These performances work with personal narrative as element to be redefined by public space. Some of these performances were done without an invited public. The earlier performances were very physical: dancing or skipping with a rope while telling stories. Later the performances used small mise-en-scènes which could imbed themselves in the reality of a café, a town square, an apartment block stairwell... and ‘ride’ it. They make use of cinematic devices: framing, music, point of view, distance, location, atmospheres, looping and split-screen. Spectators were gradually distracted from their mundane activity, by the scene which draws them in, like a memory of a film they had seen long ago.
Trams taken and trams missed
(Biella, Amsterdam, Torino, 2001)

In this performance Smith narrates four stories from the point of view of a singular protagonist. The stories recount experiences the protagonist has had while commuting on trams in Amsterdam. While the underlying theme of the stories is a search for human intimacy, they are told in a deadpan, unemotional manner-further distanced by the fact that their narrator is telling them whilst skipping rope. The viewers are simultaneously confronted with two disparate gestures: the voice of intimate longing and the body under repetitive physical activity.
Storytelling in this performance occurs before analysis. It is as if the protagonist is sweating out the words by the physical action of his skipping. While the stories have moments that could be embarrassing, there is no shame in what's revealed. There is only action and the physical release of what the body had taken in. Somehow, perhaps by the physical act of jumping rope, the protagonist's agency is distanced enough to let the truth come out, without self-consciousness and before self-awareness. 

Perhaps it is this distance, devoid of judgment, that gives the space for the viewer to enter. By speaking, the protagonist permits our own recounting of our own stories of our own longing. Whether we tell our stories to ourselves or displace them back to the artist, we take the first step towards recognition. Gregg has noted that after he performs, viewers, confusing him for his character, often confess their stories to him.

Trams taken and trams missed.  [Il y a les trams qu’on attrape et ceux qu’on loupe]
Biella, Amsterdam, Turin, 2001
Dans cette performance, Smith raconte quatre histoires depuis le point de vue d’un seul protagoniste. Les histoires sont ses expériences de trajets en tram à Amsterdam. Le thème sous-jacent de ces histoires est la quête d’une intimité, elles sont racontées de manière impassible, sans émotions, avec beaucoup de recul par le fait que le narrateur les dise en faisant de la corde à sauter.

Brief encounter
Chinese European Art Centre, Xiamen, China.
With Ana Kadoic
At 5 pm the audience of about 80 people were led up two flights of stairs to a terrace overlooking a courtyard and providing a view of the ocean. They were offered cigars. After a while, their attention is diverted by the mise-en-scene of a man and a woman, meeting midway on the stairwell across the courtyard. At a distance of roughly 100 metres, framed against the backdrop of the sea, the distant islands, the setting sun, they are viewed as mere silhouettes. They briefly share a small cigar, similar to that smoked by the spectators, and then continue in opposite directions.
A 17h, un public d’environ 80 personnes a été conduit par deux rampes d’escalier à une terrasse qui surplombe une cour et offre une vue sur l’océan. On leur offrait des cigares. Après un moment, leur attention est détournée par la mise en scène d’un homme et d’une femme, qui se rencontrent au milieu de l’escalier de l’autre côté de la cour. A une distance d’environ 100 mètres, avec la mer comme toile fond, les îles lointaines, le soleil couchant, ils sont vus comme des simples silhouettes. Ils partagent rapidement un petit cigare, semblable à ceux fumés par les spectateurs, et continuent dans la direction opposée.

(a performance for two actors) Amsterdam 2002, Gothenburg 2002, Belo Horizonte 2003, duration : 75 mins

A 2-minute scene from the Alfred Hitchcock film, 'Notorious,' (starring Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant) is integrated into the daily life of local cafés, with no indication that it is a performance. The only remarkable feature is that it is looped or repeated 12 times during the period of about 1 hour and 15 minutes. For a 'viewer' who notices the scene unfolding it is difficult or impossible to follow the dialogue and a narrative can only be imagined, colliding cinema references with the reality of the moment. A pile of red scarves gradually gathers on the table, left by the female character as she leaves and returns repeatedly.
Une scène du film Les Enchainés, d’Alfred Hitchcock (avec Ingrid Bergman et Cary Grant) est rejouée dans divers cafés. La scène de 2 minutes est intégrée dans un nouveau décor sans jamais indiquer qu’il s’agit d’une performance ni d’une citation. La seule trace de jeu est qu’elle est en boucle ou répétée pendant 12 fois sur une période d’une heure quinze. Pour un « spectateur » qui remarque la scène, il est difficile voire impossible de suivre le dialogue et la narration peut juste être imaginée, les références cinématographiques entrent en collision avec la réalité du moment. Un tas de foulards rouges se forme petit à petit sur la table, laissés par la femme à mesure qu’elle part et revient, indéfiniment.

We met at the busstop
(Amsterdam, 2001)

In this performance a story is told of an encounter with a fellow traveller whilst travelling between Milan and Amsterdam. The story is told while waiting at a bus stop and dancing, listening to loud dance music on a walkman and headphones.

Dans cette performance, l’histoire d’une rencontre avec un compagnon de voyage lors d’un vol entre Milan et Amsterdam est racontée à l’arrêt de bus, en dansant et écoutant de la musique très fort dans les écouteurs de son walkman.

