What is Performance?

Yesterday I went to a performance. I was excited to be taken to ‘that place’: the space where dreams and reality, where the concrete and conceptual, where broken beliefs and new shoots of ideas mix in a pot and dissolve us from daily living.

But I couldn’t see anything. At all. Nothing. Nobody. Uncertain, I called my new friend Elina, the artist, worried about disturbing her before her big moment. ‘No, it’s fine, I’m not there…’ Not there? Through the phone, while staring down an empty path, I vaguely heard about not having something necessary, police, problems. It would be on Facebook live instead.

I felt like a right chump. I’d cycled over the river to get here, I’d got excited about nothing. I decided to watch the live stream in St Martin’s cemetery anyway where the performance would have been; covid alone again. But as I settled into the glory of the place, I began to watch people pouring into this haven of soft summer sun shining through the almost tangible taste of ancient ancestors.

We were accompanied by the yellow press, who having heaved their heavy equipment were ready with long, impressive lens to shoot the action. Bright eyed, we breathed in expectation.

No one knew anything.

Nothing was happening.

At 7pm it was announced that the performance online had begun. There was something strangely comforting about us all watching the same thing together, stood in the middle of the resplendent green that lushly enveloped the gravestones. I wouldn’t have had the attention span to watch the performance by myself at home: a bar-b-que I wasn’t invited to. Yet, the filming held the space for us all to be. It was the background excuse that held the threads of our growing connection together. There was something bonding about us all having been ‘stood up’ for our date individually, but together.

My eyes kept moving up from the screen, looking around at the others, at the ‘us’, at this that had formed in middle of the surrealism of a group of people, police, cameras, gravestones and overflowing nature. Someone asked me, ‘Is anything going to happen?’ as if expecting something or someone to come out from behind trees. ‘No…’ I said, ‘just this’ and pointed to my mobile.

Strangely comforting to stand with and amongst people who all knew nothing was going on, together we were creating a happening. We were the art. We were what was: nothing.

Some people were chatting, but many of us were just standing. Together. In silence. For no reason. For nothing. Not having to be, to do, or react. It was delicious. Stood in the middle of an oasis of calm with nothing to do but breathe.

For a time we were all simply being.

Ferns uncurled.

After a while I decided to cycle home. I went the long way, slowly, meandering along the river. The sun was shining. Time had slowed into a mellow, balmy evening. People were out, enjoying.

I found a new park, cycled passed women exercising in a group and then three seniors practising martial art. I found myself cycling amongst roller-bladers streamlining through the air. In a dream of peaceful calm, I luxuriated in relaxation and effortless happiness. It dawned on me that for some time I had not been thinking. I had simply been being. I realised with pleasure: I am in the here-now.

I cycled home, through Old Riga, in a warm bath of inner silence. Each sight brought simple delight, each movement, a joy. I felt enveloped in a smooth flow of goodness, of warm humanness within a friendly world. I had become this, now. No past, not future. It felt sublime.

Isn’t that what true performance is about? To slow us down, to calm our brains so to experience a plane of existence that is not daily living?  Isn’t the role of art to take us to places that we can’t get to so easily by ourselves? Isn’t that the magic of performance? A divine cosmic joke, Elina’s (non) performance did just that: with her intention to perform and our intention of opening to her message and become part of it, we were taken into the void of nothingness, beyond the daily grind of existence, into a place of our own unique essence.

I would do it all again. Bravo Elina! Superb.

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