Samuel Beckett, Not I, 1975, black-and-white film in 16 mm, 13 minutes. Installation view.

Samuel Beckett, Not I, 1975, black-and-white film in 16 mm, 13 minutes. Installation view.

Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett, Not I, 1975, black-and-white film in 16 mm, 13 minutes. Installation view.

Samuel Beckett’s prodigious literary work today seems like a monument to the mistrust of the word as a means of communication. This exhibition, titled “Beckett Films,” was perfectly suited to the monastic atmosphere of the galleries of the Monasterio de Santa María de las Cuevas (known as the Cartuja), seat of the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo. It also perfectly demonstrated the failure—or triumph, depending—of Beckett’s ideas. From the pioneer piece Film, produced in 1964, to the version for German television of his final work, Was wo (What Where, 1985) originally conceived as a play and produced just a few years before Beckett’s death, the works shown here exuded austerity, darkness, and solitude—terms apparently alien to our brazen contemporary world infested by noise and the mass media. In this sense, it could be said that the ideas that Beckett held dear are far from central to contemporary culture. At the same time, Beckett’s experimental side, his innovative language, and his sparse (to some, even pessimistic) vision of existence serve as a refuge from the mire that is current mass media and the culture industry. Nonetheless, it was in the sphere of television, specifically with Süddeutscher Rundfunk in Stuttgart, that Beckett carried out a good many of his projects from 1966 to 1985. Considering how television has evolved into a medium for entertainment rather than serious thought, it seems astonishing that Beckett would have delved into that world. But despite the fears about television voiced by thinkers such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, at the time Beckett was working many still believed that the medium could foster risk.

This exhibition in Seville attempted to go beyond the television format, offering an object-oriented or spatial reading of the medium by exhibiting Beckett’s works for television on monitors located throughout the elongated space of the Cartuja’s old refectory and in video projections in the adjacent galleries. Would Beckett have approved of this sort of display? We have no way of knowing. We do know, however, that it is a parti pris of the curators, Javier Montes and Yara Sonseca, to avoid the sort of film-series-in-an-auditorium presentation typically used for Beckett’s film and television material.

The aforementioned mistrust or suspicion of the word, which is particularly evident in Quad I + II (1982), is paradoxical, since much of Beckett’s work entails incessant speaking. This is apparent in the spastic and ceaselessly chattering mouth of the actress Billie Whitelaw in Not I (1975) and the interlinking voices in Was wo. It is also evident in But the Clouds (1977), whose narrator speaks in a monotone voice while a male character wanders through the scene, repeating movements, and the face of a woman occasionally appears and disappears.

Beckett rejected the hegemony of narrative film that reigned in his time, looking to images (in sequence shots with no action, pan shots, zooms, and so forth) to render his vision of life, one to which an economy of means, a bareness of elements, and disembodiment are essential.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.