A Constructed Fiction

Debbie Michaels

Debbie Michaels


/ steɪdʒ /
‘A point, period, or step in a process or development.’
‘A raised floor or platform, typically in a theatre, on which actors, entertainers, or speakers perform.’


Raised platform: 345 × 150 cm, comprising: 3 × 1.8 cm medium density fibreboard (MDF) sheets, cut to size, screwed to 5 × 5 cm softwood battens, leaving shadow gap of approximately 5 cm around the edges. Drill 5 cm diameter hole, centrally positioned 25 cm in from one end of platform to allow for power and headphone extension cable. At the opposite end of the platform, drill 1 cm hole 40 cm in from the end 60 cm in from the side, to allow for headphone extension cable. Monitor housing: 100 × 45 × 135 cm in 1.2 cm MDF, with removable top for access to technical equipment, and aperture cut-out for monitor screen, 47.5 × 26.7 cm, positioned centrally at a height of 100 cm to centre of aperture. Drill a 0.9 cm hole 2.5 cm below and to left side of aperture when facing, to allow access to monitor sensor.

Surface Finishes

Top surface and edges of platform painted two coats light grey floor paint.
Exterior surface of monitor housing painted two coats matt white emulsion.

Physical Objects and Materials (supplied by artist)

2 × tub chairs, 57 × 66 × 61 cm, synthetic black leather with black cylindrical wooden legs
Jute woven mat: 92.5 × 153 cm
Square MDF plinth, 30 × 30 × 30 cm with 50 cm diameter top, painted white matt emulsion.

Deconstructed ‘Art Therapy Object’:

Hand-built core object 17 × 16 × 3 cm, Model Magic
1 × length of string, 460 × 0.2 cm (brown)
1 × length of string, 301.5 × 0.15 cm (natural)
3 × individual lengths of yellow wool knotted together to form a length of 130 cm.
Lengths of distressed loose weave hessian scrim: 1 × 58 cm, 1 × 75 cm, 1 × 210 cm.
Small coloured craft feathers: 2 × red, 2 × pink, 2 × blue, 2 × white, 1 × orange
Sparkly Pipe Cleaners: 30 cm, 2 × sparkly gold, 3 × sparkly silver, 3 × sparkly red
1 × Chenille Pipe Cleaner: 30 cm – orange
Chenille Pipe Cleaners with bump stem: 30 cm, 1 × yellow, 1 × pink, 1 × red
1 × Length of red ribbon: 105 × 0.88 cm, 1 × Length of purple ribbon: 103.5 x 0.8 cm,
Black plastic wire: 1 × length 89 cm, 2 × lengths 92.5 cm

Technical Equipment

22 inch Monitor screen, Media Player, HDMI lead, USB stick loaded with MP3 video / audio, 1 set headphones, 5m headphone extension lead, power extension lead, operating instruction sheet.



‘A discussion between two or more people, especially one directed towards exploration of a particular subject’
‘A conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or film’

Carry out Risk Assessment prior to installation. Position platform with 150 cm width placed centrally against pillar, with length extending beneath double height ceiling, and over two of the floor services outlets. Run headphone extension lead under platform and up through prepared holes at either end (larger hole at pillar end). Plug power extension cable into floor outlet and pass up through hole in platform.

DThe clock on the video screen is on the hour. There is no-one else here and yet I feel the presence of so much more. I sit in the chair with the object opposite … its constituent parts laid out before me … scattered, trailing threads. I feel an expectation, as if the object is staring back … reaching out … asking something of me … asking what? A part of me wants to reach forward, to touch a hanging thread … I resist the impulse.

JThe first thing looking at it just now is that it’s quite different. When I looked at the video it was a very ordered process of dismantling the object … everything you did very carefully … you took the pieces apart and put them in little piles, sorted them out, straightened things out … and then looking at it now, they are very much strewn around … it’s not got that order. The pieces are sort of scattered, trailing from one place to another and hanging off the table. This looks like the debris that’s been left behind.

