Impossible Performances

Speculative events that dissolve the boundary between watching and acting

December 11, 2020

You open your eyes. In front of you is a dark trench, and you seem to be sitting in the bottom of it. The walls are straight, quite tall, and uniformly black. Ahead, the trench seems to zigzag back and forth at precise and repeating angles. But what grabs your attention next is the sky. It is moving and changing. First, a blue like a robin’s egg rises like the sun from the night. It’s an even blue that lifts across the horizon of the trench. You find it a little surprising how regular the color is, but perhaps even odder is the line of demarcation between the blue and what it is replacing. It is so evenly horizontal that it’s almost like a curtain is rising somewhere far beyond the trench to reveal this smooth pale glow of blue. In its light, you can see more detail of the trench you sit in. The zigzags that happen regularly along its length for as far as you can see are also the location of side trenches that extend off this main one, to the left and right in a seemingly methodical pattern. But now the blue is being overtaken by a deep blackness rising in the same manner that the first blue rose ahead of you. But this darkness seems to close in on you. In fact, this darkness is not only heavy and thick, but seems to be actually closer, tight against the top of the trench. And there are stars, or something like stars—the darkness is studded with spots of lighter color —but these stars shed no light. Any glow seems to be merely reflected back from your trench. These semi-stars flit across the sky at an unusual speed, and they move steadily over your head from the horizon in front of you and then vanish under the horizon behind you. Suddenly, watching the rise of this close, studded darkness from the horizon in front of you, the blue returns. A second light blue rises above the trench, but now the blue seems dimmer, dingier, like a sky that has been left too long in the dishwater. Then just as suddenly, the blue is gone, replaced by the original, distant darkness. Now, as you peer deep into this starless black, you are able to pick out faint shapes, darker or lighter than the black scrim over your head. They are like giant lumbering oblong satellites, maybe. Their shapes are tricky to discern since they are black on black. Distance is hard to gauge in this dimness, but they trundle slowly in the same path, front to back, over your head. You can’t tell if you are seeing them with your eyes or only in your imagination, but…these shapes! Like dreams of darkness within a darkness, shadows oozing behind your eyelids, and you can imagine them—as with clouds on a sunny day—into animals, buildings, fanciful creatures: alpaca, space-worm, the Sagrada Família…. Then, without warning, the blue returns: the first blue, smooth, brighter light blue, like a fresh scent of vanilla, sliding up the trench. But almost before your eyes can adjust, it vanishes behind you as the semi-starred claustrophobic darkness rises ahead. It seems from these not-stars that it is moving overhead more quickly this time. And then, sooner than expected, comes the dishwater blue. Then, as if rushing now to catch up, the shadow-filled dark. Then the bright blue followed almost immediately by the studded dark. The blue, the dark, the blue, the darker, advancing now in a sequence at increasing speed. Flashing now, faster. Much faster. Now a flickering. What speed. Velocity. Intensity. A consuming, overwhelming, screaming, misty blur.

Wet black ink splotch on white background

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Charles Campbell

Charles Campbell is an interdisciplinary artist and co-founder of Skewed Visions and Fresh Oysters Performance Research. He has made many live and virtual performance works since the 1990s, most of which were made in places not made for performance. Skewed Visions is an intentionally small, local, and experimental idea that fosters rigorous, innovative, thoughtful artistic practice to question the way things are. Fresh Oysters is a shared alternative arts research, development, and presentation …   read more