I’ve a new website here: bonicairncross.com
I recently prepared a short response for Sarah Miller’s Director’s Cut – Past Tense / Future Perfect. As part of Performance Space’s 30 year celebrations former director’s were invited to curate a night. Sarah’s brief for Past Tense / Future Perfect was to respond with a work we younger artists wish we had seen and a work we wish to see come into being. My response was quite personal and embedded in my recent thinking and making.
It was during the weeks leading up to my recent work Cat & Mouse, that I first heard about The Sydney Front’s Don Juan. Clare and Ed both talked about the structure of the performance and the engagement between artist and spectator of this particular production as a way to help me think through some of the questions I was asking – how to move an audience through an open space, how to reconfigure their relationship to the work, how to communicate the order of this world we were trying to create. And so I decided that this would form the first part of my response. It was quite a simple homage really – I appropriated the opening form of Don Juan – cordoning off the seating bank, leaving the audience to roam and group on the stage instead. Clare Grant and Chris Ryan surprised me with a cameo! Sitting in white nighties, watching the audience from the seating banks.
The second part of my response was to read a section of text produced by a participant from Cat & Mouse. It seemed appropriate to reference this recent work which is so tied up in thinking about Don Juan. But it also seemed appropriate as its exactly the point of thinking that I am at right now – caught between a work just made and the prompt for a new work yet to be realised. I’m not sure what that is, but I felt that this text would serve as a provocation for that. The text I read at Past Tense / Future perfect is below:
October 5, 2013.
The following is a short piece of text from a moment already past.
Notations of an action long since ceased.
Recorded by an anonymous observer, these words have fallen into my possession. A found document. A fragment of a situation – abstract tellings that I have no memory of.
I was there.
But they are also a score.
Instructions for action / Invitations for play / a duration unknown
He watches then walks
She lets her hair out
She leads and follows
He watches me write
She pulls a thread
She is both in and out… they giggle
they talk outside
they clump together
She watches me
She ignores me
He changes the light
He takes over
He laughs and talks under his breathe
He references the game
The choice is always there. The actors do not trap the spectators and those who accept to play the game really have nothing to fear (Jean-Marie Wynants on Sydney Front’s Don Juan, 1991).
She sits up
She lies down
I close my eyes.
This is a game.
In this game you can be a cat or a mouse – do you like to chase or be chased?
The rules of the game state that at any given time (x) people can be active and (y) must be passive. As an active participant – your only parameter is to stay within the green and to chase your curiosity.
As a passive participant – your constraints are to capture what is occurring around you, remain within the outer boundary and be ready to jump on when someone jumps out.
[In each individual’s ear]:
This is about your senses
Sight. Sound. Smell. Taste. Touch.
And your own awareness
Play with them.
Lets start with sight. Be ready.
[Out loud]: Game on.
cycle 5: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists, Sydney AU and ]Performance Space[, London UK / 20.07.13 / 2 hours
Relay (iteration 2. cycle 5) was performed as part of the Sydney extension of exist-ence 5 a festival of live art, action art and performance art curated by Rebecca Cunningham and Nicola Morton.
Sydney artists, curated by Julie Vulcan, joined the International and Brisbane artists at PACT 19-20 July 2013.
Image credit: Antony Makhlouf
The following text was an email written to Lauren Brown on July 9, 2013. It follows on from a discussion that Lauren summed up on her blog, and was written the day after performing Relay (iteration 2, cycle 5). In reply, Lauren said – “I think this discussion/brain explosion should be public – how do you feel about putting those words (verbatim – please don’t censor them) up on either of our blogs, underneath the post about the work itself?” I have a bit of an ambiguous position currently to the accessibility to my work, particularly to the processes that inform the works (which I’ve not questioned until very recently), but that emerges in the text.
That was a great link – I think Goldsmith makes some great points about the responsiveness of literature to current methods, although I’m not sure that mash-ups aren’t that unusual, it seems to be pretty frequent with dramaturgy.
When we re-performed this score again yesterday (Iteration2, cycle 5 as part of Exist-ence 5) the words certainly seemed emptied, certainly out of context. Its difficult to say such words with conviction when I don’t necessarily agree with some of the positions expressed, along with the monotony of saying these words over and over again.
I think when we began this project 12 months ago, there was an interest in the shift of political speeches over the last century or so. From long durational speeches that functioned to communicate ideological positions, policies (etc), as well as functioning to demonstrate to the public the speaker’s eduction and qualification – to the current mode of political speeches which is manifest in soundbites and snippets. The function has kind of shifted right? And with it so has the role of the listener. But what is that now? What was it then?
