Blue Room takes its title from two types of space which employ ambient lighting as a system of control: a dimly lit command center used to monitor airspace during the Cold War, and a calm room used to pacify prisoners in solitary confinement.
Heath’s work typically plots an idiosyncratic line through historical material, employing outmoded systems of communication and infrastructure to throw the conditions of the present into relief. A number of recent videos have featured recordings of phone calls to businesses or services in which an anonymous character describes impossible situations and apocryphal stories with a tone of disclosure.
The Long Lines Building at 33 Thomas Street – a windowless skyscraper owned by AT&T – features prominently in Heath’s video The Hollow Coin (2016). The building, located steps away from Swiss Institute’s current location at 102 Franklin Street, is a bunkerlike relic of New York City’s telecommunications infrastructure, which nonetheless speaks to current anxieties regarding government monitoring and data collection (some months after the completion of this work, it was revealed that the building is a hub for NSA surveillance activities). Inspired by a Cold War-era Soviet spy who used a fake coin to conceal microfilm, The Hollow Coin depicts a phone call made using a similar device.
The second video, War Pigeon (2017), created on the occasion of Blue Room, invokes another evocative detail in the history of espionage: the use of trained pigeons as aerial photographers during World War II. In this phone call to the customer service department of a bank, the speaker describes an unnerving encounter with a suspicious bird, which has led him to question his trust in the bank’s very existence. In both videos, as speakers engage with technical processes and bureaucratic systems, human vulnerability is gently drawn out, suffusing the works with an atmosphere of existential comedy, wrought from a present governed by opaque systems of control.