virtually/actually hands-on

eleanor hadley kershaw: deepblue/heine røsdal avdal, drop a line

deepblue/Heine R Avdal, drop a line

deepblue/Heine R Avdal, drop a line

deepblue/Heine R Avdal, drop a line

BEFORE PASSING THROUGH THE DOOR TO THE “SENSUAL TOTAL EXPERIENCE” OF DEEPBLUE/HEINE R. AVDAL’S DROP A LINE, I’M INSTRUCTED TO LOOK FOR A MAN IN AN ORANGE SHIRT: HE’LL TELL ME WHAT TO DO. I FOLLOW A RAISED CARDBOARD-COVERED WALKWAY THROUGH AN UNOCCUPIED ROOM, TOWARDS ANOTHER DOOR. BELOW IS A MOSSY TERRAIN, INTERSPERSED WITH SCATTERED PAPER FLAKES AND EARTHY MOUNDS. IN THE NEXT ROOM, A LINGERING, GRATING MONOTONE DRAWN FROM A CELLO SEEPS ACROSS MORE UNEVEN KNOLLS AND ARTIFICIAL SNOW. AMIDST THE GREEN AND WHITE, THREE DANCERS IN BLACK SLOWLY CONTORT TO THE PROTRACTED, SCRATCHY NOTES. THESE BEINGS CRAWL AMBIGUOUSLY THROUGH THEIR HABITAT CREATING INHUMAN SHAPES, OBSERVED FROM THE ELEVATED PATH BY SEVERAL AUDIENCE MEMBERS. BEYOND THE ONLOOKERS, I SEE THE ORANGE SHIRT.

The man quietly points out a black curtain set back into the contours of this subterranean rural landscape: one of three dark openings accessed by a trail of cardboard stepping-stones. Self-consciously I descend into the dancing creatures’ domain then dip out of their sight. Immersed in silence and darkness I reach out and find a second curtain to pull aside. A wind chime tinkles.

I am in a shadowy cave-like chamber, encased in thick black fabric. As my eyes adjust to the gloom, something moves above a waist-high box on the other side of the alcove. Tensely moving closer I realise I am looking at my own reflection, dimly lit by white light emanating from the top of the box. I see it is a horizontal screen, with the base of the mirror rising from its back edge, so I’m looking down at the screen and its mirror image. I put on the headphones dangling from the ceiling, but hear nothing. Then I notice two holes in the side of the box facing me.

Pulse thumping in my ears, I inch my fingers into the space gaping away from me. The box top flickers. A sudden, scary electronic voice pushes mashed up syllables into my ears. Disoriented, I try to make sense of the broken noise and at the same instant a grey, digital image of my hands appears on the screen. “H-H-H. H. A. E. I. O. H. H. Hand.” The automated intonations threaten me less as I focus on the image. Turn thumbs up (thumbs down in the mirror). Spread fingers into W’s (M’s in the mirror).

But some aspect of the picture isn’t right. My mind’s confused about how many fingers there should be. Ten fingers (and ten fingers). But also, slowly, another set of fingers creeps into the screen’s square from the edge of the mirror (and into mirrored-me’s square). A 20-limbed mollusc unfurling from the threshold between reflected and real worlds, awakening as I’ve trespassed into its lair, and transgressed the liminal boundaries between human and electronic territories. These other fingers overlap with mine onscreen in beautiful symmetrical star-shapes: the silent anonymity of this digital connection reminiscent of all virtual encounters in the nowhere holes of internet chatrooms.

I freeze. If my hands are onscreen, and the other hands are onscreen, and my hands are in the box, then…It’s not just me and me in here. Sanitised virtual flirtation with the other is all very well and good but when it comes to the physical reality of actual hands…and some other person on the end of them, skulking facelessly in the dark a metre from me, watching me watch myself… well that takes this sensory-deprived/amplified-communication thing an involvement too far.

The index fingers point at me, as if to tell me it’s my move now. Deep breath. Reticently I allow my hands to waver a little further forward, up, down. The terrified anticipation of undefined frights lurking under the bed, in the darkness of ghost stories, or around the next corner of fairground rides, tumbles through my gut. My finger lands on something solid, warm, hairy. I scream and recoil, then immediately laugh out loud and grin at the mirror, behind which I realise the other person must be standing.

My companion stays still, patiently waiting to gain my trust, as I tentatively pat him under the screen and watch the image of our hands meeting. Once I’m used to his proximity, I let him play with my hands until he is massaging them, pulling along the tendons, applying pressure to the palms, scratching between each finger, interlinking his fingers and mine.

Eventually his hands retreat. The screen goes blank. I duck back into the bright gaze of the audience, joining them to sip green tea. A fresh, damp fragrance drifts upwards from my hands, staying with me for the rest of the day: a souvenir of organically artificial revelations.

deepblue/Heine R Avdal, drop a line, concept, direction, video Heine Røsdal Avdal, choreographic assistant Yukiko Shinozaki, scenography Saori Miyazawa, Arnaud Meuleman, scent artist, performer Maki Ueda, performance Anne-Linn Akselsen, Sayaka Kaiwa, Ugo Dehaes, Peder Horgen, Michiel Reynaert, Yukiko Shinozaki, composer-performer Silvia Platzer, technical director Hans Meijer; Kaaitheater, Brussels, Aug 30-31

RealTime issue #88 Dec-Jan 2008 pg. 30

© Eleanor Hadley Kershaw; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2008