Fix monitor tight to inside front of housing with screen aligned to aperture and clear perspex sheet in front. Position monitor housing on the platform, placed centrally with back face slightly away from pillar.

DA camera watches, two in fact … one directly in front, and another further away, watching from a distance. I feel other eyes around looking, even though no-one is there. The eyes of the children whose portraits hang in the corner behind me … they seem to look down at me accusingly, as if to ask ‘why did you abandon me?’1 Their names chime out in the space on the quarter hour, reminding me that I must not forget they are there. More eyes, different eyes … disembodied … staring, and that heavy breathing sound … muffled with the headphones on, but lurking in the corners of my mind.2

JWatching the video originally, it looked like an investigative procedure, almost scientific … straightening things out and putting rulers against them, measuring them … a careful sorting.

Plug in power and HDMI connector between monitor and media player. Fix media player to inside front of housing with sensor facing up. Insert USB stick into media player. Set up video playing on repeated loop. Correct timing to the hour as per instruction sheet fixed to inside of monitor housing. Place remote controls in plastic bag taped to inside of monitor housing and place top in position.

DMy awareness shifts to the wall on the screen to my left … a row of people are standing peering through its restrictive openings.3 Barriers and resistances come to mind … what may be hidden or blocked from view … shut out or defensively walled off. ‘What am I hoping to gain from this?’ I want to fidget … my eyes are closing … struggling to remain open. ‘What will the camera show?’

JIt makes me think of physics and the fundamental building blocks of nature and the idea that … at what point does something stop becoming recognisable as what it is … and you started off with this object and the object was made up of various components, but once you’ve separated them out into ribbons and feathers and string and so on, then there’s nothing left of what that object was … only the components of it … and if you then take them further apart then the ribbon is made up of lots of threads … if you break those threads up you are left with nothing of the ribbon-ness of it. Each layer of dismantling you are finding something out about the component, but in the process you are dismantling the whole.

Position chair 1 centrally on the platform with its back against the monitor housing. Position chair 2 centrally on the platform with the back of the chair at a distance of 280 cm from the back of chair 1. Fix chairs to stage with 8 × 90º right angle 4 × 4 cm stainless steel brackets and 32 screws. Plug in headphones, tape excess lead to underside of chair, and hang over right arm of chair 2.

DMy eyes close finally … relief … guilt. ‘What is this about? Am I just tired or is there something I don’t want to see … to know about?’ Forcing them open again I catch sight of the small figures on the sand … being washed over by the sea, continually, repeatedly … naked figures, they writhe about … in vain it seems, as if unable to shift their position.4 Earlier, half in and half out of the wardrobe, I peer through the holes voyeuristically … trying to see … see what? 5

JYes, it does seem to be saying something about losing track of the whole by looking at its components too closely … in dismantling something to find out what it’s made of, it’s also a destructive process … research … yes, this idea of … destructive … the analysis process … I wasn’t thinking of psychological, I was thinking of the scientific analysis process which often requires the destruction of the thing that you are investigating.

Place jute mat centrally on the platform, between the two chairs. Place plinth centrally on the jute mat. Position the core object against the back of chair 1 at a 60o angle with the seat and the open section of the object facing down. Place/drape the component materials of deconstructed ‘art therapy object’ randomly on/over chair 1, extending onto floor and plinth.

DI watch the clock. Finally, the 50 minutes is up. I lean forward in the chair and reach out to touch the materials in front of me. I hold my head in my hands … a familiar feeling.

JAh yes, the clock … the time ticking away.


1 Rachel Emily Taylor, Finding Foundlings, 2016, paintings and audio.

2 Emma Bolland, Some Thoughts on Interiors and a Conversation about Treatment, 2016, installation with staging, video, drawing and other ephemera.

3 Rose Butler, Lines of Resistance, 2014, video.

4 Susannah Gent, Shoreline, 2016, moving image.

5 Susannah Gent, Wardrobe (War Machine), 2016, installation.