A slew of current writing about attention derides a plague of digital illiteracy and an inability to mediate what we take in, when we invite it in, and how we interpret it.
Attention dispersal isn’t a novel evil to condemn; with the growth of women’s literacy came hand-wringing over the corruption of delicate minds and newly distracted women folk. Pointing backwards at those fears leads us forward to acknowledge that our values are embedded in where we place our focus. As a director, when I point my observer’s attention to a certain vision or sound, I alert them to my values by privileging that experience.
The Futurists of the early aughts of the 20th century designed a manifesto specifically towards the “[reduction] of the distance between performer and audience” thus transforming the direction of attention from x people watching y people (from Soke Dinkla in Participation to Interaction, p 289). In my latest work, Hive, the audience members became participants, then co-creators of each-other’s theater experience. In this exploratory setting, I discovered I could uncover knowledge through ludic choreography about artistic coherence and power relations. My approach addresses the performer and the audience as equal actors with the intention of developing spontaneous community and an awakened quotidian experience of art.
Hive, presented and documented 11 December 2014 in the Motion Lab (MOLA) at the Ohio State University, poses questions regarding community, power, and empathy. How might a dance construct a community? How can theater demonstrate pathways of hegemony, and reconstruct authority relationships among viewers? How might dance challenge social disparity?
Hive, on reflection, is designed to accomplish the following:
- Elucidate hierarchies between artists and viewers, and among viewers
- Reshape power relationships among these actors
- Generate empathy
- Engender body knowledge learning
- Experiment with attention / attentiveness
In the performance of this blog if I post about dancey-dance (and thus draw your attention to it), then lo, I value dancey-dance – and, I think you should too. If I choose to write on Eric Garner, or on linguistics, or to present images of my one-legged orphan turtle named Bird, then I am telling you, my observer, Bird is who matters. In Hive I literally shape the audience’s gaze first under the swath of tent, then from beneath the blindfold, and finally by pointing their attention-attentiveness to another audience member.
The artistic material of the piece is my audience.
(So I’m going to switch over to the second person to accommodate that sense of involvement.) I’ve compelled you into a singular frame through your solo entrance into the tent, and then, as you enter the following space and its interactive experience you are blindfolded. The performer who guides you up and out of the tent either fades away to hand you over to the direction of an unseen member of the audience, or, after your own blindfolded experience, you’re given a slim sheet of instructions guiding you to take over another blindfolded member. You’ve been instructed – through both example and through a written score – to shape the gaze of your fellow participant.
I wasn’t sure here what would happen. My biggest fear was emotional distress. My second biggest fear was awkwardness: that in confusion over what I expected of the audience, nothing would happen but standing around paralysis.
I feared that, like Max Ernst in the 1920s and that lonely ax he hoped an audience would take upon itself to use when he laid the instrument available in his exhibition, my own audience members would refuse to be blindfolded or to guide a partner, and they would all be left in a dark space with nothing to do but listen to the hum of honey bees.
This work goes beyond the participation ask into a reach towards interaction. Soke Dinkla in Participation to Interaction extends language that classifies Hive as a work that asks the audience to become its “artistic material.” Like many of her references, in Hive the “interactive art is the automatized dialogue between program and user.” In leading by example – having the future guides first be guided – I worked to not only “automatize” the dialogue between the director and the users, but to also allow the freedom for the space and interactions to develop under the will of my audience. the audience? their audience.