partial accounts of performances at Contexts Festival, Sokołowsko Poland
Alexandra Baybutt, July 2016
This writing addresses a selection of the performances at the Context Festival, 2016, in Sokołowska. It does not include the installations, exhibitions or films that also constituted the curated works in the festival. The author also missed seeing several performances taking place during the first days. The theme of the festival was the identity of the artist, with particular attention paid to emigration. Emigration is the act of the leaving of a country for a long time, or permanently. This emphasises departure, rather than entrance or temporary residence.
These works spoke to aspects of transition. Abrupt changes were surprising, but transformations of decreasing tempo towards entropy were perhaps even more shocking. Transitions can be ignored, but more often are ingested, digested and regurgitated like spider’s webs, catching new meanings in the forming of conditions for temporary stability.
Through the celebration and value placed upon the transitory, the elusive and the ephemeral that so well-defines modernity, what is disclosed is, paradoxically, a longing for an immaculate and stable present. In these performances, we are reminded of the partial, unfinished aspect of emigration that honours that which was departed from. But any distance felt from a sense of core located in the ‚past’ evokes and insists instead upon the establishment of a new core in the present. The web can catch and suspend. Our creativity in the face of loss is rendered critical.
So audiences assembled and reassembled around these works. Accentuated by the frame of the festival, that both makes performance as a practice both special and undoubtedly precarious, audiences echoed continual change through the facing and turning of our backs, similarly longing for something. Unless otherwise specified, audiences will zoom in. This allows for details to be seen, and for intimate affect to manifest. Though I wonder what this dominant myopia might miss. Occasionally I, like the other camera-eyes roving around the performances, pulled back a little to see the seeing. I saw the space perform in different compositions with new tensions between the built environment and hilly terrain that affected the flows of bodies, arcing new trajectories. We imbued the space with new points of focus and significance, unintentionally coordinating a periphery as we defined a core. We repeatedly walked and made place, scattering and regathering. The microcosm of audiences in Sokołowska echoed transitory patterns and human flows, playing similarly with permanence and change in our migrations.
The works below are not in chronological order in the way they were presented during the festival, but instead are indicated by where they were situated in time, as if they happened in one day. They took place in a variety of spaces in Sokołowska, indoors, outside, and at different times of the day as part of other scheduled events. Audiences mingled between spaces, spoke amongst themselves and invited each other to the next destination.
Dominika Borowska (POL), E->.<-I
By the little bridge that leads towards the bus stops and houses is a woman walking in circles with a rolling suit-case behind her. Her bright blue nylon jumpsuit is visible from further up the path, the click of her heels on asphalt intoning an even rhythm. Amidst the bucolic green and morning light, the synthetic colours shout even louder.
Why we need to be so near her, I don’t know. But we go closer. Our shoulders wrestle each others’ for the front-and-centre perspective of the theatre balcony, the view that translated into the arm-chair view for television and is still the orientation that both encourages our close proximity to action and prioritizes it over a wider view. The squashing of the distance between us and her draws me into her world and I feel entitled to get even closer. This world is not about the information in our peripheral vision. This near-distance view privileges being able to really see skin, flickers of her features and small details. And so, I focus more on her than on her in relationship to her path. This brings with it its own intensities.
As landscapes disappear, I can sense more keenly an inner process that makes gestures resolve with clear finality. She carries out a series of almost arbitrary actions with items from her case, discarding pieces along the way. The list is curious in how it builds a repeated motif of definitive closures. Her short phrases of multiple endings shift simply to the next action: to walking, placing, undressing, accumulating like a black hole swallowing all matter and vibrations. These closings produce a sensation in my chest of increasing dullness and heaviness, of inward pouring. It forms an unsettling invitation towards some nihilism that draws us all behind her towards her ending point.
Krzysztof Kaczmar (POL)
There are children milling around as I approach. In the trees opposite the laboratorium building is a small fire, three tables arranged with white table cloths draped over them, and Krzysztof up a tree. His mouth is held open, stretched ear to ear with the help of a demonic dental tool, and his grimace is visible from some distance. He is standing in a hoop of rope, monolithic, iconic. Eventually loops of repeated sound – the EU national anthem – come out of the loud-speaker megaphone hanging by his side.
Eventual and inevitable change: he gets down, roams around to the table cloths he then sets in motion. A pulley system makes them sail aloft, unveiling four loaves of bread per table below. The height of trees announce their status as I look up to them. We are small. And clearly hungry – people gather towards a table to begin to eat, as the trees are wrapped in black plastic around us.
Place is freshly made between trees and around each table. What are these new temporary communities? The once-scattered audience, used to moving independently, are now separated into three groups between the trees, reinforced by eating together. Everything is great, everything is fine. Are we trapped, rescued or commanded? Maybe this tension is useful to consider in our notion of citizenship as resident. Our participation is unclear as the resolution makes our division and reuniting feel arbitrary. Why as an audience member is unpunished deviance not alarming? Am I expected to dwell on a flicker of guilt at my own acquiescence to authority?
