I am here for Simultaneous Artist Monologues from Antonio de la Fe, Alice Tatge, Alexandrina Hemsley & Jamila Johnson-Small. Entering the studio I take a seat with other listeners on one of the three rectangular box-like benches placed diagonally across the room, whilst some other people choose to sit on the floor or remain standing. An OHP placed in one of the corners of the room projects flowery patterns made from plywood cut outs onto the white walls. The patterns fill the space. It’s taking me a little while to settle down and adjust. Antonio’s voice focuses me. He’s reading aloud from his computer, something about the idea of Fringe. His voice and speech are reassuring and a bit unsettling as I can’t hear anything else that’s going on in the room with much clarity. I guess that this is part of the exercise.
So I come closer to Alexandrina and Jamila who are having a quiet conversation about being black, women and how they feel about becoming objects of desire. It’s hard to hear what they’re saying, and it seems hard for them to flow in conversation. Their style could not be more different to Antonio’s. Alex and Jamila are not reciting from a computer but are having a staged conversation, where they are speaking to each other and we listen in. Feels like they’re staging some sort of therapeutic or confessional exercise. For who? Them or us? Is it two black girls telling a white crowd about forms of oppression they will never be able to experience first hand or them telling us about stereotypes or modes of behaviour that we as white (heterosexual males) perpetuate? Most probably both and yet the tone is not militant, angry or even reproachful but rather tentative and shy, which makes it more interesting, less certain. What am I listening to and what are we gathering around? The more I listen the more I become involved, something opens up slowly. What has provoked this? The tone of their banter has certainly contributed to this, but I wonder if its how we’ve all gathered round to listen. What are we sharing here? Is it a shared embarrassment and shame listening to Jamila and Alexandrina’s stories or is it something else?
My attention goes to Alice. Alice is dressed in a 1930’s 1940’s style black dress, shoes and glasses and looks the most elegant of the four. She contrasts with Antonio performing as himself, and is diametrically opposed to the comic effect of Jamila and Alexandrina’s white plim soles, African tunic and straightened hair wigs. Alice is also wearing a wig and she is also reading other people’s words. Unlike Antonio she uses books to read from. Freud, Judith Butler, Italo Calvino, Beckett are some of the writers she is using to speak her monologue. She speaks more intermittently than Antonio. She breaks between recitations taking the time to slow dance with people who have come here to listen. I also dance with her. It’s pleasant to make contact with someone, and it also breaks her distant and wistful presence.
I remain standing. I look around to see that other people have also shifted. Antonio is now sitting towards the back of the room reading from his computer. Jamila and Alexandrina have moved to another corner to continue their conversation. Alice continues her rounds and routines speaking sometimes in English and sometimes in Italian. The room seems different now; other conversations have started here and there. Things have shifted a little. Maybe I’m not trying so hard to listen, as the room has been filled with words and voices. The stilted set up of the beginning has dissipated, things have settled. As the bell chimes to mark the end of the event, a little part of me thinks that the content of these monologues and staged conversations were not the most important part of the event. After all, what I’m left with is a trace of voice, some memories of wigs and recitations. However another part of me would like to think that something was momentarily shared, transmitted and re-assembled thanks to the simultaneity of their speech. We made something of it, sometimes at odds with it, but it did stick.
John Pinder is a performance maker, producer and educator based in London. He worked as part of inter-disciplinary collective Present Attempt (2008-2012) and is currently working on a cycle of performance works called In Eldersfield with Kings of England.