Are tweets spaces? Not many philosophers would want to answer that question. ‘Space’ is a term – like ‘narrative’ or ‘deconstruction’ – that while it has its role in thinking about humans, and has its philosophical antecedents, has now become impossibly ‘postmodern’ in the pejorative sense. To a philosopher it says imprecision, or worse: AHRC funding.
As for tweets, few philosophers have so far grappled with the questions of self in an age of digital self-division. It is often left to the arts to try and give meaning to human experience and so it is with the ostensibly non-digital realm of contemporary dance. IJAD, a London dance company, have continued their negotiations with social media (read: Twitter) in the third in a series of productions based loosely around temporality and space.
In-Finite Space, a project of choreographer Joumana Mourad, is notably concerned with transcending the gap between how the audience thinks about the work they are seeing, relating it to experiences of their own, and how, reflexively, the dancers can return interpretations of those experiences. The production, quite remarkably, relies on the tweets of its audience for its inspiration. It is brave art.
In this latest show at Waterloo’s magnificent Vaults, part of the Vaults Festival, the audience are asked to tweet their favourite space, that being in the perceived world, the digital world, the imaginary world, and so on. Many of these tweets are trite; answers like “Horizontal on cool grass” are clumsy but contribute to the problem with the production. (The worst tweet, which I saw from over a neighbour’s shoulder, was a space “on a train, travelling through a continent.”)
If the tweets here are to be honest accounts of one’s experiences, we ought to take into account, if we are to interpret them, the time-spaces in which these tweets are formed. The issue for IJAD is that a tweet occupies multiple digital and conceptual spaces owing to its availability to all people at all times. It takes on new meanings in new spaces. It has a history, a personality. I tweet about how I feel in the Vaults, but that makes little sense to my followers who aren’t all here with me, even though I’m using a hash tag to siphon off my tweets for this show. My knowledge of this – plus social embarrassment (and that not everybody uses Twitter to be honest) – might mean that I do not engage with the show as Mourad intends. Indeed, my embarrassment at being asked to think, an impolite request if there ever were one, meant that I shied behind tweets that were mostly self-aggrandising or merely took the piss. But the worry is that the production so rests on a dynamic that must be taken seriously. There is an irredeemable collapse between the audience and their honesty which renders the expression of their spatial relationships vague and unsatisfying. What isn’t explored is whether we need anonymity to feel the space we want in our multitudinously digital world. Why does Twitter only appear to have one dimension in a production, ironically, about time and space?
The phenomenal power of the movement (Alice Gaspari in particular involving herself in a nice nod to apples and Newtonian physics) is worshipful. The improvisation adopted to express the tweets is often extraordinary. But this second part of the performance is too short. I could gleefully have watched this for longer. Not much off of half an hour, it gets really exciting towards the end, which comes to soon, as all five performers move wonderfully in unison.
After the audience had been asked in the first part to explore the danced space with torches and tweets, this second part feels much more static. Spaces are demarcated between audience and performer. The tweets then function merely as source material. They could be read from a book. It matters not that the tweets are truthful or not, only that they are given in spaces that may require them to be truthful. Spaces house powers upon the tweeter and with IJAD, courageous though they are, this is lost. Tweets convey brief moments of agency but they are welded to the perceived recipient of the author and this production misses the vital component, therefore, of the digital self: dishonesty. Tweets are lies in space. And while this production rollicks with such a confident ingenuity, you can’t believe a word of it.
• In-Finite Space runs until Saturday, March 8 at the Vaults Festival in London