I’ve also been doing some reading lately on past avant-garde movements such as Dada and Italian Futurism, IS – thanks Claire Bishop (Artificial Hells). Bishop makes a comment that Italian Futurism and Soviet Constructivism were intwined with political positions (Futurism directly leading to Fascism). Dada on the other hand negated a single political position and worked on negating all. Bishop directly links the participation debate with political action – for Marinetti for example active participation was seen as a total commitment to a cause (Is the oversimplification of the active/passive spectator debate mirrored by an oversimplification of political debate – symptomatic of this age of absolute access, absolute excess? What is the link between this neo-liberal world, performance and politics?). I think our aim with not selecting a political position to argue from, but rather choosing to negate them, is a strategy to remove a didactic and dogmatic edge… we could continue this, or determine our position and go for it. For me there is a fear of making overtly political work and I’m not sure why this is – perhaps because I don’t want to tell people how it is, because I think I don’t know what I’m talking about. But perhaps there is a way of determining a position and communicating the uncertainty and questioning… actually why can’t we just start asking questions – thats what I’m always doing and whats wrong with verbalising them? Its also another way of engaging the audience – challenging them to listening and think… (or own voices?… see below)
Active and passive spectatorship. This is a live work – we know its got to be live. But what exactly is the role of the audience. Currently we, the performers, are in a self-contained process, the audience exist as onlookers. Is this oddly replicating the reality of a democratic system? Also there is a power in the locations we’re using – and yet we’re also not being clear with this. What are the actual sites? Why is there no direct reference between these and the score (when we performed yesterday, Lauren became aware that the references are very Australian based)
However, as it stands the score doesn’t commit to one thing or another. Its flakey and shifts all over the place. We’ve got lots of questions, but haven’t quite gotten to the bottom of what this thing is.
Active/passive spectatorship – there is a link back here to Bishop.
Is this about the futility of political activism? The futility of performance as a political action? (we’re making a performance, there is something important in the choice of this medium – the live and the duration, I think there are lots of links between politics and performance and spectatorship, lets pull them out, or make the questioning clear and conflation of these things clear throughout the score)
Contrary to what we decided with this iteration – I think this performance actually has to commit to the radicalism of the words being spoken – we will go on, we will fight, we will not be deterred, we will persevere… this is a political statement that we need to speak up, that people need to listen, that listening is active and engaging – that listening is the first step of participation in a democracy… but as a political action, a revolt against the disinterested and disengaged, this performance has to commit to the necessity of the need to speak and listen all the time – it must go on for as long as possible – until it becomes physically impossible to continue.
Otherwise what is the point?
To take a tea break between speaking and listening to the loaded and weighted subjects we are dealing with, is almost like saying – that’s okay, take a break now, watch that youtube clip of that kitten over there and forget about this for a minute – for many people in the situations we are dealing with, forgetting about it, taking a break isn’t an option.
We are in a position of privilege that we can walk away, stop listening, stop speaking.
At the moment – this score, with its mash-up, glitching, slightly nonsensical sweep of a variety of positions (from multiple contexts, which frankly I have no position to speak of) is one without conviction. Taking something that could be a powerful and moving speech and transforming it into a succession of babble. How is what we are performing any different that turning on the television and listening to a consistent stream of nonsense – effectively switching off? I don’t want to babble and I don’t want to drone. I want to move the audience, provoke them to listen, to think, to engage them and make them stop this disinterested disconnect for at least a moment or two. Why have we stopped caring? Why is it daggy to give a fuck about other people and to express that?
A few things that we need to work on for the next iteration:
1. a much longer score, clearing up what the aims are of this score – if it is about speaking and listening, then why isn’t it focusing on this – others’ words mixed in with our own. Why are our own voices missing?
I don’t actually think it should repeat. How long would an audience engage for if there was no repetition? When I performed at Exist-ence the audience seemed to stay around for one cycle of the script – as soon as it repeated it left.
2. I don’t think the listening/speaking needs to be so clearly demarcated in the action. If we perform this live and work through the cycles – there is no reason that the dual-performance can’t intersect with each other. Why can’t I stop to listening to you speak – then reinforce those words by performing them shortly afterwards and vice-versa? As we begin to move away through the cycles, the devices and network come in to facilitate (as well as disseminate) the speaking, allowing the listening to function.
