By Lucy Wilson
It rained as we walked the inhabited but somehow derelict Queenstown streets, to the old disused West Coast District Hospital to see Matt Warren and Darren Cook’s installation Still.
As we entered others exited muttering, “…it’s noth’n, just noth’n, just two rocks in a corridor”. Yet we found it intriguing. In the abandoned wide corridor with its smooth shiny reflective floor and walls painted in pink tones, a dark eerie feeling set in. We were able to explore, but our wandering was interjected by the local volunteer who pointed out what each room used to be: Intensive Care, maternity, the nursery, surgery and so on. Her commentary loomed large and focused on the flurry of the hospital's yesteryear rather than allowing viewers to be still and quiet to allow the sound, video and installation to prevail.
Glad to take time, we did see silent fire on television screens and take in the frightening sounds and emergency sirens. We experienced blue and red strobing lights in an otherwise darkened room, and puzzled at odd piles of flour found on the floor and in corners. In a long corridor we were held back behind a glass door, where people tended to huddle and look, fogging the glass with their breath to see what was going on. Through the closed door, peering down the long corridor beyond, we saw what looked like a searchlight groping through flame and smoke. Beyond that on the end wall a moving image showed leaves swaying gently in a breeze. And yes, there were two rocks in the corridor. In another room we found a confused and definitely not quite right tea setting. All the ingredients were there but in a deranged state. There was also a cup of something else, an orange looking flour – is that ore? It was zany and mad. Everything was weird. My brain was trying to make sense of it. More rocks and more piles of flour. Are the rocks ore? It became a cryptic puzzle of symbols and sounds. We had degrees of knowledge without access.
It was in the barrier between where we could and couldn’t go that something clicked for me and I felt something of the miners' experience of their last days spent so deep below the surface of the earth. They were retreating from a fire burning somewhere underground with them. They were stuck in the crib room, a place for a cup of tea, going mad waiting, cold, hungry and in fear of their death to come. They couldn’t reach or be reached by the rescue team. The leaves in the breeze were not accessible.
This installation was captivating and evocative. I ponder it still. We saw the artists as we were leaving. They gave nothing away except that they’d been up until 4am finishing the work, and though they hadn’t seen the hospital ghost they had often been spooked by their own soundscapes, an SOS sub-woofer on a loop which kicks in again after a period of silence.