Features Performance Published 21 November 2014

Something Other

A series of open-end questions: Mary Paterson speaks about Something Other.
Mary Pateson
  • What is the difference between the gaze of an audience member at a live performance, and the gaze of an audience member reading a website?
  • What are the consequences of looking?  What are the ethics?
  • What type of attention do you bring to digital space?
  • What else are you doing when you are reading online?  What else should you be doing?

Something Other (SO) is a research project that explores the relationships between live art and digital space.  Led by two writers (me, Mary Paterson, and Maddy Costa) and one technologist (Ross Miller, of Decoded Collective), it is an attempt to materialise, probe and re-think questions surrounding live art and the internet.

  • What type of distractions do you tolerate?
  • What paradigms of knowledge and memory are made possible by digital space?
  • What paradigms of knowledge and memory are made necessary by it?
  • What is original? What is a copy?  Where does it end?

The project takes its name from a famous quote by the performance studies academic Peggy Phelan:  “Performance’s only life is in the present.  Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance.” [Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London: Routledge, 1993) p. 146]

Since Phelan wrote this in the 90s, the world has changed rapidly.  Digital culture, online space, the imperative to share repeat, retweet, reblog, remake … all of this is an integral part of our lived experience.  It no longer makes sense to think of live art and its representations as antithetical or even particularly different to each other.  Of course, all these experiences have their own textures, conventions and expectations.  But they are part of the continuum of life and the live, not interruptions to it.

  • What is the nature of your relationship to your handheld device?
  • How intimate are you with your iPhone?
  • How do you feel about the passage of time?

In other words, it is now not just possible to countenance the translation of live art into other formats – it’s a given.  There will be photographs, blogs, reviews, Facebook posts, tweets and selfies, as well as material remnants and archival matter generated by live performance.  SO is not so much a celebration of this fact, as an intervention into it.

  • What is real about your experience of this?
  • What is most real about it?
  • Who are you when you participate in digital space?
  • Who are you with?

At the same time as Phelan was writing about the sanctity of performance, other people were imagining the intellectual and creative freedoms of the nascent world wide web: crafting a vision of a positive cyber-future that has not materialised.  For every quote we contribute to Wikipedia, a dozen of our ideas are edited and displayed into the gridlines of Facebook, Tumblr and Vimeo, whether we like it or not.  Freedom of expression comes down to your choice of a WordPress template –not just because you can’t find the time or the expertise (perhaps) to build something from scratch, but also because a handful of international giants influence the conventions of online space on a global scale.

  • How long can you read a book for before you get tired?
  • How long can you read a website for?
  • How does reading online affect the linear logics of language?
  • How do you know who to trust?

SO takes the form of eight collaborative commissions between artists and technologists.   Each is an invitation to explore what is possible when artists invested in live art turn their attention to digital technology –not just the tools, but also the ideas make up digital culture.   This means that, as well as what we produce, we are also looking at how we produce it: how we map the methodologies of software development onto theatrical devising processes, for example, in order to enact and embody collaboration at the very inception of each idea.

Accordingly, we expect Something Other to change shape and direction as we go.  SO is not trying to generate (more) online content about live art.  Instead, it aims to translate the cultures of live art into digital spaces.  We want to think about how concerns like the body, the gaze, or the performance of identity (for example) can be explored on a tablet or an iPhone, as well as in a theatre or public space.  We want to explore the conditions of reading and viewing ideas online, who these ideas can reach, and where they go next.   We want to ask questions like:

  • What lies between anonymity and accountability?
  • How easy do you find it to lie?
  • What do you know?
  • What does your browser history say about you?
  • What does your computer remember?

The first three commissions for Something Other will be launched alongside a short presentation at Talking/ Making/ Doing festival at Oval House, 23rd November 2014. For more information please contact info@somethingother.io

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