Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Shhhh! You're trying to read!

If you're following the renovation-displaced Performance Space 122 around in its various peregrinations these days, you know there's no telling where it or you will end up next. And that's a good thing. Breaking free of the legendary East Village nest, this resilient presenting organization now feels free to drop art down just about anywhere--a good model for the rest of us.

Unless you're a New York University student or faculty member, you probably haven't set foot in the upper reaches of NYU's Elmer Holmes Bobst Library. Up until yesterday afternoon, I certainly had not. But a PS 122 event, a new collaboration with the ongoing PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, drew me into an upstairs reading room lined with tables filled with students gazing at laptops.

I was issued a mini iPod and headphones along with a simple, essential sheet of preliminary instructions in the use of old technology--a stack of three novels topped by a thin, spiral-bound notebook. Another visitor, paired with me, sat beside me before an arrangement of the identical reading materials.

And, yes, we were there for a performance. With a twist.

The performance happens, largely, between your ears. Conceived and directed by multimedia/autoteatro artists Ant Hampton and Tim EtchellsThe Quiet Volume makes collaborators of its "audience"--two people at a time, sitting at a table in an active library. Each listener follows the instructions, remarks and reading passages whispered through his or her headphones, taking any indicated actions (pick up the Kazuo Ishiguro book; turn to page number X; follow the text with your finger as you hear it; visualize something on this blank page in the notebook, and so forth).

But there's more. The written and spoken text also messes with your sense of time. It effortlessly lifts you right out of your immediate location into awareness of the space and your reading partner and the students around you. It stimulates mental imagery. Eventually, the collided and collaged text creates tension and disorientation. It grows nearly impossible to read or comprehend under the shifting directions and the occasional sound effects, which sound both intimate (in the headphones) and distant (coming from somewhere in the surrounding room).

The Quiet Volume runs at NYU's Bobst Library through May 5, in reserved slots between noon and 8pm daily (1pm to 8pm on May 5).

It is also hosted by The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture through May 4 between noon and 8pm daily (10am to 6pm, May 3 and May 4).

Hampton's Cue China (Elsewhere, Offshore) will also run at NYU's Bobst Library, May 1-5, noon to 8pm (1pm to 8pm, Sunday).

Tickets can be purchased indivually or in pairs. For further information or to reserve a slot for performances in either of these two locations, click here.

The Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
New York University
70 Washington Square South, Manhattan
(map/directions)

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
515 Malcolm X Boulevard, Manhattan
(map/directions)

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