Something about Black Market
By Karen Spencer
(from: Esse – Arts and opinions, 2003, 48)
There is a buzz in this big open industrial garage. Everyone is mingling in and around, it is like a circus - people, kids, a dog. All is movement and flux and noise and change.
Many cameras. Much breaking. Many car lights. Many car horns. Many men. Much fire. Much space. Much black. Much noise. Big.
I survey the scene. I wander around. I talk with friends. I buy a beer. I watch.
All of Black Market is performing1 . All of the crowd is performing. I do not know who is a performer and who is not. For although the performers are dressed mostly in black, and although the cameras are following them around, here in this space, with so many bodies intersecting and moving, it is almost impossible to perceive demarcations of performer and not performer. All is happening on the same level, each performer is alone, dispersed throughout the crowd, lost the one from the other, singularly acting out his own personal gesture. It feels as if anyone could, if they wanted to, take up the performance space. It feels as if anyone could, if they wanted to, break into the performers space and interact. Some wanted to.
I watch a woman who is watching a man. She catches the orange that he lightly throws up and out into the air. She peels the orange. She opens the orange, breaks off a section and holds it out towards him. He refuses. She puts this piece of orange into her breast pocket and peels off another section of the orange, she puts this section on her hand and holds out her hand towards him. He accepts. Together they eat the orange, section by section.
A woman holds a vibrating heart in her hand. It is a small toy heart with a string attached to it and when the string is pulled the heart vibrates. She takes her heart and goes up to a blindfolded man who is sitting on a chair in front of a small wooden table. She places her heart on his body, pulls the string and her heart vibrates against his skin. She moves her heart to another spot on his body and pulls the string again.
I recognise a man. The man is dressed in black and has a bag of cotton balls. He is walking up to people and dropping the cotton balls one by one on the floor. He comes up to me and drops a ball at my feet. I think, "oh boy, he wants to play, to look at me in the eye". But no. He does not, he avoids eyes. He stays distant, closed. He is performing.
The instances of interaction, although beautiful to watch, are rare. Most of the performers, like the cotton ball man, are careful to stay behind their imaginary glass wall, careful to remain in control. They keep their eyes averted and far away. It is a potentiality for meeting that does not take seed, that dies in the instant of it’s bloom.
I see a man standing still with a rock on his head while another man meanders around the space with a small plastic pink baby dragging on the floor behind him. This baby is being dragged because it is attached to a fishing line that is attached to his ear.
I hear many car horns honk and many car alarms sound. It is midnight and a real newborn lives two houses away. The performer honking the horn is oblivious to this.
I notice a solitary woman, she is facing inwards into the space, her back towards me. She bends down and picks up a coloured sheet of tissue paper, she holds it out, away from her body, her arm extended. She holds the coloured paper for a while and then she lets it go and it falls slowly to the ground. She bends down and picks up another piece of coloured tissue paper, again she lets it fall slowly to the ground.
I see the stick fly through the air -- it falls down and hits a young man on the head. The performer who broke the stick is oblivious.
Next to me is Charly Yan Miller. He is two years old. He is not watching. He is pushing his hands against the knees of the man with the baby hanging from his ear. Charly is trying to stop the man’s movement. He is telling the man "no, stop". This is because the man is performing some kind of violent gesture towards the other man who is sitting impassive and blindfolded on a chair next to a table. At this moment I think to myself that Charly is doing the right thing. Charly’s reaction corresponds. I watch as Charly’s mom takes his hand and leads him away, telling him "no", soon after they are gone. I imagine Charly’s mom trying to explain to Charly the difference between performance and real life.
I watch and I wonder. I feel frustrated, disappointed, disconnected. I wonder to myself "why am I here?" What is it that I hoped for in relation to these people wandering around this space doing these actions in this context? I am strangely suddenly very tired of performance. I leave. I want real life.
. . . .
Later I try to understand my reaction. It is a reaction at odds with many of the people I talked with afterwards. Many liked the Black Market performance, they liked the possiblities it opened up in terms of their own practice, they liked the fluidity, the moving between and among. My own transition from anticipation to excitement to detachment to frustration to anger speaks of my own unmet desire, my own prejudices. I expected something I did not receive, I saw an image being constructed that did not give what it promised. The lure was seductive -- men in a wide open industrial space transgressing the "law". A violation that was both forcefully offensive; breaking sticks, burning paper, honking horns -- and covertly insidious; dragging a pink plastic baby on the floor, bandaging the ear, sitting impassive and oblivious. Imposed rules of conduct and identity blatantly disregarded. A feast for Freedom! Men in suits taking on the "image of authority" to then dismantle it and, and, andŠthen what?
