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Rumoured Sight in the Dark

Roomet Jakapi (4/2014)

Roomet Jakapi went to Raul Keller's exhibition "What You Hear Is What You Get (Mostly)" and saw himself.

18. IX–27. X 2014
Contemporary Art Museum Estonia

This is a description of an experience and a brief interpretation. One Sunday afternoon a person went to an exhibition and came back, but if they had dared they could have stayed there. The person was fresh, sober and healthy. Yet something happened to him, which does not often happen at an exhibition.

During the entire visit I did not meet anyone else besides myself. The beginning was in the daylight. The flickering rhythm of day. This was followed by the twilight of late evening or early night, where one might want to creep behind the objects placed there. Or maybe I projected the walls, stage and back door further away, because as far as I knew that is where they were. This sound art is so visual.

Things got crazier on the first floor when I entered into the night. At least that is how my memory recalls it. A descending static background of noise surrounded by an endless dark room. Four hanging walls of cloth are visible in front of me – a tall, square chamber of the night. Entering required a certain degree of courage. These cloths or curtains cut me off from myself, or at least cut off from me a large part of what I had previously considered to be a part of me. The flesh of personal history came away from the bone. The bone remained, leaving a naked and outwardly primitive person, who has not yet made the choices that turned him into the complex being who went to the exhibition. If you like, there is a similarity with John Rawls' hypothetical premise that behind the "veil of ignorance" we have to make a rational choice to prepare for the life that follows. Nevertheless, in this case there is nothing to choose between – neither the principle of justice or anything else – but there was a feeling of unease, and irritating and confusing urges lurking somewhere within.

However, I did have one choice – whether to stay or retreat; to see where this tense journey took me or to flee. I was not brave enough to stay very long. The dark abyss on the horizon, the dark sound in my head, the red glow above my head and the hanging curtains had taken their effect on someone whose primary task is to think and discuss as logically as possible. I did think. I thought about who I am and what will become of me – something like that. In images more than in words. I stood, eyes closed. Uneasiness. My body remained indistinct. A person is of course a layered construct, he is not naked – we know that. And that knowledge does not reduce the genuineness of the experience. In the dark, with the aid of sound, I saw more. More, in the sense that it took me much further, or maybe much closer.

Finally, I retreated and stumbled across the corridor, into another night room. In the centre of that room there were round, slightly broken and misshapen barrels, three maybe, possibly golden in that sombre light. As I entered the room and looked at the barrels, three words came to me – "tar", "death" and "before". "Before" in the sense of "earlier". This made sense ¬– I had just been at my own beginning feeling unnerved in the midst of the blackness. In retrospect it all reminds me too much of images and the feelings of fear in Madis Kõiv's work – the uncanny hole in the floor, the haunting yellow light and so on. These subjective associations come as no surprise. Anyway, the feeling – of a single person standing in a room cloaked in darkness – was to be found many floors below the normal levels of self-awareness. And then below that, a suggestion that there were even more floors below, even darker ones. Will this feeling return to me on my deathbed?

On the second floor I was able to calm down, even though the ghostly figures on the walls, each one with a sheet over their head and an ear sticking out from the sheet, made it hard to relax. Like a small boy I still wanted excitement. In a couple of places I was even disappointed – when the image did not grab me straight away. What would the exhibition have been like if I had gone to the opening – talking with people, looking together and showing myself off? I would have felt like I was in a shop where you can touch things, look and then put them back on the counter.

Yet now I wonder why I submitted so easily and reacted so strongly to manipulation, allowing myself, an adult, to be taken somewhere into the grip of childhood fears, where one is afraid to walk through a dark hallway or afraid to put ones feet on the floor beside the bed, because, as everyone knows, scary things lurk in dark rooms and under the bed. Naturally, I am afraid to be alone in the dark – but maybe I am ultra-sensitive and have a vivid imagination. And my hearing is also sensitive. However, there is some difficulty with that person who finds, listens, stares and ponders over themselves and situations. Somehow you have to resolve yourself. With reasoning, feelings, words, sounds, bodily, incorporeally. That is what this time is for.

I do not praise or thank the artist – though I could. He just did what he had to do. And I know that I have to do something else. Something else – I have to.


Roomet Jakapi is a philosopher and musician, and works as a senior researcher in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Tartu.



Exhibition view at EKKM,
photo by Tõnu Tunnel
Courtesy of the artist

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