What are Good Fridays for?
About to turn 33 and being mid-named Jesus, I’m trying to forget their intended aim. Maybe that’s why this year I saw the opportunity to bring the lab outdoors, something we haven’t done now for a long time.
Chisenhale Dance Space, our usual HQ, was ‘Closed for Holidays’ and having opened the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park a few weeks earlier (and having not visited myself the parklands within the Park despite of living in it) the question of what would have happened to OPENLAB on that day was immediately answered.
So there we were at Hackney Wick station waiting for all of those who were attending the session; We were: Galina Kalichin, Susam Kempster, Debbie Kent, Jan Lee, Alisa Oleva, Amaara Raheem, Thelma Sharma and myself.
Soon after our meeting at the station we quickly moved inside the park area and decided first to get a hot drink at Timber Lodge, a community centre/café inside the park. Once there, I shared my plan for the day with all of us. We agreed to stay longer that we first had planned because we were already running an hour late, so we could dedicate a full hour to each of the two tasks I proposed.
For the first hour, we had a simple task: stroll around the park lands whilst being co-independent, i.e. staying together but undertaking each of us our own exploration of the park. The only two prescriptions for the stroll were to stay silent whilst ‘being in the present moment’ and to find moments of sharing our experience with the others.
This first hour felt, at lest to me, like a wonderful present. Aiming towards staying mindful for a long periods of time, leaving aside deadlines and to-do’s, having the chance of fully tasting reality without having to be a step-ahead constantly, always feels like both a luxury and a daily essential for the soul. I really needed this after the last months in which I have been very busy.
The exploration during this hour kept on reminding me of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in the Wonderland, having Alisa telling us her name in English is Alice like the one who had gone through the mirror, and being in a park called after the Queen, filled with all kind of holes (like those in the picture above) for all kind of rabbits… the only difference is maybe that we weren’t actually late, on the contrary time passing became the less important element.
In any case, every time OPENLAB comes off-site a new element is always gained. I don’t mean the obvious element of being in the real world full of real objects to interact with. I mean the element of having other people, witnesses to our actions who haven’t chosen to be one of them, although that’s always the case within the public sphere. Some witness other people and neither group has chosen that… and it is still completely normal because, how could it be otherwise?
But every time OPENLAB happens outdoors the same questions arise: Where does real life ends and performing begins? What are the differences between performing and not performing? Are there any at all? And if so, what are their common characteristics?
These questions lead into the task we explored during the second hour of the lab. These questions and more:
What do I need to do in order to be performing? Does it have to do with the idea of doing things that look different to every day life actions? Or, can I perform despite any type of actions? Is it performing an action in itself? But if so, does the action of performing need to be accompanied by a specific set or type of actions? Can I perform by being every-day-life-like? Aren’t we al,l after al,l performing all the time? At least this is the way in which Erving Goffman talks about human social interactions in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.
So, the way we tried to explore this questions for ourselves during the second hour of the lab was by creating an instant outdoors theatre. Although the park was very busy by this time (and therefore full of potential witnesses), we have decided to support each other by having a group of us watching whilst the rest were performing. The only limitations were to have at least two people at any given time in each group, and that we will finish by 1pm.
The experience was… well, it was hard to grasp because the way we were performing with each other, and the way other people unaware of what were our intentions did interact (or rather pretended not to be interacting) with us was constantly changing.
Goffman’s idea about face-to-face interactions as theatrical performances returned to my stream of consciousness, specially whilst I watched the others performing. What I experienced then wasn’t so much that we were imposing others to become audience members of a performance they didn’t asked for but rather that we have made them accidental performers of a piece they will never know it had taken place. There an idea…