A text I wrote while working as a dramaturg for Andy Edwards on his performance In Burrows, which premiered at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow in March 2018.
A man places a photograph on a music stand. He studies it with a marked seriousness, and then moves back a few paces. A woman stands across from him, just out of arms reach. He begins to describe the image; she interprets his words in BSL. Description, interpretation: a linguistic attention towards something that produces something else: noise, words, movement, meaning. Two bodies speaking, breathing, swaying, frowning, swallowing, gesticulating. These across of translation reach toward and layer over the objects of their attention, without ever quite touching. There are gaps between and within these asymmetrical choreographies of attention and articulation. the attended-thing persists in itself independent of its scrutiny, permitting these endless excesses of description to cascade off and outwards. The two figures swap – swap what they’re doing, swap where they stand, and swap who is watching who.
What bears meaning, what is legible? And to who? What is the legibility of illegibility; what might it mean for these two figures to present us with something deliberately obscure? We see tentative languages emerge through fragile (mis)understandings. They close their distance: hands guide hands, mapping out ‘here’ and ‘there’. But the gap persists even within this intimacy; between what is said about something and the thing itself; between something said, and those words being re-spoken.
I never know what people mean when they talk about ‘access’ and art. At some point in rehearsals the word ‘equality’ is brought up: ‘Equality of access” – as in, we all get to access the same thing? I can understand that in some ways – reasonably priced tickets, step-free access to arts spaces – but is the ‘thing’ experienced in this show really the same thing to these hearing/deaf/sighted/blind audiences? What is being interpreted here: Andy’s words, or the wider work? I worry about artwork being reduced to a set of information that can be translated and communicated. The rebellious potential of artistic materials is that they resist summary, capture or knowledge: constantly exceeding our attention and understanding.
In Burrows is not simply a man on stage telling us something about the world, but rather a range of materials, gestures, proposition (including: a man on stage speaking words) presented towards an audience for sensuous consideration. The provisions for ‘access’ of performance that we’re working with (primarily BSL interpretation and audio description) do not reinscribe an existing material that holds primacy (suggesting that we might know the limits of this thing, and what they might offer to an audience), but must rather be understood as a composition of diverse materials operating within the same space, time and aesthetic frame.
Rather than ‘access’ being a thing that can be ‘achieved’, I’m more interested in understanding it as a lens through which to think about who, at any moment, is being excluded. The role of BSL in this show is not to communicate to deaf audiences something that has been designed for hearing audiences; but rather furthers and complicates the question of what happens in an act of description. I think of Andy and Amy’s work as opening up the questions of access: what is tangible, what is legible, what is visible, what is present: what do we understand, what can be noticed about that thing, and in what ways does it exceed our noticing. The work unfolds into games of inclusion and exclusion – to which we join in, get left out, laugh along, or remain perplexed. We discover that ‘we’ is a tenuous proposition – and feel ourselves split apart through the subtle ways in which our needs might be considered or ignored. We sit close to something, feeling both its presence and its distance.