In October 2021, at the periphery of the parking lot outside of the Time and Space Limited Center in Hudson, artwork by Linda Mussman appeared—about 20 large dictionaries and encyclopedias opened out on a crude wooden table. For several months, round the clock, these dictionaries were exposed to rain, sunlight, and snow, and rifled through by winds. Peach-colored streetlight bathed the texts some nights, and bright sunlight bleached the pages some days. The grass around the table receded and then returned with – mirabile dictu – a green shoot briefly fighting its way between 2 volumes.
These aggressions of chance and nature on unassailable but vestigial bastions of Language were documented by stop-action filming for about 6 months. Occasionally, possibly by chance, the camera paused on a non-particular image or word, but mostly the film images were of these highly vulnerable masses of printed words. This sculptural work was a principal element of this performance piece at TSL. It was performed twice so far, last seen on September 2, 2022. Claudia Bruce was the “mover”, John Moletress constructed the sound, and the filmed documentary of the dictionaries, edited by Teo Camporale, was projected on a large screen behind Claudia Bruce. The words, conception and direction were by Linda Mussmann.
The stage is sparse—a table with a clock, paper and reading lamp situated to the left, a table with electronic sound equipment situated to the right. Everything else is in darkness. Moletress’s sounds start up and do not directly refer to Ms. Bruce’s speech or movements. Bearing in mind that the ears are situated by evolution. Perpendicular to the eyes, we can hear and see Claudia Bruce’s performance. She glances at the clock on her table. And glances again. She is dressed in a clinical white coat and wears a cream-colored hat tilted to one side. Her movements are sparse and straightforward. She walks toward the screen. She rocks on her heels. Occasionally a faint smile flickers on her face, but she is mostly deadpan and does not impose a character onto her person. There are repeated phrases–the months of the years, each arbitrarily associated with a color (December…red, July…blue). Some phrases arise, repeatedly, from half-forgotten conversations–“did someone leave the door open?” (It is closed).
Claudia Bruce does not relate with the musician, who is concentrated and alert to her movements but does not synch with her speech. Occasionally, she briefly interacts with the images racing on the screen—holding up a piece of a sheet of paper which she has studiously torn into fourths, the shadow of which masks out a portion of the projected image. Is she masking out a word or image of significance? She approaches the screen with her back to us and slowly parts the front of her white coat. This is almost comical, and perplexing.
This performance seems to be a perceptual thicket, but as it is laid out, there are hints at how to bushwhack the simultaneous stimuli—the flooding of the eyes and ears, and of the verbal parts of our brains—to get to some sort of clearing. That clearing is not necessarily about meaning. This work addresses and exposes the relentlessness and chaotic nature of perception and words, but the performance lasts long enough that its rare repetitions and coincidences can be noted and felt. As the sum of its parts, Table of Contents gets at something, much as Gertrude Stein (an important influence for Mussman) did obsessively in the best sense of the word. We have a choice to tune out the onrushing stimuli of perception, or pay attention and find our way (albeit perplexed) through endless un-synched torrents of sense stimuli and language. So it is in this performance, as in every minute of every day.
The venue: Time & Space Limited / TSL was founded in NYC in 1973 and in the late 1980’s relocated to Hudson NY where it metamorphosed into a major arts center, housed in a warehouse building built in 1929 as a bakery. Since its upstate opening in 1990/1991, TSL has been a significant resource for a far-reaching community around Hudson NY. It provides a space in which performances, music, gallery exhibitions, multi-media productions, live simulcasts of theMetropolitan Opera and National Theatre of London, independent-documentary-classic films, youth projects, and special events of every kind are held.
Sandra Moore is an artist living in Hudson NY. She has made experimental films, shown at 3 several Whitney Biennials, and taught among other places at the Cooper Union. She has been writing about art work by rural and semi-rural living artists.