chapter  10
11 Pages

Guiding somatic responses within performative structures: contemporary live art and sensorial perception: Stephen Di Benedetto

Blackness. Damp earth. Must. Rumbling from the trains above. I taste dry grit on my tongue, maybe iron. My arms go straight out in front swishing back and forth checking for obstacles, and I use my foot to test if the ground is secure and flat in front of me. Maybe it is just that I am in a crumbling tunnel beneath south London, but I wonder how I will ever find my way to the faint light and see what objects Robert Wilson has laid out as part of his H.G. installation.1 On a bright sunny day a few years later, across the world on the third floor of the DIA Centre for the Arts in New York city, I stumble through a maze of gauze walls, set up by Robert Irwin, making my way by the diffuse light that penetrates them.2 I begin to watch the shadows of others wandering through the space; the roar of the city seems faint, my breathing slows down, and I just watch. In Ireland yet a few more years later, I enter a flat on the north side of Dublin.3 There is the smell of coffee and stale sweat as I walk across the creaking floorboards, through the back hall and out into the bright sun of the back garden. People are milling about, and some dirty garden furniture is offered up for us to sit on and wait for the event to start. Are the residents acting, or are we just sitting around? I have only my perceptions of the experience moving through the environments, monitoring my sensations of the smells, sounds, sights, and occasional tastes of the environment. To understand each of these artistically mediated events, I must activate my awareness of the performance sensorium. I must adjust my expectations of what a performative event is so that I may take an active role in the way in which I am attendant to the event. As human beings, our biological composition dictates that our knowledge and exploration of the world take place through the senses. Rudolf Arnheim explains:

If perception were nothing better than the passive reception of information, one would expect the mind would not be disturbed by being left without such input for a while and might indeed welcome the repose. The experiments on sensory deprivation have shown, however, that this is not so. When the visual, auditory, tactile and kinaesthetic senses are reduced to unpatterned stimulation – nothing but diffuse light for the eyes and a steady buzz for the ears – the entire mental functioning of the person is upset. . . .