Were the spoons on my feet the revolution?!
This dance performance was nothing like I have experienced before, and I pride myself on being an experimental choreographer explicitly working with participation. And yet this blew my mind or wherever the corporal equivalent is, it blew my everything.
Outside the theatre, music is played by the wonderful Magdalena Eriksson, which continues throughout the performance. We are grouped, each having a dancer to guide us into what we are about to experience. Smiles, warmth, pastel colours, kindness in every gesture and every movement. It feels like an idealistic hospital, a place of care and warmth, protection from the harshness of reality. There is no valuable until proven valuable here, we are innately accepted as valuable. Once in the theatre we each have a soft square mat to stand on, subconsciously taking care of my body from the ground up. We are a crowd, or a group or community standing together looking at each other and through to the dancers. Who are beginning to negotiate the gaps, with smiles and touch. The slight gestures which play with our bodies coming together become more daring, pulling, pushing, holding, leaning, falling, grouping and in the end even lifting and carrying.
I don’t know what is happening, my skills as an audience perhaps as a citizen are not functioning. I am filled with joy and excitement. Perhaps because that is what I need, I am sure for some it’s not joy and excitement but fear and nervousness. However for me for some reason I have none of that. I am laughing, smiling, I can’t get enough and from the faces of other audiences’ it seems it is the same. I shift to see the next amazing game or play the dancers have to share with us. It is overwhelming, I see the faces of other audiences, I feel the other being touched as if unto myself and through their expressions and my empathy with the other audience we are together.
I want to cry, it’s all too much. Like a perfect utopia. A Non-verbal place of immense empathy. The performers begin to arrange us in a group for a group photo, like we are an expanded notion of family. As if I am witnessing the possibility that anything is possible, even a utopia of care and kindness, love and familiarity. Together in a togetherness I see them all, their faces, their smiles. I’m crying. I remove my glasses and rub my eyes. Give me something to do. It is so emotional. I’m grabbed, no I’m hugged and lifted into the air and moved, I’m now sobbing into a performer. I feel held, lost, full of life, out of control but safe, I feel alive, seen and real.
This was what happened to me, it’s hard to explain because honestly I don’t know what it was. I am sure others had other experiences, but I am sure universally we shared something. We were there and we were together. That I know. I feel gifted and so thankful to have been a part of Närheten whatever it is.
What is it? Is it a type of group therapy using non-verbal touch to understand ourselves in the world better? Is it an experiment in non-verbal consent? Or is this the true purpose of art?
Whatever it is, this performance within its context is revolutionary. Claire Bishop suggests participatory art is neither aesthetically good art nor ethically good activism, but I would disagree. If Närheten was therapy or verbally consensual, there would be a clear choice. However because Närheten is within the context of art our choice is thrown into question. Närheten, and perhaps like all good art, intervenes into our world and its conventions. Begging the question, do we need to socially deal with touch and care as a group and a community? And can consent be negotiated nonverbally?
Let us pause a minute, because non-verbal consent is a dangerous concept, as we can’t assume consent. But I am not including non-verbal consent in an attempt to broaden its definition, but to question how consent is truly recognized. Because as I’m sure we are all aware, even if a person verbally says yes to something it can not be considered a full uncompromised consent. So how can we be completely sure we have consent.
Närheten physically plays with the question “is this okay?” with a series of guestural questions. With all the subtlety and nuance bodily awareness has. The gestures probe, some more and less daringly, what is possible, however continually refreshing the unspoken question “is this okay?”. The result is extremely playful and very caring. At least as I experienced it.
And maybe this is the role of art, to challenge our conceptions, our hierarchies. Like David Greaber and David Wengrow say in face of the stuck hierarchies of modern human history to remember the playfulness of ancient human history. Närheten does this, so it must be art even if I didn’t recognize it within my experience of it. Perhaps then it is the most art, piece of art I have experienced.
At the end of the performance another beautiful song is played whilst spoons are laid upon my feet. Throughout the performance slight weight and pressure was placed upon feet, either by standing on them or using hands. It’s a wonderful feeling. Grounding and holding, if anything I recommend you try it. Hold someone’s foot or have them hold yours against the earth. Show them you are there and that they are there too.
Thank you Närheten. Am Ertl, Destiny Johannah af Kleen, Soledad Howe, Aloun Marchal, Tove Sahlin, Oskar Landstörm, Magdalena Eriksson, Jonatan Winbo, Pontus Pettersson, Josefin Runsteen, and Jonas Brun.
Text by PETER person, choreographer, dancer, activist, researcher, teacher and or more.