With the help of shaky video footage which calls to mind the virtual reality of a first-person shooter videogame, Lucy Pawlak’s Arriving without Leaving (Guaranteed Happy Ending) creates a space located between fiction and reality.
The camera creates a connection between the viewer and the on-screen protagonists by following the perspective of the on-screen avatar, whose oversize papier-mâché hands are visible at the bottom of the screen. A mechanical voice explains the rules of the game, giving us instructions and letting us choose between alternatives using a game menu which appears intermittently on the screen. We are told to make use of real objects while watching the screen, making it possible for the viewers to experience sensory impressions which correspond to the story unfolding in the film.
But the façade of a complete fusion of reality with the virtual reality of the game is repeatedly deliberately interrupted. When the interaction which the video demands of us turns out to be impossible, the medium is revealed to be a fiction. »Why can’t you reach?«, a woman asks us after we fail to reach a rope she has instructed us to pick up. »Let’s have a cocktail«, she suggests, dropping the glass before our eyes. At the very latest by the point our counterpart loses her arm in a fight without any visible opponent, the video confronts us with a question concerning the difference between external influence and autonomous decision making. In the typo-ridden language typical of computer games, she tells the viewer »Step back! Roll! Hit! It was another game«, and holds the stump of her arm up to the camera. The dismantling of the virtual world culminates as our hands are ripped off and burned. »What are you made of?« – we are addressed directly, and when we are instructed to »run«, we are brought crashing back to reality, and to questions about the structure of our very own games – life, without a guaranteed happy ending. (Annika Artmann)