...some thoughts (quite disordered) in response to Performance (Friday 27 April at 318 Wellington St, Collingwood).
On arrival I feel that there's a strong sense of expectancy, and confusion, from the gathered crowd as to what is happening. I met two friends on the way to the venue who had also been invited and were unclear as to the nature of the performance - we were very curious to see what would take place.
It took a short while to navigate through the assembled spectators and find a good vantage point, and was able to piece together fragments of the performance through observation and conversation with other audience members. It was exciting to see the fuel stop, normally the site for everyday transactions, occupied in such a way. The extremely slow and slightly exaggerated movements of the participants as they selected items for purchase was at once very strange and completely familiar. Speaking to a friend I was introduced to their observation that the performance was like viewing a moving sculpture, or watching a series of photographs - each image leaving an indelible impression before the next was viewed.
Accompanied by a friend, I walked into the fuel stop to purchase a drink and to observe more closely the performance. It was inside, looking out at the motionless crowd, and encountering the glacial pace of the performers up close that I felt a sense of time slowing down - my own movements started to feel out of step with the surroundings which was a strange sensation.
The whole experience was extremely enjoyable, profound and provocative. The skill with which the performers were subtly able to subvert perceptions of time was impressive.
My experience of Deanne Butterworth and Linda Tegg’s Performance, held at a convenience store and petrol station in Collingwood, defied my expectations of a ‘performance’ in the traditional sense. In the ‘real time’ environment constructed by Butterworth and Tegg, it took a series of physical and psychological adjustments to climatise to this social experiment, within which I became a willing participant.
Performance took place outside the normal parameters of just that, a performance. More a ‘Happening’ than a performance, there was no formal beginning, no formal ending and no designated area for the performers and the audience. Apart from the glass wall and entry that housed and ‘framed’ most of the performative actions (be they direct or indirect) many defined expectations, and rules of engagement, were dismantled for me throughout this ‘hybrid’ work.
The beauty of ‘Performance’ was the choice I was given to either observe or inhabit a deceptively subtle series of performative actions. I chose to experience several phases of involvement and immersion throughout its duration. Upon walking up to the site on a busy inner-urban street, I was met with a crowd of ‘scenesters’ gathered surreally outside the convenience store, dramatically lit by the cold lighting that has come to define sites such as these. As I approached by crossing the road, I realised that the performance had already begun; it was the audience that was already on show. I also realised that I was soon to be one of them, as I psychologically transitioned to my impending role. How convenient.
After the formalities of acknowledging some of my fellow audience members, I began to climatise to the context by looking, watching and waiting for a ‘performative’ action. The realisation that some of the inhabitants of the store were functioning at a distinctly slower pace, and meditative manner, emerged gradually. As a Fitzroy resident, I have grown accustomed to co-existing with other locals of the area, who function within a perpetually drug induced rhythm: their heroin slowness or their speedy ‘fastness’. We co-inhabit the streets and public transport, but we rarely interact. This was my first association.
Over two 60-minute durations, the performers contemplated the sunglasses on the viewing rack and the array of chip varieties on the shelves, walking in ‘slo-mo’ over to the fridge to select one of fifteen varieties of water. I allowed myself to throw caution to the wind, enter the store, observe from within, engage, and enter into a semi-meditative state. I removed myself from the world of thoughts and associations and felt a distinct sensation come over me. I, too, allowed myself to slow down and enjoy this new parallel and unself-conscious state of being. This was a refreshing and novel way to wind down on a Friday evening, to say the least!
As with any reductive art moment, the appreciation of fine details can become hugely meaningful. After a while, I began to swim into the zone of the performers and delight in the beauty of their actions and their subtle forms of encounter.
Actively entering the conscious world once more, I realised that this was as much a commentary on the realities of contemporary life as it was a social and temporal experiment. There have been many works that address the contemporary condition of our accelerated lives, and the reality that we are now met with the potential of exceeding our physical and perceptual capacity, as the world around us accelerates exponentially. Films like ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ and ‘Baraka’ have addressed this thematic poetically, and we watched in our cinemas, ironically a symbol of speed and modernity in its day. I recall reading about our proto-industrial ancestors, the first train travelers, experiencing this new velocity for the first time in their accelerating bodies. They felt and perceived this new and strange rhythm of a passing landscape like never before. Pure sensation.
‘Performance’ offered this sensation in reverse. However, unlike many projects that have addressed the topic of coexisting rhythms, Butterworth and Tegg have allowed us to inhabit it. Our body has been placed in this space, and instead of picturing this notion, we have been given the opportunity to meander physically through this reality, revealing our relative briskness and participating in this sensorial shift.
And if this was a commentary on the accelerated reality of our lives, then the minimal actions of the performers: quiet, slow and considered was magnified within the ‘maximalism’ of the convenient store’s loud, fast and efficient context. What an extreme coexistence.
Each of the two performances offered a different ‘take’ for the audience. I enjoyed being able to compare the two performances and noticing the more dynamic (for want of a better word) second ‘take’. The second performance began with a woman walking slowing toward the sliding doors from amongst us. Her transition was gradual. As she reached the threshold of the door, another performer walked briskly toward the door but chose to slow down as she reached this threshold, marking it with her sudden transition. This markedly different interpretation by two performers was very meaningful for me. What signified the performed moment varied significantly between the two actors. The second actor implied, in her actions, that the site was like a distinctly different zone by using the threshold to delineate it. Like runners at the finishing line, this golden moment highlighted to me the malleable parameters of any performative space.
Another seminal moment for me was the appearance of four strangely identical ‘surfee stoners’ who visited the store. With the aim of satisfying the munchies, they were unaware of the construct they had entered upon. We observed their beautiful and comedic contribution to the work, as their delayed realisation became coloured by their giggles and slurred chit chat. They stopped. They then gathered around one performer and offer her a taste of their sausage-on-a-stick. She shook her head slowly. Very slowly. This exchange was a brief meeting of minds, over in a flash. Feeding the sausage to a dog in the audience, the stoners went on their way, giggling their way into oblivion.
It is difficult for me not to delve into the spatio-temporal, theoretical tangents that this work inspired in me. I have held a long-term fascination (bordering on obsession) with all things time-related and have investigated this through my own photographic practice over the years. I have decided not to ‘go there’ with this written document, suffice to say that my experience was analogous to inhabiting a photographic version of an exploded axonometric diagram, as I wandered around and wove through, enacting my poly-rhythmic roles: the performative, the everyday and the realm of the observer.
I see this work as essentially photographic. It presented a meditation on duration, extending the decisive moment to the point where we could inhabit, perceive and even impact upon it. And like the mechanical eye, this performance revealed and harnessed realities that are otherwise unperceivable to the naked eye. This is the filter or cast I will inevitably impose onto this experience, due to the nature of my practice, and the way I perceive the world.
I have chosen, however, to focus on a more anecdotal means of description and interpretation because, ultimately, I was moved by my experience of ‘Performance’ and the sensations it evoked in me.