Tuesday, 8 December 2009

As If It Were The Last Time

On my ongoing preocupation with examining altermodern prepositions -by this I mean works, plays, authors, ideas that can be used to identify some of the character of altermodernity- I turn today to a piece, a performance/theatrical experience by Duncan Speakman I attended recently (12 November)


As if it were the last time by Speakman, uses the concept of the subtlemob, and it is part of generationtime and the VauxHall creative. They describe the experience as:

“Putting on a pair of headphones you find yourself immersed in the cinema of everyday life. As the soundtrack swells, people in the crowd around you re-enact the England of today. Sometimes you’re just drifting and watching, sometimes you’re creating the scenes yourself. This is no requiem, this a celebratory slow dance, a chance to savour the world you live in.” Duncan Speakman


And this is precisely what you do, you send them an email, download a track to your phone/mp3, get a map to where to go, get a time and sycronize your clock with them. Don't hear the track before you go, it spoils things (they say).

You show up at the place in the map, at the time they tell you, with the track and a partner (I did it without partner). The performance starts at the hour, through your MP3, the music and voice narrating what is happening on the street, and then gradually you are place in the performance itself.

You never know who are the performers, the subtlemob, or who the audience is. Anyone on the street could be either of the many people, were we the performers? were I the subtlemob?, where the other couples the authors, the makers of it as they followed their tapes? It was a play for reflection and contemplation of these boundaries but it was also peaceful, unsettlingly quiet.

...I remember standing under the rain, a street full of umbrellas, people dotted in the landscape, gradually recognising we were all wearing headphones, still, listening, watching...

...The rest is an entrancing, beautiful and serene experience, one where the boundaries between performer and performance, evocation, suspension of time, re-definition of public space get blurred one with another.

re-telling participant observation: altermodern emotions

I felt uneasy at first, partly because I didn't have a partner with me, and the play is based (perhaps too heavily based) on the partnership you bring alone. Also because I always feel uneasy at being placed in the terrain of the performance, being 'led' by others. I have experienced many open performances where I rather stay quietly in one side and only perticipate when I want to, not when I am asked to. However, perhaps because this time the music was a means to a trance and partly because I was feeling terribly sad in my life and genuinelly interested in the concept of the performance that I went along. Not having a partner meant that you were 'switched off', both participant and observer, rather than a full 'native': that suited my nature.

As anthropologist, I am used to participant observation, it is one of the methods we use in anthropology when doing fieldwork research, it is a kind of second nature by now. Here I do not mean it in a strict ethnographic sense, but in the sense that it allows people to find a space where to position themselves on what anthropologists recognise as 'participant observation'. This is a re-told one, partly because I distinguish it -narrowly- from the anthropological use of it. I had never considered its role as an altermodern emotion, in its re-told sense, but I am considering now as an idea to use and explore.

Streets to meditate on

I remember the track, it took me to a street I didn't know and I street I recognised. Gradually as the track moved us the other couples emerged to my vision, and then the others, and the the actors -or now, you just didn't know- and then the people on the street again; troubled as I was, the play allowed a space for refelction that I welcomed very much.

And there it was a silentmob of faces and bodies, independent from me, atom-like, each following the play from their headphones, moving at times, quiet, reflective, some people shinning from the experience, transported, others hugging and some crying, all immersed and all part of it. The pictures I took were about us, the place, the public space that the play and us as silentmob had occupied, taken over, they only reflect my experience of it, that of each one of us moving, meeting each other, missing each other on the street, watching out for people who didn't know that a performance was taking place, busy shopping amongst us, watching oddly why so many people were smiling, dancing, moving and static with our headphones on. I knew their radiance and knew their hug because it was shared -and not-. And here, photography was only a way of entering back into the performance that were leaving, merging and substracting from.

By the end of it -I hated discovering a camera (at the very last minute) filming us so I hurried out of its frame to find myself in a small street of strangers and friends, and a skyline at nigh. It was the moment of moving away from the camera that brought it togheter for me, as I hide from the over-exposure (overexposure for me I mean) I was finally amongst publics of all kinds and also feeling a sense of subtlemob-part-of-it-all. I then took three pictures of us, of them, of the street, of it all, touching something of magic realism, immerse myself back through an image, and then put the camera away again.

Suspeded in a street

The actual moment of the performance, for me, came when it ended and I had to remove my headphones off. I didn't expect it, but the feeling within me was that I didn't want to remove the headphones off, I wanted it to go on for a bit longer, to remain 'there' in the space that the performance had/we had created.

I walked the streets taken by an emotion akin to a wish to remain suspended in that track and that space, just a bit longer, just a bit longer. And I walked out of that new space into the street, meging the two worlds, feeling still a silentmob within me.

Sublty not quite

The thing is, with this performance, on the one hand it is different from what you would expect. On the other, it does not fulfill in an 'awe' sense. There is something uneasy about placing oneself in that space that is being created as you walk and hear it, as a self-generating space.

Thinking about it, all I could say, at first is that the performance is 'not quite'. However, although it does leave you with a nag for 'I'm not sure about this' at the same time it also creates many feelings of exhilaration, melancholy, emotion, that start within you 'subtly'. Despite its couple-oriented and 'not quite the expectation' feeling you also get, the play is transformative at the level of perception, and it does create art; or perhpaps I'd rather say, you live it as art, and speaks to you as art does, at different levels, different enjoyments and distastes, contradictory but enhancing of new perspectives about the self.

I would say that I liked 'as if it were the last time' much more than I enjoyed it when I was in it. I really liked what it did to my sense of belonging and rootedlessness, some of its transformative aspects and its lingering condition, like a movie that you enjoy better once the credits have ended and as you walk out of the theatre....well, at least for me.

I liked it so much I kept the map -like searching for a treasure- and the track -it has an elusive quality to transform space each time you hear it.

I would recommend it to anyone really.


Re-telling space, time and participation

What the performance did, and did so beautifully well, is that it gave its participants a narrative. Furthermore, it gave the participants the possibility of re-narrating the event, among themselves, through twitter, in the videos, through blogs and so on. In that sense for me it fulfilled some of the altermodern features very well. I was impressed by some of the comments, they were very reflexive, intelligently articulated, felt, and involved. The play fitted london and londoners well, it was good for the streets, the urbanity of our lives.

This performance, the concept (and its associated concepts -the aibot which run instead of a website for sometime during the days leading to the performance,- and the frameworks around it -vauxhall (that came to substitute the bot for the actual final website)- is for me an addition that stands out as an altermodern one.

Three altermodern features: the atomisation of emotional experiences, the performance impact on 'time' itself, and the re-narrativisation of the stories met also the tranformance of space, a theme that I feel, altermodernity is exploring further and further as it moves on (I will comment on it in my next blog).

So, for these reasons I have put the 'as if it were the last time' in my list of altermodern conditions.

Some reviews here

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