” A world transcribed between a square and an octopus”
When I am let in, it is because someone is on their way out. I step into the studio, and the ushers immediately request for shoes to be placed in small taped boxes, like little parking lots. There is also a bag check counter. The floor is cold against my bare feet. Turning the corner, I see chairs placed around two sides, and a riot of colour on and between two walls. A performer is chanting/ranting something about walls, like a spoken word artist might do in his sleep. The audience sits in clusters, to various degrees of comfort. I feel like an outsider, stepping into something that is already taking place. But there are no more seats, so I stand awkwardly, unsure what to do with myself.
The program booklets are strewn around, and I do know some people in the audience, yet to cut across the space to sit with friends felt somehow inappropriate. It’s a technicolor space, vivid and vibrant, but somehow austere to me as a new arrival. The program invites participation as an option, so some audience members are moving things, shifting, playing. But what have I stepped into? What is being watched?
This is a lot of preamble about the piece. I have not gone into the heart of the work.
“xhe” is layered like an onion. You get drawn in, there are even tears, but staying on the outside to admire its cool roundness remains an option. Graphically, there are plenty of angles, but the experience of space is never sharp. My feelings of discomfort are similar — occasionally I question why there are quotations of whaacking, or mohiniyatham, both recognisable and codified dance forms, and then I question why I question those choices, whereas I don’t question the choice to play with, for example, hitting a microphone against a box. There is a lot of baggage here, and in scrambling through a jungle of possibility, we perhaps find each other.
In my experience of the work, this is what happens. Each person responds differently upon entering the room. Some people are like a bright colour, open and comfortable in the space immediately. Some people blend in and observe, others blend in and start playing with their own ideas. I see closed-off expressions sometimes, like someone is processing and unwilling to express their inner thoughts. I turn my head and am surprised at things people are doing, playing gently. There are moments of suggested violence when the artists hit objects against each other repeatedly. There is a sense that things are being worked through, that somehow something is being figured out though we may not know what. When an action evolves, the hint of frustration dissolves. Within a controlled range of emotions, there are moments of genuine laughter. Karol Tyminski throws himself around at one point, and suddenly his head meets an audience member’s lap. They stay in this place for a while, two grown men relaxed in a socially unconventional position. It is all okay, even when, later on, Daniel Kok needs to remove some fluff from his mouth and put it on the floor. The work lives in a permissive space, even as we negotiate how far we can go. How loud can someone play a sound? How close do we want to huddle with each other, this group of strangers, being observed by some others? Can we interrupt the action with our own ideas?
The number of people in the room seems to have an impact, too. When we are fewer people, close to midnight, cooperation seems easier. The experience envelopes us, between passively watching Kok or Tyminski throw themselves into cushions, to being involved in our own action. Within that range is a world of possibility, contained beautifully by the soundscape, the musicians and the hosts. The value in the work is in being there and figuring out how I might want to live in it. Do I follow the performers’ actions all the time? Do I want to lie down and wave my legs in the air? Do I want to fall asleep in a corner? Because, actually, I can.