I also think its really important to shift away from a clear division of speaking/listening (active/passive) and start blurring these. Isn’t it possible to listen while speaking? Responsive listening, responsive speaking… if that makes sense.
Reading the score – yes but I tend to just focus on the screen then (hide behind it) – I think that’s been okay when I’m not using my own words – but there needs to be a connection to the audience. It has to be live, there has to be a committed, enduring live audience (the changes to the script will probably help), but there needs to be contact with them – eye contact, gestures that engage them. Politicians use gestures all the time – they’re conventional but stamped with individual personality, lets start doing this.
The costumes – ? I like the circles, I like the all black – I reckon it needs to be more formal though – I’m still hanging onto power suits.
Duration – performance for as long as possible.
Site: what’s the significance between London and Sydney? Potentially, this could be performed moving through the cycles with both of us in Sydney, again with both of us in London, a third time completely mediated between the two sites. Alternatively, we perform it once completely mediated.
… My brain just exploded onto the page. I hope it makes sense.
“absolute access” is a phrase that was part of the final line of Madeline Beckett artist statement. Mads is my housemate, a wonderfully amazing performance artist and someone that I’m constantly arguing with. Poor Joel, our other housemate who is constantly caught in the middle of lengthy debates on liveness and mediation. Mads’ argument sits in almost complete opposition to mine – a stubbornly brilliant argument that the live can never, ever, be replicated. To sum it up in my own words (perhaps quite badly), Mads emphatically argues that the live moment is a force (form) that establishes an emotionally charged connection between the present bodies, and this unique and heightened charge should not be diluted through reproduction. It is this that we are forgetting in our age of absolute access.
My own position is far more ambiguous. But that phrase ‘absolute access’ has, and continues to, resonate. What is the main objective of making live works accessible? Is it simply for commodification? Is it to problematise the relationship between the live and the recorded? Is it to have a more inclusive approach to live art? Is there a connection between the rise in acceptance of accessibility and developments of the network? Is there a connection between accessibility and a neo-liberal state of affairs? Is accessibility about democracy and inclusivity? Or is it about commodity and excess? Is absolute access, absolute excess a bad thing? Eg, how much should things be made accessible, and to what ends? What, as an artist, do you make public and how?
That last question stemmed out of a conversation with Susan Gibb in the lead up to the group exhibition “Public Thinking” at 55 Sydenham Rd, Marrickville.
PTSL is a subjective, hand-written document of ‘The Situated Line’ – a group exhibition presented at Articulate Project Space, Leichhardt, between 26.04.13 – 12.05.13. As a form of real-time documentation, the pages trace sixty hours over ten days of occupying space, being in a given moment and an attempt to capture the elusive present.
Dispersed with diagrams, sketches and pauses, the text is at times feverous, excitable and detailed. At other times, it is languid, mundane and tedious. Fragmented and disjointed, the text grapples with the process of evidencing the split between time frames – the ‘now’ of real-time, the ‘now’ being captured on the page and the lag between them.
The process offered a space of heightened awareness (until fatigue set in), making explicit the incomplete nature of live experiences and the role of attention in framing such events. While the process was performed publicly, the experience was highly subjective and internal. The distance that was established called into question the relationship between artist and audience within the live encounter. Here, the document-as-object operates on the same conditions of its production – as the ‘third thing’. It supplements the performance as the mediator between artist and audience, questioning the legibility of the document and initial process in turn.
PTSL emerged from a particular trajectory of my practice concerned with audience participation, constructed situations and the development of real-time documentation. I began to question whether it was unreasonable to demand such commitment from my audiences. Instead, this task retreats into an internal and subjective space – establishing a clear divide between artist and audience. At the time, I wondered what the point was of performing this highly personal experience publicly. In the aftermath, it has left me questioning whether this artist/audience distance was ever eliminated (or close to being eliminated) through those other participatory events.
In the lead up to Public Thinking, I’ve spent some time going through this document. Questions keep emerging and I’m not really certain about the answers. On the one hand, the transformation of this process into an object seems to refute the position that has informed my practice to date. The performance document is frequently critiqued due to its distance from the live event and its fragmentary nature. Arguably to have an ‘authentic’ experience, you had to be there, in-the-flesh at the live event. Exhibiting the document of a live event, but denying the viewer access to its contents seemingly upholds this position.
