This is a musing on and around Mårten Spångberg's Epic, performed at Manchester International Festival, 18 – 20 July 2013.
Being on the screen of silver, wavy foamy surface that looks and feels mild and pleasant, concealing the concreteness of merciless ground, made of concrete or silicium. Vast curtain made of emergency cover sheets and semi-transparent shawls held together with black gray and white duct tape floats or hangs in the air. The base of the curtain folds and refolds, from it scattered things emerge. Pair of tourquoise Nikes. Two huge pointed hands of polysterol. Cow skin from Ikea. Two golden space vases with two bouquets of lilies from Sainsburys. A bag of oranges, not-yet pyramid in 3 2 1 formation. A patchwork of covers or carpets at the centre of the screen. Motor boots, two or three pairs. Chequered skirts, blue pink wigs, more Paris shawls. Six translucent shopping bags on a golden rectangular folded cover. Two drums. A dozen or so plastic jars of food integrators for fitness super-(wo)men. American-flag shopping bag signed Primark. A couple of golden bells. Three linen flags with green and blue diluted acrylic horizontal bands, taped on top of 4 metres bamboo sticks. Three disco lights, in yellow, violet, electric blue. A fluo-sprayed guitar. A motorcycle, proudly parked by the edge, a Moto Guzzi, number 23 stamped in gold on the reservoir. On it, two cardboard signs and a bunch of clothes. A 24 pack of Heineken cans 330 millilitres each. Ten hammers thrown haphazardly on each other. Pink and white gloss platform shoes. Four Chinese vases wrapped in an American flag. Three slim bottles containing strange pastelish phosphorescent slime next to three long transparent dishes. Three cotton bags, one lying on a chess board, another on a vinyl of Ligeti's Modulations Atmospheres and something else, and one on Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Four closed compass cases lined in a row, each needle indicating different norths. Two wooden crates filled with shattered pieces of wood. A plastic bowl with domino pieces. Ten electric-blue plastic knives with big zig-zags. A diamond covered box with glitter in it. An Indian cushion. Moto Guzzi (another one) motor cover suspended in the air. Three Ikea lamps with white wigs hanging high above. A big wood box filled with apparel and pizza boxes. And other things.
And seven persons, four women and three men, atop the screen of silver against the other screen of silvers and transparencies. With different make-up configurations, bloody tears to rugby player scratches shining on their bony faces. They wear all sorts of biking and athletics wear. And now and then softer semi-transparent organzas and even some hippiesh clothes. They keep changing them.
And a urban-looking guy at the edge of the screen, with a pair of Macs and a microphone. Putting a playlist of 50 or 60 or 70 songs, and signing with or atop of them.
This for four hours. Bodies in movement. Ontological choreography. Internet of things and people in action.
Now try to program the events. Try really hard. Predict what is going to take place. Hire a team of coders in Bangalore. Pay a swarm of Amazon’s Mechanical Turks. For a lot very lot of processing hours, human and silicon circuited ones.
They won't find the pattern, because something more is going to happen. Live coding of seven plus one plus one human brains is at work here. Plus a web of objects, plus more immaterial forces such as air light, then liquids powders semi-liquids. Many states of being and many states of supra- and intra-action.
There is no start button, no way to run the application. You do not know when the algorithm is kicking off. Trust the festival programme, they say 2pm.
Is there something before the first line of the code? What would it be? A header, or a supranote or a line zero? It is in the cloud, but not the one you can download from. You need patience, and intention. After diluted preliminaries, the actants gather on the layers of cloth spread on the screen of silver.
Spångberg`s Epic is not an algorithm, but an analgorithm, a flower with ordered petals bent in anarchic curves. Of undiscursive geometries. Of power and emotions, of tactics and of strategies, of the virtual and the real. Supra and infra algorithmisation, with unwritable diagrams of causes and consequences.
Epic is both a performing of a tentative coding and unconditional uncoding. A weird assembling, to be scrutinised from within and drawn beyond its end. Farther and farther. It cuts through absent unsuspecting entities far from the stage. These absences are unaware of it, but they are being reconfigured, as and as far as Epic is taking place and time somewhere.
Epic, strictly speaking, takes place and time on, in between and around two planes, let's call them screens. One is a horizontal alluminum-foiled surface which might be a floor or a stage, and another is a vertical backdrop made of patchworked emergence sheets and shawls. The floor is hard and resistant, it acts on the performers' ankles, backs, all the joints, pushes them to liminal states of resilience. The vertical screen is floaty, not nearly as compact, transparent here and there sometimes moving to the gushes of the wind. (Try blowing into the screen you have in front of you now, or any screen.) On the horizontal screen there are many other surfaces making it all but regular, a collage (again) of tapestries, sewn among them, but not to the ground. Another layer of movement, it moves with and against the performers, creates friction but also is a warming welcome compared to the coldness and sleekness of the silver-coated screen. The folds of the vertical screen fall irregularly on the horizontal one, some objects are lying or hiding among the fields, others surface...
