Gestural Relativity

by EL Putnam

This piece first appeared in the 2017 Bbeyond calendar


Albert Einstein theorized that space and time are interwoven as part of a continuum, with how time is experienced varies depending on velocity. Moreover, time and space are not universals or constants, but interdependent. Performance art, an artistic medium where the body performs actions with materials, utilises time and space as key formal parameters. To abstract Einstein’s theory in order to define a physics of performance art, time and space are interconnected through a relative exchange, informed by the velocity of actions of participants, with each outcome enunciating a different encounter and aesthetic experience.

Bbeyond Performance, Münster, Germany, July 2016. Photo by Jordan Hutching

The framework of the Bbeyond Performance Monthly is simple and consistent — gather a group of people to perform actions with materials in a public space for a period of time.  The date and location are predetermined beforehand, word is spread about the latest iteration, and on the day, participants gather with possible planned  motivations. There is no official demarcation of a start; each Performance Monthly begins with someone unobtrusively performing an action. It could be the declaration of a word, the unraveling of yarn, or the filling of a receptacle. Some unspecified person initiates the event. Momentum builds as others also start their actions, sometimes beginning in isolation or actively engaging with a fellow performer. An audience grows; formed from passersby or people intentionally attending to witness the event unfold. Whatever actions a person performs varies depending on the materials brought and shared, the influence of people on each other, and how each person engages with the space. The velocity increases with attention being focused on the present as performers transform their materials and the space through gestural exchanges, cultivating a give and take of energy with each other and the environment. The pace of time dilates as performers interfere with the implied actions of the space, opening up a new means of experience. An ephemeral disturbance to the flow of the day, the actions performed during a Performance Monthly draw attention to the habits and routines that are engrained in our mundane ways of life, where their ritualistic pretence ceases being acknowledged as embodied existence is approached from another perspective. Throughout this process, creative play is key as new modes of relating to objects, places, time, and each other are explored.  Time slips and slides as energy flows, opening up an eternal present.

Bbeyond October Monthly, Bull Island, Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Jordan Hutching

Actions may reach a climax or multiple peaks depending on velocity and the relationship between time and space cultivated by the participants. At some point, however, there is a turn — gestures decelerate and people shift back into their everyday states of being. Just as the Performance Monthly began, so it ends; each person curtailing their actions and coming back together in a collective mass. Traces of whatever happened in that hour or two are cleaned up and removed, though the memories linger in the minds of passerby and the muscles of participants. The space is inevitably transformed and for that brief period, time travel became possible.

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