“My Only Memory”, by Juan Dominguez and performed by Joshua Rutter, premiered in 2018, and has now been transformed into an online performance for Radialsystem’s series “New Empathies”. This choreographed text is a brave attempt to create collectivity and practice empathy in times of physical distancing.
Whenever I attend a performance, I usually count the audience. In the brief moments between sitting down and the performance starting, I don’t talk and I don’t look at my phone. I count. I count the number of people I’m sharing the evening with. It’s easier to do online; there are 60 of us.
Words: ‘Passion, disorder, tendency, fond, fondness, being fond of someone, to become fond of someone. Irritation, intensity, intensssssity, satisfaction, satisfying yourself, desire, death, fear … empty. I love you in the morning, I hate you at night.’ A flicker in the connection; the words need to catch up and they reach me compressed. The emotions so well conveyed by tone of voice are disrupted by the transmission of distance.
If this were a live performance in a theatre space, “My Only Memory” would have been presented in the dark. The performer would have been invisible, hiding behind the audience as he delivered a 50-minute stream of words. I imagine what that would be like. Would I feel uncomfortable, surrounded by darkness and with no-one to watch? Would it disorientate me? Would I become annoyed by the coughs, the fidgeting and rustling of my fellow audience members? Or would I drift away, floating on words that capture the memory of … of whom, actually? Of someone, or of many someones?
Now, however, I’m not in a theatre. I’m lying on my bed, curled up, listening to the voice entering my ears. I know he, the performer, is there. I saw him. He was wearing a face mask as we waved at each other and into the digital void. I know they, my fellow audience members, are also there. I saw them too. But now we’ve all turned our video feeds off, and become black rectangles instead, our names written underneath them in bold white letters. Sixty black rectangles. Are there others who are also lying down, curled up, in bed? It’s more comfortable this way, not like being stacked up in crappy chairs, crammed together with strangers and hardly any personal space.
Imagery: ‘Behind you is the sea. The shore is covered with snow. The oceans puts his tongue inside the snow. Look at all those buses. It’s an orgy of buses. People shrinking. Clothes stretching. When does a person start to shrink? How long does it takes for clothes to stretch? Universal diarrhoea. So much caca everywhere. Caca. Ca. Ca. Bodies hurt, deflowered, transformed, violated, saved, allowed, idealised.’
I know that he is there. I know that they are there. There is a performer, there is an audience. The moment he stops talking, the performance will be over, and he won’t be back. There will be no applause, no signs of appreciation, no talking in the foyer. The moment he stops talking, it will be over. Every pause makes me want him to continue. I’ve become used to his voice — a voice that he uses so rhythmically, and that is so full of intension and imagery. I’m comfortable, curled up on my bed. No crappy chairs with hardly any personal space for me tonight. No annoying, rustling others. No darkness, no invisible but physically present performer. I know he is there. I know they are there. But I don’t feel them.
Radialsystem’s online series “New Empathies – Far from a distance” started end of April, in the coming weeks it intends to create periods of encounters and shared aesthetic experience, and wants to explore and reflect on the possibilities and limits of virtual spaces as places of empathy.