The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted time itself. It has erased schedules, stretched deadlines, and cancelled live show dates, as it has weakened our orientation to our calendars (what day is it again?). Indeed it has never been more apparent how amorphous the concepts of time and space are. Performance artists are generally unafraid of challenging our structures of time, but current spacial constrictions challenge our sense of convention even further. What does social isolation mean for a very social art form? What happens to live space when we can’t share eye contact, feel a dancer’s sweat fly into the audience, or be swallowed by the depth of a three-dimensional stage? What give-and-take is lost or transformed in that millisecond delay in live video streaming?
The answers may not be clear yet, but people like Alyza DelPan-Monley have responded to the call. DelPan-Monley recently curated an online rendition of 12 Minutes Max: The 12 Second Edition, otherwise known as 12 Seconds Max. For those unfamiliar with 12 Minutes Max (originally launched by On the Boards in 1981, now presented by Base: Experimental Arts & Space) the performance series is all about working within strict parameters: each artist is asked to show a new, experimental work in 12 minutes or less, in an informal, low tech showing. In the iteration DelPan-Monley recently curated, instead of 12 minutes, artists had 12 seconds; instead of stage, they had a camera; and instead of a theater, they had Instagram Live.
The result was stunning. Over 60 artists presented work over two separate hour-long live showings, hosted by DelPan-Monley on Instagram Live. The artists were not only local but from around the world (a pleasant bonus to presenting virtually). There were 12-second excerpts of dance films, multimedia collages of poetry, digital art, and music, and snapshots of people simply being in space. Shown in five-video blocks, DelPan-Monley thoughtfully grouped performances together in digestible collections, their messages bouncing and echoing each other. We saw contemporary dance in backyards, bedrooms, and living rooms. We watched a time lapse of someone eating a cheeseburger, a slow reveal to someone mooning the camera, and a black and white illustrated figure slyly moving through a hallway. An actor played James Bond having an identity crisis. In another, after 11 seconds of anticipation, we watched a doll head drop in front of the frame. I was expecting the show to feel like small bites, but most of the works felt like satiating deep dives that would linger with me for weeks.
The use of rapid cutting, time lapse, and stop motion bent the binding reality of living moment to moment, as performers experimented with tools that filmmakers utilize regularly. Likewise, dance and movement artists seized the opportunity to arrange their bodies differently in their (sometimes tiny) spaces. 12 Minutes Max operates on the soft principle of restrictions being an effective impetus for new work. While our non-elective, indefinite hermitage feels claustrophobic for some, 12 Seconds Max acknowledges that restriction in space can also present new possibilities.
Instagram Live, which is booming of late as a forum for connecting across distance, also shone as an alternative performance platform. During an “InstaLive”, viewers are able to leave comments, which are fed into a thread that disappears up the screen. Particularly during the pause between each block, 12 Seconds Max viewers weren’t hesitant in expressing their excitement with encouragement, shout outs to friends, and endless emojis. At one point, DelPan-Monley facilitated a discussion around the benefits of this type of platform. It felt as casual and warm as an ordinary intermission in a lobby. These days we are well versed in expressing our basic emotions with tiny digital icons: smiley faces with heart eyes, clapping hands (multiple for emphasis), clinking champagne glasses. This comment thread provided a previously rare opportunity to react, respond, and converse openly in real time without disrupting the performance.
12 Seconds Max does challenge the meaning of ephemerality in the context of live performance. The deeply important aspect of live performance is its right here, right nowness. As DelPan-Monley quoted from Adrienne Maree-Brown in their curator’s note, “[t]here is a conversation that only the people in this room right now can have. Have it.” While one can review every 12 Seconds Max video on Base’s Instagram feed, where they are posted permanently, can we still count our viewings as a particular conversation in time and space? The answer seems to be yes. Watching from the comfort of my bed felt tender, immediate, and intimate, even though we couldn’t share the same space. As our physical realities contract, our definitions and possibilities expand. At its most optimistic, perhaps this could be said about life inside the pandemic overall: our conversations around social justice, the economy, and how we function in general are amplified with the vibration of a shifting society. Artists have always been commentators, hyper-tuned to the ever-changing world, and now is no different. 12 Seconds Max is an excursion into how this work will continue in a pandemic, and an exhilarating example of more medium-bending magic to come.
12 Minutes Max: The 12 Second Edition premiered on Instagram on April 19-20, 2020, via @baseartspace Instagram Live. The event was curated and hosted by Alyza DelPan-Monley. Find out more about it here. Support Base with a donation here. Support Alyza and their work here.