I have been thinking about intimacy and performance lately. Often when you work with small scale or one to one performance, there is an expectation for the experience to ‘be intimate.’ I never quite know how to feel about this.
I think this is partly because of what I think is implied when people say’ intimacy’ – something safe, cosy enjoyable, even comforting. And I would definitely never want to describe my performance work in that way. But maybe I am just not understanding what ‘intimacy’ means? In discussing his one-to-one performance Mystical Glory Hole, Dominic Johnson notes:
The tendency, I think, would be to read this encounter in terms of intimacy. The encounter is partly boring, partly threatening, possibly embarrassing or uncomfortable, and then the difficulties resolve themselves into an experience of beauty or wonder, however slight. This sounds, to me, like a neat description of intimacy itself, as a situation that aims (to varying extents) at pleasure, but necessarily involves less pleasurable eventualities. (Zerihan, 2009, p.
Sonic Confessions - one-to-one performance. Potography by Matthew Southward
I really like this quote – of all the texts and descriptions I have read about performance art, this particular one stands out to me. It captures perfectly the complex and multi layered ‘thing’ a small scale performance can be.
Both for me, as the performer, and the audience members, there is unpredictability – what will happen, who’s really in control? There is a slight social anxiety, a fear you are not doing the right thing. How do I act? How am I MEANT to act? And that is all before we get into the actual contents of the work – which are aften designed to highlight difficult or challenging topics.
I like there to be a slight sense of danger within the pieces, and I like that fact we are free to explore these tensions, dangers and anxieties within the relative safely of a performance art piece.
So, returning to the quote and Johnsons description of ‘intimacy’ - maybe it is not that I don’t think my performance works are ‘intimate’. It is maybe more about thinking about what intimacy actually is. As Johnson points out, it is a complex and fluid thing – and in that sense, yes, I would agree that my one-to-one performance works are ‘intimate’ – unpredictable, awkward, a little dangerous – and never really boring!
(Zerihan, R., 2009, One to One Performance, London, Live Art Development Agency)