Samuel Beckett, the late dramatist and writer, is represented by an historic video of his dramatic monologue Not I.
This work features a pulsing fourteen-minute monologue spoken by a
woman who is only visible as a mouth on a black background. The phrases
she speaks, though obscure and fragmented, take the shape of a story: an
older woman is trying to recount the memory of a traumatic event. This
unexplained event seems to be responsible for her inability to emerge as
a fully functioning person, as an “I” in the world. Though Beckett
worked outside the field of visual art, his interest in how human beings
attempt to make meaning out of their world speaks directly to the
interests of contemporary artists.
Samuel Beckett (Irish, 1906 – 1989) was a dramatist, poet and novelist considered one of the most
influential writers of the 20th century. Though best known for his 1952
play Waiting for Godot, his work continues to inform and influence the trajectory of contemporary art.
This exhibition of Samuel Beckett's film was one of six exhibitions focused on the metaphysics of the human figure grouped under the title Looking for the Face I Had Before the World Was Made. The artists included: Michaël Borremans, Samuel Beckett, Eric & Heather ChanSchatz, Lorraine O'Grady, A. G. Rizzoli and William Stockman. Each of the artists explored how depicting the human figure can offer something more consequential than a simple catalogue of physical features. Each work in the exhibition told a human story while de-emphasizing the likeness of any particular person. Using a wide variety of styles, the artists were joined by an interest in creating a sense of a phenomenon deeper than the surface image, capturing a presence prior to the appearance of the fully formed individual. The line "Looking for the face I had before the world was made," is a quote from the late poet and dramatist, William Butler Yeats, from his poem "A Woman Young and Old." It can be understood as either a statement of faith or a philosophical riddle related to the formation of the self.
Looking for the Face I Had Before the World Was Made opened
January 29, 2009 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. The
exhibition is sponsored in part by Amber & Michael Fries, Emily
Sinclair & Jay Kenney, and MCA Denver’s Director’s Vision Society.
Image: Samuel Beckett. Not I (detail), 1972, from Beckett on Film, 2001, Director: Neil Jordan. Copyright Blue Angels Films 2001.