The Love Piece

published in Cuaderno #1, Mugatxoan, San Sebastian

Invited by EkS-scena1 to work with local performers in the summer 2006 in Zagreb, I set up a situation in which six persons engaged to work together for three weeks, without sharing any clear focus from the outset.Yet I had set up a basic structure for our work: everyone should produce small performances every day, show them, feedback on each other’s presentations and continue making more proposals as responses or developments of the raised ideas.2 We all committed to this basic set-up, continuously doing, watching and talking without trying to be causal in the relation between feedback and proposals.This process allowed us to lay out a common field of interest without negotiating it; short-cutting the confrontation of diverging positions, the situation could host the various concerns and approaches that each brought up and every person could use this overload of ideas to sharpen their own practice. Rather than engaging in a critical debate where we would position ourselves by differentiating from each other, we took our differences for granted and instead committed to making ourselves interested in what appealed most to each of us. When things were interesting, they were carried on and thus became clearer as well as more and more shared, traveling from proposal to proposal until some common interests gradually appeared. Those were: which relation do you want to establish between the audience and the performers, between the audience and the piece? How about producing emotions, affects moving people? We also grew an interest for make-believe and the spectators’ engagement that is necessary for fiction to become a shared reality.

The set up of The Love Piece comes directly from this nurtured interest in relationships, affective production and play.

We did a showing each day, for at least one person per day, so that we always had to prepare something. One day after about 2 weeks, we had an overdose of this over-productive mode and were just hanging around, talking and having fun. But on that day we also expected a larger audience of four people from BADco.3 There was both pressure and a lack of motivation to actually work on doing something. Time was passing, pressure was felt, we didn’t work, playing music and fooling around, singing etc. Then the decision came and I really can’t trace it: someone said it as a joke, someone else reacted by considering it as a serious proposal, and because of the time pressure we quickly decided to play love songs, each sit with one audience and love him/her on that music. This appeared to be a very interesting experience for everybody. Both performers and spectators had been “moved” in a complex way.

The physical frame for the piece is very simple: a room with chairs, little speakers making the sound be everywhere yet giving a sense of isolation, the music4 playing throughout the piece (which calls upon popular cultural codes of love in our society), the duration of 30 minutes, and the performers’ task.

This task is to produce in oneself a feeling of love for the person sitting on the other chair, taking into account the conditions of this possible love: the pre-established set-up, the limited time, the fact of being part of a love piece, the not-knowing the other, the randomness, etc. the performers’ work in The Love Piece is also very similar to the form of commitment to a given situation that we practiced for these three weeks, producing a very strong commitment that still maintains the vagueness of what “love” might be. We both need to accept this vagueness of “love”, and to take “love” seriously. The only way one can evaluate this is if it works for oneself, i.e if we can connect our experience to what we think could be love. The piece is performed by sustaining a relationship in the actual conditions of its existence, avoiding representation or self-referentiality in order to make space for the situation to act upon us. Commitment is a methodology: not commitment to vagueness, but commitment within vagueness in order to maintain the openness of what our object could be. “love” as proposed by the songs is both a cliché and a reality, for the conventions they carry also frame our actual perception of personal histories.

Technically, we can speak of tactics or tools. Some are often used, although not systematically, such as holding hands or touching and looking at the person. Other tools are more personal to each performer, growing with experience and out of one’s own tendencies. We rehearsed very little. We did speak about our projections and expectations of what this could be, about cultural notions carried around this, and about the different types of love one can refer to. We tried to find tools in case we wouldn’t know what to do, like esoteric advise pages on the web speaking about all-encompassing love, meditating together, holding hands, feeling, we also did some anatomical explorations of skin layers and heart, we breathed together, etc. Of course we knew none of this could be used in the show itself, we were gathering this in order to be able to invest and not to feel naked when the show starts, without covering with it neither: the work is of uncovering and maintaining this exposure as what is to be invested.

Other tools are: paying attention to the person who’s there, with a strong prejudice that this person is lovable/ taking for granted that one can and actually does love this person/ balancing between a general sense of love that is projected on this person.

As it could be projected on anyone else, and in the same time paying a lot of attention to the materiality of this person there: how is she? Where does he look? How does she behave? How does he look at me? / keeping an open body and face, leaning towards the person with this capacity which is our person / receiving and paying attention.

Being receptive is also an act of love. Gradually we create a little story made of the distance between us, the shade of a smile and the many thoughts each produces and projects onto the other. This all happens within the performer herself, and we can only trust that the other is perceptive and active with the same type of movements. We might receive signals, and there’s also a large part where we have no idea and can only accept that fact.

The situation thus produced can be very amorous, like a love affair, or more friendly – humor might play an important role because of the situation’s complete artificiality compared to the common idea of love, which is supposed to be an authentic emotion, unique and coming by itself. So that the situation can seem like a joke that in turn calls for complicity.Yet if both play the game of love, it still might happen. Sometimes the situation takes on a less personal, more spiritual aspect. In any case, the physical closeness, sustained duration and focused attention make the situation the unique story of two particular persons in a given context.

This is also the case when the “spectator” is reluctant to playing along, for the frame of the piece incorporates whatever event into a possible actualization of the idea of love. The audience, who we prefer to call our partners, make the piece, perform and give it a reality as much as we do.The awareness of this might be stronger or lighter; some persons end up taking over and this rebalancing of inputs can be very destabilizing, albeit beautiful. I think it happened to all of us to suddenly feel that now the other was performing/loving us, facing what was now being sent, signals and affirmation, and having to deal with it. And it comes as a surprise although we consciously work on letting ourselves be touched, for the other to be able to be touched as well, whatever this “touch” is.

I would now like to address the question of representation as raised within The Love Piece. Although we strive at remaining open to the situation, without directing it or forcing it to fit our preconceptions, the reference point for our actions and imagination, i.e. “love”, is charged with a culture that permanently narrates it. In that sense The Love Piece is an attempt at producing one more narration that could not be dissociated from its object: simultaneously a reality and a representation. The tension between these two positions is activated by the impossibility to know what another person is thinking in the same time as acknowledging that both know and recognize many shared conventions. It also lays in the fact that these known things act upon us in a very real way, and that we are aware of it. Our own relation to the appearance of such conventions and our possible engagement with them is one more element in the dramaturgy of the performance.

Because this work resides in people’s experience rather than in the production of an image that could be captured by a camera, we asked spectators to tell their story of the piece.Their accounts tell about structure, affect, fiction, reality, theater and their own personal histories..

1 EkS-scena (Experimental Free Scene), a self-organized working platform for collaboration on joint projects, communication and exchange of information, was founded in Zagreb by dancers and choreographers in order to provide the educational and production programs its constituency lacked. Its work has resulted in a noticeable diversity of choreographic styles and artistic aesthetics on a formerly scarce dance scene.

2 Ideas are always situations; not abstractions but concepts for performances that include their own materiality.

3 BADco. is a collaborative performance collective based in Zagreb, Croatia. The artistic core of the collective are Pravdan Devlahovic ́, Ivana Ivkovic ́, Ana Kreitmeyer, Tomislav Medak, Goran Sergej Pristaš, Nikolina Pristaš, Lovro Rumiha and Zrinka Užbinec.

4 In order of appearance: Diana Krall, How much do I love you; Diana Ross, I love to love you, baby; Van Morrison, Someone like you; Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin, Je t’aime, moi non plus; Depeche Mode, Free love; Dusty Springfield, The look of love; Frankie goes to Hollywood, The power of love.