Over Het IJ Festival, Amsterdam & NDSM, Amsterdam
The Listeners is a long term practice and process-based performance by theatre-maker Maria Magdalena Kozłowska (NL/PL) and Pankaj Tiwari (NL/IND).
The proposal is simple: to be available and listen. The availability not just in terms of duration, but also in terms of emotions.
The Listeners occupy a space for several days in a row, or come back to it regularly, so their service becomes known to the community or local residents.
The performance happens in a huge post-industrial space, where only one spectator(spect-actor)is allowed/invited at a time. The Listeners remain silent and witness whatever this visitor has to vocalize. There is no physical or technical documentation of the action. It is momentary and except for the emotional documentation or the images left in both sides' memories, there is no tangible or physical documentation of the event/action.
They say art has gone far from life.
They say that makers detached themselves from the voices of the people.
They say that art became a monologue, and is not a conversation anymore.
That artists talk about others in order to gain visibility for themselves.
They say that the art world is devoid of feelings.
They say that artists don't want to be understood.
They say that artists don’t listen to people anymore.
They say that art has lost the audience.
That it inhabits power spaces not accessible to most, intentionally meant for the privileged.
And they might be right.
The transmission of the passion has been disturbed.
We propose to inspect it, clean it, replace the hard feelings and then reassemble the transmission as a completed unit with all of its soft parts - intimacy, time, communication.
We invite people for individual encounters. One by one.
We invite them to talk, shout, confess, sing, complain, cry or tell a story.
Or just share the silence.
For 5 minutes or an hour.
In any language.
We do not judge or analyse.
We do not collect voices or research them.
We do not look for any particular stories.
We do not create a tangible archive.
We just listen.
ARTISTIC MOTIVATION AND FRAMEWORK
Being independent artists, we have been facing challenges in different forms. Some are related to individual issues, some are institutional or structural. As artists, we want to create discourses, which are important to us, not just follow a discourse that has been thrown to us by a market machine. Through The Listeners, we want to challenge the existing artistic frameworks which deal with issues of care, intimacy and safe spaces. We want to make it clear that The Listeners is a work of art and not social work; neither is it religious. The act of listening in itself is a performance and should be received as an artwork.
The pandemic has changed personal and sociopolitical relations. It has impacted us as well. We have experienced being left alone, disconnected from our usual modes of working and financial struggles. We feel an urgent need to celebrate physical co-presence, as well as restart the conversation.
We believe that the timing creates an impact on the issue/subject. We have seen works about violence after the violence is done, about war after the aftermath, about climate after we have destroyed it. At the moment we feel that listening is crucial - listening to ourselves, as well as listening to others. Thus The Listeners come as a need, a response, a breath, a slap, a gesture of protest, generosity and a necessity.
As artists we intend to truly devote our time and energy to the process, without pre-designing the product. To be in the moment, to be true to the process and be available to the people. In this fast-food art market, The Listeners is a practice of the present to envision and create a different future. We want to create a toolkit for building safe spaces - forums to talk, discuss, question, understand and exchange ideas on the issues tackled by the work.
In the neoliberal reality, even the gestures get capitalised. Emotions get commodified - some of them are desired by the market, such as excitement, sadness or anger, while others, such as boredom, are in most cases unwanted.
The audience is also commodified. The market operates on numbers and surplus, putting the biggest possible number of people into the smallest possible room. Institutions rarely think about what they can give to people. People have been trained not to see generosity for what it is but as a product, or worse - a sign of weakness.
We feel that generosity is more than a practice - it is an artistic need. A need to offer the labour, time and the attention to escape the structure that is commodifying them. We devote ourselves to facilitate conditions in which others can raise their voices in front of listening witnesses. Or just share silence with them, outside a black box or a white cube. We want to create new territories of space and time. We believe that art is a medium of conversation. Listening is the first step towards it.
Time and duration
Theatre is usually seen in a 70 minutes frame. It seems like neither the artist nor the audience wishes to invest more time and focus. This is how the market shapes the relations. Economic reality influences our choices. We would like to break this constellation by stretching the time we spend with the audience without asking anything in return. We will offer our attention for a few days in one location or come back to space for one day in a week.
Rather than inviting 100 audiences in a 50 square meter space, we are interested in inviting one
person at a time to a vast and grand space. That is why we’re interested in grand spaces, such as post-industrial spaces, warehouses, or former temples. We’re interested in reversing the scale by inviting just one person at a time into a huge space. We want to create circumstances for voices to reverberate freely, outside of a black box or a white cube. We want to create space, atmosphere and condition, where the audience is the centre and important.
As artists, we have the privilege of envisioning new rituals, also of a political nature. We, as makers, come from different realities, but in both our cultures, listening is an essential aspect of social exchange. While being critical towards the concept of religion, we do not disregard the power of the genuine communal experience it can produce. We are interested in the knowledge of our ancestors, not by reproducing it but by reclaiming its structure. A ritual becomes one as it is recurring. This is why we see “the Listeners” as a practice, which can grow and keep teaching us.