Hesitation… Picture a space, a break … an ellipsis, a pause / what falls into the chasm of this faltering juncture, this momentary slice into thought or action to which we designate the word ‘hesitation’? The artists in this show, Alex Achtem, Catherine Connolly, Stephen Palmer, Fiona Williams, have formed a communion in hesitation. As both a method and an ethics of making, the artists are at their most ‘honest’ when they are struggling to find the certainty of next the ‘action’.  To be in the grip of ‘hesitation’ is to be carried by hesitation’s own sense of time… This feeling of timelessness is without the measure of certainty… And yet, uncertainty, by its very nature, is inevitably harnessed to its dialectical other…

For the artist must give up, must yield, must surrender, without hesitation, to the certainty of the next move.

And thus, as with hesitation, (un)certainty may live for only a millisecond, before being synthesised (momentarily) into its opposite…

Or, at other times, more rare, less precious, certainty may sustain the hubris of the finished work, in the way Atlas held up the celestial sphere…



Picture the poet who thinks “the mind need not rush in to fill a void … In the broken thing, moreover, human agency is oddly implied: breakage, whatever its cause, is the dark complement to the act of making; the one implies the other. The thing that is broken has particular authority over the act of change.”

[Louise Glück, 1993]

Picture the gambler the moment before the dice are tossed in the air, poised with dice in hand—she shakes…hesitates…shakes again. This pause, this stretching of time, this deeply inhaled breath is a pause just before chance takes over, and in that breath is the concentration of both the greatest expectation and the greatest uncertainty.

Picture the metaphysician who proposes; “to begin for good is to begin in the inalienable possession of oneself. It is then to be unable to turn back; it is to set sail and cut the moorings. From then on one has to run through the adventure to its end. To interrupt what was really begun is to end it in a failure, and not to abolish the beginning. The failure is part of the adventure. What was interrupted does not sink into nothingness like a game. This means that an action is an inscription in being. And indolence, as a recoil before action, is a hesitation before existence, an indolence about existing.”

[Emmanuel Levinas, 1947]

Picture the novelist who writes… these revolving, confused evocations never lasted for more than a few seconds; often, in my brief uncertainty about were I was, I did not distinguish the various suppositions of which it was composed any better than we isolate, when we see a horse run, the successive positions shown to us by a kinetoscope.

[Marcel Proust, 1914]

Picture the editor of Nietzsche’s notes who must negotiate after the philosopher’s death the abyss of difference that falls between the writer’s intent and the reader’s reading, and who finally decides that “suspension points … do not indicate an omission [but] are Nietzsche’s ‘hesitation’ points.”

[Kate Sturg, 2003]

Picture the artist Catherine Connolly who treats hesitancy as a formal quality of the work, as well as an ethical approach to practice. Her work is formed in negotiation with the materials and their possible arrangement in space, a process of extemporisation that is charged with diffidence and hesitancy. There is a point of possible collapse between the thing, as a finite thing, and a thing subject to change over the life of the exhibition, for the materials will persist through time, beyond the will of the artist. Slight and faulting, the work’s affect will be found in the remains of small gestures and modifications … and it is with such self-effacement that the work and the artist enter the world.

Picture the artist Stephen Palmer who intensifies the experience of hesitation by literalising it. In uttering the ‘um’ of hesitation, he has stretched the time of its being.  And by shining his bright light on the timelessness of the ‘um’, he turns hesitation into both the method and the content of his work. In thrusting the um of hesitation into the infinite space of self-referentiality, the dialectic comes to a stop, and the end of history engulfs us in the timelessness of a single gesture...

Picture the artist Fiona Williams. Uncertainty unfolds as a process of questioning tested against how the work might be constituted once it enters ‘the world’—how to make the lightest of interventions, the smallest of touches, and how to capture atmospheres that are as light as the airiest of abstractions. Fiona’s dusty, light-drenched, starlight drawings and cyanotypes struggle to ‘represent’ that which can’t be represented (an ethical approach that actively delays the violence of representation)—the transparency of air is ‘captured’ through a range of mediating agents… illumination, camera-less image capture, the drawings of the artist…

Picture the artist Alex Achtem whose silence is a hollow, voiceless murmur from afar, so that the absence of her communication is hesitation itself, a black hole of silence, where the depths of all silence lives…(for the sake of analogy, it is so quiet here it feels as though even my loyal electronic friends and their persistent, high-pitched humming have all left me, and I am all alone with the silence of books which now have only small bullet holes into their souls)…

Picture the critic, and the critic of the critic who each imagines “this halt is only a halting, a hesitation, a pause in the progress, which will be driven inexorably on-by tradition, by history, by the restless energy of the imagination.” For it is the job of the critic to disrupt the fluency of the viewer. 

[Michael Sprinker on Geoffrey H. Hartman, 1980]

The poet, the gambler, the metaphysician, the editor, the novelist, the artists, in the midst of this moment of confused/confusing, blurriness, which is both nothing and everything to thinking and practice, each discovers that they are now without the communion of others, which reminds me of Rousseau’s final walks, where he tells us; “I am now alone on earth, no longer having any brother, neighbour, friend, or society other than myself.”

[Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Reveries of the Solitary Walker, 1776–78]


 [Works cited]

Rüdiger Bittner (ed.), Friedrich Nietzsche, Writings from the Late Notebooks, (trans.) Kate Sturg
Louisa Glück, “Disruption, Hesitation, Silence”, The American Poetry Review, 1993
Emmanuel Levinas, Existence and Exitents, (trans.) Alphonso Lingis, 1978
Marcel Proust, Swanns Way, 1914, (trans.)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Reveries of the Solitary Walker, 1776–78
Michael Sprinker, “Hermeneutic Hesitation: The Stuttering Text”, Boundary, 1980