Friday, October 26, 2007

MIAF 2: AWOL and contrary

OOPS. The festival is almost over and I haven't covered much of it. I've seen a lot (A LOT) but I've also been moving house and have no internet access. I reconciled myself to this and was going to save myself for a festival wrap-up but a post over at Matt C's Esoteric Rabbit (hi Matt! I sat in front of you at Euro House last night!) crystallised how my responses to this year's festival have been pretty much the opposite to those of everybody else on the web.

Firstly, my highlights have been European House and Hunger, both of which were disappointments to some, along with Shaun Parker's This Show is About People, which was just outstanding. I was largely unmoved by Kitson and Wilson, and Laurie Anderson was ok, but nothing special. Again, I don't seem to be in the majority here.

But what's really had me scratching me noggin is exactly what Matt pinpoints in the post linked above: not the problem of noisy, disrespectful audiences, but of audiences who find that so irksome. In what world is a Merce Cunningham piece set to John Cage's music supposed to be enjoyed in silence? This is the dude for whom incidental audience noise could be a composition in itself.

I know it's my hobby horse, but it's one I've pursued for years. The behaviour of audiences is tied to the process of socialisation - a "disciplined" and silent viewer is a recent historical construction that serves very particular purposes mirroring the larger demands of Western liberal capitalist ideology. Compare the behaviour of audiences for traveling Russian cinemas,
or 19th century American Shakespearean performances, or Indonesian music theatre (which is what riled me so much about Wilson's show last year). "Encore" once meant something - say, getting Hamlet to do his last soliloquy again, it was that good.

Anyway, my point is that if I want to absorb some wonderful art on my own, without being reminded of the presence of others, I stay home and watch TV.

And I don't watch much TV.


Anonymous said...

You should have turned around and said hi! I love meeting fellow bloggers!

I understand what you're saying about the socialisation of audiences. How could I not, having just experienced a festival in which a piece like The show must go on (actively?) invites audience participation only to have audience choose to sit there po-faced instead? But I don't think my response to certain audience members' behaviour the other night was particularly extreme (certainly not in relation to the headphones guy anyway). Diverse forms of audience engagement still exist (midnight movies, sporting events, concerts, cabaret, etc.), some of them even at the festival. But the form of engagement demanded by the dance piece the other night, in my opinion, was not one in which they were invited to provide the score.

And while Cage, among others, believed incidental audience noise could be music, there were and are important limits to this.

I'm reminded of the story of the film blogger who attended a screening of Stan Brakhage films when the filmmaker was still alive. Introducing the films, Brakhage told the audience that the films were silent because he wanted the incidental audience noise to provide the soundtrack. Coughing, sniffling and shifting about in one's seat were all fine as far as Brakhage was concerned.

The blogger's mobile phone started ringing in the middle of the second film and didn't let up, more or less, for twenty-five minutes -- at least half the screening. She felt terrible afterwards, but didn't want to draw attention to herself by reaching into her bag. Besides, Brakhage had said...

Apparently Brakhage was furious.

There's incidental noise and then there's something else. A ringing phone, a man with headphones. And I don't care if it's socialisation or not. The rules of the piece, not the rules of the theatre, say the guy should turn the damned thing off. And stop coughing while he's at it.

Anonymous said...

clearly you missed jerome bel...

Anonymous said...

oh, Borndancin, I hazily think that meant you were sitting in front of me, as I was sitting in front of Matthew here? And we would have been inconspicuously giggling about sitting in - again - the completely wrong seat, closer to the A reserve than the cheap-arse section that we paid for? Well, some of us, at least?

As of audience and misbehaviour, is your stance in any way related to the idea that public museums appeared (together with other Foucauldian spaces) in the 19th century moment when control of the masses became a necessity of space use? So that the crammed private gallery became a streamlined, white, empty, oversized museum space where any inappropriate visitor could be monitored easily; an educational space; a space where one learns civic values. The museum as the customary Sunday family outing technically replaced the public execution as the customary Sunday family outing...

But do we fight it by claiming that art in question welcomes participation, by taking shoes off and putting our feet on the next seat, by having a chat with the NGV security guard (who turns out to be Croatian and gives a little speech on the importance of the Sunday mass), or by coughing our souls inside out (especially when the coughing is clearly coming from said A Reserve)?

Anonymous said...

On the second read, my comment sounds strangely haughty and unfriendly - perhaps all the question marks? (Oops...)

Well. Look. I was writing with a smile. I'm a question-marker with a human face. My sense of humour doesn't render... I like you goddammit...

Born Dancin' said...

Jana - no, I'm sure I was in the row in front of Matt. Maybe a few seats along. My Boyd was about two or three to my left. And yeah, the public museum as tool of social control is interesting to me too, but I probably should point out that I'm not about tearing down institutions by acting 'inappropriately' - after all, I think that at least the ideal of a public museum is preferable to the exclusion of the private gallery, which gains its cultural value precisely by keeping the masses out. Then again, I think that even the idea of theatre or the museum or whatever as a form of social control is overstated - we all carve out our own walking paths and viewing tactics and so on in these spaces. It's a two way street.

Matt - I like that Brakhage story. And I'd totally be cheering on Brakhage's accidental mobile phone terrorist if only because it would have made for more memorable viewing.

Anonymous - I enjoyed Bel. But I wanted to enjoy it more than I did. A lot of people I know hated it because it seemed to be a pretty basic idea of a theatre of the ordinary that didn't actually do much with the concept, and as far as choreography goes was actually kind of mocking the whole world of dance. But like I said, I had a good time.

Actually, to be honest, the Bel piece was one of the ones that really got me thinking about the sacralisation of art in Melbourne these days, since it was during the Sounds of Silence bit that people were shushing anyone who made a noise. It just felt so ridiculous to hear that happening.

Anonymous said...

see in the session of bel that i attended during the sound of silence (when it wasn't silent) the whole audience sang along, in a funny (perhaps somewhat drunk) harmony, people danced to sexual healing, they got the jokes, the excellent timing and the enthusiasm of the performance. it was truly one of the most enjoyable experiences of the festival.

I saw the bel peice on dvd and thought it was lazy, and snidely "post-modern", but seeing it as a live performance I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was one of the few pieces I felt that straddled the fence that KE is also striving to cover between cutting edge "arts" and accesibility to the general population.

I do admit that more could have been done with the concept, but as a piece that made me laugh and made people sitting near me cry. I thought that it worked effectively.

As far as choreography is concerend what is a institution if it can't be mocked? I thought that was the point of modern art?