It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it.
with Michael Sellam, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, 2005, (Hidden Rhythms curated by Hilde de Bruijn), duration: 2 hours.
From the back of a truck a group of men and woman in overalls begin to empty a large delivery of boxes, and pile them on pallets in an open space. The boxes are systematically checked and labeled. When they have completed three large monolithic forms, they are covered with plastic sheeting and tape, and workers break for lunch. When they return, the boxes are returned to the back of the truck, which then drives away. The workers change into casual clothes and retire for the day. The performance is repeated daily in different public spaces, the boxes invade the space like a brief and unexplained virus.
A l’arrière d’un camion un groupe d’hommes et de femmes en salopette commencent à vider un gros chargement de cartons et à les empiler sur des palettes dans une zone piétonne . Les cartons sont systématiquement contrôlés et marqués. Quand ils forment trois formes monolothiques, ils sont recouverts d’une bâche en plastique et de scotch, et les travailleurs partent en pause déjeuner. A leur retour, les cartons sont à nouveau rangés à l’arrière du camion, qui ensuite s’en va. Les travailleurs se changent en tenue de ville et semblent avoir terminé leur journée. La performance est répétée tous les jours dans différents lieux publics, les cartons envahissent l’espace comme un virus bref et inexpliqué.
It never entered my mind, Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, duration 20 minutes
with Mathilde Rosier

A small cafe terrace was constructed in the cold winter courtyard of the Rijksakademie. The performance was to be viewed from the confines of a glass walled tunnel. Passing through this tunnel one would hear the sound of sentimental jazz ballads. The intention was to combine this soundtrack with an image which would be viewed momentarily by people passing through the tunnel, and then later expand in their imagination. Across the courtyard, a man and a woman are visible on a café terrace. He glances at her from time to time. After some time he leans across and asks her for the time and she tells him with a smile. Eventually she gets up and leaves. The man leaves a few minutes later in a different direction. It was not anticipated that people would in fact become fixated on the scene and linger there till its end.
Une petite terrasse de café a été construite dans le jardin d’hiver de la Rijksakademie. On voyait l a performance depuis un tunnel aux murs de verre. En passant à travers ce tunnel, on pouvait entendre le son de balades sentimentales de jazz. L’intention était de combiner cette bande sonore avec une image qui serait vue momentanément par les personnes passant à travers le tunnel, et qui pourraient laisser aller leur imagination. De l’autre côté de la cour, on aperçoit un homme et une femme à la terrasse d’un café. Il lui jette des regards de temps en temps. Après un temps, il s’accoude et lui demande l’heure, elle lui répond en souriant. Finalement, elle se lève et s’en va. L’homme s’en va à son tour quelques minutes après dans une autre direction. Il n’était pas prévu à l’avance que les participants fixeraient en fait la scène et s’y attarderaient jusqu’à la fin.
Kimberley Hotel, Cape Town, 2003
Kimberley Hotel, Cape Town, 2003
Kimberley Hotel, Cape Town, 2003
Kimberley Hotel, Cape Town, 2003
Kimberley Hotel, Cape Town, 2003
Kimberley Hotel, Cape Town, 2003
Kimberley Hotel, Cape Town, 2003
Kimberley Hotel, Cape Town, 2003
Kimberley Hotel, Cape Town, 2003
Kimberley Hotel, Cape Town, 2003
Kimberley Hotel, Cape Town, 2003
Kimberley Hotel, Cape Town, 2003
Love, jealousy and wanting to be in two places at once. (performance in 2 venues simultaneously, Labia Cinema Foyer and Kimberley Hotel, Cape Town, August 2003

review by Cameron Platter

It's eleven thirty on a Sunday morning and Gregg Smith, organiser of the Very Real Time project Is presenting his contribution, entitled Love, jealousy and wanting to be in two places at once in the foyer of the Labia Cinema in Cape Town's beautiful and gentle Gardens area, and at the same time at the slightly seedy Barney Barnato Bar, on the corner of Buitenkant and Roeland Street.

At the Labia, a man walks into the foyer of the cinema, orders a glass of red wine, and sits down reading a film programme. He glances around shyly, perhaps looking for someone. Ten minutes later, a woman enters the cinema, and also sits down. She also appears to be looking for someone. The couple steal looks, but don't engage. A tango song begins to play. The man seems to be becoming nervous. Another song follows the first. The woman gets up to leave, her coat half on. The man, now obviously nervous, but with some bravado, approaches her. They begin to dance the tango.

Smith had for this project, constructed a fictional narrative. A couple, whose marriage is quietly growing lifeless, decide to rekindle their passion through the tango. But not any old tango, rather a more risque partner swopping form of the dance, each with a different partner in separated venues. As Smiths says, "The tango is a very special dance. No two couples dance it the same way. It is the ultimate expression of love if it is danced the right way".

Two performances, then, at the same time, of two couples performing a blind date tango dance, in different parts of the city. Smith talks of this project (the tango) as vehicle for "self and social renewal, a way to recapture lost time, operating in two realities, two venues."

It was the simpleness and quietness (gentleness) of the performance that captured me. It reminded one of old films, and seemed in the Sunday mid-morning light to have a an almost sepia tint to it. However, the fact that it was staged in very real time, just before the matinŽe shows, bought the event firmly into the present with viewers and cinema goers providing the backdrop. The gliding, scuffing, and shuffle of the dancers' shoes, the smoke from the man's post-dance cigarette (smoked sans partner) idling into the air, the furtive glances, barely suppressed nostalgia and eroticism- all had a cinematic quality to them.

The performance ended as seamlessly as it had begun: the woman left silently, the man ordered another glass of wine, and after finishing it, left quietly too.

Cameron Platter is a Durban-based artist
Photo credit : Bridget Baker
Back to Top