Intimacy by Andros Zins-Browne
March 4, 2021
Choreographers, Andros Zins-Browne and Kennis Hawkins were commissioned to present a new live work at Danspace Project, January, 2021. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this performance was sadly cancelled. In lieu of a live performance this winter season, Zins-Browne offers a three part series to the Danspace Project Online Journal this March, 2021: “Intimacy,” “Contagion,” and “Survival.”All three pieces are provided as texts and audio recorded readings, written and performed by Zins-Browne.
Zins-Browne has performed “Intimacy” at La Loge, Brussels, September, 2017, BOZAR, Brussels, June, 2018, and Dancentrum Stockholm in October, 2018. It was first Published in LOOK; Issue 1: Lodged-In Voices La Loge (Ed.), June, 2018. This text has been condensed and edited for the purpose of this Danspace Project release.
Read or listen to part I of the series, “Intimacy,” below.
Let’s begin with a jungle gym in a children’s playground. It’s a web-like, pyramidal structure made of bright-red ropes, stretched tightly. It looks rigid but is, more or less, elastic. Its base is about 20 square feet, its apex reaches about 35 feet into the air.
There are shouts and screams as a gaggle of children climb, try to climb, try to look like they’re climbing, make it halfway up and then grow bored of climbing, grow indifferent or terrified. The ones looking upwards might be seduced by the virtuosity of the structure, their gaze is led to an ultimate point—reachable, if they only dare—directly touching the sky. The children who do dare and reach the top, seem to just as immediately reach a point of finite prospects: now the only way to continue, is to go back down. Those stuck in the middle are sometimes caught in a dizzying parallax, alternating between the impossibility of everything suspended above them and the disappointment of everything else below. Some children don’t bother at all. Rather than panicking that they’ll never make it to the top, they might notice, in one way or another, that the whole ambitious, webbed structure is actually empty, erected on top of a crappy box of sand.
In many ways, it could be said that this structure is didactic. The children who chose to play are caught in the web of a transparent, vertical, interrelated network that structurally informs them of the many systems they’ll encounter. Do what you can to get to the top but whatever you do, don’t fall through on your way up. In this structure, there’s nowhere to hide.
On a le droit a l’opacité!
About ten years ago, I went to an exhibition at a large museum in London. The exhibition was called Choreographing You . It had a bunch of interactive sculptures and structures for visitors to play with. The idea, I guess, was that in playing with the sculptures the visitors would become the dancers, and these interactive objects in the exhibition would become choreographers. While we were walking through the exhibition, a friend said to me, “The problem with this show is that it tries to activate the visitors, as if when we watch dance, we’re not active enough. I don’t need to be activated, I need to be implicated.” I keep thinking of that when I’m passing through all kinds of buildings, exhibitions, and designed spaces as they try to engage me: I think, I don’t need to be engaged. I don’t need to be activated, I need to be implicated.
Is this room an object or an event? Pretty much anything could have this question posed to it. A doughnut is an object unless it’s good enough to become an event. A phone call is an event but a videoconference is an object; a sneeze is always an event, the words “Bless you” that follow generally form an object; the internet is definitely an object; live feeds are instant, continually morphing objects. Sex can be an object; sex toys can be events. Discovering, licking, smelling, and tasting another body is an event. Most dances I’ve made and most dances I’ve seen were objects, most books I’ve read, at least the ones I remember were events. Is an empty room an object or an event? A set of rooms comprising a building? Is a building an object or an event? A ghost is an event. Horror is an object. Thoughts are objects, but objects who Event. Sometimes objects Event. Sometimes events Object.
Two rooms, white walls, grey, sanded concrete floors.
Two rooms, grey, sanded concrete floors, holes in white walls.
Two rooms, holes in white walls, grey, sanded concrete floors, a few ants crawl in and out of holes.
Two rooms, white walls, grey, sanded concrete floors, holes, more ants crawling in and out.
Large spider posted on a web in the open doorframe.
Gallery assistant, nice haircut revealed behind back of desktop screen.
Spider’s big. Very big. Doesn’t seem friendly. Neither is it a threat. You stay here, it stays there; silent contract.
Gallery assistant doesn’t seem friendly either, but not a threat.
Walk carefully, step lightly, sanded concrete floors.
With the spider waiting in the corner, distance is the main unspoken rule.
Ants are a different story. They don’t obey any contract. They feed on distance, rove through walls. Different temporality, different caution. They don’t wait.
