[End of April. Beginning of May] Progress report 2

I always knew intellectually that possible obstacles, complications, challenges would almost certainly arise during the course of this week. There are the unknowns of working outside, in a public space, but beyond that the complications weren’t even that hard to predict: inclement weather, loud buskers and construction work, interventions by security guards or other officials/authorities. Yet when some of these things actually transpired, I was surprised at the emotional impact they still had on me.

Our Day 3 performance was at 9am, and just Chun-liang and I with no guests. As with most of the 7 performances, I had planned in advance the objects/instruments I would bring and had a vague idea of how I could use them. But a rainy Tuesday morning meant that I had to quickly reassess what I was bringing (some instruments would be ruined if they got wet). I was also quite anxious about performing in the rain, dreading one or both of us might get ill as a result. As Chun-liang can confirm, I had been hoping for the opportunity of a rainy day performance, but now it was here I was nervous. Yet when I left the house in the morning, something shifted in me and I felt very clear about it all. The weather had forced me to abandon all pre-conceived ideas, and I was really going to have to operate purely on instinct, and this felt like a gift.

It did rain, and it was wonderful. I remember looking across and seeing Chun-liang dancing in the rain with her scarf over her head, damply clinging to her face, and it was beautiful. This looks to be the only day we do not have any film or photos of, but I think for those who were there (our ‘actual audience’ of Adam and Ada, and our accidental audiences of passersby) it may be something they do not forget for a while.

Day 4 was my most difficult day yet. I felt at the beginning the three of us (with our guest, Ren Walters) did not quite gel for a while, but after some time I thought to myself that it was time, in the middle of the week, for a difficult performance. I think we each eventually found our space and role, and soon the familiar ‘fog of improvisation’ descended upon my mind.

After about an hour of performing, I was deeply focussed on what I was doing, really not that aware of anything else (both Ren and Chun-liang moved off elsewhere at this point, out of my sight), when I saw a women squatting down in front of me. I will try to recall as much as possible the conversation. I kept playing my metal bowl on the steps during this exchange; it wasn’t an act of defiance or anything, I was just very much in the fog and didn’t think to stop.

Authorised Employee: Hi. People have been complaining about the noise.

Me: OK, I’ll keep the volume down.

Authorised Employee: And you were hitting the statue with the bowl. You’ve been filmed doing it. You should move down to the bottom of the steps, off State Library property, or they may call the police and have you removed.

Me: OK.

Photo: Jennifer Callaway
Photo: Jennifer Callaway

I gathered up my things, got up and went to walk down the bottom of the steps. I was feeling quite calm up until this point, but I couldn’t see Chun-liang and Ren, and that upset me a bit. Suddenly it was important to know where they were, to make sure they were OK, and also to get some support from their presence. I’m forever grateful that I saw Jenny then, who had been filming close by, and she pointed out Ren on the far lawn, and she said that Chun-liang was around somewhere. Eventually we all found each other.

My feelings were very confused at this point. I was shaken by the exchange, and felt there was a veiled threat in the woman’s words about being filmed and calling police (I didn’t and still don’t feel any enmity towards her, though; I’ve worked at public libraries myself where I’ve been the Authorised Employee who’s had to say such things to ‘troublemakers’). Her words that ‘people had complained’ also stayed with me. It’s stupid, I know; I am aware that the music/sound I make is ‘challenging’ to say the least, but I was feeling very vulnerable. I also felt like our performance was ‘broken off’, ended prematurely, and I felt like that was my fault, that somehow I should’ve kept going.

I’ve written previously about the importance of our ‘actual audience’; people who especially come to these performances, and you people were so important to me after this incident, just with the reassuring things you all said to me, and emailed to me later. I am especially appreciative of the kind words Dur-e Dara had for me, saying that I handled it the situation perfectly and with poise. I certainly did not feel that way, but hearing Dur-e say that made me feel a lot better immediately. The theme of the performance had been the State Library Entry By-Laws, so perhaps it was a perfect ending for the performance to be shut down by an Authorised Employee for disturbing the peace. And last night, fellow performer and comrade Jennifer Callaway (our guest on Friday night/Day 6!) posted her photos on Facebook in an album she entitled ‘Acts of Civic Virtue’ (see Progress Report 1 for ‘civic virtue’). That really meant a lot to me. I thought about the faceless people who complained, but I also thought about the few times I looked up and saw quite a large crowd of ‘accidental audience’ standing around, enthralled by Chun-liang’s contortions and the extremities she was putting herself through. I remember seeing a young girl with blue hair smiling quietly to herself. I remember Ren walking around an engaging strangers in deep conversations. I felt virtuous. And I remembered that noise is powerful.

Photo: Jennifer Callaway
Photo: Jennifer Callaway

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