Common Union: The Dream of the Audience (Part II) by maura nguyễn donohue
August 2, 2022
maura nguyễn donohue is the Writer-in-Residence for Platform 2021: The Dream of the Audience and Platform 2022: The Dream of the Audience (Part II). Her reflections on the Platform 2022 performances will be posted, accumulatively here, in Issue 14 of the Danspace Project Online Journal. Her reflections on Platform 2021 can be found in the Online Journal Issue 12 and in the Platform 2021-2022 catalogue.
In this essay, donohue considers Danspace’s return to live performances. She troubles the relationship between audience and artist, performer and witness, and unpacks concepts of communion.
This essay is offered in both audio and text. Read or listen below.
To behold is not to be holding.
In Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” the human hunter Acteon witnesses the goddess of the hunt, Artemis/Diana, while bathing. She flicks water on him, turns him into a stag and his own hounds devour him.
Medusa, after her rape by Poseidon in Athena’s temple, is punished (or protected depending on who is interpreting translations of antiquity) with a head of snakes and turns anyone who glimpses her to stone.
I won’t go into all of my ruminations on subjectivities, agencies, desire and the joy of monstrosity here…but at their overlap, these myths tingle and tickle open tensions of traditional artist/audience dynamics and hint towards the fraught return to in-person viewership.
Can I get a witness?
What happens to us when we give audience to each other? In these fraught days of returning and returning and returning to one another’s company, what does it mean to sit next to strangers on behalf of an artist’s dream?
Where in my gut sits my wanting to be witnessed, attended to, or cared for in the way in which an audience demonstrates this by remaining in attendance and at attention?
I hope you want to be here, I hope you continue wanting to be here, but you being here isn’t the only way we might share this too.
When am I attending to another artist’s work in accord with the ritual forms established through a couple centuries of symphonic concert behaviors and when am I here through a shared covenant of conscious community?
I cannot speak for all so here I wander through my own matrix of desire around a communion… a commune, a community. I hope for us to all be in community, is that inside? Inside a circle?
A Common Union.
I’m “chunking down” (as my mom would say) on the power greens, anti-oxidants and proteins in this vital blend. This roughage offers all of us the chance to enhance our well-being. This can be nutrient-dense, this fiber-rich experimental space where we repeatedly consider what things mix well and what tastes better when taken in tandem.
Let me harvest some low-hanging internet search fruit for this… Oxford Dictionary informs me that the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings (especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level) is communion. There it is…our pursuit of a kind of unity within a common AND extraordinary experience. Something common belongs to all or is shared by many. A common union is not pretense, either we did share or we didn’t. A common union dissolves the excessive individualism that is festering into politicized fatality in American culture. But, as Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief author/editor Cindy Milstein points out, “In common” is not equivalent to “the same.” And, in the way that particular collection of writings brings reader/listeners out of the insularity of personal pain and into a common space, Platform 2022: The Dream of the Audience (Part II) collectivized varieties of loss, grief, trauma, isolation and resiliency from several artists to decompose and erode the structures that would have us adrift and apart.
The Platform was curated by Danspace Project’s executive director and chief curator, Judy Hussie-Taylor and featured new dance works by artists mayfield brooks, Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener, iele paloumpis and Ogemdi Ude. There were moments of common union throughout the Platform. Danspace Project audiences returned to the sanctuary of St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery for the first time since March 2020 for the premiere of Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener’s RETROFIT: a new age. These moments occurred on stage as the performers assembled with members of their communities in front of, around, and with the audience, as with Ogemdi Ude’s I know exactly what you mean or iele paloumpis’ in place of catastrophe, a clear night sky. These moments were also built into events as shared experiences for all, like when mayfield brooks offered their audience (Sensoria: An Opera Strange) home brewed tea and time to hydrate during a break. Or a moment enjoying a hard kombucha in the back garden of St. Mark’s Church, exchanging ideas and talk, during a Conversation Without Walls. There were many ways in which a return to the idea of sharing with, of invitations to witness as with-ness flowed downstream from April 23rd until June 11th, 2022.
In the Platform’s inaugural event, Conversations Without Walls, the Dream of the Artist, Judy and the artists were in conversation with facilitator Christopher “Unpezverde” Nuñez . The 15th Platform to date followed artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Audience Distant Relative poem from 1977, that also fed last year’s Platform 2021: The Dream of the Audience (Part I).
you are the audience.
you are my distant audience.
I address you as I would a distant relative
as if a distant relative
seen only, heard only
through someone else’s description.
Judy remarks on Cha’s text during the conversation. Given that prompt, my large questions for these artists were:
Who do you make work for?
Who is being addressed?
Who is your audience?
Who do you want to bear witness to your work?
And how has your relationship to audience, if it has, changed during the pandemic?
Christopher and iele provided a frame for the conversation that became a gateway for my own evolving practice as a relative who often describes relatives to other kin in non-congruent time/space/place locations. I needed to re-configure how I would make my way in and out of the various Platform events in the crush and rush of many returns to in-personhood of the past year. Energetically, emotionally, physically and psychically, many of us were privy to lessons during the pandemic’s alteration of our lives. Both artists and audiences have changed our relationships, but there is a rapid short term memory loss pushing at our learning on deep interdependency.
Christopher: I believe that we are living in crip times. Crip time as the time disabled and chronically ill people understand time and the relationship, our relationship with time. I’m talking about the social distance of bodies. How can we rehearse when there is social distance? And I’m talking about the politics of touch when we are not allowed to touch each other or the times that we were not allowed to come close to each other. The relationship to technology and the technology as a tool to build a dream audience or no audience at all.
iele: So it’s a full two years after our original premiere date… it’s felt like, it’s very much like a warp… I’m very much also linking it to, like, the way that time warps with memory and trauma specifically…this is a collective trauma that we are all going through and are still in. And in my personal life experience, being in the thick of a traumatic moment is not a particularly very — it doesn’t feel like a place that I want to necessarily try to be making artwork from or, like, or, like, it doesn’t feel particularly very generative to me.
In the catalogue for this Platform, edited by Seta Morton, Danspace Project’s Associate Curator, Public Engagement and Managing Editor of Publications, the definition of audience harkens back to its etymological roots of audire, to hear. I want to call you like a siren back to the catalogue as there is an echoing choral resonance of what the artists wrote there (soon to be available in audio, recorded by Alejandra Ospina), and what they spoke, sang, scented and showed in this shared dream. One didn’t have to be at the live events to encounter the many ripples of unity. The invitation is to enliven available senses on behalf of our mirror neurons. We in our acts or states of listening can be an audience, an assembly of attendants, a council of the curious and the caring.