You don’t shrink away, though. You’ve checked in, taken a number, settled into a psychological queue. You‚re equal parts giddy with anticipation, and anxious to get out. But you‚re learning to abide. Pacing yourself by staring at the Westclox’s sweeping second hand, the corduroyed boy not much younger than you with a tiny test tube in his hand, heading to the bathroom like a good little soldier, as you let out a sigh. You sigh again, absently, this time in an anguished higher register. Your sigh is pitched to be noticed, a tacit plea of commiseration for the cosmic inconvenience of it all, as well as the creeping intimation that this will not be the last time you will wait. Hardly. Like Estragon, you chide an invisible loiterer, somewhere off the vacuum-sealed stage: "You and your landscapes! Tell me about the worms"!
Eventually, and with great genial fanfare, you get your shot. Thus inoculated against airborne pathogens and aggrieved microbes without your best interests in mind, you’ve earned your lollipop. Here, within the tiny sucrose amulet in its shrink-wrapped plastic, is a compensatory prize, a busted pacifier to ease you on your way to other lobbies, more gilded lounges. It’s hard to shake that icky bought-and-paid-for feeling, that creepy bait-and-switch between health and rotten teeth.
Later, much later, as you sip your Belgian beer or lemon grass martini in some opulent approximation of a sheik’s boudoir, all hanging velvet tapestries and low-slung leather banquettes, and smoked wood interiors, that guilty feeling gnaws at you like misplaced glasses. Glamour, or its low-lit simulation, feels like detention. Conspicuous orthodontia, Botoxed profiles, and a small ocean of leave-in conditioner begin to reflect off the polished zinc of the bar, the lamps hanging with their tiny blue-tinted skirts. Quit complaining, you say to yourself, as your boredom grows in inverse proportion to the bills in your wallet, the swiveling, vigilant heads, and the fear of missing that unquantifiable something that you paid a very quantifiable cover charge for. After all, you waited patiently in your newly gentrified garret as Moviefone’s voice-recognition software failed to recognize your voice. As you tried to purchase some wisdom (you hope, you pray, you gamble) on levitating Hong Kong action stars. Languid wisdom you planned on spending right here in random acts of cultural arbitrage.
In fact, back at the ATM machine, standing a good civic-minded ten feet behind the gypsy-bloused peasant with non-indentured heels, you remarked with satisfaction on the superiority of your nonchalant slouch. The superiority of one who’s waited amongst studied slouchers all his life, and hence, will recalibrate his slouch into one with a single iota-less of self-consciousness. Oh, how you wished they appreciated your rakish angles and bad posture back at the temp agency! If only they could see through your flat-front khakis, square-toed shoes, and chipper grin, to the kind of roll-up-your-sleeves, no-job-too-small, take-charge kind of host that you’re willing to switch bodies with, or, more precisely, body-snatch, for a mutually satisfactory hourly wage sans benefits. But alas, you‚re miming of a scoliosis victim, despite your PowerPoint expertise, was trumped by the bolt-straight, hands-cradled-in-laps, polyester-whispering-as they-demurely-crossed-their-legs go-getters right next to you. They were simply better at the mechanics of waiting than you were.
The Swedish collaborative duo Bigert & Bergstrom, working together since 1986, are obsessed with exactly these kinds of behavioral incubators: lobbies, lounges, waiting rooms. The swarm logic of the hive, in other words, when all the necessary modes of physical survival have been completed and accounted for: food, shelter, reproduction. The two are unique in that, rather than shifting an analysis away from the modes of capitalist production, to an examination of leisure and its growing inability to distract workers from what happens in daylight between Monday and Friday, they concentrate on downtime. Not flex-time, or part-time, or even vacation time, but time when not much of anything is happening. Water-cooler or coffee-break time, but more precisely, that nebulous interzone when one is waiting to receive a service. The limbo before one is called on to perform, say, a corporate presentation, or receive some kind of physical checkup, or “plug in” to some kind of architectural interface where the system of goods and services is somehow revived, made vibrant and cheerful again, in its exchange of same.
Waiting Room (2002), their most recent piece, features nine spherical globes hanging from the ceiling of the gallery slowly rotating on their own axis. Each is a lamp which sports a photograph within, depicting the room you are standing in, tricked out like a Dilbert cartoon, but with modern accents. The room is in negative, yet the figures inside the room are positive. As these glass balls slowly turn, their fish-eye aspect turns the paneled walls depicted in the photos into the seams of a basketball. Space feels compressed, flattened, and turned into one long cinematic cut, rather than what would merely be an arid cell with claustrophobic walls. One becomes attuned to longitudes while the emptiness begins to express itself, takes center stage. After a while, it’s clear that nothing will happen, and, as in Godot, hanging yourself with a belt, putting on and taking off your trousers, or simply going and coming, are all of a piece. “Waiting,” the word, the verb become gerund, turns against its active semiotics to suggest a kind of slow leak from a tire, or perhaps the ambient white noise hissing from the ventilators and air ducts in the room.
Unlike Godot, which takes place outside as the figures stand on a low mound, Waiting Room displays characters in arrested motion that start to take on aspects of the room’s own lassitude: its stillness, quietude, and curiously embalmed snowdome-like contours. It doesn’t seem to suggest a plea -- either hopeful, pessimistic, or hopefully pessimistic -- to continue amidst a flatlined landscape of synonymous options. But rather, when you see a twentysomething male cradling his chin with steepled fingers, you realize how small the literature of waiting is, and how large the literature of hunger, hallucination, and philosophical certitude. Too long, if you ask me, in relation to how much time we actually spend waiting: in airports for cancelled flights, in restaurants for overbooked tables, in fast food restaurants where the irony is that much closer to the surface. But a line, lacking the drama of an impending meteor or the divine logic of the righteous few bombing an abortion clinic, must know its place and step back into itself. Bigert & Bergstrom have bent that line by setting it in motion, and crossed it, too, by populating it with people that look and behave like you and I.