Eyes Closed, Arms Outstretched

Feelingthoughts on Ming Poon’s The Intervention of Loneliness. Friday 6th December at Ufer Studios, Wedding

Ming Poon’s performance The Intervention of Loneliness simultaneously asks us to consider disconnection in the world we live in and to take a chance to perhaps feel its antithesis. In the piece, Poon asks a room full of strangers to volunteer to come into contact first with him and then with each other – not through dialogue or discussion, but through touch – as they share the headphones of an iPod and slow dance together. As is written on the piece’s Facebook event page: “The Intervention of Lonelinessis a response to the systemic loneliness and human disconnection that we experience and see around us”.

What takes place in The Intervention of Loneliness is ultimately quite simple and the process is gentle, and these are things I really admire about the work. Poon doesn’t overcomplicate the performance with his own ideas and representations of loneliness and connection, but sets up an experience which he then hands over to the audience. It is a brave act for an artist, but one which allows people to discover in it what they will. It reminds me of wisdom shared to me by a friend earlier this year: The artist is not the moon and should not try to be. The artist is the hand pointing at the moon. As a result, the piece emerges as utopic and yet realistic in how it acknowledges that there is no simple solution to solving loneliness; instead it is something which requires participation and negotiation.

When I saw the performance, I crossed onto the stage and back twice, dancing with different strangers before returning to spectate other people do the same. In the flux of bodies crossing between stage and audience (which builds and builds as more people get involved), I felt myself pulled into a feedback loop where reflection and action fed one another – and touch, feelings and thoughts became inseparable to how I experienced the show. I felt the pull to dance with someone; I held different hands; I contemplated loneliness; I felt the desire to hug and the urge to keep a distance; I felt sometimes confident and othertimes awkward; I chose when to leave the stage and when to jump back in; and I watched moments between other people, empathising with their experiences and wondering what they might be thinking. 

One moment in the performance moved me deeply. Towards the end, instructions come over the speakers which ask those left onstage to close their eyes and imagine the last person they danced with. The voice then asks them to reach out and hug that person as if they were still there. Seeing all these people – eyes closed, arms outstretched – participating in an imaginary hug is somehow one of the most understatedly exquisite things I’ve seen onstage… perhaps because it isn’t just a representation, but a live act of tenderness performed by audience members. Overall, The Intervention of Loneliness reminded me that it is this kind of tenderness which is essential to human connection, and that perhaps we could all have a little more courage to gently reach out to one another, not just in the theatre, but in our everyday lives as well. 

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