Most of us still visit exhibitions and expect to find something to look at. We may walk into galleries with high hopes or suspicious minds but, either way, the focus of our attentions is usually on the anxious object. In Jacqueline Donachie's first solo show, the viewer entered the enormous industrial shed of Glasgow's Tramway and saw nothing. Instead of physical artworks, the artist installed a 45 minute audio piece played through dozens of strategically-mounted speakers, using the minimum of technical means to the maximum effect.
Part Edit (1994) consisted of a multiple playback of words spoken by the artist, pop songs from the last three decades, and specific sampled sounds (breathing, sighing, walking, running and so on) to construct a convincing allusion to an ambiguous narrative. The initial surprise of the work is that what seems almost totally devoid of visual material quickly becomes a complex scenario full of images and memories, generated in response to the sounds that float around and fill the space. It was quite remarkable how the artist seduced this lonely listener into becoming an active role player in her theatre of memory. The work played with certain ideas from 'high' literary tradition, such as Bergson and Proust, but placed them within a framework of popular contemporary culture with a particular formal reference to the world of cinema. What we have is the soundtrack to a film that doesn't exist, and is therefore open to the fantasies and nightmares of anyone who happens upon it.
I wandered into the space late on a wet Sunday afternoon, just as Elvis was finishing up Lovin' You. I heard the sound of a key opening a door which led into darkness as a car drove off from the night before and into the morning after. As I was trying to make sense of what was happening I hardly even noticed the Sex Pistols creep up on me. But there they were and here was I back at school with my laced-up boots and corduroys, waiting for that first kiss along with all the other pretend-punks in too-tight Adidas t-shirts, claiming to hate the Human League because they were not as cool as Sham '69 or whatever. Or, at least, this is how I think I remember things.
Then, as I'm arguing with myself over the authenticity of the reminiscence, I hear the voice of the artist asking 'don't you remember me?' and I'm brought back into the art world of reality. It takes a moment to come to terms with the fact that this art is moving me; pushing me away into my private history and then pulling me back into the present with some blatant flirting and teasing. Now she's not asking me, she's accusing me, in the sexiest possible way, of ignoring her and forgetting that time we spent together. I feel guilty without reason and tell myself that this was not my one night stand, not my lost weekend. It must have been someone else, some place else, at some other time.
20 minutes later and I'm still wandering around Tramway, lost in music, caught in a trap. I'm thinking that life is curious and sad and happy and it's all in the past until it catches up with you. I catch a few bars of Ave Maria drifting in through one ear and out of the other, but not without impact. The artist keeps telling me things and asking me questions in a late-night kind of a way that makes me want to put my arms around her and tell her that everything is going to be alright. We both realise that this kind of thing could lead us into a situation that we will both be trying to forget tomorrow. I hear her light another cigarette and down another drink.
We've gone full circle in 45 minutes from teenage kicks to twentysomething traumas. I feel guilty and sad about something but I'm not sure what and I'm not sure why. The memories triggered by Part Edit are so real that it's only as I leave Tramway that I remember - this is art.