A letter from a friend written in German. An art theory text that relates to the experiential. Another theoretical text about colour theory. A book that was a gift from a mutual friend. Personal notes written in the aftermath of a performance. A favourite song. A book of nursery rhymes found in a friend’s house. A text that we’ve discussed together at length.
One person reads quietly to himself – a personal performance within the space. Another read loudly and clearly – sharing the experience. One person was conscious of their ‘actor voice’ – projecting above the din. Yet another translated their text into another language – a constant negotiation of communication.
What people brought to read last night, and how they chose to read it, in many ways was a reflection of them. Most of the text’s chosen, were selected for personal reasons – in some cases they were tied up with a shared association with me. A German letter because she knows I really wish I could speak German and that I have a fascination with German culture. Books that we’ve discussed before. Song’s that we’ve listened too together. A nursey rhyme book from my own house that was a gift to me the year I was born. Personal notes written after performing in one of my previous performances.
Now I’m sounding slightly vain. I am framing this through my own understanding of the connections I have with each of the participants. But isn’t that the magic of this work? It is for me. There were, of course, other reason’s for the choices of text.
I was the only one who didn’t share a text. Instead I attempted to trace (in real time) these shared experiences. I don’t think I was very successful. In the hubbub of activity it was impossible for me to focus on each individual – on what they were saying and how they were saying it. To even comprehend the majority of what was going on was incredibly difficult. My hand-writing was an even slower process of recording than the typewriter was (and a lot messier too). During the event I resorted to tracing the spatial situation – where people were in the room – with snippets of what they were saying. How they were moving. And when they left the situation.
It is only now in the aftermath of this experience that I have been able to explore the deeper connections of that made up this experience. And in many ways this was only possible through the insights that I had through conversations with participants post-performance at the pub.
These were all people I knew quite well. They’re all friends. What will happen when I take this work to a place I’ve never been to before and ask strangers to participate? Will something be lost by the lack of a prior relationship with my participants? And how would I overcome this?
I had begun to think that perhaps instead of a group situation, I could shift this artwork to a more intimate piece – a one-on-one performance and conversations. Asking the participants to share a text with me, why they selected that one, why it is important to them, in turn share my connection with the text (if any). Perhaps these one-on-one ‘performances’ could be just as interesting.
But actually I think the group situation is important. In many ways it offers the participants a security blanket. It can be a daunting task – many participants told me after that in the lead up to the performance they experienced a sense of exposure, nervousness, apprehension, self-consciousness. But the realisation that everyone else was in the same boat eased this to some degree. Within the group you have the opportinuity to share your text with others- by walking up to them – or you can be secluded and keep quiet. The babble of noise that is generated by multiple people speaking at once also discharges much of the nervousness – really how could anyone hear exactly what you are saying? There is no spotlight on one person – a situation many find awkward to be in. This point was made quite obviously – once one person left the group… more and more started drifting away. You become conscious of your own voice in the space.
Interestingly when I take away the directive of time (no longer an enforced hour of performing) the performance only lasted for about 26mins. Isn’t the length of the human attention span around 20mins?