Liveness: questioning form and capacity

Despite an incredibly smooth tech run two days prior to performing Relay (on August 19th), the actual performance was marked by complete a technology fail. So much so that it completely altered the work from what Lauren Brown and I had intended to something very different. After a patchy beginning (for more details check Lauren’s own blog post about the work here), the first 2 hours of the performance was consumed with trying, and failing, to get a sustained connection via Skype between Alaska, Sydney and Performance Space, London. This was the crucial element in which the simultaneous performances were evidence in the alternate site, and what created the ‘relay’ aspect.

After the 2 hour mark, Lauren and I were completely out of synch, we were frustrated by the failing technology, and the struggle of trying to perform while also trying to sort out the connection was taking its toll. Through a txt, we had decided to continue performing our own roles, continue recording what was happening in the space and playing back this audio – focusing on listening to our own performance instead of the other’s as was intended. A little while later Lauren sent me another text:

“i’m going to have to log a DNF. the tech is not happening and the listening isn’t either. go forth and i’ll see you at the end”

The following three hours of the performance were tense. Whilst performing I was questioning whether to continue with the performance which had now drastically shifted from what we intended. At what point do you quit? How do you decided if there is an integrity in the altered form of what your doing – whilst your doing it? Do you just blindly continue anyway – because there is a set duration for the performance? Because maybe something will come out of it.

I felt decidedly vulnerable and exposed. At the time I couldn’t remember why I was doing what I was, why I had decided to work in this form, and why I wanted to place myself in such situations by making work publicly. The situation was also tense for Lauren – her reflection can be read here

I did complete the 5 hours. I could still talk by the end of it. I did cry. There are a few considerations that emerged in the aftermath of this performance:

1. Without the possibility of an audience, this performance would have been a studio experiment. And more than likely I would have given up at the first sign of any tech difficulties. In fact I’ve been in that situation before and cancelled what I was doing because it would have emptied the work.

2. There is an element of exposure in making artworks live. With a studio practice, if you try something out and it doesn’t work – well no one needs to know. But when you’re running through an situation that is contingent on ‘liveness’ – the here and now of the performance site, with an audience watching on, everything is on display. That being said the ‘failure’ of the planned intention to play out exactly as you imagined it can add to the performance (not detract from it – as I was thinking during relay). In this case, the perseverance and endurance I drew on to reach the end of this performance resonated with the words I was speaking. The score – compiled from over 25 political speeches – often referenced perseverance and endurance, fighting against the odds.

3. Was it really a failure? At the time I thought so. But no.  The performance became something different, nothing like what Lauren and I had intended, but it was still attended. It was still a durational task that challenged my limits – and in more ways that I could have foreseen. It still had an element of ‘relay’ – instead of relaying between sites located across the globe, the work was relaying between the live and recorded elements, but also between the two levels of this carpark in Kings Cross (A live feed video was being played the level above – where Alaska is located – from where I was performing). And I asked more questions about my own practice – something we probably don’t do as much when things run smoothly. And I learnt a lot – mainly have a contingent plan!

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