Text on Audience for Carte Blanche magazine, Bergen, 2016
This text was written for Hooman Sharifi, then director of Carte Blanche Bergen, 2016
I want to be a member of the audience,
I don't want to be a spectator anymore.
A spectator has to give a shit,
and if I'm expected to take responsibility
I just don't get to where I want to go.
Getting anywhere at all requires hanging back,
being lazy and judgemental,
cold in the face of all this performance stuff,
ignoring all the usual desperation from the stage,
and the bullying and preaching,
and shock tactics,
and the good cop bad cop routines.
Holding back the love
and refusing to look impressed.
It's only at that distance
I have those brilliant shifts
that stick in my head.
And the shift isn't yours
and I know it's mine because I wasn't talking to you at the time,
I was holding back.
I want to watch things in a place that leaves me alone,
and lets me keep my distance
from you and the rest.
I want to be in a crowd
where nobody cares
who I am,
or what I think.
It's not that I can't join in,
it's just there's something I'm looking for
which I find best when I'm in a group
And I showed this writing to my friend Gillie,
who suggested I look up the word 'spectator' in a dictionary.
And it turns out a spectator is someone who watches a show or a game or another event,
and the dictionary added that an audience are assembled spectators or listeners,
and I like the idea of listening.
I understand we started using spectator
to make clear each watcher is an individual,
but at the same time sometimes I feel more individual when I'm in a group
And I like it if I have to walk around,
in fact I do it well,
secretly so nobody notices,
and also hanging against walls where I'm not meant to be.
I pretend not to be interested,
it's a state of mind that suits me
and my body lounges nicely.
Sometimes I'm looking a bit natural,
which is that brilliant human thing I work hard at
when I want to disappear.
I'm representing myself watching you
and you're busy representing whatever you're representing.
It's all quite self-conscious.
But my brain gets into gear then
and starts thinking of a lot of things,
which is why I watch performances.
I don't get that when I watch sport.
I'm not against the group
but I'm not following stupidly.
I'm making the sounds everyone's making,
and getting the sense we're letting the thing happen,
in a lazy way.
I'd prefer you didn't try to liberate me.
Sometimes I like it if you come up close
but I'm not what funding bodies might call a real audience member,
so we can maybe start from the idea I know a bit,
and it's ok if I don't want to hear the story about your Grandfather's orchard,
Facebook's made it harder,
because before you could escape quickly afterwards if you hated it
and not hear opinions,
but now you get home and switch on the computer
and have to ignore a lot of stuff.
I try to stay in a lounging mood,
not arrogant but distracted enough not to notice.
I have to be distracted enough for my brain to stay in gear,
and it doesn't seem to matter if I'm bored or entertained.
It takes a bit of discipline to stay distracted like that
in a focussed way.
I look upon distraction as being my contribution to the virtuosity in the room.
Being a member of the audience means watching out of the corner of your eye,
alert to the things that might happen while you're pretending not to be interested.
That's why standing ovations are such a killer,
the way the vulnerability and doubt get stopped
and you lose a bit of the afterlife of the performance,
that would have lingered at the edge of your mind for a few days,
driving you crazy.
And meanwhile Gillie said
what if wanting to be distant
was just another way to demonstrate what a professional or privileged watcher I am,
and that rang a bell.
And I thought maybe she's right how this distance and disappearance
is the ultimate way to show I'm not poor
and can waste time and stuff and lounge
which is more food for thought
and the lounging gives me time to think.
I'm not as concerned as the performers how contemporary it is:
I'd prefer to decide for myself.
Styles have come and gone.
I like to be surprised
and to see new things,
but some of the old things in me still feel current.
Sometimes I'm around things that should feel dated
but then suddenly they're not for whatever reason.
I get slightly exhausted
by how fast things I like get thrown away,
by people whose ego depends on making that kind of judgement call.
But I like performance because on the whole it's wise to all that,
and I can be myself
somewhere not as stupid as fashion.
I appreciate how good curators mix things up,
but it's like with performers,
I prefer when they're not in my face
as though they know something I don't.
I have no problems with the old rules
or the new rules,
or the no rules,
I just want to hang around and somehow disappear,
which is when things get interesting for me.
Politicians and producers don't always understand that.
How performance is a place where things might happen
that have no obvious function in the usual world
in the usual way,
and I need that.
I need that and it comes in different shapes
and some of them involve seating and some of them don't,
and I'm not so bothered as long as I have some space
and nobody tries to teach me how or what
and in the end I'm always joined in and I'm always not.
With thanks to Gillie Kleiman and Hooman Sharifi
© Jonathan Burrows 2016