Both the Summer School and the honours exhibition needed to be taken down on Friday, something that required a lot of wrapping, ripping, shuffling and general noise making, which wasn’t initially a problem in the exhibition space since it had been sealed of from the rest of the building in order that the work could be carried out. People had been in there since I first arrived with Bianca, but they were just lone opportunists making the most of a little free space, listening to music or engaged in intent examinations of lots of nothings somewhere just in front of their faces. These were people who were aware of there being, while maybe not quite a level of illegitimacy to their presence, at least a balance in the room between our rightful presence (institutionally backed by a printed notice on the exterior of the room’s door no less!), and their illicit occupancy; they feigned obliviousness to our stomping and banging, while we marched around them like they were so many pieces of furniture which somehow belonged to the room itself. We were all complicit and harmoniously conspiratorial in the way we ignored each other. But at some point, I think during a particularly complicated procedure of mummifying one of my models, the situation had changed, and remained changed until I gladly stepped out of the building.
I don’t know if the previous occupants of the room had spontaneously, in response to some silent command congealed into a huddled unit of humanity, or whether this entity made of people had invaded while I was pondering some bubble-wrap, ejecting all people not-of-itself in order to brood in isolation; either way the cordial human furniture was no more. Nestled in the centre of a bed of jackets and faces was one voice to which all ears were listening intently, a quiet voice which I hadn’t noticed until looking up, but once noticed became an audible shackle which chained all of our movements. They were there to listen, they were numerous and with a shared objective clearly revealed by their intently furrowed brows, they were there to do something which by its very nature transformed us into antagonistic outsiders: we were busy about the noisy business of laying models, drawings and books to rest in suitably fitting caskets, they were there –judging by the dark seriousness uniformly shadowing the group- to absorb some solemn decree, some weighty judgement delivered in diminutive tones.
The quietness of the speech across the room made each one of our movements into self-lacerations, into captive actions, trapped by their loudness into unavoidably offending the entity’s sobriety. Where before all our thought had been on how best to pack and enclose, stack and tie, now each thought was burdened with another, with the extra consideration of how to pack and enclose –but quietly, and of how to stack and tie –but quietly; every one of these actions was painful because no matter how much thought we put into keeping them quiet they were always louder than the voice, always interruptions in its reverie. Every tug on the role of masking-tape, every rip in the sheet of bubble-wrap hurt us because we couldn’t make it disappear, and our isolated self-awareness was repeatedly re-affirmed exterior to our embarrassment by one or more of the pallid faces turning towards us in silent reproach, confirming that they wanted as we did for us to disappear. Each time I escaped for a moment from being the object of disapproval by doing something silent like measuring a box, I would be filled with the desire to be indignant, to remember that they were usurpers, to keep in my mind that they were not meant to be in the room at all, let alone filling it with their arbitrarily assumed mandate. I would turn to pull something apart, or slide something along the floor with all the self assertive theatricality of someone who is over compensating for severe shyness; but each time, just as I began to produce some sound, I became once again all too aware of the aggression that my sounds perpetrated against the subdued lecturer, and the unnerving eyes that would pivot to rest judgingly on the source of the disturbance.
My attempts at revolt having failed, I fell back on a tactic of conciliatory mime, in that as I clearly couldn’t be as quiet as to not disturb, I would enact comically inflated gestures of apology: when unrolling tape I would compress my facial features into a histrionic wince for the duration of the action, when carrying a big box out the door, I would unnecessarily balance it on one raised thigh while acrobatically closing the door with the opposite arm, performing what I was hoping looked like a remarkable human cantilever, with the ostensible purpose of keeping the noise pollution from outside away from the engrossed congregation. These mimes, although they were empty of real effect, although they didn’t help the voice to be heard any better, soothed my nerves because for me they acted as signs, as transparent symbols of a clear desire to be unobtrusive. By manufacturing the outward appearance of trying very hard to be compliant, I negated the need to try so hard to actually be totally quiet, while simultaneously clearing my conscience of the best part of its awkward guilt. In this manner we finished mummifying my work in bubble-wrap, and encasing it all in card-board coffins, which some later version of me will no doubt open up in some future attic to nostalgic and tear-ridden recollection.