His mild manner coerces us. What an easy (art) crowd of willing participants. We take a journey towards the fire to transition, all too quickly, into our pedestrian civilian selves, talking about whatever was on our mind with our friends. After his commanding start, the power dynamics rapidly diffuse after the flurry of glitter and paper aeroplanes. From one group to three and back to one again. I’m left considering whether a reverential attitude towards a singular figure must be resisted. Can we turn our back on our complicity for temporary division?
Szymon Kula (POL)
Two tables are set up not far from the cinema, the terrace where we linger and pause. We congregate around him. His stark, economic gestures are purposeful, though not earnest. Into the table he inscribes some letters with a chisel, then burns the wood shavings, using the ash to continue spelling out the word ‚History’ across the two tables. I care about what he is doing about as much as he does, and no more. In the midday light, I enter into his matter-of-fact dynamic. He then carried one table to the other side of a little ravine.
His leap across the ravine at the end is hard to see. Audiences are again pressed towards against the action with their entitled shoulders. But I could see the gap he jumped, and even without seeing the landing, it was a surprising gesture, marked by total commitment.
What if he hadn’t made it? What if he’d slipped? More, what does my relief relate to? This riffing on the concrete problematics of history (therefore histories) through these brief actions made tangible how the permanent can be destroyed, how unity can be divided and how perhaps we can surmount a gulf of ideologies.
Mariel Carranza (PE/USA), Behind the table
The stones, collected from Sokołowska, rest in the base of glasses full of water. The glasses rest on a table, the table is situated behind the cinema building. High walls on the three sides contain our viewing, emphasising the vertical space and the solitude of a single figure. The movement of stones when moved by human hand move at a rate ungraspable to the matter itself. New milieus await: water, skin.
The clink of her teeth on glass is loud in this solitude. I watch water drip onto the ground, down her clothing, through her body. I am held in her un-rushed movement. She takes a stone into the cavity of her mouth and casts a sound upward.
The long preparations make a powerful interplay between exacting quietude and abrupt smash. Through this, my nervous system jumps, my interior world flares. I am moved. Stone stays stone, isolatable but not isolated.
The timelessness of the minerals of the earth contrast with breakage and dislodging, making both accidental and deliberate re-worlding. The poetics of the continuum of humans, made up from molecules shared with stone, percolate through this single figure. The table becomes horizon of thought.
Laura Bartolomei (IT)
I first saw the figure, clad in white bandages and suspended by rope hovering just off the ground, from afar. I got closer to join the audience encircling her, and we peer at small photographs of her attached to her body, and it becomes clear we can even unwrap her if we wish. Was I supposed to feel provoked at the possibility of increased nudity? Hardly. Was I supposed to help? Did this work expose something about our ease as audiences to be bystanders to inertia?
Can the body, does the body, will the body, should the bodies, when will the body, what can the body, is the body, what will the body, can we the body, be the body, should her body, how can her body, should we, should she, when will, not the, safe but, exposed body, naked body, ring fenced body, can, we, must.
She was separate but we were together.
Polen Performance (Mikołaj Sobczak and Justyna Łoś) (POL)
To the stage of the cinema they ran: a sexy interweaving of uniforms, polylinguistic delivery and hyper-repetition. Then Abba. Again. I’ve already been making friends with Abba this year, through Portishead’s S.O.S. remix, and it accompanying me on Lot airlines on the way to Wrocław. Only irony? Is that’s all that’s left in our current times of suspicion and squalor?
But gratitude is here with homage and in-jokes to their mentors and inspirations (most of which flew over my head), meant more for their interlocateurs than their wider publics. But wider publics would still enjoy this display of golden grandeur. Their talk is slippery and overlapping, their relationship one of pollution and mutual permission. Let us reflect on numbers: one performer on a stage is about personality, two or more, community. This community knows something of how to amuse each other, how to speak it’s languages. Levity is useful, I think, as I sink further into my cinema seat, hearing the audience perform community back at the stage in laughter and appreciation.
Katarzyna Podpora (POL)
Intimately contained in one of the sanatorium buildings’ mortuary, this work required darkness and small audience groups. Engulfing sound accompanies her whilst she gathers long grasses in a bucket, staining them, arranging them on sheets of paper and rolling them in their shrouds, to piled up behind her. Their fate we do not know.
In the intimacy of darkened space, the eye, ear and skin must reach toward details. Candle light gently deteriorates as the hours pass, and the cycles of these actions continue. The small space helps me taste the cracks between assertive thoughts and fragile ones. Someone takes my hand to help me step back outside when I realise the darkness has increased and the sound has fallen away.
The crisp green air outside contrasts with the stone dust, the chemical paint, and my attention that had been condensed into the atmosphere of the mortuary building now widens. I walk away, my back still sensing the space behind it, rather than aiming towards any particular destination.