The mob running through the wall. The bad guy waits in the corner. One never sleeps, one you hope never wakes. You’re more afraid of the mob.
Zoom back out now, two rooms adjacent, white walls, grey, sanded concrete floors, ants, doorframe, spider, haircut, gallerist. Natural sunlight falls through two windows. Pale, transparent rectangles on the floor.
Walk through light, benign enough, step carefully through.
The silence here has a different tenor. A man sits at a table, and his head buried in his arm. A cough. Then two coughs.
More silence. Gallery assistant hasn’t moved a hair.
Jesus fuck fuck fuck fuck holyfuck
A man at a table, head in his arm, keels over. He’s coughing. The coughs echo, bounce and chase while you stand still, unable to move. You don’t see his face but his forearm is hairy, slightly yellow and there’s a jar, turned over on its side. Empty? From what? He’s coughing. Walk around you see forearm, arm hair, now forehead, red—he’s sweating too, sweat. A lot more in the yellow armpit of his t-shirt, coughing. The empty jar, turned over on its side. Empty from? Two steps back, zoom out: two rooms, white walls, grey, sanded concrete floors. It’s all a threat, the mob, the bad guy, the assistant, the space between us, the invisibility, the silence, the coughing, the haircut, the white on the walls, the sunlight on the floor, everything is mostly still and mostly silent, chasing.
My first performance was Petrushka. I was a seven-year-old brown boy hired by the Joffrey Ballet Company in New York City to play a nineteenth-century boy at a fair in St. Petersburg. The opening began with me and a cast of other children on a merry-go-round. The orchestra tuned. Cacophonous waves of sound merged and punctured, assembled, swelled and waned, stage snow began falling. Slowly at first, and then steadily. The merry-go-round was spun by a technician with a grey beard and a walkie-talkie—slowly at first, then steadily. The technician checked over everything again, then shined a flashlight up to the rafters, once more offstage-right, and then disappeared. My heart was racing, unsteadily. When the curtain lifted and the lights hit, I only saw white; not my mom and dad, or my grandfather, not Ms. Didario, the director of the children’s ballet company, not how many of the two thousand or so seats were full or empty. The world ended at the edge of the stage. Looking around, there was no denying that I was in a carnival, in a square. Riding a merry-go-round in 1830’s St. Petersburg with a bunch of my friends.
no to spectacle
no to no to spectacle
I’ve been working in theatres since I was about seven and there’s only one thing I’m more or less sure about: Scale and intimacy have no relationship.
I’ve been working in theatres since I was about seven and one thing I’m more or less sure about: Spectacle and intimacy have no relationship.
I’ve been working in theatres since I was about seven and one thing I’m more or less sure about: I miss curtains. I miss wings. I miss the exit signs that tell you this is a space of belief. I don’t like dancers on stage with laptops. I don’t like transparency. I don’t like technicians walking around throughout the show. I don’t like that the vibrant afterlives of costumes and curtains and props and sets are wasting away somewhere, held captive in storage basements, or relegated to European heritage cosplays. I don’t know why we got rid of the theater instead of inviting the audience up onstage. I don’t know why there’s no offstage anymore. In this structure, there’s nowhere to hide.
On a le droit a l’opacité!
In theater, we talk a lot about the fourth wall. It’s usually used pejoratively to speak about a kind of imaginary distance that performers create between themselves and the audience. So, a performer can “break the fourth wall” for instance, by looking or speaking directly to the audience. If they make overtures to the fact that we all—audience and performers—share the same time and space, then they’ve “broken the fourth wall.” I once saw a dance performance where someone in the audience sneezed and a performer stopped mid-movement, turned to the audience member, and said, “Bless you.” In that case, this dancer “broke the fourth wall” and broke it with virtuosity. For a while I also tried to find ways to break it, but then I realized that I like the fourth wall. In fact, I like all of them.
A man keeps asking Polly what she’s doing later. Polly tells a man, she’s not interested. A man asks again, swiveling his bar stool towards her, a brandy snifter in his hand, half-full and swaying back and forth like they’re sailing on the high seas, “you know, I don’t live that far from here.” Polly is eighty-two and has been a cocaine dealer since she was about twenty. She’s dealt to most of the musicians who’ve passed through here. Polly is eighty-two and has had a reputation since she was about thirty. She’s not interested. “Listen, you know, baby, if you want, I got this friend’s place up in Harlem for the weekend we could get at, big ol’ brownstone-like, fire place, ‘n all, you could be as loud as you want…” Polly is unamused. She’s not interested. “You know thing is baby, I just wanna, you know, get to, get to know you a ’lil bit more… intimately.” Now Polly is interested. Her attention arouses and she turns towards a man and shouts loud and clear over the blaring sounds of horns so the whole club can hear: “Look, nigga! I thought I told you already: MY PUSSY DEAD!”
