For what is to come
Text by Mika Maruyama
>>> Japanese / 日本語
When the online project Performance Homework was published in mid-April, it had been a few weeks since Austria was locked down. In a situation where the psychological oppression of having to stay home was mounting due to mobility restrictions and economic and political uncertainties of the future, there was already a surge in online contents in place of cancelled opportunities for performances and art projects. Performance Homework by Mitsukazu Matsune is an online group exhibition and platform in which audiences are asked to "do their homework" at home until the global "Stay Home" restriction is lifted.
The website displays a list of works by artists who share the same confinement at home, along with instructions, as well as documentations and tasks transcribed into (re)enactments at home. Some works from the past are included in this context as well. For example, a photograph of Henri Matisse drawing a self-portrait in bed is altered into a task to draw a self-portrait in a bed, while a video by Bas Jan Ader of him rolling off a roof is presented as a performance challenge. These instructions transform the works into attempts to be performed by audiences instead of being viewed. Performance Homework is thus a performance practice in a situation where social distance is demanded, which at the same time indicates a possibility of re-reading the works from a different perspective.
Matsune has a project called Homesick Festival (2017-), which also has ‘home’ in its title. Just like Performance Homework, it encourages people to shift their positions from a viewer to a performer at home, in an attempt to fuse both the viewing and the practicing of performance within a home setting. Unlike a typical festival where a variety of performances are shown together over a period of time, Homesick Festival is an exclusive performance, where a pair of performers (Matsune and a different artist for each occasion) visit the audience's home to carry out a performance in their private spaces. By making a reservation, the ‘host’ is allowed to invite whoever they want to attend the performance. The audience can be a group or community of people who are somewhat familiar with each other. According to Matsune, the homes were turned into different kinds of ‘stages’, from a small gathering with friends and family to a tea party, without his prior knowledge.
The documentation of Homesick Festival shows that the performances were highly varied depending on the homes or audiences, ranging from dancing in a living room, to creating protest placards, and colouring water in a bathtub. This fluid and multilayered approach to the performances makes it impossible to provide a comprehensive description of the festival. Homesick Festival “offers opportunities to (re)connect with your own experience of home, your current location, life situation and your state of being”, but a home is created not only thorough personal feelings but also within particular social and political circumstances. In comparison to Homesick Festival, where people review and rediscover their homeness together with friends or a somewhat familiar community, Performance Homework is assigned to an individual. Although the stage is the same, namely the home, Performance Homework induces a moment of solitude where one faces oneself alone. So, for what do we the homework?
During the corona crisis, where it was demanded that we stay at home, some people have returned to their home countries in an emergency as the borders were being closed, while some have opted to stay at the same place——each of us formed a home in different ways in the places we found ourselves in. At the same time, people are being deported, and others are left at the border without a home. Home has increasingly become an urgent issue within the framework of “Stay Home”. Societal and political imagination assumes a solid idea and place for a ‘home’, and those who do not fit that assumption are marginalised and made invisible. This is where violence is born, including domestic violence and physical violence by racists. Those who are driven away from EU borders without a home are given a death sentence. On the other side of the border, many people fortify their homes to isolate themselves from a possible infection.
The performance homeworks given by the artists call for a transition from a viewer who merely appreciates artworks to a performer who acts. In this transition, they demand a re-examination of the boundaries of ‘home’ that we draw, from a solitary living space to one shared with roommates or one’s family, or even with the wider community. For example, Ana Witt's Sixty Minutes Smiling (Fake it till you make it!) encourages people to perform with an awareness of counterfeiting their sense of belonging to a specific team or group through gestures and postures, including facial expressions, while Yu-Chen Ta's physical exercises in Follow the moves!, reexamine internal movements such as feelings, sense of anxiety, and violence which can be engendered during social distancing and solitude through movements of the body as the interface between the internal and the external.
The homeworks are a preparation and an exercise for what is to come. They entail a process of acquiring bodily knowledge about something unknown that cannot be shared as of yet. Actions and experiences fold together through something foreign to the practising body. There is no need to attempt to dissolve the boundaries between art and everyday life, like past artistic practices sought to do, nor do we need to appeal for the need for creativity in the everyday, or to call for the conventional viewing of art and performances in a museum or a theatre. As online practices become increasingly central more than ever to maintain the social distancing, the homework is to be continued slowly but wisely toward the eventual future where ongoing restrictions will be lifted. While highlighting the impossibility of sharing one’s home, the homeworks encourage us to think through our experiences of performances, even for just a few seconds in our daily lives. What kind of home should be or can be formed when diverse contacts become possible again?