Uncomfortable Comfort

Issue #05: Body Social. Body Political.

A conversation between Dancehouse artist in residence Victoria Chiu and Artistic Director Angela Conquet.

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A conversation between Dancehouse Housemate Victoria Chiu and Artistic Director Angela Conquet.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet, Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs, But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild; White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover›d up in leaves; And mid-May›s eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine, The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
— John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale

Why are you uncomfortable when it comes to comfort?

Where do I draw the line between my desire to feel comfortable and the weight of my existential responsibilities? What’s the best use of my resources? Should I buy things to make me feel comfortable or be generous and thoughtful with my money? Should I only use the heater at night? When is it ok to over-indulge? When is not okay to not indulge?

These days things that comfort us are available, highly valued and normal. Access to information means we are aware of the negative effects our desire for comforts can have towards other people (money) or people in the future (environmental), to ourselves (health) and even to people we are close to (our relationships). Awareness only sometimes leads to action but easily leads to a feel- ing that I’m not doing right by myself or others…

Is comfort automatically about complacency and indulgence? The world is a wilderness and it seems only natural for humans to seek comfort in safety nets and anxiety-relieving devices.

Comfort isn’t necessarily automatically about either of these things. the act of wanting comfort has been instilled in us for so long and now it is part of our culture to want more. We use what we can to make our lives comfortable. It’s a natural reaction and is why the pos- sibility of change can appear insurmountable. Fulfilling needs physically, mentally and socially in our society leads us to seek comfort. Not every comfort leads to complacency, although some do and they differ for each person.

Do you think the pursuit of comfort, just like the pursuit of happiness, renders us more selfish, self-centred and at times, not very audacious?

If we weren’t a bit selfish we might not make it in our modern world. there are a few people who remove themselves from it all. I admire that they can do that, but the majority of people wouldn’t actually be happy if they did that. If we choose not to fringe dwell we are looking for happiness in a fast paced lifestyle and trying to take any type of fear out of the equation. that can definitely affect our audacity. So many options encourage our fear and make us buy more security, objects, status. Some people do end up taking the safe option constantly until they aren’t very audacious. Some people are happier with safety, but then killing your audacity is like killing your soul. When I was 25 there was a lot of death around me – my father, my young cousin, my grandmother, grandfather and aunty, followed by another cousin too young. these events hammered home that death is final, there’s no deal, insurance or magic trick to escape it. We all know it can happen any day, so I don’t want to be in a place where I wished I were more audacious.

Seeking comfort induces some degree of passivity, or docility, which perhaps explains why in wealthy parts of the world, we no longer think in terms of communities or solidarity, of mutual support?

In our society it appears that a lot of comfort seeking does make us more docile, even inert. For example, we’re fatter than we used to be, but on the other hand, we’re more tech savvy. Perhaps our passivity is formed through our fear to give up our comfortable situations? A comedian at Melbourne’s comedy Festival said that if Australians were suddenly told they had to walk around wearing a penis on their forehead, they would complain about it for a long time, but in the end they would just wear it. I think other parts of the world are quicker to express and act on their dislike to policy. Australia now is quite conservative in general and is getting more controlled and more bureaucratic. relating this back to our self-centred pursuits, we have lost strength in com- munity, we acknowledge our friends and we need people but we prioritise our own convenience and needs. We don’t seek to make decisions for other people without making sure we are ok first.

I have a two-year old and we were asked if we would take an asylum seeker into our flat. We met with him several times, he is a good man, worked in television in the country he came from but his status in his country meant extremists wanted him dead. We wanted to help him,

but what stopped me was fear that this would encroach on our lifestyle with our two-year old. We could help this guy on a short-term basis, but it was too stressful to imagine helping him long term.

I still don’t know what the right decision was. there’s a much greater sense of wellbeing in finding true mo- ments of mutual support, than finding financial, social or egotistical gain in life experiences. today we have placed less value on that.

In my research into comfort I spoke to a psychiatrist about comparing comfort and consumerism to substance addiction. He thought you could apply the same rules of change on both. Simply, at the base of finding change there needs to be big motivation, enough money and solid support networks. I think that although money is essential for health and mental health, seeking it can render us docile. It’s harder to define where our motiva- tion for change is unless we ourselves are faced with death, or with the death of people close to us. Motivation is harder to maintain and understand why it’s beneficial when the results aren’t seen in our immediate circle or in our lifetime.

Do you see any signs that this society, centred on indi- vidual needs, may change soon? Are you worried when you imagine what world your son will be left with? Is there anything at all that can make us better?

It doesn’t seem like it’s about to change. Small changes will continue, but in which way? More or less self focus, more or less influence from big power and money, more or less care for others, more or less stuff, more or less using the undereducated masses for comfort gain, more or less old values. occasionally, history tells us big change is possible – in what way?

Maybe we are happily flawed? Is our race egotistical or are we unaware of how self-de- structive we are? How could we let the Great barrier reef become so threatened? It looks like past generations have learnt from mistakes and passed down old morals, old stories, old lessons which we are quicker to reject in this society for quick monetary gain. Imagine them laughing at us saying ‘you’ve got it all wrong! You’re not progressing anymore.’

What my son will grow up with does worry me. What will my son see? Worst case is scary and best case is maybe not much better. He will want a lot from the earth and maybe he won’t give much back, like me.

So, to be better and create change we can be conscious and do our best to make it happen or we can notice when change evolves from an unpredictable place and find out why it did.