1/10/16 Guest Projects, Jamila Johnson-Small
'Nolo: Curating the Body' and 'En Beige' by The Uncollective
Guest Projects, London
1 October 2016
Eve puts her two fingers – middle and fore – into a bowl of water. It is the same bowl I filled with water for a performance of PONY (2015) with immigrants and animals a few months earlier, that happened in the same space. Her fingers in the bowl make me think of all the lesbian sex I am not having right now. They remind me of the gap between a performers’ actions and the bodies of an audience, of the way that my tastes and memories and experiences and questions and criticisms spill out of me to fill that gap. The air is thick. And sometimes, I can’t see the performance for the haze of other people’s spillages.
We are watching in the round and I wonder if this enhances my experiences of alienation whilst watching, I wonder if this is intentional. I wonder how I might watch (see) this performance alone, I start to think that the other people and their eyes, bodies and spillages are an important part of the show. This imaginary work.
Eve is not alone in activating things. There was the invitation from The Uncollective, there were the six choreographers, there was the attempt to make one thing from their provocations and then there is Eve’s performance and then there is us, the audience.
I realise I’ve rarely written about a show and described what has happened, but write around it, trying to recreate that liminal space.
Eve brings invisible objects into the centre of the space. I think about how much these acts of miming encapsulate what happens as we watch her performing body doing/making a Show, a Work, a Piece:
an outline is described, articulated physically
we imagine what fits inside this outline and fill the outline with our imaginations
the (now) object is manipulated, positioned and re-positioned to varying effect as it takes on different meanings within different contexts
I could also be writing about the gaze on Eve’s body, the thing that happens when we put ourselves under the eyes of a public expecting to discover an art object that moves them in some way.
For me, Nolo was so much about projection across the gaps between things, people, ideas… I think part of the enhanced vulnerability of performing solo lies in being open to these many projections – as though your body is some kind of screen or portal to another world – and letting this happen without losing yourself.
I find it hard to watch this without thinking about race. I work/perform in two duos often, in one we are both brown, in the other I am tall and black and Mira is smaller white and blonde. Conversations and questions, myths and realities about race chase me as I dance. Eve and Michael dance to Zebra Katz ‘Ima Read’ which is the opening track in a duet I perform with Project O (O, 2013). They do a really pleasing abstract contemporary dance, almost skipping to the beat, it’s funny. I am so aware that that music and my body will never be funny but sinister, upsetting, confrontational etc etc. I think this and it feels like a burden. It also feels like something I want them to directly address : ‘Whiteness’ in En Beige.
So yeah, as I suggested, I have a professional interest in watching duos, I feel like I watch them more keenly than group work or solos. This one was kind of moving as it held a space, an ambiguous space that felt impregnated with a passion, swollen with feeling as they moved from one mundane happening to another. There was a seriousness hanging in the air, a devotion in the performance of this series of actions.
The performance ended with a balancing act, that made me realise all the balancing that had been going on throughout, all the many things that they both were holding as they skipped and sang and jumped their way through En Beige. Some things held defiantly, others reluctantly, some thrown up in the air for a laugh. I think about irony, about the tragedy of constant irony in a lot of work at the moment and how I feel that as a generation we are trapped between irony and a repellent sincerity.
As Eve balanced her body along the sideways length of Michael’s, I feel that they love each other, I feel the desire to share a virtuosity that subverts any normative expectations. I feel empathy.
More about Jamila