Notes On A Chair
Nicole Jesse reflects on 96 restless hours on an invigilator's chair in Venice.
We arrive at a chair in a moment.
A need or desire to alleviate physical strain has occurred. We rock up with a ‘situation’ in toe. Aside from the inevitable factors of everyday life which remain constant and necessary, like eating or sleeping, our arrival at an object such as a chair is the result of our involvement in an action. Something has brought us here. A break from activity before we’re on the move again. A canvas for projection, it absorbs the shock of our physical strain as it cushions (or doesn’t cushion) the weight of any emotions, feelings and struggles we may be experiencing in said ‘moment’ at which we arrive.
It is a halfway point,
a place for reflection.
Excitement preceded this seemingly unaware invigilator’s chair, hidden in the maze of a lagoon on the coastline of Northern Italy. The encounter was to meet me at a moment in which my mind had for some time been craving a space of peace, a space for thought, a vacant plane on which it could draw it’s pictures, annotate it’s maps and breathe a little.
These chairs are not to bring us comfort, to invite us into a state of rest. They are here to facilitate us being able to do our job for longer; to allow us to labour in our task for longer than we would have been able to without them. And so at this time, when the footsteps have ceased for a second; in the absence of labour, how does one interact with it?
In anticipation of this scheduled quiet space, I became anxious about making the most of it, making sure that I was at all times ‘relaxing in a productive manner’...
...sort of like that 20 minute break you get in the middle of a double shift at the pub, when you can’t quite switch off from the fact that you need to switch off.
This restless state of mind turns into labour for another project; labour for another cause. What is our state, our position, in a chair if not one of rest? It is neither labour nor rest. What position does our body assume when it is at the same time both things, yet neither thing at all? If I bring my restless mind to this chair, was the chair restless to begin with, or have I made it be that way?
This renders the chair somewhere between one thing and another; neither a force for labour, nor a means for rest. It is in this difficulty in placing the chair that the ‘not knowing’ what you are supposed to be doing there arises. It becomes the negation of itself, a contradiction of its recognized identity. Here, the domestic chair had found its way into a space of labour. What was this space? An object borrowed from it’s wider context of not an exhibition but a house, a rather ornate palazzo. A corporate mentality applied to a domestic object.
This confused my ability to locate my surroundings, muddling my body’s decisions about how to arrange itself, how to compose its maneuvers and how to assume an appropriate position.
What is the posture of labour?
The space around the chair becomes an extension of personality, of tendency and of habit. Some chairs remain perfectly aligned to the wall while some jerk out at an angle. At times they carry coats and jackets, hourbour water bottles and books. The chair becomes a base camp, the personal headquarters.
Transferrable traits render the chair a manifestation of intention in the space, in an exposé of the plan for the following 8 hours. A hardback book is the perfect cover for watching netflix on a mobile phone with the subtitles on. No book at all suggests a much more ballsy approach.
What had this experience really been? Possibly something which I could have been doing anywhere else in the world, or maybe even not been doing at all. Would it set me apart? An immaterial advantage over a faceless future opponent?
I had fought hard to get it.
Yet as the flurry of visitors departs past the golden waterfall through which they arrived, the question of what this will add to my speculative profile as a precarious worker creeps in.
What an exhausting fear of experiencing less than everyone else.
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