In a psychiatrist’s office somewhere in Belgium is a therapist who’s developed his own form of clinical notation. While listening to his patients, this doctor draws cars. Ugly cars, hideous cars. Cars with three wheels, luxurious cars without any windows, perfectly normal cars with no steering wheel, tiny, spiky cars, cars that are too round and can only roll, fragile cars on stilts, armored cars, cars with no interior, mangled cars, cars with huge speakers, cars that are halfway stuck underground, cars where the driver sits in the back, cars that drive on their side… Throughout his sessions, the psychiatrist draws these cars, and when he meets his patients again he refers to these drawings and knows exactly what they worked on last session, what they said, what psychosis he believes they might be working on, and from where he’d like to continue next.
An intimate space is characterized by understanding, mutuality, common denominators. Of just getting to the bottom of it all. No! An intimate space is tangential, it’s not a “because”—it’s not reflexive, it’s not a site of excavation, it’s not an equation, it’s not equal, it’s not uncovering or finding out. It’s not a bottom of. It’s not eureka. It’s tangent, tributary, runoff, run-on, comma, ellipses…
I guess my point is that you can only misinterpret your lover as a beached sea lion or as the chief of police through intimacy. Intimacy is a case of willful mistaken identity, it’s malapropism, it’s transferal.
A song by Metallica that I love and sing often—begins, “So close no matter how far…” I was actually wondering if we could sing it together. I mean, it’s Metallica, so it’s like a heavy metal group but this particular song was their big emo-ballad hit, “Nothing Else Matters.” If you’re willing, I’d ask you to put your feelings into it as best you can and try to mean it with me. So, “So close, no matter how far…” —slow, and a little deeper, like you’re pushing it from the bottom of the bowels, like you’re shouting at someone, but softly as possible— “So close…” that’s good. Let’s try from the beginning again, “So close, no matter how far…” it’s almost got this Michael Jackson kind of thing, this extra breath- “so closs-AH…” Ok, great. So then, it goes, “Couldn’t be much more from the he—eart,” Now, a bit angrier, like you’re snapping at someone all of the sudden- “FOREVER!… Trust in who we ar-rr-e,” and softly again, “…and nothing else matters.” Ok, great, let’s try that all together.
Right now I’m thinking about us all sleeping together. Right now, all of us. Let’s call this darkness night and say we could already be sleeping like a group of Neanderthals. On top of each other, snoring, farting, yawning, cuddled in a pile. Let’s say we have a fire, it’s burning right there—and this body- it’s all our body- is made of many arms, many smells, many heads,many thoughts. Neanderthals, they don’t have intimacy. We snore in each other’s faces, eat bugs out of each other’s hair, but we don’t have intimacy. We fuck, shit, and give birth in front of each other. But we don’t have intimacy. Alone in my ATM cubicle, I’m typing the password I need to try and get out cash, and in that little cubicle, I have something we could call the private. But here, lying with you, breathing your hair, snoring in your face, we have the public. The separation between the two creates this gulf, and maybe when we fold this gulf over itself, we find intimacy. So that’s why right now I want to whisper gently into your ear: the code to my bank card is 4 1 8 0.
In Bali, Indonesia, there’s a town called Ubud, and in the center of Ubud are two temples. They’re on opposite sides of the road from each other but look identical. One is a temple for the faithful locals who worship there, the other across the street is said to be a replica for the tourists. Once inside the replica temple though, it’s never clear if the worshippers you see are performers, and if the ceremonies are authentic or completely fabricated. When I visited, it seemed that it was at least a possibility that however truly impressive it all was, I was only being allowed to see a performance of imitation tourist crap. But then I wondered if the authentic temple where tourists like me weren’t allowed to go, was actually empty. Maybe the ceremonies I saw in the replica temple were the only ceremonies that took place, and the so-called authentic temple was actually just a monument, a monument to the idea of the sacred. And maybe something sacred was being preserved but only by the relationship between these two identical temples. And then you could say then that the sacred, and indeed the intimate wasn’t really in either temple, but in the street between them.
