STUART BRISLEY, Nul Comma Nul, 1984, Tate

Nul Comma Nul  1984  Camden Art Centre London


Nul Comma Nul came about in response to an invitation from artist and curator Deanna Petherbridge to take part in a group exhibition entitled 1984 in 1984 at the Camden Art Centre. I had read 1984 by George Orwell, and reacquainted myself with it. Camden Art Centre at that time had a book section running parallel at ninety degrees to the main entrance.  At the right hand end obscuring a doorway leading to a gallery was a free standing wall, allowing people to pass by on either side, while blocking the view into the gallery. (There was another entrance elsewhere). When the gallery was closed the doorway was secured by a flexible metal security gate. I had the idea to build a work into the fabric of the building and the security gate and freestanding wall offered the opportunity.

The key to the proposal was the gate, a fulcrum of a double bind. To begin with viewers would need to have sufficient curiosity to see what was behind the free standing wall. Then one would be confronted by the gate behind which was an enclosed space. Approaching the work from the other side was a large wedge penetrating the gallery space and enclosing the doorway with the security gate. There were then two distinct views of the work back and front and as in Egyptian sculpture for example. But unlike Egyptian sculpture because of the restrictions imposed whereby one had to leave either position and walk through the building in order to come across the other view. This meant that the work could never be seen in its totality. Better perhaps to consider the wedge shape as an architectural addendum with an exterior form and an internal space.

The internal space.

On passing by the free standing wall one entered a tight space to be confronted by the flexible metal gate, which operated in a scissors fashion, behind which the internal space receded to an end where the two sides of the walls met at an acute angle. The ceiling sloped down towards the sharp end from approximately eight feet at the gate end to six feet at the sharp end. At about three feet in from the sharp end a five hundred watt lamp was hung at navel height, which faced the gate. Clothing was strewn across the floor. On looking through the gate one’s view was largely obscured by the light, which had the force of a headlamp at night. On turning round one was confronted by one’s own mirror image in the mirror hung on the free standing wall.

The external form.

 The door with the gate was according to memory relatively   close to the corner of the gallery and another door affording access at the other side of room. The wedge shape at 245cm by 185cm by 620cm was more architectural than sculptural while being alien appearing to serve no function other than being innately penetrative and aggressive.  It’s basic construction simply conceived and  painted battleship grey.

Metaphorical encapsulation here.

In his novel 1984 Orwell imagined a State where private space no longer existed. Big Brother, the face and voice, the embodiment of the State could see and communicate to each and every person into every space inhabited by the population through the two way telescreen.  In the apartments afforded to inhabitants, the implicit privacy is broken by the all-seeing eye and speaking voice of Big Brother, which is Big Brothers privilege alone, i.e. a privilege of the disembodied eye and voice, the symbolic embodiment of the ideology of dictatorship.            

Stuart Brisley March 2011


Original catalogue text for Nineteen-Eighty-four: An Exhibition:


In Main Currents of Marxism 3 the breakdown Leszek Kolakowski has given cogent account of Stalin’s rule in the U.S.S.R.  In it he suggests that the goal of Stalinist socialism seemed to be a condition in which everyone (except Stalin himself) was the inmate of a concentration camp and simultaneously an agent of the Secret Police. It was an ultimate perfection hard to achieve, but the trend towards it was very strong. 
In Nineteen Eighty-Four Orwell adopted a similar idea and called it ‘double think’ in which contradictory beliefs may be held and accepted in the mind simultaneously.  ‘Ing Soc’ intellectuals are aware in which direction their ‘memories' are to be altered, and therefore consciously know about playing tricks with reality.  The process must be conscious to ensure that it is carried out with precision, but it must also be unconscious, to avoid feelings of falsity and hence of guilt.  ‘Double think’ lies in the centre of the system of ‘Ing Soc’ as the essential practice of the party is to use conscious deception while retaining a hardness of purpose associated with total honesty (1).
Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was originally entitled The Last Man in Europe.  It was rejected by the publisher and became Nineteen Eighty-Four, an inversion of 1948, the year in which it was written, one hundred years after the Communist Manifesto. 
As a source for the work presented here I have taken that aspect of Nineteen Eighty-Four which satirises the period of Stalin’s power – but I have not made a work about that period:

‘It is dirty dusty and damp, humid and arid
There is beating and splashing.
There is water somewhere
The most distasteful neighbours are lined up,
  beating flashing biting and fighting.
It happens. Everything is thrown outwards,
  and falls to the bottom, to a ceiling, a wall, a floor.
That is disturbing. It could be disconcerting.
Everything is shaken up, jolted, pushed, kicked, punched,
  thumped, beaten, broken, smashed and pulped.
That might be the end of that, but they still come in
  and go out.
It continues. It goes on, passing in and passing out,
  passing on.
It could be barricaded.
Where are the entrances?
Where are the exits?
Where are they?’ (2)

1. Freely adapted from ‘The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism’ by Emmanuel Goldstein ¬– 1984
2. Extract from ‘The Georgiana Collection’, 81–82 Text for Voice © Stuart Brisley.

Stuart Brisley 1984, London