Ask that I care, that I witness your performance. Why care when I do not feel you have taken care of the situation you have created, have not taken care of the "audience", have not taken care of each other? And I say we have already met, you and I, I have seen you before, many times, your picture is everywhere. European man in black business suit, now incorporating women into your model, your scene2. Better maybe to stand by your all male energy, to assume fully who you are and where you come from. Not enough, this strategy of corporate survival, this image of political correctness fronting unspoken and outmoded assumptions of Art and Freedom. The capital has already fallen, Art is art, and Freedom is another word for privilege. Not enough this refusal to see the self as already positioned, this refusal to see that to meet requires an acknowledgement of relation, and relation is always an unequal dance. Time now for something beyond this eurocentric assumption of territories -- that you can go anywhere, you can do anything, you will be received, and the consequences of your actions do not concern you. Someone else will clean up3.
And yet, I wonder how can I expect these performers from not here to create something to relate to me, I who live here, when they have never been here before and they arrive one day before the performance and they do not perform together as a group and they do not know what it is they will do until they go to do it? That in fact it is not the individual performances per se that trouble me, it is the totality of the "scene" that was created. For I admit there were compelling moments that linger with me still. The quiet solid stillness of the man, blindfolded, alone, sitting on the wooden chair in front of the wooden table. Was there a record player playing on the table? This image shimmers behind my eyes. And yes, there is a value in allowing the vulnerability of not knowing, in being open to the moment. A value in allowing the incertitude of the unrehearsed, the spontaneous. However when jumbled together, this model, employing a multi-faceted, open-ended, parallel, dispersed and circulating set of individual actions placed in relation through a specific time and place requires either an incredible amount of generosity on the part of the audience ¬ in terms of time, in terms of allowing the process to take the performance somewhere. Or an incredible amount of self-critical attentiveness on the part of the performer -- in terms of being aware of each other, in being aware of the performance, and the audience. Or both. High expectations indeed.
To do this requires infinite care, infinite compassion. An acknowledgement that we are interrelated, connected, spun together in a web that requires each of us to assume our own responsibility. It came too late for me. I had already left. Both parties related the incident to me with a high degree of respect. I truly wish I could have seen it. It is perhaps what it was I longed for, the wished for outcome of any transgressive act. The man is lying down on the ground. A semi-fetal position. His eyes are closed. He is slowly and methodologically taking one small wheat seed into his hand and then putting this seed into his upturned ear. A woman comes and kneels beside him. They alternate. First he puts a seed into his ear, then she does, then he again. They take their time, time is theirs.
. . . .
I talk with Boris after. He says it was a hard performance. That every time it is different. That mistakes were made. That the hard part is to get beyond the visible. I want to know if he thought it was a good performance, if he is happy with the way things went. He says that is not the point.
I say, the world is small, so small that you have to take on a certain responsibility, you have to know that you are walking on someone else’s land, you have to know that what you do affects.
In this performance that occurs in a specific place at a specific time there is a call. A call to come. A call to leave home and daily routine and to go to some place "other". The performer invites us to this place to be with him, to share with him, some "thing". In arriving at this place we have answered a call. It is not to be taken lightly, it is not easily accomplished, this calling, this coming, this crossing over and this receiving.
A small scene in relation to the bigger, in relation to the world scene. And yet, this may be the domain, this small space of time, of potential, that demands its own rigour, its own attention to cause and affect. A space where care can be given, where maybe here we have the chance to get it right.
A Black Market performance at Centre d’art et de diffusion Clark, the 12th of September, 2002.
People in order of appearance in the text :
Orange throwing man: Lee Wen of Black Market
Orange catching woman: Lou Nelson, spectator
Heart woman: Louise Dubreuil, spectator
Blindfolded man: Norbert Klassen of Black Market
Man dropping cotton balls: Boris Nieslonly of Black Market
Man with rock on head: Helge Meyer of Black Market
Man with plastic baby attached to ear: Jürgen Fritz of Black Market
Tissue paper woman: Elvira Santamaria, invited guest of Black Market
Seed in ear man: Boris Nieslonly of Black Market
Kneeling woman: Sylvette Babin, spectator
1 Black Market is the name for a kind of co-operation between a few European performance- and theatre-artists. They do not appear as a group, do not write episodes together, no themes. B.M. is a happening condition in which a number of artists demonstrate their performances in parallel to one-another in one certain room and one certain time. These parallel performances are not created episodes, not stories and therefore B.M. must not define itself as a group. web site: http://www.asa.de/
2 women performers are the “invited guests” of B.M.
3 An attitude performed to perfection by George W. Bush.