So, I finally did it! I bit the bullet and experienced my first performance! I have to say that I feel a huge relief to have finally done it. What an experience?! I feel like i have just discovered a new medium to explore. Obviously I have been aware of it, but to experience it is something else. It has opened up a door to a whole new area of possibilities!
I decided to redo the work, ‘Hand Stitched’. The reason for the redoing was that I felt that by exploring a work that was familiar to me I would be able to just allow myself to experience what was happening, rather than thinking about the logistics of a task. I didn’t want there to be too much unpredictability for my first performance- although I am aware that there is a huge amount of unpredictability in how the audience will react to the work. I also felt that it would be beneficial to explore the performance side of Hand Stitched as I have already explored the work as a photography piece, a film piece and also an installation piece. I hoped that by exploring the performative aspect of the work I would be able to gain further insight into how the work differs through it’s different presentations. How much can a work really change when presented in varying forms? Is the original action the work or the documentation? Or could they be separate works? I feel that this work has remained unresolved and it was my hope that I would feel more resolved by doing this public action.
I decided to sit in the transitional space of the landing which connects the Fine art studios and offices. It is a space that is lined with access to the toilets, the lifts and also the kitchen, and so I felt that it would get lots of passers by, particularly during lunch time. My worry with sitting in a room was that I felt that people may not come to see the work, especially as everyone is preoccupied with their own work. By sitting in a transitional space I was taking the work to them. I became sort of unavoidable, but I later found that I was actually avoidable by passers by sometimes choosing to look in the opposite direction!!!
I sat opposite the lift so I was, for many people, the first thing they encountered when they arrived on the 3rd Floor. This most definitely generated that jarring experience I had hoped for. One thing I was unsure of was the amount of a connection or relationship there would be between myself and the viewer. Because of the focus on the stitching and the meditative aspect of the performance I found that I felt removed from my surroundings. Whilst I was aware of people being in and moving through the space I felt disconnected from them. They became part of the building, separate from me. I think this was partly down to the lack of eye to eye contact, but also the meditative aspect of my experience was hugely responsible. Whilst reflecting on the process after, I worried that as it was a performance that maybe I should have connected more outwardly with the audience; but that would have compromised the actual stitching and disturbed the meditative process. I later managed to have a chat with one of the tutors who had unexpectedly arrived at the performance from the lift and he raised an interesting point in relation to the eye contact dilemma; he said that he found it to be an incredibly odd experience to enter the space where I was and for me to not even acknowledge that him or anyone else was there. I sat for 2 1/2 hours stitching my hands without looking up or away or at anyone else. As my tutor said, it was odd behaviour, and so it became quite a surreal experience for both myself and the viewer. Actually, thinking about it, after a while of stitching- as time began to seem to pass differently and also as meditation set in I felt like I was in a dream. It really was incredibly surreal!
As far as engagement from passers by, as far as I was aware, most people tended to just pass through the space, a lot of them several times throughout the 2 1/2 hours. A few people did stand and watch, but for most this didn’t happen. I wonder whether the presence of cameras on tripods filming the scene put people off? Even as I was setting up the cameras people seemed to want to avoid being in the space and on camera. I wonder if had the cameras not been there whether people may have stopped and watched more? But maybe that was also down to the nature of both the space and also the audience. The space, being one of transition, naturally tended to only hold an audience that was in transition; moving from a-b. I had hoped that being sat opposite a lift would have meant that that time taken waiting for the lift to arrive would have meant that people would have been faced with a situation where prolonged looking would have happened; but interestingly, looking at the footage, people seemed to look in the opposite direction! I suppose that when you take a surreal experience and place it in a non-art situation you potentially generate an awkward situation for people.
With regards to how I felt being surrounded by people when carrying out an act as vulnerable and exposing as stitching my hand with hair, (which I had been terrified of previously!!) I was really surprised. In my fearful pre thoughts, I had anticipated being mocked / judged and also feeling completely self conscious throughout the process. In contrast to this, despite a nervy start, once I settled into it I felt comfortable being watched. I think the detachment through meditation helped this; but I did also feel energised when I could feel a persons presence in the space. It was surprising to me that the presence of others would be an encouragement to me. It seemed to feed into the performance.
I am curious as to how I can take this forward. I need to edit the film footage captured as documentation. Although what I have seen of it so far I am disappointed with. It seems to be very static and poor quality- but we’ll see when I actually take it into the editing suite. I think I also need to further explore the effect of the cameras being in the space. Maybe talking to some of the passers by to get feedback? Maybe redoing the work with no cameras? The documentation issue need resolving for sure. I find that when I have one eye on the performance and one eye on documentation I get conflicting thoughts. I think that the best option would be to have other people in charge of capturing the imagery so that I can focus purely on the performance. The trouble I have with this is that I don’t know anyone with photography and filming skills. Also, there is the struggle of letting your work go into the hands of others. I know it is something that I have to get over though because I can’t do everything myself. I cannot be performing and photographing!