[Library Dreams] Thoughts on our first performance

Library dreams newspaper

This was the performance that Chun-liang Liu and I began planning when we met at GAIP about a month prior. It was a public, unauthorised improv performance out the front of the State Library, with Hi-God People. Looking back now, I think this was one of the pivotal performances for me this year, along with Current Sound:Body, the most recent THIS Ensemble and GAIP. The name ‘Library Dreams’ came out of an online poll Chun-liang set up and voted on potential names with all the various people involved (performers and video documenters) I really hated this name for some reason, but didn’t want to have an endless online discussion about what name we should have so just went with it (I actually ended up voting for it in a tiebreaker just to get the whole thing behind us!) Beyond the title, we decided that basically the event would be two simultaneous performances (Hi-God People, and me and Chun-liang) co-existing and sometimes interacting. Hi-God People planned around miming various sports/games (like table tennis), whilst Chun-liang and I wanted a more improvised approach with certain parameters. Chun-liang and I met up after work one evening to discuss, and I think it is fair to say that following on from our initial encounter at GAIP and subsequent emails that when we met again we each found we had a meeting of minds and connection with each other as far as what we wanted to achieve with our work, aesthetics and ideas. I was a bit nervous, but also excited about the prospect of a public place performance with an accidental/involuntary audience, although ‘actual’ audience members did come as well in response to some small amounts of online promo.

The weather on the day (the performance was planned for 1pm) was sunny with some breeze – quite perfect, actually. I met out the front of the library with Chun-liang about half an hour prior at her suggestion to do a warm-up together, which involved gentle tai-chi like movements reflecting each other. Various H-God Peoples arrived during the warm-up, and we chatted a bit about practicalities, etc, and continued warming up. The warm-up actually merged into the performance, with no real boundaries either way. Taking a leaf out of my recent preparations for THIS Ensemble, I had prepared some ideas/actions in advance that I hoped would fit in with our developing improv. I had taken a thick black texta to the front/back of the newspaper the previous night so it had the banner of ‘Library Dreams’, and headlines about me, Chun-liang and the various Hi-God Peoples. I left our warm up slowly and sat on the steps amongst the Grasslands installation (lots of native grasses in trays on the State Library steps) and began reading said-newspaper, and after a few minutes I slipped on a sleeping mask so I was reading it blindfolded (I had used this blind-folding idea in a recent THIS Ensemble performance, but also I think it helped me deal with the nerves of performing in this space. I also liked the synchronicity of using blindfolding in performance with Chun-liang’s recent work). I sporadically rattled the newspaper in an exaggerated manner for both sonic and visual effect. Chun-liang interacted with this, but I can’t say exactly how (as I couldn’t see). She ended up snatching most of the paper off me and I think tearing it up over me.

After stumbling around blindfolded a bit, I took off the eye cover and saw the Hi-God People in full flight, slow-motion miming table tennis. I got out my drum and played a bit. Chun-liang was flitting around, sometimes with the Hi-God People and other times elsewhere, a couple of times moving around with me, at one stage taking my drum from me as I chased after her still trying to beat it – cheeky!

Around this time, some young guys seated on a bench began cat-calling and heckling, in particular at Chun-liang and I think Sophie from Hi-God People, saying ‘take your clothes off’, or ‘I want the Asian one!’, and much, much worse. I was feeling really uncomfortable, protective especially of Chun-liang, but wasn’t sure what the right thing to do was in a performance context.

After a few minutes, the heckling really went up a notch, and the main guy yelled out something like ‘I’m gonna fuck you from behind!’, and I’d had enough. I walked up to the bench and told him to stop being a fuckwit.

He stood up and said heatedly something like ‘If you’re going to hit me you better make sure I don’t get up because I’ll fucken kill ya!’.

I said quietly, ‘I’m not going to hit you, I don’t want to fight, just stop with the comments’.

He was still very worked up, his friends holding him back, I retreated with a little gay dance (I found out later that others also confronted him in different ways: Chun-liang stared him down and told him to shut up, before moving a fair way away, Sophie dropped her pants and as if to shit in the grass (which drew the security guard’s attention, and may have fired them up even more, possibly even drawing the comment that was my last straw), and Jennifer crawled up to him and offered him a cigarette butt).

Anyway, after I moved away, the comments continued, but then seemed to stop after a few minutes. I was playing a gramophone on the lawn in the middle of the Hi-God People’s game, and the guy called out to me (not in an aggressive way), ‘Can I come and talk to you?’. I nodded and beckoned him over.

He came and squatted beside me and said in a quiet voice things like ‘What are you guys doing, we just don’t understand what you are doing?’

I said something like, ‘it’s art, we are just performing. It can make you think, laugh, smile, whatever’.

He said, ‘OK, I get it. I’m sorry I was being a fuckwit. Do you think I can join in?’

‘For sure’, I said, ‘Just don’t hurt anyone, or hurt anyone’s feelings’.

Then I thought I’d seal the deal; I held out my hand, ‘My name’s Clinton’.

He shook my hand, ‘My name’s Gavin’.

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Above is a photo one of that very moment, Jennifer  is stroking his back with a table tennis bat as he speaks to me. Apparently he did a kind of hip hop dance later, but I didn’t see it.

Anyway, we continued on for a while, Hi-God People finished up, and it was just me and Chun-liang in amongst the grasslands. She was doing this slow dance/movement among the grasses, whilst I crept around the edges, initially with bird calls, then with clacker and humdrum. Really awe-inspiring, emotional and beautiful stuff from Chun-liang, especially in the context of the heckling (which she was very upset/angered by). Such a privilege to be part of this.

There’s been lots of post-discussions about this incident both online and in person between various performers, but for me it was an intense and ultimately positive experience. I felt good about myself in confronting the guy (something I wonder if I would do if I didn’t have that ‘performers armour’ on; I felt unusually brave, and unaffected by his threats of violence), and surprised by his apology. It makes me think that our art made a different, did something positive. Could something like that ever happen in the dark confines of a pub/gallery space with a small like-minded audience? Makes me very excited about the possibilities of unauthorised public performance.

– Clinton.

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