rethinking why performance matters through the matter of performance
Trashing Performance

19 April 2010

This near darkness, near silence

Author: Tim Etchells

 

   I am still sitting in the auditorium. Looking forwards. I can’t see so much at all. The backs of people’s heads maybe. And the volume of the stage space hardly looms in the quiet and the darkness. All the lights are off. Did I mention that already? I don’t think so.

   It’s the first space of imagining, isn’t it? This near darkness, near silence. Something foundational about it – at least from the Christian creation story of course. First darkness, then light. But without the exit signs. And in our own lives, the experience of darkness must be pretty much foundational. At least, as we are socially constructed.

  The experience of the child – as a creature that cannot sleep, is frightened to sleep, does not want to leave the comfort of the world, or of consciousness (X writing to me about her nephew – he does not like to sleep because he is worried that he will die, or that others will die as he sleeps).

   Darkness as a space of social isolation. Lying there you’re aware of your own isolation. Hearing the rest of the house or the apartment continue as you lie there. Remember there is no silence – sleep as the state that wills silence into being, demands or imposes silence. Lying there in the bed and catching the footsteps or voices of parents or siblings. The faint rush and clatter of TV voices, distant applause, music from a show you’ve never seen. Or the telephone. Or the traffic. Or the way the headlamps spill and swing around the room through the curtains and the blinds. Or the soft yellow of the streetlamp which touches the curtains, backlighting them. While you lie there. Staring at the ceiling. (the blankest of the surfaces in the modern house. Least decorated?). It’s in this void, not quite a silence and not always even a darkness as such, more a light-dimmed airlock between wake and sleep, a space of isolation, it’s in this void that you find and know and return to yourself, have to live with yourself. Stripped of your objects. Released from your social frames, expectations, and obligations (beyond the being in bed of course, which has its place in a social economy) and simply lain there. Looking upwards, ceilingwards. If you’re lucky enough to be sleeping indoors.

   A strange autobiography could be written concerning the history of one’s sleep. Incarnations of darkness and solitude which shift and change over years - the line of continuity and discontinuity between incarnations of this darkness. Some sense of this child you, at a certain age, in a certain ill or well remembered room, lain in the bed, in the dark and looking upwards or across the room. The sounds yes, movement of voices and light and imagination. But other yous also – piled up over the years – sleeping along or with others, lain in different darknesses, different volumes of space. What I was digging for, and am only just finding, is that lying there in the bed, looking up and feeling the room around you in the darkness - you are aware of your own history with this darkness. Darkness and silence which you have peered into, or lain in, looking upwards, since even before you knew what it was.

   In the Forced Entertainment performance Bloody Mess John Rowley bids the audience “Close your eyes”. He is trying to explain to the darkness at the beginning of the world. Close your eyes.

   The other space of imagining – close your eyes.

    “Close your eyes”.

   Because for some reason story state, story place, is close to the state or place of sleep. The habit of reading to children at bed time. Speaking them out of this world and into another one. Mimicking the transaction that will soon come from the waking state to the state of sleep.

   Maybe. Yes. But.

   CLOSE YOUR EYES

   Connected deeply to the act of imagining. Because, in its pure form imaging is best done without present distraction. We need to put our attention elsewhere. To bring a picture in the mind it’s best to have none in front of us. Z, I say as I am reading to him. Please do not whisper to yourself, or please do not play with that as we’re reading.

   We’re busy working in here. In the head. We don’t need anything getting in the way of that. Like now, for example.


Tim Etchells

Fragment from a presentation concerning darkness and silence.
PACT, Essen, April 2010.

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