I'm interested in how Walking:Holding works to gently subvert expectations of the performance of gender in relationships. I saw first hand how strongly the public can react to the piece. What was fascinating was seeing how an audience member can also be drastically effected in this way. Last night an audience member, who was a straight man, seemed at first genuinely confused at the whole concept of the piece, and was really tested by holding hands with several gay men and a cross-dresser. When Simon approached him to hold his hand, he laughed out loud seeming very uncomfortable. Afterwards I spoke to the woman who ends the piece, and he had said to her after a string of 'you know, me and most guys would feel...' that 'oh, I see you're trying to get me to think about myself, aren't you?' Which is exactly the kind of person you want to be involved in the work. Someone who has been pushed out of their comfort zone. The way the work gently disrupts the everyday is similar to the work of Group Material, an activist-art group formed in the 70s. Their practice is based in 'efforts to mobilise a dialectical approach to reality through the means of art' (see below, p 92) which I think is what W:H works to do too. They also believe:
'it is impossible to create a radical and innovative art if this work is anchored in one special gallery location. Art can have the most political content and right-on form, but the stuff just hangs there silent unless its means of distribution make political sense as well' (The Spirit Of Art As Activism, 1995, p.99 Jan Augikos)
The content of W:H sits perfectly with its very public site, and is translatable to any town or city in the world. What's more, there is opportunity for audience members to become participants after experiencing the work - and they often do. As for public reaction, whether they are shocked, pleased or traumtised, hopefully the acts of intimacy will stay with them - and there is much more opportunity for them to than if the piece was attempted in a theatre/performance space.
I'm saddened by my own increasing acceptance of the abuse/comments that were said about Simon, very quickly the laughter and strange looks became a normal part of the walk. It's scary how fast we settle in to accepting what is far from acceptable.
When Simon and I had to run between two audience members, the amount of attention we got increased. We were making ourselves far more visible. I thought back to the Iris Young article 'Throwing Like A Girl', and how she explains as women we are taught to not be seen and often have the habit of being less inclined to take up space. This can be applied to queer or transgendered people too, as they are also perceived as 'Other'.
From my experiences at the weekend, I can see that this 'performance' sits in the balance of emphasising the frame of performance enough so the audience feels the need to be present and perhaps say things they would not usually say to a stranger, but not forgetting that they are still in the act of being two people walking down the street. That is really happening, and the public may not view it as a performance. Futhermore, they may have strong reactions to it. This balance was tested when one audience member saw the performance as a site-specific piece of theatre, perhaps expecting actors to do unexpected things. Did she miss the point the simplicity by being hyper-aware that she was in a 'performance' and anticipating a more traditional theatrical experience?