PSi #21 Fluid States - Fluid States North in Denmark, Greenland and Faroe Island, This is too visceral to be telematic..., by Denmark Correspondent Sarah Bay-Cheng

This is too visceral to be telematic…

by Sarah Bay-Cheng

31 July 2015


PSi#21 Fluid States – Denmark, Faroe Islands, Greenland – Fluid States North


PDF available here


“This is too visceral to be telematic.” This thought occurred to me over and over as I repetitively chewed the “semi-dried” meat brought from the Faroe Islands to Amager, Denmark as part of the multi-tiered event, Fluid States: North Atlantic. Staged via video links across three locations—University of Copenhagen in Amager, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands—the event was comprised of three linked themes: Telematics (both theme and function); Fluid States, Solid Taste, and Fluid Sounds. In Jonaton Leer’s expertly curated gathering on food and performance, participants were treated to not only the tantalizing descriptions of Josh Abrams’s sweeping keynote of the performatives of contemporary Nordic cuisine and a vigorous panel on the politics of new Nordic, but also more tangible samples of pilot whale, cod puree, and lamb in Jonas Stejn Klotz’s presentation of miniature Smørrebrød from the Faroe Islands, and a taste of unexpectedly excellent gin made from ants at the Nordic Food Lab. All in all, it was not for the faint of palate (nor, frankly, vegetarians).

Though seemingly disparate in subjects—food, sound, telematics performance—Fluid States North was connected via sensations and affect with unexpected occasions for overlap among them. Though sound remains one of the more ethereal aspects of performance scholarship, Shannon Werle’s “Breadtones” translated local bread into sound. Fittingly, contributors to the conference organized their responses in “audio-papers,” the culmination of which, I unfortunately was not able to attend. The outdoor installations by Brandon LaBelle and Jeremy Woodruff brought our consideration of sound into unmistaken materiality. Watching LaBelle construct a makeshift shelter of refuse, a soundtrack suggested disparate thoughts for the audience, a background of free associations that mingled with the audience’s own whispered speculations about the shelter’s purpose (an unanswered question) and twitter updates. There was bread baked on sticks over a fire (and a long line for coffee; “fluid states,” indeed). Woodruff’s project, “Green Interactive Biofeedback Environments (GIBE),” invited participants to explore locations of sound in a playground constructed for and by the children of a local community.

I must confess that my experience in Woodruff’s installation felt at times like an intrusion into someone else’s space. Installed within children’s playhouses, the audio equipment squatting within the corners seemed to take the place of children playing (no children were present). Although the purpose of the project was ostensibly to record and replay a community’s audio life back to itself, I wondered where exactly the play would happen amidst such an installation. Stepping cautiously throughout the space, both avoiding the equipment and not disturbing the play-structures, it occurred to me just how physical sound can be. Though itself invisible, sound’s production displaced the capacity for human presence. Perhaps this is related to Holger Schulzes’ opening keynote lecture, where he considered the potential displacements of sound by language. His provocative call to consider research languages and epistemologies that preserve the sensory and the indeterminacies of experience lingered well beyond the chill from the opening outdoor gathering in beautiful sea-side structure known as “the snail.” (Kudos to the folks enjoying a naked morning swim in what I can only imagine was rather cool water.)

Whenever possible, the presentations in Amager were streamed live online and connected to the other two linked locations: Sisters Academy in Nuuk, Greenland and Torshavn in the Faroe Islands. Both sites hosted their own events as well, including songs, and performance workshops. One of these, “queer slow dance with radical thought” by Alvis Parsley, Heather Hermant & Kaija Siirala translated their existing project into the telematics space. Presenting on video from Torshavn, the artists demonstrated their project in two variations. For one, they invited the audience to partner up and dance with each other while one partner read radical queer texts culled from archives. The other version included a private presentation to one Amager participant (me, in this instance) as a dance of queer text from Heather via our mobile phones. The performance of text from a 19th-century Canadian immigrant was fascinating as was the sensation of isolation as I held my phone in the dark. Even so, as an extension of a project in which physical intimacy, touch, and proximity are determinate factors, it was clear that something had been lost in translation among the video representations.

Much of this was the topic of the Telematic Encounters focus of the conference across Copenhagen, Nuuk, and Torshavn. Much of this telematic space worked surprisingly well. (Hooray for Gunhild Borggreen and Hanne-Louise Johannesen!) Many days opened with songs from Sisters Academy and the telematics spaces linked beautifully in a live performance created in real-time with PSi Board Director Kevin Brown directing a text by Caridad Svich. The concluding dinner effectively linked all three spaces by a virtual dinner table extending across the ocean. For much of the conference, though, the frequent technological maintenance and monitoring reminded me that for all its claims of liberation, digital technology often binds us more tightly to physical space and our environment than ever before. (“Stand in just that spot to be seen on camera.”) This was highlighted in Elizabeth Jochum’s discussion of haptics and social robotics in her compelling contribution to the keynote panel. Bree Hadley gave an overview of telematics performances that she used to challenge our assumptions about the democritization of spectatorship amid tele-utopianism, while Peter Eckersall provided a dramaturgical framework in which we might understand better these relations of screens, actions, representation, and digital. All of these presented provocative challenges to my own argument in favor of a new paradigm for validating criticism of performances one has only seen in screened versions.

As scholars, we are often compelled by our own arguments, but as I chewed (and chewed and chewed) on my non-cooked, semi-dried, fermented lamb meat smørrebrød I had to consider that perhaps there is an aspect of visceral experience that can never be fully appreciated telematically. Or, as someone mentioned in Solid Taste’s concluding forum, “It’s digital. You can’t eat it.” For me at least, that was something to chew on.


Copyright –  Sarah Bay-Cheng  (2015) “This is too visceral to be telematics…”, PSi #21 Fluid States: Performances of UnKnowing LOG, ed. Marin Blazevic, Bree Hadley and Nina Gojic, Performance Studies international (PSi), 1 January 2015-31 December 2015, available

Tags: Identities Bodies Corporealities in Performance   Media Technology and Performance  Performance Studies in Europe  

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