It is 5pm, the sixth hour, the last hour. The artist straddles the top of an open domestic bin. She wears a brilliant high-collared speciously long yellow dress. She is scrubbing its skirt with her right fist on her left palm between her bare legs. The room is enveloped in the rhythmic sound; four beats per second. There are seven spectators, and they all stare at her hands or at her reflection on the water-sodden floor. She maintains the rhythm of scrubbing as she releases a continuous four-second hum, a deep inhalation, followed by a six-second hum. Frothing soap falls down the front of her dress as she scrubs, still with her right fist against her left palm, alternating between four and three beats per second. Tiny rivers of soapy water slowly run over the gallery floor. She looks directly at me, the man next to me, the spectator next to him, and everyone holds the gaze for a while but eventually diverts their eyes back to her scrubbing hands. A man reflexively hums along for an instant, a foot silently taps to the beat of the scrubbing, and some heads nod slowly. The door buzzes but everyone stays fixed on the momentum of her scrubbing.
It is 5.14pm and the scrubbing stops. The gallery is silent, except for the sound of the rain on the street outside. She twists the soaking material and wrings it through her hands slowly pulling it upwards, soapy froth falls down the front of her dress and to the floor, obstructing her reflection.
At 5.15pm the scrubbing resumes, using her right fist upon her open left palm again. A spectator grips his umbrella behind his back, stands to leave, but he stays at the door staring at her hands scrubbing. It is a difficult space to leave. The rhythm is slower and is accompanied by the sound of her deep slow breathing.
Music fills the space at 5.25pm, the room is lifted, and the man, with an umbrella in one hand and other on the door, leaves. The music is a live recording of Richter playing Schubert’s Impromptu . It encourages an ambiguous smile as the artist slowly lifts herself off the bin, stretching her skirt around its rim. She maintains her crouch as she stands with her hands on her knees. She leans forward and pulls her skirt taunt with her teeth; stretching it with slow stern head movements side to side. Suds froth down her chin and we hear them being inhaled with her breath. The momentum of the previous absorptive rhythm is lost. The door buzzes and, this time, everyone turns towards the door. She drops the cloth from her mouth and repositions herself back into her scrubbing position. A spectator pulls herself close to the wall and turns her attention back to the yellow image on the floor. The artist dips the cloth between her legs into the bin until her elbows are level to her knees; the bin is full of water. She pulls out the cloth spilling water over the floor. The soapy rivers expand and run a little further and we all shuffle out of their way.
At 5.30pm there are suds dripping off her chin and down the front of her soaking dress as she scrubs. The music stops. She sits upright and shows her handiwork by spreading the material for the room to see. There is a recorded applaud. Some of us look at her and others at each other.
At 5.47pm she begins rapid scrubbing with right palm on left, palms flat, four beats per second. The sound has changed but the scrubbing continues to produce suds that gather at the end of her dress while the old ones dissolve. The door buzzes and more people, ignored by those already here, come into the space.
It is 5.54pm and there are nineteen spectators. It is growing darker, the spotlight above her is brighter and the reflection in the floor is stronger. The little rivers of water along the floor are stagnant. The yellow dress is saturated. She stands, crouches, and puts her palms flat on her knees. Her bare legs rub against the rim of the bin and she clamps the yellow skirting in her teeth again. Many viewers shift discreetly as they watch her tug the unmitigated yellow dress with her teeth, groaning.
It is 5.59pm and she is scrubbing with her right fist against her left palm. The pace reverberates around the room; four beats per second. We, the nineteen spectators, sit completely still; we mostly look at her hands and at her yellow reflection on the wet floor, meeting her gaze every so often, absorbed in the rhythm of her continuous scrubbing of the skirt of her yellow dress between her bare legs.
“It is 6 o’clock and the gallery is closing now.”
Aislinn White is a student on the MA Art In The Contemporary World course in NCAD.
This performance took place over six hours at the Oonagh Young Gallery, Dublin, 5 July 2008. This text was commissioned by the artist.