Dancing with Buildings
[a little piece of writing I did for Eastside Project‘s Public Evaluation Project, responding to the question ‘what makes a good home for art?’]
We are always dancing with buildings.
When we are very young we haven’t yet learnt the right steps. Watch a child in a gallery or a theatre, trying to keep up, watching how everyone else is dancing, occasionally stumbling, occasionally treading on the building’s toes. Their clumsiness reminds us how well the rest of us have learnt to dance. How instinctively we settle into rhythms, repeat gestures, execute familiar patterns of movement. We drift. We spin. We follow the building’s lead.
How are you moving round this gallery?
Are you walking slowly?
Are you hugging the walls?
What are other people doing? Are you doing the same things as they are?
I like watching people watching things they are not supposed to in galleries. Half built installations. Abandoned cleaning equipment. Lost bags. It reminds me that a gallery is as much a particular way of looking as it is a particular type of building.
A theatre is also a way of looking. A different way of looking. A theatre is a room we go into to watch things with a certain kind of attentiveness. When John Cage created 4’33 he did so not because he wanted people to listen to four minutes and thirty three second of silence, but because he wanted them to listen to the world with the kind of concentration they normally reserve for art.
A good space for art is a space that, like Cage, is sensitive to the kind of attentiveness that it generates; the way it is inviting people to look.
Dancing is great when you know all the right moves. When you don’t it can be agony. You stand awkwardly. Self consciously. You feel every movement of your hand or your leg is being screamed through a microphone in an otherwise silent room. You feel like you don’t belong here.
And anyone can feel like this. Anyone can feel out of sync with a room, unfamiliar with its rhythms and its rules. No one belongs everywhere. Some people don’t feel they belong anywhere.
I know the spaces I like to dance with. I like busyness and noise. I like it when things feel a little dangerous and ever so slightly out of control. I like a sense of adventure. These are the kinds of spaces I want to make art and go and see art. But I am not everyone.
I don’t want a single kind of space for art for the same reason I don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing the Macarena.
I suppose what I’m saying is that the ideal space for art is a space that is aware of its hidden laws and its implicit limitations. A space that understands itself and the relationships that people have with it. A space that does not replicate what other good spaces do, but instead find its own rhythm.
A space that offers people a different way of dancing.