Transcript of PMA Cellphone Tour


Here is the text of my audio cellphone tour for the Portland Museum of Art 2013 Biennial:

Hello. This is artist JT Bullitt. In my time-based pieces I'm exploring the idea that every action we perform, whether conscious or unconscious, dramatic or seemingly insignificant, leaves a lasting mark in the world. The simple act of putting pen to paper is a wonderful metaphor for this truth.

To create these pieces I followed a strict set of rules to limit the expressive possibilities. This filters out — or at least tones down — my own intentional movements, to help uncover layers of unintended and unconscious actions that might otherwise go undetected.

The group of four drawings, or "motion autographs", are from a series of experiments that record the hand moving slowly and steadily across the page during different kinds of journeys. The rules are simple: First, once a drawing begins, the hand must not stop moving; Second, after the first line is laid down at the top of the page, on each successive pass I try to copy the preceding line, offset slightly down the page; and finally, when the pen leaves the paper for any reason, the drawing is finished.

Like seismic recordings of distant earthquakes, these drawings reveal the complex layerings of surface motions upon much deeper subterranean forces: the large-scale movement of my seat during a plane flight or a train ride, the tiny natural tremors of the hand, and the subconscious waverings of the mind itself as it tries to follow a steady path.

I recorded "True Grit" while sitting in a dark movie theater during a screening of that film. Because I couldn't actually see pen or paper, I replaced the second rule with the intention simply to keep the pen within the bounds of the page, as best I could, by feel. How startling it was to see this drawing for the first time at the film's end when the lights came up, as if it were drawn by another hand. This is how alien the unconscious can feel to us.

I recorded "I Will Not Stop Until I Am Asleep" at the end of a long day, while sitting up in bed awaiting the inevitable. As you can see, midway through the experiment I had a momentary lapse of consciousness. Although not quite deep enough to cause the pen to slip from my hand, it did leave a rippling echo that reverberated long afterwards until my hand finally let go. Even small actions have consequences that extend long into the future.

The same is true of our encounters with people: Every person we have ever met has changed us in some way, just as we have changed them. Sometimes these changes are obvious — as in the profoundly transformative relationships with parents or children, teachers or lovers. But usually the influences are subtle, or even invisible to us. For the sound piece "Who I Am", I reconstructed a list of the names of every person I have ever known, according to two strict rules: First, we must have met each other in person, and second, we both knew each other's names. In this piece the names are continuously reshuffled in an endless loop, stripping them of any chronological or emotional context. Listening to this continuous stream of significant names the listener is invited to reflect: Who do I remember? Who has touched my life and contributed to who I am today? Who will remember me?