Text by Abi Mitchell
The cinema is dark as we enter with headphones in hand, dim lights guiding us as we edge through the narrow avenues of seats towards the centre of the theatre, as we were told, for the best reception.
Static humming from the headphones begins a composition of disassociation as we begin to adjust our behaviour, switch off from each other and become alone through the intimate surroundings. From the sound of the undefined static amongst the indistinct light and our expectant wait emerges a state of anticipation, a void of information and action waiting for change.
“Make sure it’s on, and the volume is up…you should hear a sound when the lights go down.”
As the lights dim and the static abates a rush of silence fills the expectant void, in the vacuum of stimuli we become distinct individuals, headphones enclose us in personal space that we cannot define, our minds and bodies becoming separate as we try to rationalise the unusual disembodied experience.
Free Individual/ Free Society was an explorative preview through performance of Grace Schwindt’s new work Only a Free Individual can create a Free Society. The event was produced with arts commissioning organisation Pavilion using the context of Schwindt’s work and the notion of the historical use of telephones, to broadcast shows and performances to cinemas throughout the country. Schwindt’s text and performance took place in a separate auditorium and was transmitted via telephone line to broadcast through headphones within the cinema that the audience was seated in. A sense of impending disconnection was revealed through the use of the telephone line and the assumed instability of this important mode of communication, which added to the sense of disconnection we, as audience members, were experiencing, creating the feeling of a disembodied encounter.
Schwindt’s work often plays with this sense of deconstruction of environment, and is very critically and politically aware, questioning our understanding as audience members and members of society to the social and political structures which hold us in place. Works often take the form of video and performance, using installation, text and costume to create a set and tools for the dissemination and interrogation of the proposed system.
One of these systems under examination could be the convention set between the performer and the audience, the traditional relationship formed between action and viewer. A previous work, ‘Glass and Honey’, from 2012, saw the audience stood in the street in front of a large lass window while the artist spoke and wrote a narrative text on the other side of the glass, inside the building, both unable to inhabit and connect with the same space as the audience. This is echoed in the Free Individual/ Free Society performance where we, the audience, were sat attending in one venue unable to watch and engage with the artist and other performers in the other.
A three part text was narrated through the monotone voices of both the artist and a second performer whilst dancers in costumes of wooden blocks interspersed these voiced segments with an unseen dance commented only through the distinct clacking of wood upon wood. With no distinguishable change in tone through the voices and the often over layered sounds of the dance we were presented with a subtle yet demanding device encapsulating the systematic breakdowns the artist is striving for in her work. Isolated and disconnected, the relationship between viewer and performer, audience member and audience member disappears; we are disjointed through our sense of complete abandonment yet this shared feeling then unites us. Broken then built back up our liberation is tangible.
This performance took place on 13 May 2014 at Hyde Park Picture House produced by Pavilion as part of Ludus Festival, and Grace Schwindt’s conceptual film Only a Free Individual Can Create a Free Society will be exhibited at Eastside Projects, Birmingham and The Showroom, London later this year.
Abi Mitchell is a writer based in West Yorkshire.