Falling into a Hole Dug in 1969
On Keith Arnatt’s Self-Burial (Television Interference Project)
We were watching the news. It was just before 8:15pm. Dinner was long since consumed, washed up and tidied away and as the sofa attempted to ingratiate itself against my father’s discomforts, the television flickered and buzzed images of a growing war. As the evening slowly began to fall away, your image appeared: as if it might bring back the sharpness of a day already spent. I don’t know now if it came in a blink or in the fragile, semi-second of distraction or maybe I turned my head and looking back, your leporine face appeared, blurry in amongst the grains of the television screen. Perhaps it had been there for some time and I had grown accustomed to your presence without having known you were there. Nonetheless there you stood—your left leg somewhat awkwardly set forth aside your right leg. Your eyes were shadows and your hair neatly tucked, your backdrop a field. Looking at you, I thought I might have missed a whispered joke. Two seconds. That was all you gave us: two seconds and you disappeared, falling back, into the monotony of the evening news. Unexplained, unexpected and fast lost to the perfunctory trappings of a weatherman.
The next evening followed a predictable pattern. Giving ourselves over to the tedium of restful habits and passive ritual, the television was switched on at its usual time and you managed to find your way back a second time. Except you were buried deeper now. Your knees squashed into the folds of a willing sod of earth, your face carrying the self-same half smirk. And with a countenance, half way between joking and glaring, you offered a concentrated look toward the lens of a camera and came back a third, fourth, fifth and sixth time; each time, persistently there. In the seventh flicker of a photograph on screen, I laughed as I became witness to both a scene of absurdity and suffocating disappearance. All that remained was the head: obstinate and familiar. Your body was lost beneath the sodden ground an unknown field. Your torso buried, your neck peaking, given over to an earth that hadn’t perhaps quite wanted you yet.
The next night, you were a pair of eyes resolutely remaining towards the lens of the camera. In the eighth you had gone. You left behind a mound of earth and a flickering, extended concertina of images from a weeklong intervention. Perhaps you were laughing behind the grainy curtain? Each time, each night, you had dug yourself deeper. Yet you removed all satisfaction from falling at once, as each hit into the ground languorously stretched out across an evening until the time came where I expected you, perhaps even needed you, to be there. Once you had left, I closed my eyes and could see you again. Looking at you had been like deleting everything, where staring at the screen, I needed to erase all that I had ever organised or planned. A confrontation where I wanted to hurriedly pack everything away, willing it to disappear, willing it to fall into your pit of earth. As you flashed upon the screen you made me want to throw conversations into the ground and scream them away. You had made impressions on the earth in an effort to forget time – if only leaning out and falling away could be that effortless.
Photographs of the artist slowly descending into a hole where premiered on German Television in October 1969. A single photo was shown each day, for about two seconds, often interrupting the scheduled program at that time.
Bryony White is a writer based in London, UK. She has a Masters in Performance Studies from King’s College London. She has written for The Learned Pig, Full Stop, Funhouse, and Apollo Magazine. Bryony also currently teaches at a secondary school in South London.