The argument that privileges the live event, operates on the notion that there is a direct connection established between artist and audience. Yet live event is ultimately framed through an individual’s attention and interpretation – generating a multiplicity in perspectives, each one fragmented in itself. Does performance then ever manage to eliminate the distance between artist and audience? Here, the document-as-object, isn’t so much privileging the live event. Rather it operates on the same conditions of its production – as the ‘third thing’. It simply supplements the performance as the mediator between artist and audience.
cycle 4: IO Myers Studio UNSW, Sydney AU and CIA Studios, Perth AU / 24.06.13 / 2 hours
cycle 1: Alaska Projects Level 2, Sydney AU / 12.06.13 / 2 hours
cycle 2: Alaska Projects Level 2 and Level 1, Sydney AU / 12.06.13 / 2 hours
cycle 3: William Street, north side and south side, Sydney AU / 12.06.13 / 2 hours
Relay is the title for an ever evolving cluster of durational actions in collaboration with Lauren Brown. The performed actions attempt to interrogate the social and political nuances embodied in the acts of hearing, listening, speaking and keeping silent.
Performing othersʼ words we work through iterations and cycles to explore what it means to speak for oneself and on behalf of others, what it means to listen, what it means to hear and what it means to keep silent.
Photography credit: Julia Gove and Andrew Gove
“Vocabulary is the way in which a person moves. The body has an intelligence of its own and a way of digesting complex situations which spoken language can’t touch. How do people move? How do they feel the world?” – Meg Stuart
curiosity, wonder, re-discovery, embedded gesture, habitual shapes
Movement – walking. walking, stopping, starting. walking, stoping, starting, pace.
pace. tempo. scale. level. shape. pouring. pushing. pulling. balance. swinging. sticking. dab. extend. contract. fold. roll. shape.
responsive shapes. responsive to space, responsive to bodies.
connection, distance, contact, energy, attention, awareness. emotions.
position. moving through. stick with – transition, transformation, mutation.
word. stream of consciousness. stick with.
movement and speech:
postion/word – moving through/stream of consciousness – stick with / stick with
three minutes – longer
play. let go. let the form emerge. allow all the elements to gather an energy and composition of their own.
Movement & Composition Workshop was run by Samantha Chester at the Loft Space, Ultimo over a weekend in June, 2013. (June 22-23, 2013).
Participation as a way to engage the audience. Participation as a way to activate the audience. Participation as a way to get people to respond, to react, to kick back. Something. Anything.
You call, I respond, you respond. lag. you call, you respond to your own call, I respond to you call before your response, respond. respond. respond. lag. call, respond. call.
I’m making these up from memory. Could the documents be labelled as a ‘call’ or a ‘response’? What would make the distinction?
Active participation. There’s a lot of thought around this idea of an active audience – that somehow looking and being are passive encounters. That thrashing and bashing is active and engaged. Its not really a new topic, it seems we’ve been exploring it for quite some time now. Its a polar opposite I do not like. I side with John Dewey here (I do read literature newer than 1934). I don’t have it in front of me. There is a point that he makes about ‘doing’ and ‘thinking’ together within an experience. Execution and emotion.
I do agree. But I do think the reality is often uncomfortable.
Thoughts on the reality of experiential and participatory forms: If experience and participation are the medium, do they exist if they are ignored? Can they exist if only the artist ever experiences them? Do we need an audience? These are stupid questions. Why did I feel it necessary to make these exchanges, this correspondence, public?
I do not have the answers.
Participation. torture? An artificial hell? A voluntary (in this case yes, but in general…)? A constructed experience where someone else is determining the outcome and it seems like you have a say. Do you? Does anyone even know the rules? Do you need to know them? Can you be engaged if you’re thinking about the rules, or the non-rules? Are those the rules? To think?
But calling and responding. Call and response. Here is a mode of participation where the participant is indeed a co-author. There is a call. There has to be a response. Any kind of response. Without it the artwork falls over. Its ceases. That initial letter – the terms are spelt out. Respond to that and you’re locked in. Participant committed. Artist Committed.
What would Brian have done if I refused to respond for an extended period of time?
Six days was a long time.
The first time it happened there was a nice reminder. Just seeing where you’ve gone? As the 31 exchanges extended far beyond the calendar month, fresh delays were met with increasingly terse replies. A blunt re-forwarding of the same email from six days before hand.
I JUST WANT THIS TO END. QUICK AS A FOX.
ME TOO! (silent.)
Notes on the emails: the armature of the experience. Part of the process, the side comments, the side of the conversation that has disappeared. The frequency, the timing, mapping the nature of the engagement. There is no number 17, but this doesn’t matter. Its a glitch that I’m quite fond of. The emails discussing this fact could in fact be the fact.
