Here is my reflection on the last week’s OPENLAB session (7th February), which took place at White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey during Antony Gormley’s exhibition.
Our main focus was on ‘differences/similarities between real life and performance mode’.
To start with, I decided to focus on how my body-mind would respond to this new experience. I noticed how my actions, focus, and presence changed each time I entered Model, the installation work which gave its name to the whole exhibition.
1st time: I was on my own, followed by two other visitors. I waited for them to enter Model as I was quite scared of the darkness. Not really my favorite thing to be in small dark places. In that first time, my desire was to find out what was there. That first time was the opportunity for me to meet the new circumstances, to adapt in the space, to get to know it, to see how I can move in it, to discover its open, safe, and comfortable areas and the close, dark and less comfortable ones, to get an understanding of the passages and the illusions that low light can create, to overcome my fears. I was walking carefully, reaching out with my hands so I can touch the surfaces around me. The excitement was always present with every new discovery and was enhanced by the sense of achievement every time I managed to pass through a small corridor overcoming my fear. At the end of the last box – or what I thought at that time that was the last – there was another entrance, perhaps that was the last one or maybe there were more corridors to follow. Making the connection that this should be the end of South Gallery II where Model was installed, I understood that this room was indeed the last one. However, I did not enter. I couldn’t do that on my own. I decided to leave.
2nd time: I enter again alone – the rest of the group is not there yet – but this time there are some other visitors and I know where I am going. There is the sense of familiarity that makes me feel more comfortable. I know the space and I want to know it even better. I stand in different locations and observe from various angles the landscapes that are created by the edges, the surfaces, the light, the lack of light, the shadows. Awkward to think that Model is meant to be the analogy of the interior of the human body. And still it makes sense to me. These soulless cold steel boxes suddenly become alive when people passing through, bending, leaning, talking and laughing complete the composition in the most fascinating and essential way. I feel as if I am in another world, a world where people come to discover a new life. The images are quite cinematic. I sit there for a while, close to a surface in almost complete darkness and try to draw the scenery that rises in front of me. Blind drawing really as I could not see the paper, but it was interesting to do it as a kinaesthetic experience. And it was also very interesting to see that some people where noticing that I was there and some others not.
3rd time: The OPENLAB group is here. We leave our jackets and bags in the box office, and this makes me feel different than the rest of the visitors. As if we really have to move in a different, more performative way. I was trying not to attract the eyes, to behave as everyone else. And it was great when I felt I did so. I was also trying to see if I can attract the eyes just by being as everyone else. Back in the Model, there are even more visitors. This time I feel experienced as I feel I already passed the stages of adaptation. I am more relaxed, and I also feel the safety that friendship offers. I can give bigger challenges to myself now. The space is quite populated. This makes the exploration even more exciting. It feels like a playground. First thing this time is to go straight to the dark room which represents the head. Pitch dark in there but I don’t mind it. I know that nothing bad can happen nothing can go wrong. The darkness ends up being my best friend. I feel free to do anything without anyone knowing apart from the people being in that room, who could not see a thing but they could sense and touch.
And that was the time that the main focus of that session came to mind – ‘perform’. ‘No, that is not performing for me. I’m not performing now.’ I thought. I had the freedom to move however I felt, it was almost like dancing, but it was not performing. I was not presenting anything to anyone. It was just an expression towards myself or towards unknown invisible powers but not towards specific spectators. The word ‘performance’ seems to have a specific meaning for me. It is related to being aware of being seen. To perform declares in a way the embodied communication with an-other. I understand performance as a situation where something is made available and perceptible to a witness in a live situation. And perhaps this has to do also with the meaning of this word in Greek. ‘Parastasis’ (παράστασις) in general is ‘the depiction of things in a specific way so that they become perceptible’. The noun is derived from the verb ‘paristemi’ (παρίστημι) which means ‘to stand beside, to proffer’. In Modern Greek the verb has different meaning in active and passive voice. In active voice the verb is ‘paristano’ (παριστάνω) and means ‘to present someone or something as real or fake’, and in passive voice the verb is ‘paristamae’ (παρίσταμαι) and means ‘to be present in a situation/event, to attend’. Therefore, ‘performance’ is automatically related to an-other. I have the sense that the performing mode for me was ‘on’ when I was trying not to be seen. Just because I was thinking about it and I wanted to pass on a specific message: ‘I am not here. Don’t look at me. I am not different. I am like you.’ Performance in a way has to do with a particular message to be given to the other, I think. For instance, the three men standing at the door of the room giving us a page to sign before we enter the installation gave a specific importance to the fact that we take the responsibility for whatever might happen. If they were relaxed drinking coffee I would probably be less concerned. That of course is another kind of performance but I still perceive it as performance. When we feel being seen or heard, we take care of what we say and how we behave, how we perform…
(A post by Evangelia Kolyra)