The bodies and the objects are disposed in such way to recall a layout on a screen, or a map, or diagrammaticity of a choreographic score. But what happens is swifter and stealthier than any plan. Slower and louder. In slow motions and fast forwards.
Above and below the refresh rate of the screen.
No editing though, repeat but not replay.
Hesitations and uncertainties abound. Unexpected leaps of laser-cut precision. How much horse power, blue screens, CGIs, to process only a single movement of a performer?! As it is compiled or rendered, on this screen, before any movement is actualised, it is diffused and fractalised, among other objects and actants.
But no internal or external memory here, no storage. Either you catch it from one side of its infinite ones, or you don't. Independent of perception, it is working, it is taking place.
Ah, yes, the stage is anyway too wide and too deep, one cannot possibly grasp all that is happening, one is in the midst of it. Keep scrolling your head, not the happenings. Until you get dizzy. Did you spend your last payroll for a 13-inch screen, or maybe a 40-plus inch television? Better try to record this trickling avalanche with your 8-megapixel iSight mobile phone camera.
Epic is not an uninterrupted flow of data, the stuff engineers' dreams are made of. No, this is their nightmare. Things happen, events happen, unknowns keep popping up. And there are breaks, and breakdowns. Technical problem, sorry! Where is the problem? Nowhere to be seen, because everything is a problem. If this is an algorithm or a programme, it does not run from top to bottom, we do not know where it is headed, if it is directed at all...
Anything can happen. Even more than anything. Or almost nothing. Through this unmaking of future, slowly, imperceptibly, yes, something is rolling, through the selective connectivities of body movements, the semi-haphazard sequentiality of the songs, the insecure responsiveness of the objects. Something is just about to happen. And all is always about to happen, all the time. A girl in blue NBA dress rings the bells. It is not an announcement of something about, or the closing of something before, she and bells are little bit more than real.
Epic is not a commentary or a hagiography or a critique of our (pop or whichever) world, a celebration or condemnation or mocking of anything or anyone. Epic is a peculiar line of flight cutting through the reflexes of sub-sub-sub-cultures around us. Not without getting hands and feet dirty. No, everyone is soaked up to their knees or shoulders. Not only with music or fashion. Soaked in loops of consumption and production. Sucked in too? A girl in a moto GP shirt and black-white pants picks one from a bowl full of cheapest chewing gums and chews it in slow-motion. Traces of money are everywhere in sight. China vases replicas, an expensive Moto Guzzi standing silently but ignored. Nothing is given here, nothing was free. The labour of the performers is supposedly paid for. But it might as well not be. The containers transporting the objects from Stockholm or from Singapore impend around the stage. Black-boxing the sweat as the shining good are unpacked. Two girls play with empty shopping bags. (where to have the golden rabbits ran away?)
Performers' material gestures do not immaterialise or retroactively erase the movements of the capital that makes them present on the stage. Which make them dance, for us. It is more than a double bind. (The performance is free, but, of course, it cannot be, it is the municipality's gift to the citizens, paid jointly by themselves probably. And probably not asked for.) A blond boy in blue overalls makes a pyramid of thermometers. The labour of spectators present and absent is already invested. And is still demanded. They are asked to sit down on the pavement, and spend their time, a lot of time, watching and listening. The terms of service agreement is not even signed, or is it? One can leave at any given moment, and his/her profile won't be stored for further analytics or resold to shady agencies specialised in semi-legal usufruct. The mere presence is not enough, and the absence is not important, Epic might be asking for more.
Epic is not a fair trade, it conflates into its space and time a universe of values, signs, referents, and whatnot, but it does not regurgitate it and then throw it back at us. Epic acts, not enacts, this world in its own timespace. By the convergence of the performers and objects around the common space and time, a kind of community is shaped, maybe. A lot of meet-ups make a community? All performers sitting in line, listening to Deep Purple, eyes closed and holding hands. The performers carry the cues of their scores written on their arms, but these pre-accorded meetings do not ensure any becoming of a collective subject. They are more like the pre-established meetings with friends. Sometimes the meetings do work, other times they are unbearably dull.
They are more like a series of attempts to become more-than-one or truly an individual. If it doesn't work, the parties dissolve and take distance. “Dust yourself off and try again”. Lonelinesses and togetherness interplay, imbue and colour one moment after the other. They can't be fixed, they have to evolve, change or to disperse, by common agreement or through individual decisions impulses wishes. Even what we call objects are talkative at times and sometimes they are irresponsive. They can break or not comply to the intents. Everything is technically difficult. Other-than-humans make themselves heard through silences or with a crash. One can stumble upon a fold, or fall from a high heel. The common agreement falls in pieces. Pain ensues, broken hearts or hips, or shattered glasses.
