I have never been very fond of lifts. Or planes. Or roller-coasters. It’s a control thing, I like to keep my feet on the floor. So as I headed over to the BAC to see (no, that’s not right. To participate in? To experience?) Ontroerend Goed’s Smile Off Your Face, I found myself feeling pretty apprehensive and at one point contemplated simply turning around and going home again. But I’m glad I didn’t, very glad I didn’t. It was an astonishing experience.
In the BAC lobby, I was seated in a wheelchair, a blindfold was placed over my eyes and my hands were tied together. Disorientated and in darkness, I was then taken through into a room where scents were wafted under my nose, incense I think, as music played faintly in the background. A woman’s voice called out from time to time. You have no idea of the size of the space you are in or what it contains, so it is impossible to get your bearings. I felt hands touch my face, gently, carefully. Then my hands were lifted to meet someone else’s face, a man’s, my fingers tracing his jaw, his lips, brushing through his hair. It was a slightly alarming experience and yet also quite wonderful, this sudden, strange intimacy with this unseen person.
At one point I was made to stand, increasing the sense of helplessness and dependency. But I wasn’t left stranded for long. Arms wrapped around me, leading me in a kind of dance. At another point I was taken to a bed where a woman laid down beside me and, in a soft, purring voice, asked me questions. The removal of the visual element helped to remove (a degree at least) of my self consciousness and I found myself sudddenly discussing the last time I’d cried.
The end of the piece is as striking a thing as I’ve seen in a long time: a haunting, near-filmic pull-back through the space itself where the constructed intimacy of all you’ve just experienced is revealed. I shan’t go on about it too much, as I wouldn’t want to dent its capacity to surprise and delight. And besides, much of insight has already been written about it (by Lyn Gardner here and Andy Field here for instance). But it was quite amazing and, despite my initial nervousness, I found it quite freeing, in every sense. After the piece concluded and daylight was reinstated, I think I spent a good five minutes just wondering aimlessly round the lobby trying to process the experience and throughout the rest of the day I kept pausing in odd places, in Waterstones, in Somerfields, standing still and thinking about it.