by Nik Wakefield
In my hand I hold my phone of green plastic motherboard with its processor and memory sticks. Light images come on the screen from other places even from ones I point the phone at front or back and then these images are past. My phone and your phone; the phone is a ‘past-maker’. The phone that leaves no phone unturned, that can call any other phone and that begs to be held, to be caressed, prodded, fingered, whispered to and yelled at, dropped and cracked, to be woken up and to go to sleep, to remind you of things you need to do and sometimes fall into the toilet. But the phone is not just a phone it is smart. It is also a clock. The phone tells clock time. But the phone also measures time as a recording device, and takes into storage images, video and sound. The smart phone records animation, drawn live with a fingerprint. It sees, hears and feels all this stuff and remembers it. That is how the phone is the past-maker and as a past-maker the phone’s presence in some way makes the past visible whenever it emerges. Forget of course planned obsolescence of the hardware and the hokey/sexy look of a ten-year-old phone, which is another more obvious past-making phone performance, no what I mean is that when I see a phone I see the past because the phone will make that past visible. The phone, the past-maker, our contemporary historicity. The phone isn’t historic itself yet, since our current temperature is apparently pre-apocalyptic memory-wise. The phone will have been historic once it becomes a tree in the woods. But the living chargeable phone, the past-maker, is contemporary historicity, the media-matic memory device. The past-maker encourages the past to be included, to see the present in an already pastness, through knowing that the phone will record and that it will display, too, record and display being the provenances that hover above storage as the more powerful performatives of historicity.
The phone is carried almost everywhere, with a few exceptions. Like fire the phone does not get along well with water. Like fire the phone receives some mistreatment when it is in the theatre. The phone isn’t welcome in the theatre. It must be put to sleep, turned off. It has a show nap. The beautiful sleep that occurs during a show, causing the incredible doubling where the show itself becomes a dream and is doubled by dreams experienced by the sleeping subject (yes the phone is a subject). The dreaming doubling past-maker phone of historicity is unwelcome in the theatre. More than merely revealing the specific chronophobia inherent in the theatre, the presentism that turns away from hauntings and futurity, the past-maker is apparently antithetical to the apparatus of the theatre because the phone is too impure, here impurity is a judgement of historicity. And isn’t this all so doubled already, since the theatre is the apparatus of repetition, the place where truly unplanned occurrences result in death. The absurd saccharine safety of the theatre is that someone planned this, and so hopefully no one will be bombed, run over by a car, smashed flesh against bone where things are really much more everyday then they pretend to be with all the velour, where blood doesn’t spurt so much as leak away from men’s eyes. Theatre as the danger zone, where exclusions based on race, class, gender, sexuality, religion and ability are as silenced and invisibilised as the past-maker. As the place of seeing, the theatre is as good as any other public institution at constantly rewriting certain people out of the visible zone. The connection here is that devices of historicity are unwelcome where the safety of repetition is legislated on the backs of excluded subjects.
What would a theatre where phones are welcome look like? As Claire Bishop has brilliantly explained in her TDR article on the dance exhibition as the grey zone between white cube and black box, the phone might make theatre feel more like it might have in the 19th century, where the always already mediated sociality is lit to include the audience, who aren’t really anymore an audience because they are listening selectively, barely, and not focused on the vanishing point, dear Inigo. There are a multitude of vanishing points, and they are temporal, and they are the circuits that carry wavelengths through the air and around the world, and the phone is there for vanishing, but is banished. It is the sight of the phone that spoils the sticky absence of light for the spectator and the sound of the phone that ruins the air of the audience. But if the phone becomes a part of the auditorium not as something to be excluded, which is one of the most important relations- the relation of exclusion- then the auditorium would have to adapt. Theatre would have to lose its dictatorial character, as Maria Hassabi and many others describe the specific attention demanded by theatre. The phone-inclusive theatre would be a place of visible vanishing point wavelengths where air is the dominant element. Ghosts become stars, alight in their historicity, with the fire of the centre of the earth rumbling away at the flexing wood of the wings.
Who is the subject with phone inside the theatre? A cool subject. I will make the most uncool gesture and talk about coolness, which is what theatre lacks as long as it seeks to preserve its exclusionary presentism, and the importance for coolness of distraction, the double-edged sword that dips so easily into an ambivalent territory where coolness is too plain to reside, the beyond distracted subject of total ecological impurity, of mundane actual embodied connection. Before all that philosophy, coolness is apparently born of distraction, of alienation, the sunglasses that prevent the apparent but total lie-based intimacy of eye to eye, this hierarchy of eyes that means intimacy is impossible without corneas. Speculate along with me about a cool theatre spectator audience as if this could ever be possible, and what do you imagine? Sunglasses, the phone on, elsewhere and here, embedded in the features of the contemporary historicity, but not so critical as performing, in the sense of the boundary between work and non-work, in the grey zone of indeterminable and irrecuperable nothingness, the subject that really feels something, which will change in the very next moment, who snuck in but didn’t need to, who does what isn’t expected and doesn’t do what is, who unsettles at first but then actually is comforting, is easier than how it had seemed, is itself historicity and the contemporary, all in one, on no one’s clock time, always invariably in a rhythm that becomes perfectly logically queer, chronoqueer.
Sit with this subject, cool audience phone handler, and arrive somewhere far away. Arrive at a revision of method that is a too critical to be creative and too creative to be critical in such a way that those territories map onto each other and temporarily we are lost. In a place where thinking of the world is an exercise in futurity and yet still historic. Where what is real is more than what is possible. Imagine a refutation of the nihilist vision of possible alternate worlds, all existing at once, and with it the blue marble NASA photo of the whole earth, in all its singularising and universalising violent glory. Imagine blue marble earths popping out of blue marble earths, bloop bloop blooping out new worlds all the time. Dividing like cells, mutating and multiplying, but so big and made so small, reflecting not what is, but the way of passive action. Posing uncomfortably. I could do this with a phone, I could do all these images on a phone. I could be there with a phone. Right next to a tweeting president using an insecure phone and who cares and just in front of- in perfect recording distance from- a bodycamming cop pulling over a black life. I could past-make all that if only I had a phone in my hand, but my hands are filling up with all these whole earths, these blue marble NASA photo planets and universe on top of universe is so bright in my hands that they are on fire and the theatre is being burned from where I’m sitting until the time is unclockworthy in its bendedness between history and contemporary. Anything bends.