Slowing we are getting nowhere and that is a pleasure.
SORRY & THANKS
Sorry for the silence. For the lags, delays and gaps.
The first six days (or thereabouts) were in fact a silly accident on my behalf. I read
the words ʻI wonʼt be more than two daysʼ and assumed you would indeed be
another 2 days at most, failing to notice the attachment at the bottom of the email.
The last six days of silence were carelessness, frustration, fatigue. Iʼd quite simply
written my way into a crisis and I was in revolt with myself. Art, my own and any
other collaborative project I am currently working on, was something I couldn’t, didn’t
want to face. It sounds melodramatic. It was and there were tears.
I am sorry that it had such an impact, that it came across as a personal affront.
Perhaps “lessons on waiting, still, time” was more a reminder to self to learn to
manage my time better. Iʼve often thought of your repeated suggestions that my
participation in this project wait – to not over-commit, to stress and stretch.
So I am sorry (and thankful in a way) that my stubbornness has stretched this part of
Thanks, a repeated thanks, a repeated and sincere thanks, for allowing me to participate in this project. It occurred to me that itʼs an intimate form of participation. Iʼm thankful for the thought its opened up for me surrounding the idea – its issues and its tensions.
For me, the experience has been fun and confusing, exciting and frustrating, guilt
inducing and also a guilty pleasure in that it often functioned as a vehicle for my own
experiments and thoughts.
An apology for the dense academic framework I bring with me. It is immersive. But,
thank you for the notes on emotion, emotions as loosening, dumb. It resonated. It
still is. Although I realised that Iʼve laboured over this final piece and in doing so the
emotion has been sucked away – existing of the moments past.
Arthur Russell. Wonderful.
Iʼve been listening to Hope Sandoval quite a bit over the last few days, but Arthur
Russell is playing as I write this sentence.
Perhaps that the project has no point is the point. It is shaped by the engagements
with individual participants, and much like life sometimes this is exciting, burning and
at other points frustrating, boring. Perhaps that is its pleasure.
I hope you are well and I send this with warm regards,
Sorry Boni for my aggression
I was frustrated with waiting. I understand you have maybe over-committed, and this project was close to the last thing in your mind.
I have been late and protracted in my life too. It is a double standard of mine that blackens all the pots and kettles in my head.
But as it is my double standard, six days of silence is hard not to take personally. I was angrily annoyed by the disregard, the carelessness that I have seen so often in myself. Be assured that my bark is by far worse then my toothless gummy bite.
I am getting over it, and in affect, have. There is no point to getting upset over a project that has no point.
I do have to say though the most recent exchanges have been exciting, dynamic even.
The emotional exchange was surprising for that very reason – emotion. You are very academic which is clever and difficult at times to grasp. I do not mean this to be passive aggressive but emotions are loosening. Immediate. Dumb. Be dumb for a bit. See a letter by Sol Lewitt to Eva Hesse.
Did you hear Agatha Gothe-Snape’s Emotional Wall fell on Susan Gibb’s head, slicing thirteen stitches across Susan’s brow? Susan bled all the way to the hospital and Agatha cried in her public explanation. Their relationship was strained, and so the poetics of the falling wall are beyond ludicrous to the point of stupidity; a “dumbness” that dare I say was exquisite. One that cannot be orchestrated by equation or exercise, rather propelled by an unconscious ease as to allow emotion and reason to magnify the metaphysical fractal of an objects innate artistic aura, whether it be an actual object or object of performance or its conceptual framing. I digress.
The Friday just gone, after walking idly around the streets for the entire day, I found myself at a particularly gay bookshop on Oxford Street.
I bought the film Keep the lights on by Ira Sachs, a true story about a 10-year relationship of two guys coping with the devastation of drug addiction and the grace illuminated from its recovery. The film made quite an impression on me. The two handsome actors, New York City, life on film and a soundtrack made of pure, and purely of, Arthur Russell songs.
I’ve since bought his entire back catalogue. All in the same day, in the one go.
I’ve been listening to it while writing in the same way I’ve known painters to paint and sculptors to sculpt to music; Arthur’s in my ear now.
I hope this finds you well Boni. I genuinely thank you for agreeing to participate in this project. I look forward to your last entry. Please keep in touch.
A page for Brian. Page 312 for Brian. Page 312 of Performing the Situated Line for Brian. Coincidental as it happens. It just happened like that in the space. But the words must of been in my head. The door opens wide.