I’ve been figuring out how best to arrange this, in the sense that it was originally reaction to your piece Who You Are, but now must necessarily take the position of reaction to the reactions to that performance from both yourself [of which, by the way, I'm very touched to be the dedicatee] and Lowri Jenkins on Repetitive Strain, then somewhere below the sternum coagulate into coherent arguments oriented towards an object of discussion to which I was a party. The whole thing seemed a little daunting, and I thought about just posting recorded conversations I’d had with Jonny and Matt at the bar, and these might crop up now and then as they seem to capture something fleeting and analogue that I wouldn’t know how to write down on my own if I tried.
There is a point at which desire segues into didacticism. There is also a point at which it comes back out the other side, and is, hopefully, greeted with some kind of confirmation or conversation. This loop, this glass, is what I’m interested in here, and what I saw in Who You Are was at least in part a negotiation of the desire to find new ways of being with, and closer together to, other people, and the risk of alienation that is ineffably built into that desire and which sends it ramming up against its own projections in a kind of beautifully tender dialectical frottage. The precariousness of those projections are perhaps more obviously consciously composed than some would believe, or like to believe, or care about, but the fragility of that ultra-reality in theatrical space demands at least some kind of cognitive leap on behalf of the audience (or perhaps a physical one in a different type of piece). Now this is what the piece did, and in that sense my reactions to Balka’s How It Is as an artwork or installation were inescapably wired into the performance that took place inside it. Immediately after the show, for example, I was thinking about that grumpy critic, and reflecting on my own grumpiness inside How It Is when I was first in there a couple of weeks ago. My grumpiness was predicated on the space of that works’ immediate occurrence, and irritation that what you saw as a momentary finding oneself, and celebrating that fact, I saw as an essentially touristy form of instant nostalgia, wiping out the very theatricality of the space by illuminating it, instead of perhaps trying to find oneself, or other people, in the dark. Of course, these two reactions are not mutually exclusive or incommensurate [edit: no, hang on, actually they are], and in fact given the increasing level of light inside How It Is, I imagine frustration of the sort I experienced will quickly become pointless in the extreme. My desire inside How It Is was frustrated because I wanted everyone else to be doing the same thing I was doing, so that we could all be together. Yours was not because you revelled in the conceptual and literal cracks in the walls that would permit the all-too massive artifice of the piece to be ruptured by an ecstatic refusal to do what everyone else was doing, and you found that through that process you could feel more together with those others than you would have done had you closed your eyes and fumbled about claiming purity of artifice. By a similar twist Who You Are could be transformative only if each individual audience member took it upon himself or herself to first realise the impossible speciousness of transcendence before desiring it anyway [any way]. That was a terrible way of putting it. By a similar twist Who You Are enacted the failure of the theatrical artifice (falling back into "performance") and wriggled around inside the gap it opened up. By a twist not un-similiar to whatever, Who You Are understood the imperialism behind the words "love this" and sought to love us instead.
Who You Are was not trying to be transcendental, or metaphysical, and nor was it – it was grounded, tenderly and quietly in the disruptions between the categories of selves and others, performers and audiences, theatre and…theatre. What are we doing with our privacy if not at all times attempting to give it away? I say “we” here meaning our gang, obviously. If you’re not, I really don’t want to know. Or perhaps I do and I don’t know it yet. There is a point at which it comes back out the other side. Say, I should try and get into the nitty-gritty. This is how, for example, I saw the “biographical” section of the piece, or even perhaps the way you described your elation at the kids taking photos of themselves in the dark. The immediate suggestion, the sound coming out is one of want – the utter, natural body, the voice in the body which is the body’s, is speaking to us, the audience, but more specifically, to me, Joe Luna, telling me utter truths that it could tell to no-one else, and yet is, because this is a public confessional, which becomes dangerous – why is he telling me these things? What does he want? The confessional becomes a kind of violence perpetrated upon the audience for daring to believe they could be listening to any kind of truth, the value of which is irrelevant in this situation anyway because we’re in a fucking box – the desire becomes a lecture, it becomes, in the audience’s mind, an attempt at wanting them to want, to encourage a reciprocal desire, the didacticism of desire, as it washes over us, what then, is the difference between this string of words, and the digitally randomly generated names we heard earlier? The search terms bundled into a body. As you said,
…the six minute duration was intended to be long enough to allow the audience to experience exactly the shift that I've been through and which I now experience as a kind of drone of ambivalence and tension. What seems like an act of making oneself vulnerable quickly becomes powerful, even aggressive -- just as Lowri notes, apparently supposing this to be a flaw in the work, rather than a question that it's trying to ventilate. The image I had in my mind as I wrote it was of someone kind of hurling their body against that invisible fourth wall, the edge of the huge vitrine that all gallery art and so much performance is trapped in, often not even knowing that that plane is there, is still there. The image of a wasp trapped behind a window, that keeps banging its head, unable to comprehend the unseen barrier between itself and the outside.
But the unseen barrier is also (in) me, and I felt it very calmly and clearly somewhere around my solar plexus during this part of the performance, and during the section in which we were asked, did we think about the performers like they think about us? Did we wonder what they were going to perform for us? Will they get it wrong? Will they get it right? Now through me, and only through me, can this possibility of empathy be given a wasp’s chance in hell of getting through. Empathy is erotic: What we desire is to bring into a world founded on discontinuity all the continuity such a world can sustain (Bataille). What I desire, in the context of such a piece of theatre as Who You Are, is not only sustaining but possible, and this is before “we” as an audience can get anywhere as a collective unit. It is the elective nature of the work that pushes it back out of didacticism and completes the feedback loop, that I want it, even as the fourth wall of every person in the audience becomes momentarily clear. Something that both you and Jonny have said is also becoming much clearer – that the theatrical has the potential to be more real than everything else that goes on around it, and I think this has something to do with the giddy patterns the superfluity of desire traces as it negotiates the risk, harm & warmth of every potential encounter.
I told you I was troubled after the show, and I still am, because it seemed to me to strike a chord which has been reverberating throughout a lot of performances and readings I’ve attended lately, and this is the failure of passion, or more precisely, passionate failure. I’m not even sure what else I want to say about that, and anyway, I think you know what I mean. Have you been listening to that JLS song too? No? Shit.