As a regular at The Hyde Park Picture House I always walk in with a sense of anticipation for the film I am about to watch. When one visits the cinema it allows for pure disembodiment and detachment from the world, opening a door for you to relax and passively watch. It is an activity for the individual.
However, this event was rather different to one’s stereotypical cinema experience. Aside from the fact that there was no film to be screened, we were also presented with a set of clunky headphones and told, “the best reception seems to be when you sit to the middle of the row”. We were instructed to try them out when we sat down and to listen for feedback. I did so with the reluctance of someone who usually finds technology extremely uncooperative.
We sat there waiting with the usual hum of chatter you’d expect before any performance, which uniformly dies down on cue with the dimming of the lights. The feedback I was listening for started pulsing through the headphones, and I couldn’t have felt more isolated. Regardless of the fact that there were probably about 50 people sitting in the auditorium, I suddenly became aware of how isolating the cinema really is, highlighted by having all outside noise blocked out by the headphones.
Free Individual/ Free Society was a preview of Grace Schwindt’s performance Only a Free Individual can create a Free Society and was commissioned by the Leeds-based organisation Pavilion. It aimed to explore the historical use of the telephone, particularly its use in broadcasting live performances. It is interesting to examine the etymology of the word telephone: tele comes from the Greek meaning far off, afar and phone meaning sound or voice. The use of a telephone in a live performance reveals an instant disconnection with the participants, exaggerated by the unreliability of a telephone line. Schwindt’s performance took place in a separate location, so the performers were equally detached from their audience. These factors culminated in a rather unconventional live experience for the viewers and participants.
As we sat there in darkness, staring at the closed red curtains on the stage the feedback cleared and the show began. A three-part text was narrated through the telephone, which was broken up by segments of dance, only experienced through the clunky sounds of wooden shoes against wooden floorboards. This became an extremely demanding performance for the viewer, devoid of one’s sense of sight when trying to understand and consider movement is very disconcerting. The audience grew agitated as we were united in a collective sense of dislocation and abandonment. The show continued for an hour or so and I began to get extremely uncomfortable due to the darkness of the room, combined with the repetitive and unfamiliar sounds pounding through my ears. Schwindt’s performance proceeded to make me feel totally alone in an entire roomful of people.
This performance took place on 13 May 2014 at Hyde Park Picture House produced by Pavilion as part of Ludus Festival, and Grace Schwindt’s conceptual film Only a Free Individual Can Create a Free Society will be exhibited at Eastside Projects, Birmingham and The Showroom, London later this year.