Traffic Lights

Traffic Lights (after Alastair MacLennan), 2014.
C-type photograph, text.
Production Galerie du Dourven.
David Michael Clarke. Traffic Lights (after Alastair Alastair MacLennan). Plestin-les-Grèves. C-Type photograph & text. 2014. © David Michael Clarke ADAGP.
Traffic Lights

Reactivation of an art action made by Alastair MacLennan, 1977.
4 chemins, Plestin-les-Grèves.
Saturday 29 March 2014

I began the action at nine o’clock in the morning. With a little help from my assistants, Elina and Tristan, we chose the best view point from which to produce the seemingly obligatory « photographic evidence ». This might seem anodyne, but it is my position in this image that determined the anti-clockwise direction in which I was to walk. Elina and Tristan then discreetly departed.

In the beginning, I felt extremely self-conscious and somewhat concerned about the manner in which my action might be perceived by the locals. I was sure that sooner or later someone would come up and start asking questions as to my presence and my activity.

It was one and a half hours into the action before someone confronted me. The owner of the bar-tabac asked me if I had lost something. He said I had been walking round and round for an eternity. I replied that I hadn’t lost anything, and told him of my interest in a performative artwork originating from the 1970’s and that I was in the process of reactivating it. I told him of the work’s modalities and that it consisted of walking from one traffic light to another for a working day. He wished me « bon courage » and I went on my way.

The rest of the morning passed by more or less without incident. I walked. I stopped. I walked again. Impossible to find any kind of rhythm because the lights seemed able to adapt to the variable flow of the traffic. Also impossible to elaborate a thought, because just as an idea would start to take shape, I would find myself interrupted in my reflexions by the little green man, who instantly reminded me that it was time to move on.

At high noon, I stopped and headed into town. I was hungry.

I started walking again at two o’clock. I was calmer than I had been in the morning, more relaxed. I don’t know why. Maybe because I was less worried about a confrontation with the public. Maybe because the sun had come out. Maybe because I was closer to the end of the action. Whatever, I observed a little more of the life that was going on around me.

There are no shops on the corner opposite the bar-tabac. A few faded traces in the architecture told me that this had not always been the case, but that epoch was long gone. On the next corner stood the junction’s only detached house. An old lady came out on two occasions, no doubt to run some little errands. Our eyes met, but words did not follow. The short walk to reach the next zebra crossing took me past two shops, an « institute of beauty » specializing in nail polish and perfume, and a hairdressers. The hairdresser’s sign announced that she would be working right through lunch. No opportunity arrived to exchange words with anyone related to these shops, not staff, not clients. Over the next road stood a shop that specialized in large-scale ink-jet prints and vinyl lettering. In the morning, the shop had been closed, but in the afternoon, a man had come in to do some work. The last crossing would take me back to the bar-tabac. I walked past the large glass window before finding myself once again, back to square one.

In any case, I advanced, step by step, just as I had in the morning, my thoughts always broken by the arrival of the green man. Around three o’clock two men stepped out from the lane that ran next to the bar-tabac. I had noticed one of them earlier on, as he was pulling out the weeds that had grown in his gutter. They seemed very gentle and they were clearly worried as to my apparent lack of orientation.

– Are you lost ? You’re not going to be going round and round all day?
– No and yes, I replied.

For the second time, I told the story of this artistic action and the way in which I was able to contact the author, Alastair MacLennan. The rather curious look in the eyes told me that they were not overly satisfied by my response. Then I shared with them, one of my little « thoughts for the day ».

– Crossing the road isn’t any more absurde than smoking a cigarette, and there are people that smoke cigarettes all day long.
– Now there, I’m with you ! replied the older man.

He was visibly reassured that I was capable of evoking a reflexion that he considered to be « rational ». And so it was that the wished me well and I got mack to my walk. On the following tour, the old man was at his window and he waved to me.

J’ai continué l’action tout le reste de l’après-midi sans aucun autre incident jusqu’à 16H30. A ce moment un monsieur est sorti du bar-tabac en m’adressant la parole comme si on était des vieux copains.

I continued the action throughout the afternoon without any further incident until half past four. At this moment a man, having left the bar-tabac, came up to be and started chatting as if we were old mates.

– Hey, what was the name of the original artist again ?

As far as I was aware, I had never set eyes on this man in my life. My presence at the crossroads had clearly been the subject of much bar stool bla bla. And so once again, I picked up my little story of Alastair MacLennan and his artistic action. He laughed before disappearing through a doorway across the road. A few tours later, he was back with his iPhone. He wanted a photo. I stood tall like the Eiffel tower.

Just before five o’clock, Elina was back to pick me up. I was really happy to have had this opportunity to experience Alastair’s work in such a real way, but I was equally happy to see Elina pull up in the car.