Helsinki, 16 April 2020
Rakas Kenneth, dear K,
Thank you for answering my letter with great generosity and kindness, and for sharing your doubts and reserves. Your letter helps me fill in the gaps. I understand better what drives you, in art and in life, and how it keeps you on the edge of your seat.
This is important not only on the level of research, but also on the human level. I am not only referring here to Kenneth, my colleague and friend, but also to K, the (becoming) fictional person you played for me at Uniarts on that day – one I won’t forget, last September. I was in a panic about my postdoctoral research presentation and then I walked into the room and saw you: sitting in the corner of the classroom, clad from head to toe in that prodigious silver outfit.
You were my symmetrical opposite. Me with my sweat stains, you in your slick jumpsuit. Me with my stiff dry lips and you with your breezy earrings and silver bag beside those psychotronic platform boots. A miracle. I could not ask for better. You saved me.
You were ready to wave like the royals and to disco-fy any kind of presentation. And that was all I needed. No matter what, we would fly from that corner of the room to the front table together. And with all kindness, you agreed to come with me.
And then there we were, sitting side by side in front of the group. I gave you my text and with an award-winning sixth sense you gracefully became K, my double. You started reading my text written in the first person. This was the beginning of an anachronic experience, like having the translator of the conference give the speech, with the silent author at his side.
Beyond all expectations, we created an asynchronic situation. You were the little rock lodged inside the shoe, or what I call “the pebble” in my asynchrony glossary. You, with your eccentric appearance in the classroom, transmuted into K, a performer at a conference. Alone, I could not have managed to capture and hold people’s attention, as in your presence the situation became an all-inclusive one. Thank God, I chickened out. The whole thing came alive. I was supposed to introduce my research concept, asynchrony, to a group of researchers, and instead there we were, experiencing it in real time, all together: you, me, and the group. I am saying this not only to congratulate us, but to underline that asynchrony is about time and the presence of a live body makes it come alive.
That day, we experienced displacement. The conference was unstable and filled with continuous movement. It was like a morphing conference operating on multiple levels. The space and the format were in flux. My own presence was readjusting all the time, and so yours was, too. On the top of that, in the delivery of the speech, desynchronization was at play between us, without even mentioning all our nonverbal communication in trying to adjust to one another. We were doing an invisible dance together. But most importantly, the audience was with us; they were attentive.
The conference also probably worked because a strong affective component was at play. And this, once again, underlines the importance of the human presence in asynchrony. Human presence claims a real time operating simultaneously with other times (fictional, compositional…).
Now, with some distance from the situation, I realize the import of this conference in my research. During our laboratory in February, I introduced my asynchronic parameters and invited you to apply them to a text. It was quite difficult to achieve on bidimensional material. But in the conference set-up, we experimented with at least three of these parameters: the pebble (you and me), eccentricity (Kenneth and K), and the short-circuit (me and the conductor – the conference). The human presence involved in the experience makes all the difference. The emotions and point of view it contains are imperative.
In writing this, I breathe a bit more deeply. Harmony can emerge from multiplicity, from uncontrolled turns of life, from accidents. Is asynchrony about inclusiveness, about a method for surviving ableist culture, a method for queering the culture? No, it is not. It is about seeing, perceiving, acting. But inclusiveness is certainly a motor and a direct effect. I hope all this makes some sense to you.
Helsinki, 1 October 2020
Finally, I’m getting back to you! And I think it is of note that in the meantime between your letter from April and my answer now, we presented a reprise of Out of Synch at the Bridges seminar.
But to your letter. First of all, don’t dare put yourself down! “Sweat stains,” bah! – when you entered the seminar, I remember thinking how perfectly blow-dried your hair was.
I appreciated how humorous the whole situation was – humorous, without being a joke. As I was not trying to mimic your movements perfectly, nor was I trying to mimic them in a deliberately clumsy manner, I could flow with the moment quite freely and allow the moments of falling out of synch to reveal themselves.
During the Out of Synch presentation this September, there was a moment, when you were speaking as yourself, that you suddenly gestured with your hands in a lively manner to demonstrate something. I had been following your body language in my laid-back and approximate manner, but in that moment, I realized that I simply couldn’t bring my hands to gesture that vividly. There was some social boundary that I found within myself: if I tried to mimic your rapid hand movements, it might come off as foolish, or would my arm and hand movements take up too much space simply because my arms are quite long? Either way, I simply moved my hands a little bit with movements that were a slow, desynced, weak echo of what you were doing.
And I thought to myself: this is brilliant! I found my own lack of commitment to lively hand gestures interesting – the sudden disconnect of first trying to position myself similarly to you and emulate your body language, and then that mimicry coming to a halt at a very clear threshold that was not anything dramatic but rather mundane. And I thought that perhaps, in a room full of dancers, experts in movement, someone else might find that interesting and telling as well.
I’d like to ask you more about your note of eccentricity (“we experimented with at least three of these parameters: […] eccentricity (Kenneth and K) […]”). I think it’s simply that I don’t really understand the word eccentricity in this context – are you referring to a split between a person in a normal social situation and a person becoming a representation of themselves in a performance situation?
Also, maybe to state the obvious, but:
My reading out your text in your own words gave you the chance to hear your presentation in someone else’s voice. I think it was so great that you jumped at the opportunity to make comments on it, in the live setting, and explain some things further or in different words or make new associations, and so on. I appreciate it very much, how your idea of using me as an “asynchronous proxy” was so simple to execute, yet so unconventional in thought, and produced very straightforward gains – you can complement your own presentation in real time, we present an example of asynchrony while explaining it – while artistically being so off kilter.
One could even suggest, why aren’t all (or simply, to be less dramatic, “more”) presentations carried out in this way? Of course, the idea of a live situation would be to get the real-time thoughts of the person presenting, so why not give the material prepared at an earlier time to a sidekick, and let the presenter comment on themselves?
All the best,
stay safe and take care