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On arriving at The Performance Space for the opening of Bill Seeto's Prime Meridian, and expecting to find the well known interior, we come instead to a place transformed by Seeto into a space we can no longer take for granted, one to which we now pay direct and minute attention. By constructing new physical and visual structures within, he has forced us in to a sort of corporeal viewing: impossible to experience distantly, we seem to "see with the flesh as well as the eyes", as Billy Crawford suggests in a foreword to the catalogue. Moving trough actual space in real time—it being "the one literal dimension of thought"1 —we enter a dream space which exists in both real and oneiric time.
Suddenly in this space we no longer know: the floor slants upwards, looking as though it will keep rising, looking like something from Coney Island, all kooky and spooky—while at the same time restrained and elegant. This strangeness gives way to an almost immediate acceptance: the re-framed windows seeming perfect as they are, the floor's angle being only as it should be. The space becoming personalised is also becoming to us, is becoming our space. As we move inwards in real time through real space, we move inwards to our own time and to our own space. We "intersect the great circle of the Earth at the observer's zenith" (OED). At our zenith—we fix a prime meridian.
Coming up the ramp we grow larger 'till the prospect of walking through the re-framed doorway, (de-framed as it were, reduced to a tiny black hole) seems daunting. This tiny entrance which has made us oh-so-aware of our own bodily limits, opens into a dark corridor of which we are as yet suspicious.
Now inside the dark space we see the framework of the strangely shifting room we just left, the outside painted dark green against the warm pale yellow inside of the room. We are now struck by that very warmth, that very non-Minimalist, not-black-and-whiteness of the work—both literally and conceptually. For this is the very antithesis of the concepts of Minimalism, while, like much space-oriented work, it has grown paradoxically out of the aesthetics and formal concerns of the movement itself.
Before the entrance to the next room there is a sort of between-rooms room. We look into a double mirror which continues on forever in a loop, so that we see a somewhat muted image of ourselves situated between both past and future. Our presentness is reiterated while our image flips backwards and ever onwards without end. Limitless—in contrast to the new limits Seeto has created for us in the architectural space itself—this point also acts as a bridge between the lilting internal space we have just walked through and the surveillance mechanisms in place in the adjacent rooms.
The next room, too, is dark except for a large light-filled "window" onto the opposite room. Watching the occasional person moving through, we soon realise they can 't see us, don't know we're looking. But of course they do—they've just passed this way haven't they? We stand and watch, moving closer to these now self-conscious others, or we hide in the darkest recesses as though we too, even on this side, could be seen.
Moving into that watched room (past the identical "back" of the infinite between-space), we are raised up to consciousness. We even watch ourselves on a tiny monitor under this tricky two-way mirror, seeing ourselves in yet another way, working out the angles, limits, at what points we come into view. Distance is here redefined by each of us in the space—we are within the work, not close, but within. We therefore locate ourselves within it in the same manner with which we call a halt to a searching mind: we fix on the memory, fix on a position—temporally.
So it's all in the mind. This work is a mental space. We are inside the mind, flitting through tenses to find our position; looking, unlocking and locking things away; being in the hidden and then raised up and made self aware. Surveillance is in place yet, but it is a surveillance of the self, by the self—a self slipping in and out of consciousness. The space is not quite as we knew it because we rebuild it every time we blink, every time we think. It is accentuated differently, differently coloured, different aspects brought up into focus at the speed of thought.
Astrologically, meridians refer to the heavens. Geographically, they speak of the reckoning of east and west. And when Adrian Hall in Seeto's catalogue essay speaks of "foreign accents" in reference, among other things, to Seeto's always being on the outside (born in Macau, Asian, growing up in New Guinea and here, here and there), he helps recall the Chinese sense of the word "meridian": those lines of energy which travel the body connecting our physical and mental states via the channels of the emotions. Clinical treatment on meridians works on focussing on those parts, visualising the "intangible" structure and energy coursing the body. Seeto 's focus on these points can be seen then, if you like—for openness is paramount here, and focus can be pulled or not—to be of meta-physical concern.
Once again Seeto offers us a deceptively quiet work which manages to leave us reeling, as though the floor had moved from under us. (It did, didn't it?). Dis-located and re-located, we are made aware of the very ground we tread as it comes up to meet us, and as the reflections go on forever we are left to reflect on our presentness, on our position and on the shifting processes of the mind.
1. Robert Morris, The Present Tense of Space, 1978