SMALL (for Georges Perec)


SMALL (for Georges Perec)

[This is a post in several parts, the text of a talk I gave in Nottingham for World Event Young Artists. Scroll down to get to the very beginning]

We are small
All of us
Whether we realise it or not

In 2010
I sat in the audience at
The State of the Arts Conference
And listened to
One time culture secretary
And full time arsehole
Jeremy Hunt
Tell us that
actors who began their career at the National Theatre
Might one day go on to become film actors
Think about that again
The National Theatre
This country’s most established
And well-funded
Performance institution
Is a feeder school
For bit parts
As criminals
And eccentrics
In Hollywood movies
That is where we fit
In that particular vision of our ecosystem

We are small
And it’s time to start acting like it
Because if we celebrate this
It can be our strength

We are small
We can understand the power of being so
We can be
As the brilliant Fierce Festival describes itself
Generating a different relationship with present structures and institutions of power
And the articulations of place and time that they determine
We can exist beyond them
Between them
We needn’t believe in the assumption of growth
In the importance of territory
In clumsy articulations of progress and value

As Michel De Certeau suggests
We can produce new ways of operating
That are evasive and subversive
That turn that power back on itself

In The Species of Space
Georges Perec quotes in full
This old French children’s song

In Paris, there is a street;
in that street, there is a house;
in that house, there is a staircase;
on that staircase, there is a room;
in that room, there is a table;
on that table, there is a cloth;
on that cloth, there is a cage;
in that cage, there is a nest;
in that nest, there is an egg;
in that egg, there is a bird.

The bird knocked the egg over;
the egg knocked the nest over;
the nest knocked the cage over;
the cage knocked the cloth over;
the cloth knocked the table over;
the table knocked the room over;
the room knocked the staircase over;
the staircase knocked the house over;
the house knocked the street over;
the street knocked the town of Paris over.
(Children’s song from Les Deux-Sevres, quoted in Georges Perec’s The Species of Space)

I like it.
I like the way in which it suggests
change happens
Not from the top down
Or even necessarily from the bottom up
But from destabilising something fundamental
Right at the heart of things
Small actions cause vibrations that might be felt far beyond themselves
They might radiate out in unlikely even extraordinary ways
Like Lucy’s anger
Amplified by the speakers
washing through our chests
In a living room in Edinburgh

I like the way in which this song suggests our influence
Is not our reach
but the way in which
Our small
But significant
Alterations of the status quo
radiate out
Recolouring everything they reach

In our small spaces
In our hallucinatory dreams
We might create new strategies
New tactics
New ways of living
That extend outwards
Carried by those that
were there
And those that wish they were there
Carried by rumours
And heresay
And old photographs
And breathlessly excited descriptions written on blogs or twitter
Or wherever
The performance is never just the thing that happens
It is the accumulated evidence that it ever existed
And small gestures and accumulate a lot of evidence
Perec also approvingly quotes Jonathan Swift:

Elephants are generally drawn smaller than life size, but a flea always larger.

Already the fifty or so people in that living room
Have told others
Have written words in newspapers and on websites
They drawn that event larger than it was
Whilst other
More lucrative
More well planned
More well attended
More spectacular events
Begin to fade

In these small theatrical encounters
What matters is not the message but the medium
In a world overwhelmed by information
We have the opportunity to create spaces in which that information
And that world
Can begin to be recalculated
Spaces in which people can come together equally
The enthusiastic
The curious
The uncertain
The hostile
And together
We find a temporary space
In which we can dream

A space in which I being angry becomes we being angry
Spaces in which to learn new kinds of love
Spaces that hold open the possibility of a better way of living
And provide us with an opportunity to try to do so
We gather
We breathe together
And it’s a beginning

I hope
Was similarly
A useful beginning


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