Accompanying text to No Exit
It has often occurred to me that the presence of someone else can drastically change your behaviour. Sartre argued that this restricts ones freedom. You compete for something with the other person, something Sartre referred to as “subjectivity”. Which one will be the free agent? And which one will be the “object”? This is Sartre’s Hell: other people.
You are taken out of your comfort zone when you are thrown into the company of those you are not familiar with, that much I believe is true. What I am not sure about is whether the mere presence of someone else changes how free you are.
In NO EXIT however it is not as simple. The three people we encounter in the room cannot leave. This is their punishment. They provide each other with their punishment. Before they meet each other, at least two of the characters are in denial. They are in denial and therefore they can live with themselves. They can function because the knowledge of their crimes belongs to them.
Sartre gives the example in one of his works, of a person looking through a keyhole, spying on someone. He tells of a person with their eye to the keyhole only to hear footsteps behind them. From the moment they hear the footsteps they have a clear vision of themselves. The voyeur. They walk in on themselves so to speak.
This goes back to the concept of a free agent becoming an object as soon as another free agent is in their company. Freedom is the cornerstone of Sartre’s existentialism. He is not a misanthrope. It is not a hatred of people in general he is preaching. He simply illustrates the importance of freedom, to refer back to ones self and not become an object.
Perhaps this is applicable today. We live in a society of accountability. Many would admit to feeling the sense that they are being watched, followed and moreover – accessible. Therefore personal space, a need to switch ones mobile phone off is normal. What happens to you, then, in the nightmare scenario of being trapped with strangers: In a broken down lift, bus, train, anything…
A person experiences accountability to the extreme. They feel many things, depending on how long they are stuck there, and Sartre’s existentialism would have it that they go through Hell…
John Tait, 2011
Rooms In Flux:
‘Why do we always have to go to the theater to see what is happening and not to see what is happening to us?’
Federico Garcia Lorca, Comedia sin título, 1936
Amongst a row of Victorian houses is 25 Stratford Grove, inside is a two-hour durational performance, Rooms In Flux by the Improv Group. This is not a conventional gallery space, this is not a white cube or a warehouse, 25 Stratford Grove is a house, a lived home. It has the tell-tales signs: stacked books, herbs and plant collections, the smell of cooking. Unlike performances, homes can’t be performed.
The visitor is welcome to explore the house. At the bottom of the leafy garden sits a girl tapping mysteriously at a typewriter, a woman sits behind the large bay windows staring vacantly into the garden, the television behind her is stuck on a frozen image while a boy upstairs sleeps restlessly. Downstairs the towels, the sheets and dishcloths are being folded, crumpled, folded and crumpled again. A disquieting atmosphere murmurs throughout the house. Rarely do two people occupy the same space, as one enters, the other vacates. They live in isolation together.
Oblivious to your presence, these characters exist in a world of their own. Standing at the bottom of the stairs, a girl hammers down, breathless she suspiciously peers into the next room, her face is inches away from mine. They gather in the dining room and erupt into conversation. Resembling a family unit, they make preparations for a party. They adopt archetypal characters, the mother is organised but anxious while her three children debate between essential party foods. Unexpectedly the light switches off and party music turns on. Suddenly they acknowledge your presence, like you were there all along, their faces light up, offering a drink and a handshake like old friends. Shortly the music dies and they fade back into their world.
Rooms In Flux is not strictly a performance or real life; rather it sits between these thresholds. The routine of repetitive chores and trivial conversations are strangely addictive, the banality of daily living is mesmerizing and voyeuristic. Rooms in Flux absorbs the psychology of domesticity to its full capacity.
The ethos of Rooms In Flux chimes a similar sentiment to French Surrealistic playwright Atonin Artaud’s thoughts on theatre and daily life. He believed theatre and life have become vacant needing to reconnect with instinct and truth. In this scenario, there is no stage; there is no line to separate the performance of drama and the drama of daily life. Inseparable they remain. An experience, which cannot be fully contained, both alienated and familiar of these domestic scenarios, we recognise the routine and pitfalls of domestic living- a glimpse of what we know too well.
25 STRATFORD GROVE is a large terrace house with a garden in Heaton, Newcastle where artists can make work, think about work, reflect on work and show their work.
Sound of Place
By examining the installation of performance, we can discover new meaning within constructed space. Ultimately, we question whether the performance space is showing a ‘product’. This ‘product’ is determined by the role of the audience or displacement (or indeed placement) of the performed action.
Robert Irwin states questions the ‘site’s relation to applied and implied schemes of organisation and systems of order, relation, architecture, uses, distances, senses of scale?’. I believe he is ultimately questioning how the performer and his/her actions are affected by their surroundings. Therefore, surely this includes heavily questioning the role of an ‘audience’ in performance.
