Brokkoli and worry stone

Gabriele Edlbauer on The Endless Island of Absence by Linda Samaraweerová
 
© Susanne Schuda
Gabriele Edlbauer on The Endless Island of Absence by Linda Samaraweerová

Hello. Or something like that, says the friendly nod on entering. It takes a moment to orient yourself, then the performer supplies you with clear information on the sequences, the structure. It seems to you that this clarity is established only to drift into vagueness with pinpoint accuracy. And precision landing.

Because the dancer moves gently now, backwards and with her eyes closed, in the circle in the middle of the area being formed by the audience. Instrumental music starts to play tentatively. The hands wander from left to right and from right to left, which makes you wonder if they are sliding over an imagined piece of wood. Or a worry stone? And immediately the term worry wart springs to mind, which means a person who lives in constant worry. That’s how unfocused you are at this moment.

The performer takes one step at a time, hands sliding, eyes closed. Over and over again. All eyes rest on her, on the slowness and evenness of her movement, and you notice how the seemingly endless repetition lets your attention drift from the centre of the space to the edge. To the audience. To you.

I’m talking to you because everything talks to you in this piece.

A slight restlessness manifests itself. A gentle pace and quiet movement. At home, there’s just some old broccoli left in your fridge. The man next to you fumbles for the text to which his attention was drawn at the box office. You are not quite so productive. You think of unlearning. Which is all about going backwards, maybe a kind of rewinding, resetting. So you are content with your unproductivity.

The Endless Island of Absence; it has become virtually impossible to circumvent the piece’s title, it has already taken hold of you in all its massiveness. And now that it’s just about to step on everybody’s toes and the emptiness has become so loud, the dancer has stopped moving.

And, just as she announced at the beginning, you follow her down the stairs framing the rows of seats that usually make up the auditorium, and on to the stage, which is filled with green hammocks hanging from the ceiling. Maybe even when you take off your shoes, but certainly when you’re trying to get into one of the hammocks, your attention returns to you. To the too short legs. It’s difficult – how are you supposed to get in there? Or to being too old or too insecure because so many people are watching. Will it hold? Once you have managed to get in, you make yourself comfortable, you see that the others have made it too. Some have one leg protruding towards the floor, for safety reasons. Bodies have turned into unshapely hanging sacks, swivelling and twisting slightly, creating a collective swinging motion. Your hammock creates a space just for you.

The whispering voice you hear right now talks to you directly. Because everything talks to you in this piece. Told you so. In contrast to the clear instructions formulated in English by the dancer at the beginning of the performance, now poetically interwoven passages in German are whispered into your ears. The mental leaps they take make you lose the thread over and over again, and you can pick it up a little bit later only to lose it once more. It occurs to you that this fade-in/fade-out is bound to be even more pronounced for the non-German speaking members of the audience. Nonetheless, the text has a similar effect on you. Then it slowly gets dark. The colorful swinging dissolves into collective darkness, the whispering voice into collective silence. Linda Samaraweerová anticlimactically places the darkness, the fading of all that is visible, at the centre of her piece. And you are dangling in your hammock, hear the people around you breathe, feel a slight draught in the room. You try closing your eyes, opening them. You remain like this during the long, dark sequence. Until finally a sound is spreading and you notice that figures with musical instruments are becoming visible in the auditorium (you are on the stage, remember!). Now that your visual sensorium is so dialled down, the music is all the more booming, physical. The lighting increasingly becomes more pronounced, there is a short play of light on the ceiling, and then, with the precision of a wake-up light – a bedside lamp with a programmable sunrise as a gentle wake-up aid in the dark winter months – you are guided through light phases of various colours into brightness.

At the end, you wake up.

 

Gabriele Edlbauer is an artist living and working in Vienna. She received her BFA from the Royal Institute of Art Stockholm in 2011 and her MA from the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in 2012. Edlbauer currently teaches at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, has participated in numerous exhibitions nationally and internationally and is currently showing at VBKÖ in Vienna.

 

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