Izabella Maria Herzfeld / Berlin, Germany
“Open Our Eyes, Open the Bubble”
“Open Our Eyes, Open the Bubble”
By Izabella Maria Herzfeld
Berlin – Germany
My first idea was about opening “the bubble“ of professional dancers and typical spectators of contemporary art to other people in public spaces. To come into connection and movement, I chose to work with the gesture of eye-contact. As a first step, I exchanged views on these questions with people who live in different places. What does it mean to look someone into the eye? How difficult is it to maintain contact and why? What are social norms regarding eye contact?
I have chosen the gesture of eye-contact because it is of new importance in the pandemic. It is a possibility to come into an intense connection despite physical distance and facial masks.
At the time of the beginning of the Bodies of Care (BoC) project I was involved in some instant composition performance series of musicians and dancers in public spaces called “Bubble Dance” in Berlin. In the first series there was a clear separation between spectators and performers. My performative research aimed at extending the idea of unconditional instant composition by professional performers towards new formats in which ideally there is no longer a separation between spectators and performers.
I learned and developed new methods of using choreographic instructions to involve people in the choreography. The more I learned about instructional performances, I recognized that instant composition is not the artistic method I want to work with in the project of BoC. Nevertheless, I found out during the performances with the Bubble Dance group, that being at public spaces where children are passing, it is easier to involve the public. Children can act like a mirror for your performed activities, because their reactions are quite direct and honest. They would not participate if they are bored or feel ashamed for example. These experiences influenced my choices of the community I did the BoC performance with in the end: a mixture of adults and children.
First of all, the mentors of BoC gave me a lot of motivation and inspiration for this artistic process. Watching instructional performances of LIGNA, like “Dissemination Everywhere!” and “Radioballett“, encouraged me to use audio tools that allow me to make a performance without my presence as the artist. That’s when I got away from the idea of professional dancers being involved. I was thrilled to see how audience participation is extended to the extreme in this way. Torsten Michaelsen and Ole Frahm from LIGNA pushed us in the process to translate our (site) specific artistic ideas into more universal ones, which can be used in any place and space.
It was highly inspiring to see Melati Suryodarmo’s performance art. To see and to hear how her impressive performances worked out gave me courage to actually put the audience in the place of the performers without any rehearsals. After watching her solo performance “24902 Miles“, where she deals with the topic of home(less) with a mattress as used material, I came to the idea of using brooms as material fitting to the topic of care.
Reading and hearing of the guests in the BoC program, Butet Manurung and Sascia Bailer helped to contextualize our topic of Care. Sascia Bailer’s work on care has made me realize how important it is to think about those who do most of the caring work: women, especially mothers. And those who need it most: children, the elderly, people with disabilities. This led me to pay special attention to the needs of these groups of people in the process of creating the instructions: accessibility through comprehensibility of the instructions, use of gender-appropriate language, barrier-free location of the performance, feasibility of the instructions for people with disabilities. The many translation processes in the project made it difficult to achieve all these goals at once. But I will keep these important aspects in mind and pay more attention to them in my (co-) work in future.
In addition, when dealing with “Curating, Care and Corona” by Sascia Bailer, I realized how important it is not only to consider care as a private issue, but to bring it into the public space, especially in the pandemic situation we have.
I was thinking about using brooms for the performance, because sweeping as the action is an active motion of care work. It´s used for cleaning, meditation or even as a symbol of citizens’ protest (Burkina Faso, Le Balai Citoyen, 2014). I planned to include a cleaning together in the performance as a form of Happening Art, inspired by the community rituals “kerja bakti“ in Indonesia or “subbotnik” in Russia.
Another impulse was to connect brooms with the topic of acting on eye level. To use brooms as a symbol of a dis-balance of people doing care work (sweeping for example) and the upper class, which is never cleaning by themselves because they have domestic servants.
But in the end I decided to not use brooms, because it was difficult to integrate this element in the collaborative work with the other BoC Artists. But I will keep this idea in mind for other participatory performance projects.
