to be contemporary is to be on time at a day that we can only miss
Contemporary societies, and particularly contemporary societies undergoing augmentative economical, environmental, political crises, suffer from a ubiquitous anxiety with regard to their ‘present’ and ‘future’.
However, what does it mean to be contemporary and to whom (or to what) is one contemporary?
And how can the examination of this notion fuel a rethinking of what it means for performance to be contemporary?
The term “contemporary”
is usually used to mark the time, and more specifically the present time, the “now”. Even more, the term “contemporary art” alludes to a specific style or technique which is considered innovative. Furthermore, “contemporary” is the one who follows the social and political concerns of her time, by openly responding or reacting to them. Within this frame, we can thus observe an obsession with “contemporariness”, which is perhaps the principal symptom of capitalistic and consumerist mode and rhythm of life: we need to constantly prove that we are doing something “new”, “different”, “we are creating our future”, etc. And more precisely, when we refer to Greece, and the East in general, “contemporary” is the one who follows and tries to catch up with the West.
‘synchronous’: a potentially crucial conceptual device
The term ‘synchronous’ is the corresponding translation in Greek of the Latin-derived one ‘contemporary’. Acknowledging the similar etymology of the two terms (with-time: syn-chronos, con-tempo), particular attention should be drawn to the meaning and use of the Greek prefix ‘syn-’, as it provides a ground on which to review the relatively exhausted term ‘contemporary’ and to revalue its potential for performance today. Namely, ‘syn-’ is not so much used to indicate ‘with’, as it is used to reveal the notion of ‘together with’… together with one’s time but also together with an other.
Given this idea of togetherness, which also suggests an encounter, what is defined assynchronous is not an event that has to follow or position itself in relation to an other event, in order to be named as such; rather, togetherness suggests the co-existence of two or more synchronous events, which may differ significantly or not, but which in any case happen ‘together with one another’, in a shared time, moving through more or less parallel paths.
Questions to consider
- What does it mean to be contemporary?
- How does contemporary performance practice understand its responsibility towards time?
- How much ‘up-to-date’ or ‘of its time’ does performance need to be? How can we think through, reconsider, or overcome performance’s struggle with the demand to be contemporary, in the sense of new, original, or innovative?
- What are the (im)possibilities of/for the political in performance, given the current socio-political climate? Could the notion of ‘synchronicity’ provide the ground for new political imaginaries?
- How does the notion of encounter (in the sense of a shared time between people) help us address issues of spectatorship, individuality, alterity and collaboration, dialogue and exchange in performance and performance studies in the current moment?