Epic is never fully processed, no one can ever fully know where he/she/they is/are going to. Epic is about the leaps into the void, with arms wide open, expecting or hoping for another pair of arms or just a cushion. Dangers of making connections. A girl in Portugues football shirt and golden shorts picks a handful of silver powder from the zircon-coated box and then blows it away. Epics of attempts to cross the vacuums and to melt with the other, even if for an instant or for a song. When that happens, the fireworks need not explode. This is not, never was Hollywood. A gaze is enough. Everyone and everything is in this free-fall or free-float together, with different inclinations and trajectories, that can embrace each other but they do not have to. One can turn his/her head away, or not respond to a SMS. All boys and girls drinks a Heineken beer and smile.
There are no categories to be fitted in, this is no object-oriented programming. The two need not be friends forever, but they need not become enemies either. There is no indifference either, because the difference has been made and is always still yet in the making. 'Angel dance': be my angel, follow me, and I will follow you. It is a sky for free flights, together and separately, leaps are potentialities never necessities. The pixels on the plasma screen can't leap, they are always in the same place. Always one refresh or frame behind. And then one more. And one more.
Epic is a run across a landscape intercut with channels and patterns, custom tailored ads, “frequently bought together” suggestions, subtle of products, services and their users or the used ones. A girl in 33 ultramarine Detroit Pistons shirt and green plastic boots dismantles a pyramid of ten oranges and arranges them in a circle around her. We are not within a Babylon of closed wires buried in mythical iron-clad vaults, but underneath an open sky. Maybe in a labyrinth, but one knows where the sky is and where the earth is. Where to jump towards and where to land towards. There are no contracts for life. A boy in an orange McDonalds t-shirt, on it printed Apetit for Greatness. The contracts are slow and mutually non-sensed. There are beliefs.
Ludwig slowly sips golden salt over Ligeti's vinyl.
Try as you go, exercise something. Do it once, repeat it twice, change the pattern. Do something else. Then something third, fourth, fifth, then third again, something not-yet-believable, something weird, something unknown or banal, repeat it again and again and abandon it and again. No forgetting, but gliding into the cone of memory. Ready to fold and feed back again.
Not waving a flag, but neither burning it. One boy and two girls wave the green-blue flags without the country, then let them fall on ground. These are not flags any more, but soft surfaces for their feet. Let's dance or sleep on it. The sign or the assemblage is 'hacked'? but it is not, it is shifted up or down, thrown to become a support for something else, moved from figure to ground. Two girls spit on the Polaroid camera. In the next moment, it might become a figure anew, why not make photos with that Polaroid, but it has become different. It has been disenchanted, or put under a different spell, invested by another enchantment. Traces and smell of the spit dry on our hands. A crust of belief invested in it by one person or by two or by three or by a community. Alicia Keys will never be the same. Or she might. But she can be re-enchanted once again. This radical belief does not call for as many disbeliefs on other sides, criticality or skepticism towards the others. There is no time for that, too much beautiful things and beings to invest the care and belief into are around. “Stephanie!”, “One with nature!” and so many others.
Epic is not some kind of a reality-ruthless competition in networking, in likes, dislikes, Klout scores, or re-re-tweets. Desire for embrace or touch at the other end of the line is grander or simpler than numbers. Beautiful alliances or friendships or loves are established, with things and humans. One is not alone, but can be. One is not a capitalist resource or flow, but can be. And it is not an 'on' and 'off' switch someone presses, but states that can be danced through. And it is not an easy effort. As the capital rarely sleeps, a whole lot of dancing is demanded. At least three and a half hours of sweating a day. (Remember to choose the days off, but there should not be off-off.) (Always) Reading Capital (in French) while playing Indians in kimonos. One line and one rolling over at a time.
Epic is never fully processed, no one ever wants to know fully where he/she is going to. Still everything with everyone is heading somehow. If there is any algorithm in Epic, that is a tough questioning of the internal limitations and fixations of formal logics and its kins, pushing all the way through and out to look at what opens in the elsewhere from the well-aligned and formatted lines of codes and equations. All is folded so there no front or reverse to them, but there is else. How else may arise, and how that 'else' may resist or escape new coding, new categorisation, new valuation, and not become a new organisation or de-organisation, a new safe utopia for the elected ones? Maybe maybe not giving up on tension, on ever new intensions, trusting them without reserve, at every moment, and not forgetting to distrust in them as well, change and be changed, only to trust anew and differently. Trusts which enchant everyone and everything to whom they are given and from whom they are received. And, when they are shared, well, it might be magic.