Concentrating on the gesture of eye-contact, we all use eyes expression as an important part of body language:
So our eyes express deep emotions. Already in the middle age Hildegard von Bingen mentioned the well known saying “the eyes are the window to the soul“. It can be a really intense experience to look into someone’s eyes. One of the strongest references is Marina Abramović’s “The Artist is Present“.
As some studies show, most people feel comfortable with 3.2 seconds of eye contact. This is the information we included in the instruction in the end. There the people are invited to look into the eyes of a partner for more than these comfortable 3 seconds, for at least 15 seconds, and move afterwards without losing the eye-contact.
In some try outs of the first instructions I used to tell the people to look into each other’s eyes for 2 minutes. That was really intense. One person told me, “this exercise was pure therapy for me“. After some other tryouts, I shortened the duration.
In the beginning the artists of BoC had ten different ideas to the topic of Care/Community Care that were developed independently. We created a digital whiteboard about all the ideas we had, which was used for getting an overview and for commenting on each other’s ideas.
I used this period to find out how different or similar eye-contact is working in the different cultures and places. For example, in Indonesia it can be a sign of disrespect to look older people directly into their eyes. But it seems like that’s more a conservative thing, which is not common in the new generation of people.
The keywords of my instruction idea at this point were:
Co-Working / Producing Bodies
After a long process of making decisions on how to work on, we made up little groups of 3 to 4 choreographers to go into detail and develop the ideas and translate them into universal instructions which can be used in different places with different communities.
I was in a group with Ela Mutiara, I Nyoman Krisna Satya Utama, and Eva Borrmann. We created a common instruction in this constellation together, since all of us had the intention to work with gestures of care: waving, eye-contact, making gifts, creating rhythm while clapping.
We developed this scheme to develop a dramaturgy:
Who I care for
What do I do
Which act of care am I using
I care for myself
> Waving royally
> Feeling the waves in my body
I see you
I connect with you
I create something with you
> Waving to others
> Eye-contact one by one
> Eye-contact moving together
I see everyone
I do something for another
I connect with everyone
I create sth. with everyone
> Soft Focus – see 3 people
> Folding a gift
> Clapping together
> Different clapping sounds
It was a good process to work on the instruction together, I enjoyed it a lot. We title this work as “The Practice of Togetherness“.
I planned to invite people to participate in a courtyard surrounded by high-rise apartment buildings in the outer district of Hohenschönhausen in Berlin. For almost 15 years the playground in the middle of the courtyard called “Hoolzi“ has been a meeting point of a community of around 50 people who grew up around there. My idea was to invite them and other people living in the surrounding buildings to join the performance.
When we came closer to the performance date, the pandemic situation was still complicated. We decided to not invite too many people and to search for more safe spaces. Coincidentally the community who usually meets at this courtyard organized a getting together festival in Brandenburg at a lake near Berlin. So I offered the performance at this families and friends festival of around 60 people. We did the performance at a meadow in the middle of the camp with around 20 people participating. The group was a mix of children and adults. Many of the people of this community are rarely in touch with contemporary art. So I wanted to offer this performance in a context like this to reach the opening of “the bubble” I described in the beginning.
From the beginning my feelings were mixed with curiosity, joy and excitement to meet so many people from different contexts. To this day, I am happy about all the encounters and connections that were made. The respectful interaction has been a credit to the theme of caring.
The last weeks before the performing day I was quite nervous regarding the challenge of this new performance format. It was a jumping out of my comfort zone as a choreographer and good training to put aside my perfectionism and ego as an artist while developing the performance collaboratively. I felt quite nervous about the question if the participants would be overwhelmed with the instructions. In the end, it was good to give up control and see this democratic process of participation bear fruits. I think it was enriching for everyone involved.
The artistic and intercultural experiences of the BoC project really push me to continue making participatory arts projects. As a choreographer and dancer I want to do art for every_body and with every_body. I know this is a noble ideal, but what should we strive for if not this? I understand that there are a lot of things to care about to reach this aim. Let’s continue on that!
Thanks to everybody in this project for bringing me into such lovely conversations, for learning about essential topics and for the collective breaking of boundaries!