Exhaustion by Fiona Wright


'We know the film wants us to feel ourselves as if we were inside the runner’s head, and we do, yet every now and then we have another possibility.'


'In brief, the brain maps the world around it and maps its own doings. Those maps are experienced as images in our minds, and the term image refers not just to the visual kind but to images of any sense origin such as auditory, visceral, tactile and so forth.'
Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, Antonio Damasio

At the beginning of the film the young athlete is shown taking a moment to prepare. Then he begins his run, while we begin our watching. As we enter into the space-time of the film there is a sense that this beginning is important, perhaps as a measure, at least to register where all this started.

The run takes place in conditions which refer indirectly to the observation of a body in a laboratory, as might be used for the monitoring of fatigue and assessments in the ‘science of exhaustion’. The sustained use of slow motion tells the story of a human body moving at speed through a very close movement study, gradually becoming something like a portrait. The film gives us a kind of access to the body (his body), particularly through the way the sound and the visuals work strongly together, making compositions with data and building a narrative representation of what it might be like to be on the inside of his experience.

Part of the study is about wanting to know how he senses himself and how he feels about that sense of himself. This is all part of how he is able to keep on running. Our attention is drawn as much to the surface of his body and the feeling of this movement between internal and external invites a special viewpoint, not possible even in the daily conditions of the laboratory.

We know the film wants us to feel ourselves as if we were inside the runner’s head, and we do, yet every now and then we have another possibility. After one of the sustained sections of slow motion where the image seems to hang in the air and a particular shot fills the screen - a limb, half of the face, a section of torso - then the edit cuts sharply into the ‘real time’ run, the slamming sound of his feet now in synch, hitting the treadmill, resonating in the dark studio space. Now it seems I have returned, the full-body wide shot bringing me back alongside him, as if in fact I had gone away inside my own head, not inside his world at all. Sometimes here his legs seem to be moving too fast for the camera and I am reminded that in fact he would not look this way to my eyes if I was in the room with him.

There are many associations here to be made with the histories of technologies of the moving image and our social and cultural relationships to time and speed. As ever, we recognise the connection to other moments when the camera revealed a new story, such as Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th century photographs of animals and the human figure in motion. This documentary evidence presented the subject captured in glimpses of action and gesture not previously witnessed, and not even usually imagined.

It seems that as human animals we still look for movement, as it were, instinctively. In the study and the pleasure of watching movement, we seek symmetry and structure, as we might look for the pleasure of unison in a group of people dancing. There is a kinaesthetic response to watching someone else move, our own nervous system knows something of their dancing. The film viewer is often privileged with a supposedly ideal spectator position. Perhaps we imagine we now know this runner in some way, as if we have become familiar with his body - the kind of impression that being an audience to the performance of another can easily suggest.

This run can been seen in this way because it is out of context - not even quite like the run someone would do for the laboratory. We know he is under strong lights. We guess this man would not usually run in bare feet. So this task of running is somehow stylised, functional yet not utilitarian, in the same way as many movements on screen are when performed by actors in films.

At some point there is a real shift, like a sea change. The runner enters a time when he has to keep going but in a different way. He does seem to dance on the screen, the soundtrack is like a drum and his image jumps and floats in and out of frame. I shift in my seat. In the beginning he was very upright, very sure. For one moment, as he ends the run, he appears, just fleetingly, leaning forward as if he is in the body of himself as a very old man.


Fiona Wright is an independent artist working through writing and choreography since the late 1980s. Her many performances have included solo pieces made for an audience of one person and several collaborations using video pieces made for small screens. Publications have included amino essays: twenty short performance papers (2004 amino) which was connected to a performance lecture series and PhD research project Other Versions of an Uncertain Body.