A couple of hours ago, the last minutes of analogue television in Australia coincided with a doughnut breakfast at Verge Gallery in Sydney. The breakfast broke the fast that performance artists Kate Blackmore and Francis Barrett had undergone over the last eight days, as they sat in the gallery watching every episode of The Simpsons back-to-back for their live, broadcasted work BOX SET: A televisual endurance performance as part of the Tele Visions festival.
There have been twenty-five seasons of the show over the last twenty-four years, and it took Barrett and Blackmore one hundred and ninety-six hours to get through the five hundred and thirty-five episodes. Sitting on the same grey couch in the same grey tracksuits, they minimised food and only had a juice in the morning and a small bowl of daal in the evening. A more obvious thing to do might have been to pair the TV binge with excessive intake of junk food, but the hunger element worked to intensify the consumption of the cartoons.
(Obscene over-consumption is of course a running joke in The Simpsons. Over the weekend I dropped by the gallery in the middle of the night and – drunk and guiltily snacking – watched a few episodes, including an awful Halloween Special where Homer eats himself into a giant insatiable blob, and, in an effort to turn the monstrosity into a community service, is put to use eating the homeless people of Springfield.)
At some point over the last eight days I happened to learn that Samuel Beckett loved the cricket. Further investigation revealed that when Beckett used to drive André the Giant to school (true story!), all they talked about was cricket. He’s also the only Nobel Prize laureate to be listed as a player in Wisden (the ‘bible of cricket’). This makes perfect sense. Beckett was a master of drawn-out torpor and ennui. His treatise on uneventfullness, Waiting for Godot, plunges us into a suspended present as we participate in the staged act of waiting for something that will never arrive. The absurdist drama demands that we give up on all notions of expectation and culmination: like BOX SET, it has two people awkwardly on view as they simply pass time.
Sometimes time passes in The Simpsons, sometimes it doesn’t. Lisa has been the smartest kid in second grade for twenty-four years in a row, but when she converts to vegetarianism in the seventh season she remains committed to the cause. Here’s a photo of a time-marking system on the wall of Verge Gallery made by Nick Keys for BOX SET in order to keep track of some of the different durations that were unfurling throughout the project. This is earlier today, close to the end of the final episode:
In an episode from the early nineties (i.e. on Wednesday afternoon), the TV news anchor Kent Brockman said two things that seemed to be worthy of note in my notebook, given the context in which I was watching. First thing: “Scott, things aren’t as happy as they used to be down here at the unemployment office. Joblessness is no longer just for Philosophy majors – useful people are starting to feel the pinch.” Second thing: “Now, at the risk of being unpopular, this reporter places the blame for all of this squarely on YOU, the viewers.”