Steenbeckett is part of The Artangel Collection. Since its initial presentation in 2002, it has been installed at the Whitworth in Manchester in 2011, at the International Beckett Festival in Enniskillen in 2012 and at mac birmingham in 2015.
Egoyan's sombre imagination and unsettling sense of space make his commission by Artangel a sensual goodbye to cinema. – Jonathan Jones, Guardian, 16 February 2002
Steenbeckett is an installation by acclaimed Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan that emerged from his Channel 4 production of Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett. Krapp, played by John Hurt, is spending his 69th birthday listening to a tape of himself aged 39, in which he describes reviewing a recording from his twenties. Krapp moves from reverie to contempt, making a new recording in which he rails against his younger self.
Once Egoyan had digitised his 35mm film he used the last reel (a 20-minute take which equates to 2000 feet of film) to create an installation exploring the relationship between technology and memory. The visitor encounters a forest of travelling celluloid, suspended from pulleys and sprockets and motored around the room by a lone Steenbeck, an editing machine fading into obselescence in the age of digitised post-production. The final 20 minutes of Krapp’s Last Tape play on its small display screen. In the adjoining space, a digital version of the full-length film plays in a home cinema environment. While the film precariously weaves around one room, scratching and deteriorating, the adjacent digital film remains pristine.
We used to record on spools. We filmed on reels. Our memories fell out of cans, unspooled on the floor, got caught in projectors. They used to sound scratchy. They would dim with age. Now digital technology – bearing none of the signifiers of our natural mental process – is erasing the ‘graven image’ in the recording of experience and the function of memory. Steenbeckett is a monument to the thousand natural shocks that analogue was heir top. – Atom Egoyan, 2002
Image: Atom Egoyan, Steenbeckett, 2002 installation at the former Museum of Mankind. Photograph: Thierry Bal
Birmingham, 17 September – 29 November 2015
Filled with old cinema magazines, manuals on how to use long forgotten tape recorders and rolls of films scattered among this antiquarian mess, we are reminded that the penchant for tangible and magical mediums is not yet dead. – Dominika Mackiewicz, this is tomorrow, 22 October 2015.
In Autumn 2015 multi-arts venue mac birmingham hosted Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s ambitious installation Steenbeckett. A programme of events accompanied the exhibition, which included film screenings of Egoyan's feature films, workshops and a discussion with technician Tom Hood around the changing nature of film in the digital age.
Image: Atom Egoyan, Steenbeckett, 2002 (detail) at mac birmingham, 2015. Photograph: Ben Fearnhead
Enniskillen, 9 - 29 August 2012
One of the most haunting of conventional Krapps, John Hurt, could be discerned on video in a forest of 35mm travelling celluloid in film-maker Atom Egoyan's Steenbeckett (2002), an outrageous variation, while, across the corridor, Krapp's office gathered dust and memorabilia, and an overpowering sense of loneliness and desolation. – Michael Coveney, The Independent, 30 August 2012.
Steenbeckett was shown at the inaugural International Beckett Festival at the Clinton Centre Higher Bridges Gallery. The festival also featured responses to Samuel Beckett's work from artists such as Robert Wilson, Joseph Kosuth and Anthony Gormley.
Image: the programme for the International Beckett Festival 2012
Manchester, 2 July - 4 September 2011
Atom Egoyan's Steenbeckett is a real must - architecturally as well as aesthetically, it promises to be one of the most unique pieces on show. – Gordon Jackson, BBC News
Steenbeckett featured in 'Projections', an exhibition of four moving image works from The Artangel Collection, shown within the context of the Whitworth Art Gallery, its collection, and the park that it shares with the city of Manchester.
Video: the installation of Steenbeckett at the Whitworth, The University of Manchester, edited by Marc Roussel. You can also watch this video on Vimeo.
Not so long ago, machines were large enough to hug. As the play brilliantly chronicles, there was a time – fast disappearing – when tape was wound, reels of film spooled, and images produced by the physical movement of materials. Etchings were carved in stone, lead and ink scratched on to paper, and silver oxide shifted on photographic plates. Matter was displaced so that ideas and images would place themselves in our minds. As we enter a new millennium, we are in the process of losing our biblical attachment to an entire form of communication: the graven image.
It may seem strange to be nostalgic about any Old Testament concept, but the graven image had a lot going for it. From the carved tablets of the Ten Commandments, to walls of stone hieroglyphs, to the boxes of ancient magnetic tapes that Krapp lugs on to his desk, there was a physical cumbersomeness to these archives that related to their human origins. They were expressly handmade. They couldn't betray their origins. They were touching, because they were made to be touched. Their exchange required a physical transfer. They were made in the real world, to be read, played, and absorbed in a physical space.
Image: Atom Egoyan editing film on a Steenbeck machine. Photograph: Thierry Bal