We asked Alexandra Harrison what she thought was coming. An intimate conversation with Angela Conquet, artistic director of Dancehouse.
So, how did you get so interested by what’s coming?
What’s coming began in 2009 as a conversation I had with an 84 year old woman called Daphne Kingston. I was sitting in Daphne’s kitchen,
drinking tea and eating biscuits, and she was telling me about her 35 year long practice of documenting architecture in the Sydney basin; old jerry built slab huts, farm houses, barns and fences. She would return to properties, year after year, and draw them in their various states of disrepair, renovation, demolition. Prior to this, she had been a visual artist but she shifted her practice as she became disillusioned around the 60s and 70s by the commodification of art. I asked if this commodification was something she could articulate at the time, or was it something she perceived only in hindsight. Oh no no no, she said, I knew it at the time. Coming events cast their shadows, you know. Coming events cast their shadows. I was struck by this. Do they? Do coming events cast their shadows? And I got to thinking that older folk must get good at reading shadows and it is a practice I am just beginning. I began to wonder about the conditions of the present and the future movements they would become/produce. What’s Coming and its prophetic concerns quickly became a playful articulation of the serious business of paying attention.
If it were true that our world is reflected in the dancing body, how do you imagine our bodies will move in, say, 30-40 years? How do you see people moving on the street and on the stage? Will there be a stage, by the way, or will we shift totally into some sort of virtual world?
Things will continue, the future will be continuous. The street will continue to be a forest of gesture and the street will also be a programmatic space safety and health. Elimination of risk will continue. Movement will continue to be optimised for efficiency, movement will continue to follow the cues of briefs and instruction. Perhaps this is where the robot is located – in the articulation of mechanical procedure in human flesh, and communication becomes exchange of discrete information based on a handbook of directives think of call centres/outsourcing/motivational speak/ obfuscated political speak. Disaster will continue But the future will be funny too – for in this deadpan of repetition, and even in the deficit of understanding, is a comic situation. And then, too, is the inescapable animal so there will be mess and aberration and unpredictability these things will continue too and alarms will continue to sound but they won’t all be heard. Some things will continue to be over-exposed and things will continue to disappear – including stages, but stages will also continue to be everywhere. I think dance, too, must fall into neglect and sag (and become beautiful) with age and become dilapidated grown over and be demolished and be repaired and renovated and rebuilt dance too will disappear and continue.
Are you afraid of what’s coming?
There is a great moment in a Ben Okri novel where a man sees a heron, the heron stands simple and still in a swamp and the man sees it. The humble, muted heron seems to grow in majesty in his sight and then something catches his eye. It is a marvellous spectacle appearing over the horizon it is all colour and noise and light it is brass bands and whistles and it approaches and the man can’t take his eyes off it. It expands in its magnitude through his watching and as he watches he realises the heron is receding, the heron is fading next to the elaborating spectacle until it altogether disappears. I am afraid for the vanishing heron. and I fear demolition too. It’s scary. but onward.
It is said that we shape the world each time we look at it, which means the world is a mere resemblance of ourselves. And W. Whitman was worried that there were – so many promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep. Can what’s coming become better because we can make it better, now, each day, every day, for the future? Because this is probably the power, the only, genuine one, that we have? To make what’s coming better than we expect it?
Yes, exactly – well, not necessarily that it resembles us but that it resembles the limits/expanses of our seeing that is why it is so important what we pay attention to and why constant gliding over seductive surfaces represents a limit to the future. Sometimes I worry about dance’s seductive surface, but Walt Whitman’s worry is a beautiful one – maybe I should make that my worry.
Expectations are tricky sometimes I have been very happy without expectations and sometimes they set out a useful and keen map for the future. Theoretically, I have questions about improvement – Andrew Benjamin at a SEAM conference a few years ago proposed that utopias were fascist because they were pre-determined ideals that reality then had to shape itself to. If you mean by “making better” a responsive dialogue with the present not based on a model of perfection then, yes, absolutely we can make what’s coming better and what’s more it is desirable.
And the pursuit of happiness in what’s coming?…
Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times starts with a title card proclaiming something to the effect of a story of industry, individual enterprise and crusading in the pursuit of happiness.
I am not averse to happiness as such, but it does seem that happiness is a bit of a project of modernity – wed with the ideology of progress and the dogma of improvement. I wonder about joy – that bubbling vivid sensation connected to anticipation and the present and physicality. Or a happiness more synonymous with gratitude and appreciation, responsibility and wisdom.
Or what about a happiness that is collaborative? What if we expand the singularity of the individual enterprise and make happiness a collaborative/collective experience? That could be more a something. But pursuing any future does seem a little strange if you think about the physicist’s idea that the past exists in particles and the future comes in waves. You don’t really need to pursue a wave – you just need to position yourself and then wait… (patience?)