I’m standing in a room in ICA I’ve never been in before—a room I didn’t know existed—looking at a wall of circuit breakers. “This is the breaker we need,” Kate says, “because it goes to the Jennifer Bolande phonograph.” She’s referring to the piece “Aerial Phonograph,” an actual record player on which an actual record turns, small parachuters on the label slowly spinning.
Two of ICA’s current shows use a lot of technology, both old and new: video projectors and computers, phonographs and slide projectors. So getting the museum ready for visitors requires a lot more than unlocking the doors and switching on the lights. On ordinary mornings it’s not a problem, but sometimes we need to get the shows running unexpectedly, so Kate, Robert, Anthony, and I are learning to turn on the shows.
After the circuit breaker room, we visit another hidden place. Jennifer Burris, who curated the show with the slide projectors (Living Document / Naked Reality: Toward an Archival Cinema), leads us through the upstairs galleries and back into the shop, where she opens a hidey hole in the wall. There’s a computer in there, and a lot of cords, and some dust.
Another computer runs the program that works the carousel slide projectors, four of which are lined up on a table as part of the piece “Sample Frames” by Alexandra Navratil. Landscapes from the twenties click by in a nostalgic wash of color, four related images at a time like notes making up a single chord. “It’s old school,” Jennifer says as we wait for the slow computer to start up. “To start the program, you just hit the down arrow.”
We take notes, ask questions. I look around for hobbits or gremlins, for other doors to other rooms. In February, ICA will host a program called “An exhibition to hear read,” activating many of the museum’s “interstitial spaces” (the lobby, the elevator, the coat closet, the bathrooms) through the perfomative reading of various texts. The performers won’t use these secret places where equipment lives, but for a moment I imagine how it would be to open a hatch and find a person in there, reciting.
There’s a dream common to people who live in Manhattan. One day they suddenly discover a room in their apartment they never noticed before. For me today, the ICA is becoming a dream museum, hatching new spaces as though it were infinite.
In a different way (temporally rather than spatially), maybe the ICA is infinite. A proud parade of shows stretches back to Clyfford Still in 1963 and forward into the unknown, like the ghostly procession of kings in Macbeth. Centuries from now—millennia from now—who’s to say someone won’t be standing right here, powering up tiny nuclear reactors, perhaps, to project light onto the very air.
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