What do you miss about attending a live performance?
Is it really about seeing something? Or about sensing, imagining, congregating? For me, it is the way goosebumps rise on my forearms when someone’s voice hits a note that pierces right through my bones. Or the scent of cigarette smoke and niche fragrances rushing through my nostrils as I hug my hip artsy friends hello. Or the magical way artificial smoke transforms any black box into an enchanted place.
While it is currently impossible to gather in a dark room with a bunch of savvy strangers, most theatres have switched to online programmes, offering a plethora of digital and mostly free content. Video formats, both live and pre-recorded, seem to be the substitute of choice for theatre and dance performances throughout the Covid-19 catastrophe. However, the monopoly of the visual realm can greatly flatten the multi sensorial experience of spectatorship. Moreover, video documentation isn’t always the best choice to archive more experimental formats such as durational or participative works, which require the kind of focus one can hardly muster from across a screen.
While some viewers are eager for more advanced technologies to replicate the experience of live art, such as 3D glasses and other Virtual Reality experiences, others desire to detach from the digital world all together.: In case you too miss performances but could use a break from staring at your laptop, I recommend Johanna Hedva’s latest book Minerva the Miscarriage of the Brain, a razor-sharp and visceral substitute to visiting the theatre in person.
A writer, artist, musician and astrologer living in LA and Berlin, Hedva is well known for their ‘sick woman theory’ essay as well as their performances, their novel On Hell or their widely shared disability access rider. A retrospective of the last 10 years of their work, Minerva feels like a detailed archive, a performance study textbook rich with countless gems on making art, an intimate journal and collection of spells all at once.
Especially striking is the textured and graphic precision with which Hedva depicts past performances. Descriptive paragraphs are juxtaposed with archive photographs, illustrations by Isabelle Albuquerque and blank pages, giving readers plenty of time to breathe and to imagine the work in their minds, to let the words and pictures resonate in their skulls.