By Joe Ferguson
French philosopher of science Gaston Bachelard recognized that science could only progress when it broke free from entrenched ways of thinking and the simple accumulation of facts. He believed that only through an epistemological rupture could scientists embrace the new conceptual frameworks posed by then recent findings in relativity and quantum mechanics.
In The Poetics of Space, he wrote, “A philosopher who has evolved his entire thinking from the fundamental themes of the philosophy of science, and followed the main line of the active, growing rationalism of contemporary science as closely as he could, must forget his learning and break with all his habits of philosophical research, if he wants to study the problems posed by the poetic imagination.”
Six years ago while on tour in Jackson Hole, WY, San Francisco choreographer Joe Goode stumbled upon a tattered copy of Bachelard’s book and was immediately taken with the book’s poetic investigation of the philosophical and psychological complexities of domestic space. Goode presented his interpretation of Bachelard’s work in his most recent piece Poetics of Space which played at the Joe Good Annex in San Francisco, CA through November 1.
The performance space was divided horizontally by dark, heavy curtains and vertically by three levels of platforms. There was no seating during the one-hour performance. The audience was led through the changing space by the performers, who interacted with the viewers while relating the story of Logan—a tragic figure whose life was revealed in short vignettes. Attendance was kept intentionally small to ensure that viewers had the opportunity to interact with the dancers.
The piece was a fusion of dance and theater. At times, the story was told to small groups of viewers huddled around the performers in tiny, intimate spaces. At other times the audience was reunited to watch multi-level musical numbers performed by wildly-attired actors and dancers.
As if heeding Bachelard’s charge, Goode created a work that broke free from the conventional trappings of dance and storytelling, and compelled viewers to do the same in order to translate the work.
Perhaps taking a cue from installation art, Poetics of Space required the audience to navigate the ever-changing theatrical space and interact with the performers—the effect engaged not only the mind, but the body. This bold approach, though empirically consistent with cognitive science, is uncommon in the performing arts and as such may have left some viewers without the traditional means of interpreting the work. By employing movement, set change, and interactivity, however, Goode engages our inherent means of understanding the environment and those we find within it.
As the contemporary art world rushes desperately toward interactive, digital artworks as a means to attract viewers, Goode provides a welcome and satisfying low-tech respite.