The private in the public. The personal in the social.
The enclosed within the exposed. Vice versa.
A Polish guy goes to his first American ballgame. I’m half Polish and I love Polish jokes, so I’m going to tell you one. So, in this one, the Polish guy goes to his first American baseball game and as he enters a gigantic stadium, full of people, sounds, smells, and he’s amazed by the spectacle. And he knows, as if it’s instinct, what he’s supposed to do first—he goes straight to the concession stand and buys a beer, a hotdog, and a pretzel. He finds his seat, sits down but before he can take his first bite, he hears from somewhere out in the crowd, “Hey, Stanley!” and he stands up to see who it is, and when he does, spills his beer, his hot dog, and his pretzel. “Kurwa!” he shouts, and he looks around and he can’t tell who was calling him. So he goes back to the concession stand and this time he gets two of everything, and sits down- two beers, two hotdogs, two pretzels, extra honey mustard, and again he hears from somewhere in the crowd, “Hey! STANLEY!!!” and again, he stands up to look who it is and spills both his beers, his hot dogs, and his pretzels. He’s got ketchup and beer running down his pant legs, mustard all over his shirt, and now he’s getting really angry. “Kurwa Ma´c!” he curses, but now more determined than ever, he stomps back to the concession stand. This time, he orders three of everything, and an extra-large diet Coke and some M&Ms and cotton candy too. Finally, he sits down and sets everything perfectly in front of him, ready for the game to begin. But he hears it again, this time even louder, “HEY! STAN-LEY!!!” Immediately, he jumps up, and again everything spills all over him—his clothes are soaked in soda and beer and mustard and ketchup, there’re uneaten hotdogs and pretzels all around him, and now he’s really pissed. He’s looking all around the stadium, but he can’t find who it is that’s been calling him. So he stands up on his seat and shouts loud as he can into the massive crowd with his thick Polish Accent, “Look—I don’t know who you are and I don’t know where you’re sitting, but my name. Is not. STANLEY!!!!”
Smart homes aren’t intimate, they’re personalized, automated, efficient. Intimacy is inefficient. Intimacy has nothing to do with the personal or sharing or exposing the personal. If I tell you my fetishes—a short but personal list—that admission wouldn’t demonstrate intimacy. Intimacy isn’t a by-product of truth, it’s a by-product of fiction, not a revelation of the actual but a revelation of the possible. Intimacy is the possibility of making fiction together. I can tell you that I love animal tail butt plugs, but it wouldn’t be intimacy until you ask whether I prefer wet or dry food.
And for the architects, who came to listen here today, you can’t build intimacy. Intimacy is like a sneeze—you can’t want it, you can apologize for it, or make it louder and more violent than it needs to be, but you can’t plan it. Intimacy isn’t transparency but turning the lights down won’t create intimacy either. You can’t make intimacy and you can’t design intimate spaces. You can make space for intimacy.
You can make spaces who plead to be misinterpreted, misappropriated, misnomer-ed, maybe you can make spaces that can only be defined by rumors and speculations. I went to a costume party once where the hosts told half the guests it was a Golf party, and half the guests it was a Goth party. That was intimate.
Intimacy isn’t found in objects or events, intimacy is found in objects who Event, or in events who Object. Maybe that doesn’t make any sense. But a space that doesn’t Event—and I don’t mean hosts events, or does events I mean, a space who doesn’t itself Event, is just an object who can’t invite the intimate. And maybe the other way around could be said, an event that doesn’t Object, doesn’t solidify into the form of an experience that’s there now and recognizable again later, even if it never physically existed—if that experience solidifies somewhere, somehow, it’s not just a passing event, it’s something that happened and became, it’s an event that Objected, and maybe that holds the potential to invite the intimate.
You can love something. You can know it well, or not know it at all but be so close to it that you begin to pretend, or, imagine, or, assume that it’s something else. Intimacy is the space to assume something else. My lover, she’s the chief of police. Kennis, I don’t know if you’re listening, but you’re the chief of police. You can love a person or a place and know it so well that you start to test if it could be something else, or something else too, and maybe if it could be everything else, and you try to move a thing outside of itself, or it moves you or both. And if not, you shake hands, take your receipts, and go your separate ways.
He was so intimate with his desk that he was known to sit on top of it, like it was a toilet, and try to write.