A Day at the Hermitage – June 1976
A Day at the Hermitage was performed in a public foyer at Exeter College of Art in June 1976. Lasting for approximately 8 hours the work consisted of myself as a hermit performing a sequence of ritualistic actions within a small space marked out on the floor. At intervals the hermit wrote comments and questions on a blackboard, sometimes addressed to himself, sometimes addressed to the passing audience. A narrative account of the performance was produced, combining texts & photographs.
A site was prepared in the foyer of the local art college, a place everyone visiting or attending the college had to pass. A place of transit, of coming and going. People moving about on their way to somewhere else.
The site didn’t hide or disguised the character of the building surrounding it. There was no attempt to seduce passers-by into believing they were anywhere other than where they were.
A timetable of the day’s routine was posted nearby. From time to time the hermit made notes on a blackboard which helped watchers to follow his activities. Most of his actions and comments seemed to him to be foolish and he often chuckled at the absurdity of it all. Those who watched him seemed not so sure, to them there was something melancholic beneath the lighthearted proceedings.
On a wall nearby a diagram offered a plan of the hermitage and a few notes.
On another wall a sequence of drawings provided clues and commentaries to the hermitage and the daily life of its inhabitant.
The hermit’s day lasted for 8 hours.
From the outside the hermit’s life appears dull and uneventful, but inside he lives a life full of adventure and excitement. Each moment is a challenge to him. Each day seems to bring him all the trials and joys of a lifetime. He is at times happy, at times sad, but he rarely smiles or allows a tear to fall.
Something indefinable distinguishes him in the eyes of those who meet him or stop to gaze at him.
The most mundane of his activities is marked by a burning concentration. A sense of purpose gives strength to all his movements. His way of life is a source of fascination to others.
And yet… the hermit wears no special clothes, he looks just like you or me. His cabin is no special place…
A few of the day’s events: Imagine a day in June. Warm sun, clear sky. In the entrance hall of an uninspiring educational institution a dramatic routine begins.
In the middle of a patch of dry earth there’s a small shelter, almost a box. Inside is the hermit, quiet, curled-up. Is he asleep or awake? Deaf or listening? Who knows? Who cares?
For an hour each day the hermit sits drawing circles with a stick in the dirt outside his cabin. After he’s drawn a circle he gazes at it, studies it, turns it over & over in his mind & then rubs it out carefully with the edge & palm of his hand. He squats back on his haunches & draws another circle with a similar motion of his stick. He repeats this at a steady pace. Then he props the stick against a rock & goes into his hut.
Each day he meets with his mystery & converses with it in silence. Something important seems to be going on. From the outside it’s like a puzzle, a game of patience, a ritual, a spell. No one knows what he’s up to. No one disturbs him. No one ever asks him what he is doing.
Some people watch & think: is it a mandala? Is he meditating? Does he seek perfection, the perfect circle, to perfect himself? Is it an exercise in concentration? Is he eccentric or is he mad? Is he looking for the meaning behind or within the circle? Is he hoping to come face to face with the void, sunyata, infinity, eternity? Is he wise or is he foolish?
Just as he has his circle, everyone else has the hermit to gaze at, study & turn over in their minds.
The hermit sits whittling a stick, making pale rings on it, one for every year of his life. He whittles away his childhood. The first eight years of his life become a pile of woodchips & he finds it hard to remember anything of those early days. He finds so little to hang on to, so little to anchor him to that early life. Does it matter to him? Is it his great loss? Or does it leave him light & free of burdens?
It’s almost midday & all is set for another hunting trip. He inscribes the form of his prey in the dirt, closes his eyes & summons up the animal in his imagination. He stalks it quietly, letting it gain confidence. It grows stronger & clearer until he knows it is time to shoot. If he waits too long it will disappear, if he shoots too soon he’ll frighten it away. This time, he shoots a deer & tries the same strategy to kill two fat birds. He misses them both.
He whittles away to his sixteenth birthday. The sun gets as high as it can.
He decides to go for a stroll, or does he? Does he make decisions at all? His actions are more like those of a tree or a bird. Can they be said to make decisions? He goes for a stroll, to nowhere in particular. To those who watch him he appears to be walking on the spot, but can even a days walking take us far from where we are?
On his next stroll he takes his well-polished stick. Along the way he encounters a large black beetle. They share a few moments of each other’s time & then go on their way. Wearing his hat and coat he takes his imagination for a walk.