On the train back to Dublin after doing Pack/Unpack- a 3 hour durational performance, as part of Second Collectives Imagine Belfast Event. But it felt like the performance physically began when I started travelling to Belfast this morning at 8am from the Luas station, Ballinteer, dublin. I hoiked, heaved, pulled and dragged my heavy cumbersome suitcase through dublin and Belfast. Im always pleased to do some physical work, living in dread of muscular dystrophy as I do. The suitcase provided a bit of physical effort in its transportation, so for that I am grateful. It’s on the luggage rack of the train looking at me now.
We made it, the performance, in the carpark of Vault Studios, which Sinead toured me through beforehand. Such a huge, well equipped, well maintained space! Also, today was a beautiful, sunny, cloudless day. As I had said to Sinead at the end of the performance, I’d almost felt the need to defend my performative action as relatively, it is an underwhelming one. Packing and unpacking a suitcase full of stuff. I reckon I packed and unpacked approximately 12 times. A core group of people sat nearby and watched and we talked together over the duration of the performance. As the day progressed I got a little tired and my back was a teeny bit achey. Apart from that, absolutely grand. I always feel grateful I have a body that allows me to do these things.
Having made this performance before I was interested to see how it would feel and how it would translate in a very different environment. The first time was 2019, pre covid, in December, in the departures/arrivals hall of Shannon airport. It was a strange disembodied experience, namely as there were so few people around. A flight would come in, people would arrive, leave, and a few staff would walk up and down, but as the morning progressed it got eerily quiet. The duty free was open, and the café, with basically no one in them. Random intercom announcements and flashing signs, in a large, windowless space so no telling if it was night or day, but no one around. It was all a bit 28 days later. This was before United Airlines pulled out of Shannon too. At that performance I encountered passengers, travelling past the performance site. They would stop and talk now and then as they passed by me, kneeling on the floor, surrounded by stuff.
This time though I had a core group of people who sat and watched for most of the 3 hours. I was interested to hear what the experience of sitting doing this was like for them. Certainly It was different for me- I was engaged in an action all the time, thinking on a surface level of what to take out or put back in next. Also listening to the conversations going on and talking too. It was low key, and everyone there seemed relaxed, and we collectively knew nothing crazy was going to happen. It was not an exciting piece of performance. I am framing it this way and speaking in the negative rather than the positive because I started thinking during the performance, should I end it earlier? Is this boring? Are they here just to be nice? I began to question myself and my actions, the validity of it all. But who says a performative action has to be dramatic. It’s good for me to push myself mentally and physically and so I worked away, in the knowledge that here, the magic lay in the repetitive movements over the time, and the questions and observations that arose around the task.
We discussed consumerism, the female voice and the role of the matriarch, who does what in the house, second hand goods, recycling, the panic of what to pack when going away, how clothes look different on you in a shop then when you take them home. We talked about children and how they get emotionally attached to objects, and how we as adults do too. We talked about mindful buying, panic buying, guilt buying. I felt comfortable there and found my little audience to be made up of strong, independent, thoughtful, curious, creative women. I felt privileged that they would give their valuable time to sitting watching me and talking to me.
It was in all a learning experience for me and I felt like I did not have to impress or make gestures of largess today. As the performance continued however I felt I needed to change the energy and I started to move faster. I even started to sweat as I continued. The repetitiveness of the action was starting to get to me and I was really starting to resent all these items I’d brought in my case that I’d set out to arrange over and over again. Id brought: my normal clothes which happened to be clean on the spare room bed yesterday, stuff that doesn’t fit the kids any more, some dresses in my closet I’ve never worn, a bag of baby stuff I found in the cupboard, some clothes belonging to family like my granny’s cardigan, my mums skirt. Also your normal travelling stuff like toiletries and socks and underwear. Books. my laptop. a sketch pad. pencils. All these things I’d stuffed into the case in a hurry, all now taking on different meaning. I’d not examined and held them like this before.
It all momentarily felt a bit useless. But what is useful anyway? A word that is only effective in the context that it is used in. I reminded my self there is power in the small gesture, and that repetitive action can build things and also tear them down. I projected strong energy into the action and kept going, with renewed purpose. I had come all this way and dragged this suitcase full of memories and emotional clothing baggage so I would finish. I did so with the same lack of pomp I’d started things with, just closing up the suitcase and that was it. This time I’d squished my laptop case, my jacket and everything in to the case. It was truly packed.