Deborah Humm is a visual artist who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. Her 2013 Installation Loss of Signal? challengers her audiences’ coordination skills to convey the sense of frustration and self-consciousness that she feels on a daily basis. 

In Loss of Signal? I bring the audience into a participatory engagement with my work, in order that they experience for themselves a bodily (mis)communication, a failure like my own experiences. I made the work on a large scale to force whole body movement and coordination and to keep the sculptural element rudimentary and raw. The participant is required to navigate the length of the straight pipe with a hoop connected to an electric circuit. With each point of connection a buzzer goes off. The buzzer signals their failure to complete the task correctly or completely, leaving them with a choice either to repeat the task again in the hope of achieving it fully/correctly or to accept their own failure.’

Loss of Signal? belongs to a lineage of participatory works that seek to draw the viewer’s awareness to their navigation of a space or task. Robert Morris’ 1971 Tate exhibition, deemed so dangerous that it closed after just four days, was one influence on me. Reflecting back, Morris, now 78, said “It’s an opportunity for people to involve themselves with the work, become aware of their bodies, gravity, effort, fatigue, their bodies under different conditions…I want to provide a situation where people can become more aware of themselves and their own experiences rather than more aware of some version of my experience.”’

debbie humm 7

The piece also reflects aspects of Minimalism, in particular Eva Hesse’s Hang Up (1966)  in which a steel rod is covered with cloth and protrudes roughly 2 metres intothe viewer’s space from an empty frame. Loss of Signal? is of a grander scale measuring 8 metres in length and standing 3 metres tall: out of proportion and a bit ridiculous, invading others territory and drawing in space, standing firm yet almost invisible, minimal yet present, presenting questions but claiming our thoughts.

Deborah Humm, Loss of Signal 2

Upon entering the gallery you see all the other works. Walking around it is not until you almost trip over Loss of Signal? that it becomes apparent, the light upon it almost makes it disappear into the background.  You can walk all the way around the piece, over and under it if you wish – but what is it? There are no instructions, should you touch – you want to…  You’re a little nervous so you’re going to stand back and see what someone else does. It’s attached to batteries and there is grass growing just beside it that needs water… the pipe isn’t insulated so you wonder if you’re going to get shocked if you touch it?  There’s a note in the column

Thought

Brain

Dendrites

Soma

Axon

Myelin Sheath

Oligodendrocyte

Myelin Sheath

Axon

Synapses

Dendrites

Soma

Axon

Myelin Sheath

Oligodendrocyte

Myelin Sheath

Axon

Synapses

Dendrites

Soma

Axon

Myelin Sheath

Oligodendrocyte

Myelin Sheath

Axon

Synapses

Dendrites

Soma

Axon

Myelin Sheath

Oligodendrocyte

Mylin Sheeth

Axooooooooooooooooon

Synapses

Dendrites

Soma

Axon

Myelin Sheath

Oligodendrocyte

Myelin Sheath

Axon

Synapses

Body

 Action

You read it twice before you really read it.  Then you really look at Loss of Signal? and you really see it.  You realise its like the old buzzer game, you can do that.  Easy, you think!  Picking up the wand you begin your journey.  Ooh hang on, Bzzz, start again that was a practice.  Little further Bzzz, start again, once you move your feet its really difficult, Bzz, start again, Bzzz, just carry on, Bzzz, Bzzz, Red, Bzzz, eyes, Red, Little bit further, Bzzzzz, Red, Bzz, Burning, Eyes, Bz, Burning, Eyes, Bzz, Red, I cant, Red, Do, Bzzz, Heavy, Red, eye, Bzz, Give up, Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz as you drag the wand back to the beginning highlighting your defeat. Eyes…

‘But Everyone was watching me, I couldn’t handle the pressure. I could feel you all watching me. It made it impossible, I couldn’t do it’

‘But No-one was really watching”

Loss of Signal 1

 

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