Having attended Sound of Place (27th Nov 2010, Newbridge Studios, Newcastle) I was able to formulate a rough opinion on such matters It was interesting to see the artist’s reaction to the allocated space: adaption of performance. Sound of Place heavily challenged Western performance aesthetics through the binary created between performer and audience and, of course, sound and place. In terms of the layout of the event which included eight performance spaces and twenty-five listening spaces that challenged the architectural established balance of the Western concert hall. The event highly reminded me of an art exhibition. Thus the musical performances are still ‘products’ to be viewed. However, their constructed space and stage does challenge their relationship due to the current environment. Such ‘listening spaces’ created a mixture of blurring musical specimens that encouraged the natural feeling of an overcrowded world around us. Therefore, it is a constant dilution of the concentrated Western classical stage. Somehow this manages to recreate a deeper resemblance to stage life rather than staged performance. This is perhaps due to the use of improvisation and the lack of organised structure. Generally, the Symbolic order of Western musical language and its stage is challenged. Therefore, Sound of Place gives us the ability to hear a sound and follow it rather than have it pressed or forced upon us.
In order to support the above statements I propose some performance examples from the exhibition. The ‘barrier space’ raised such questions as previously asked: essentially, does the barrier between audience and performer enforce decontextualisation? In order to decipher an answer, we need to engage with our feelings as on-lookers. Perhaps, due to the expected tradition in Western classical performances, we feel disengaged from the performer. Additionally, the performer had his back turned on the audience which only accentuates the barrier and lack of audience awareness. Therefore, a certain distance is created by such barriers. Why is distance important in performance? Is it for fear of disturbance? Theoretically, this distance creates the stage.
Secondly, the ‘shop window space’ relates to previous theories on product placement in performance. I greatly understestimated the importance of audience connection in performance. In this case, the general public wander by. The shop window itself commercialises the product. The product therefore does not have any meaning unless contextualised in a communal space/experience. Generally, we all own performance despite social and technical boundaries/barriers. Of course, it is the connection with another that makes a performance.
Lastly I want to comment on the performance I experience using karaoke. He was the first and only performer to ask what the audience wanted. Therefore, his performance was led by others rather than space (apart from the need for electricity). It was interesting to note the tension created by a structured performance; Western performance aesthetics were heavily in place. Thus, Western performance aesthetics create certain expectations. Perhaps karaoke itself, due to its reliance on technology, does not counteract but indeed support the greater Symbolic order thus making it similar to language and the expectations both hold. Therefore, was this performance predetermined? Did it undermine Irwins’s theory?
In conclusion, the analysis of performance places great on its relation to its origing, current constructed space and its audience. Herein lies the importance of presence and absence.
Derrida generally is deconstructing the present by applying the absent. This is surely the epitome of performance. Phenomenal experience only exists due to the absence of origin. It also reflects Homi K Bhabha’s belief that we can only define the Self in relation to the Other:
Self – Present.
Other – Absent.
Therefore, the predetermined nature of performance undermines the idea of constructed space. However, the binary that is created creates the essence of performance itself.
Kate Stobbart on Marijan and Mt Merapi
To be quiet. To be quiet. And i felt uncomfortable going into the room because it wasn’t what i expected and i wondered at first if i was in the wrong place even though i knew i wasn’t.
Then breathing. Heavy breathing. Calming concentrated breathing.
Breathing and moving and what on earth. not relaxed at all. By that i mean i’m not relaxed and the thing is odd. But the sound and movement of the card is good and reassuring and quite mesmerising and comforting.
I want to laugh out loud when the card starts (starts to move) only because it looks such good fun.
Graham Oakes on Marijan and Mt Merapi
Typing about a girl moving box pieces. Just sitting watching. so much dust. dust flying out into the room, such a big room. people watching all over the place. watching her, watching me, the piles forever changing. did she want people to see. what is being achieved.
the piece is not for sale. he has walked away.
it is as if she has a purpose, as if there is an end to what she is trying to achieve but no-one can tell what it is.
such an expansive space and such a fruitless motion.
where does the will come from.
what drives her? the power to morph and transform.
Andrew Wilson on Marijan and Mt Merapi
what of today.
what of the it.
what of the urge to begin.
what of the writing and the unwritten.
what of listening and unheard.
what of it.
what of participation
&the pressure to perform.
what of the audience.
what of the silence.
what of the art.
the volume lifts….
is there discomfort or
because (i removed my shoes)
it is definitely getting louder.
as i wander round the bright lights of that arena of consumerism i am editing my thoughts.. today being the first.. the first time that is that i entered such an arena without the notion of pleasing myself.. nor relieving myself.. nor gluttonising myself. though the prickly temptation was there…
what of that… had it begun then.
what of the racing of the mind.
what of the outside listening.
what of the editing.
am i talking out loud again.
what of my attempts to be nearsighted.
what of my desire (my natural urge) to want to know where the bird
but not where it is at.
what of now.
what of the bunker-esque card moving
what of i…… me.
of (my) self.
no longer viewer..
as the card approaches (observer no more).
what of i.
what of her…
i see her clearly now.
what of her.
what of outside.
as the rectangular mound.. bunker shaped progresses so does she.
they touch my feet.
land upon my lap.
the light dims…
dark dim orange (hint of brown)
we are connected (by small scraps of cardboard) which no longer represent a barrier.. a bunker.. nor wall.
and for the first time today it becomes easy to forget my thoughts.
easy to refrain.
maybe not forget. just just just.
thinking was redundant.
what of it.