innocent bystanders may 02 – 19
Innocent Bystanders proposed a series of experimental encounters across Ōtautahi with The Physics Room as a central axis.
Blurring the boundaries between contemporary art and dance, performers Julia Harvie, Josie Archer, Kosta Bogoievski, David Huggins & curator Khye Hitchcock set up a framework from which examined dynamics between audience, performer, and site.
Local artists were invited to create written responses to the work.
Art openings have a particular soundscape; tinkles and glugs, snippets of conversations. Small talk and introductions. My job is to record this and the performance at the opening of Innocent Bystanders. There is a welcome mix of Physics Room regulars and new faces – many clearly with dance in their veins – in attendance. A pretzel is munched up close to the microphone. Beers are poured and wine glasses clink. Compliments on the cheese mix with “how have you been?”s.
As the opening stretches out a definite sense of expectation grows. Any lull in conversation is a pregnant pause. The audience is waiting – trying to play it cool – no one wants to be caught unaware when the promised performance begins. Those familiar with the practice of Josie, Julia, Kosta and David know that the work won’t be heralded by any virtuosic movements.
Within the gallery space, none of us are Innocent Bystanders. As soon as one is aware of the context of it being a performance, that innocence is lost. This opening performance stands apart from the seven that will follow in public spaces over the coming week – those will have less suspecting audiences.
In the gallery there is permission to perform, it’s a controlled environment – there is an established understanding and relational agreement in place between audience and performer. Out in the public realm, to be seen – or rather, to draw the gaze onto yourself – is almost taboo. Especially in Christchurch. There has to be a suitable frame of reference – a lens capturing it, a sign or a busking hat – some visible justification to legitimize the breaking of the unspoken social contract of How We Occupy Public Space.
I’m meandering about, subtly and then not-so-subtly picking up and putting down a recording device. The sound elements and my narration of tonight will occupy the gallery tomorrow as documentation of past moments and movements. I’m waiting too. I plop the device down in a beanbag and head outside to have a coughing fit.
At 5.55pm, Kosta disappears briefly, then emerges riding a fold-down bike, negotiating bystanders hazards by ringing his bell. There is almost a sigh of relief that the performance has begun – which turns into a genuine giggle at the absurdity of the first action. The potential for catastrophe is averted when he dismounts. Meanwhile, with the four performers situated all around the room, I look around wildly, trying to take it all in and describe it into the microphone. Josie is jumping up and down gently in space. Julia is leaning at angles to the wall. I can’t see Kosta. I find David amongst the crowd, mirroring Josie’s jumps.
The performers are costumed to blend in with the audience. There’s no grey-marle or dancer’s black in sight. Quilted bombers, an over-sized woollen scarf, a vintage baseball cap, off-white singlets and ankle-grazing pants. They look like your every-day casually dressed post-art-school cats.
The movements are pedestrian, but fine honed. Familiar and considered. Each performer holds space in a quietly commanding way; straight faced and gently focussed. The actions are banal yet graceful – even when it’s a slowly executed slide down a wall with gravity winning at the end. Julia does a headstand and walks her feet across a corner; Josie crawls into the gap between Julia and the wall. David dons a beanbag on his head and blindly navigates the gallery, pausing to bob up and down on the spot for an unspecified amount of time. There is undeniable humour in it – a welcome contrast for many of my own experiences of contemporary dance (and contemporary art in general).
Like limbs being stretched, the audience loosens up and eases into enjoying the performance. Forgetting the cross-armed, wine swirling pose expected to be adopted when contemplating and unravelling a contemporary artwork. There are shared whispers and loud guffaws as the performance goes on. Having an expanded stage and no explicit frame of viewing means that the audience has to actively watch – turning their heads and bodies to follow the work. I become acutely aware of my own form in relation to those around me. Beanbag-clad David steps gently forward until he caresses an audience member’s face beside me.
The dancers mix choreography with improvisation and an exploration of site and the bodies within it. The pre-written score gives subtle shape to their movements but doesn’t dictate them – personally, I find that I’m more creative when given a set of premises to work within. When there is a boundary, you can find the edge and make it elastic.
Julia explores the periphery of the space – measuring it with her body and the help of a pilfered beer glass. She extrudes tension from the audience as she makes knee-hinged kicking motions towards it. The kick turns into a percussion as her shoe lace tip taps the glass. As I’m squatting close to record the tings, David gently ushers a beanbag beneath me and eases me into it like a friendly host. All of a sudden, I graduate from documenter to an honorary performer.
Meanwhile Kosta is having a paparazzi-off with the photographer – reflecting the documentary gaze with a cap pulled low over his brow, his phone camera snapping a staccato rhythm from the other side of the room. The gallery is awash with movement as both performers and audience members move around to get a different angle. David seems to be tidying Julia’s beer glass away, reorganising props. The room is abuzz; a warm hubbub of conversation and engagement.
I’m hyper-aware of the intimacy of the space. Looking up to see the audience with their scattered gaze. It’s interesting as a performer, seeing the gaze disassembled and spread out as opposed to focussed in on one area. I’m enjoying the destabilising of established audience/performer power dynamics in this work. The ‘bystanders’ become part of the choreography; the dancers incorporating their usually unnoticed rhythms and patterns into the work. It’s done softly and with care by the performers, which I think makes the work less threating to an uninitiated audience. Less ‘us’ versus ‘them’ – it’s a gentle disruption of space and a re-working of familiar movements, a tweaking of the everyday that gives people an ‘in’ and an invitation to take part at their own level.
Josie reappears and crawls into my lap – catlike and comfortable. Stretching to see over Josie’s shoulder – I see Kosta ease himself into the gallery corner while David piles props on him. Josie rolls off me and occupies the gap between us. Julia reappears and is towed forward by Josie; she steps over on me to join David and Kosta in the corner. Julia returns to haul me and my beanbag across the floor and into the pile of dancers. We’re all in this together now. It feels like quite a democratic space. A makeshift table is made. Someone brings wine. I rest the recording device on the table and we’re back to the glug of wine and audible grins as the performance ends.
The Physics Room 02 – 19 May, 2018
Josie Archer, Julia Harvie, Kosta Bogoievski, David Huggins
Curated by Khye Hitchcock
Text by Audrey Baldwin
Images by Stuart Lloyd-Harris