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THE CONVERSATION / 2012

The Conversation explored issues of time and space, proximity and distance, and the desire to not be present. Standing on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, I delivered a monologue via a cell phone to a surrogate performer, who recited my words to an assembled audience on the sixty-first floor of the British Consulate Residence in Chicago. This work developed a strand of my practice that deals with the notion of remote performance – what I have described in previous scenarios as ‘the problematization of presence’. There is the idea of the actor ‘phoning in’ a performance, and in this case, such a notion was coupled with the desire to create the sound of a voice not my voice - or by extension, a body, not my body. This was a form of ventriloquism without the ventriloquist and the puppet inhabiting the same space. A solo performance for two.

PHONE CALL:

1: I didn’t want to be here. But where am I? I am not there. I am talking to you. But I am not talking to you. I am talking to the gentleman on the phone, who is in turn talking to you. But he’s not talking to you. I’m talking to you. Through him. Or rather, I’m speaking to him. Speaking is perhaps a better word. But what is the difference between talking and speaking?

2: For example, we have the idea of an actor ‘phoning in’ a performance, when a role may be less than challenging, or merely being undertaken for monetary gain in some big budget Hollywood disaster movie that the actor didn’t really want to be in. I would like to say I am here with you ‘in spirit’, but, I’ve never really been sure what that platitudinous statement might mean. The truth maybe much more pedestrian.

3: But where am I? I am not here. But I am talking to you at what I consider to be a safer distance. But I am not talking to you. I am talking to a man on the phone who is in turn talking to you. But he’s not talking to you. I’m talking to you. Through him.

4: You may want to think of this as a lecture of sorts, with the image seen beyond the glass as a single slide that never moves onwards. But this seemingly perpetual image of a city scape will subtly change over the course of the next few hours. Lights will come on as the night closes in, and off again with the rising sun. The words will also change and evolve, but nothing will really change.

5: I didn’t want to be here. But where am I? I am not there. But I am talking to you at what I consider to be a safer distance. But I am not talking to you directly. I am talking to a man on the phone, who is in turn talking to you. But he’s not talking to you. I’m talking to you. Through him. Or rather, I’m speaking to him. Speaking is a better word.

6: You may want to think of this as form of ventriloquism, other than the fact that generally you would see the person operating the speaking puppet – both mouths moving unconvincingly. The ventriloquist and the puppet have to inhabit the same space.

7: But where am I? I am not there. But I am talking to you at what I consider to be a safer distance. But I am not talking to you. I am talking to the gentleman on the phone, who is in turn talking to you. But he’s not talking to you. I’m talking to you. Through him. You can see that. But what is the difference between talking and seeing?

8: Look out of the window. Imagine having no conception of distance…no depth of field, so that your sense of the scene outside the window is of a flat set – with only one door that would lead you to the other side, of the same buildings. But once on the other side of the door, the buildings are revealed to be a rickety construction of thin plywood and two by four – finding yourself behind the set of some big budget Hollywood disaster movie that you didn’t want to be in.

9: But where am I? I am not there. But I am talking to you at what I consider to be a safer distance. But I am not talking to you directly. I am talking to the man on the phone, who is in turn talking to you. But he’s not talking to you. I’m talking to you. Through him.

10: So there is still a sense of bodily presence. Even though this is not my body.
You may want to think of this as form of possession. That maybe there is nobody on the end of the phone.  That the phone is merely prop, and what you are seeing is the power of control over the mind, body and voice of another. Remote control, in a different sense. Even so, I may hang up the phone if I don’t like what Robin is asking me to say.

11: But he’s not talking to you. I’m talking to you. Through him. Or rather, I’m speaking to him, but not over the phone. Maybe he is repeating what I say. Repeating is a better word. What is the difference between repeating and speaking? Or what is the difference between me, and a similarly aged male with an English accent? The desire was for the sound of a voice not my voice - or by extension, a body, not my body…

12: Who I am doesn’t matter. But where am I? I am not here. But I am talking to you at what I consider to be a safer distance. But I am not talking to you directly. I am reading to the person on the phone, who is in turn talking to you. But he’s not reading to you. I’m reading to you. Through him. Or rather, I’m reading to him. Reading is a better word.

13: I was thinking about reading and possession – possession in the sense of possessing an object, i.e. several sheets paper covered in the printed word – relative to possession in terms of an authors voice entering your mind as you read. Do you hear a voice as you read silently to yourself? Is it your voice? Is it the voice of the author as you might imagine it? And have you ever read a book that seems to read itself to you rather than you reading it? Some books seem more alive than others. Almost sentient. To the degree that you could almost be there.

14: But I didn’t want to be there. But where am I? I am not here. But I am talking to you at what I consider to be a safer distance. But I am not talking to you directly. I am reading to the person on the phone, who is in turn talking to you. But he’s not reading to you. I’m reading to you. Through him. Or rather, I’m reading to him. Reading is the best word. But what is the difference between talking and reading?

15: Silence. Lately, I’ve stopped writing to people – because when they reply to me, it means I have to keep on writing. So that satisfaction at getting the text written is paradoxically obliterated by getting the reply. Its as if the writing that engendered the response never happened. I have to reply again and again and again. I wanted to write one letter that said it all, to everyone, once and for all.

16: Wishing you were here. But where am I? I am not there. But I am talking to you at what I consider to be a safer distance. But I am not talking to you directly. I am talking to the man on the phone, who is in turn talking to you. But he’s not talking to you. I’m talking to you. Through him. Or rather, into him. Inside him.

17: Look out of the window. I didn’t want to be here. Its cold and its getting darker. But I am talking to you at what I consider to be a safer distance. But I am not talking to you directly. I am talking to the man on the phone, who is in turn speaking to you. But he’s not speaking to you. I’m speaking to you. Through him. Breathing. Breathing is a better word. What is the difference between breathing and speaking?

18: I didn’t want to hear. Words separated themselves from my body leaving me out of breath. The simple act of breathing became equivalent to the complex act of speech – only on a much more subtle level of communication.

19: We cannot change things on our own. I believe in the power of collective will.
Stand up and go to the window. Choose a building – look at it, focus on it. Then choose a window in that building. The next thing to do will be to collectively count down from 10 to 1, and as you reach number one, you will see the light in the window you have chosen go out. I believe in the power of collective will. But for this to work, we have to do it together…

20: I want you to count with me…10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1…

EPILOGUE: I crossed the Tower of Babel with the Towering Inferno and my words caught fire. You see, I have a recurring dream of being on the top floor of a very tall building. I start to notice that the building is seemingly unstable. It sways gently at first, and then slowly begins to lurch from left to right.  Did you notice the atmosphere changing as you came up in the elevator? In my dream, I noticed a similarly subtle shift or pressure inwards against my ears. By now I had developed a certain paranoia regarding interiors at a height. This went beyond a mere discomfort with confinement. You may want to think of a building as a body with orifices as entrances and exits – that an open door is akin to an open mouth. That a window looks in as much as it looks out. That the walls really do have ears. I decided to search for the evidence of this surveillance by dismantling the walls brick by brick. The process was initially methodical, but soon degenerated into a rather undignified spectacle. And as the building collapsed, I started to feel rather light headed and wondered if it was a question of mind and building rather than mind and body.