So what brought us there? That's what I want to share with you all - an intense and visceral installation, by Canadian visual artist Antonia Hirsch, entitled - Komma (after Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun) Presented in an installation context, is a 16mm film based on Hollywood script writer Dalton Trumbo's seminal anti-war novel.
The central device of Trumbo’s novel is the horrifying predicament of the protagonist, a young American soldier who, tragically, has lost his face and both arms and legs during combat. Unable to see, speak, hear, smell, or act, he is fully conscious, but seemingly completely without agency. As he struggles to come to terms with his personal tragedy, he strains to communicate with ‘the outside world.’
Hirsch's 16mm film takes this irregularity and runs with it, featuring the novel's text as a spoken word audio track with flashes of illumination marking the pauses where the commas should have been. The voice we hear speaks the internal dialogue of the central character but is rendered emotionless by being computer generated. This is intended to contrast the idiosyncrasies of articulation with binary modes of communication.This distinction, between negative and positive, light and dark, on and off, forms a rhythm, the black voids and illuminations highlighting the use of the comma to underpin the relationship between the voice and the written word. Hirsch explains the work as follows:
“It was the lack of commas in Dalton Trumbo's original novel that initially sparked my interest.
Dalton Trumbo was a screenwriter in Hollywood, he is behind such movies as Spartacus and Roman Holiday. Yet in the McCarthy era, he was blacklisted as one of the Hollywood Ten. Although he continued to write during this time under a pseudonym, it struck me how the novel's author had also been temporarily robbed of his voice that he couldn't "own" his voice during this period.
For my film I extracted those segments from Trumbo's novel where the protagonist reflects on the sensation of his own body, and most of this is a terrifying discovery of all the parts that are missing.”
I can assure you that the film is indeed an uncomfortable experience but one which everyone should force themselves to confront. After being ushered, by torchlight, into a pitch black screening room the viewer finds themself cut off from any point of reference other than the impersonal voice of the 'narrator' and the occasional sudden bright and blinding flash of light directly in the foreground. Truly, it makes for a very powerful and moving work of art, one that we here at The Streetlamp, highly recommend. So, take a trip down to The Tramway, we’re sure it will be an experience not to forget.