Paul Hughes

Non Existent Activity


Photo by Joel Porter

Doors open every 30 minutes welcoming each person for an hour long stay, hovering between a hangout, a one-to-one performance, and the last place on earth. Guests becomes hosts, for guests who become hosts, in a three hour chain of holding and caring. Nothing needs to happen. But something certainly will.

The work involves lying (or sitting if this is not possible), stillness and touch. Participants will be encouraged to remain in control of their experience including levels of contact. The venue is wheelchair accessible and there are accessible toilets on site.

Developed with Paul Hughes and Mira Kautto. Shown at SLAP Festival, York (2017) and Swallowsfeet Festival, Brighton (2017).

Part of Configurations.

Response by Mil Vukovic-Smart

I run to catch the N8 bus. Piccadilly Line is running well but still never fast enough. The change at South Kensington to District line takes for ever. At Victoria the ticket machine is not working properly. I get my tickets just in time to get on a train about to leave the station. I am boiling hot. I have too many layers. Am sweaty and exhausted. I open my computer. Doing some editing on a document calms me down. I am now on a replacement bus from Three Bridges to Brighton. I might just about make it for my pre-booked 5 o’clock slot at Hamish MacPherson’s piece ‘Non-existent activity outside the capitalistic time" at Swallowsfeet Festival 2017.

In Brighton, the road to the promenade is busy. I negotiate fellow pedestrians as I walk fast to get to the venue in time. I am getting lost in meandering back streets.  Then randomly I turn left and am in front of the venue Old Market Theatre. Just in time. I collect my ticket at the box office, then walk down the corridor, past the bar, down another corridor, then down steep spiral stairs to be greeted by two women with clipboards who tell me to wait in front of a door, with a couple of others. We will go in shortly. Do I need to take my shoes off?  I notice some shoes outside the door. No, that’s not necessary. Ok. It is our turn.

I am in an anteroom full of smoke, in dimmed light. As we walk the next door open on the left and I am in a small rectangular room. There are yoga mats, blankets, velvet fabric, in purple and black, on the floor and some gym rubber balls in the corners. I greet a few people in the room I know. Paul and Mira are in the official capacity of assistants. Gillie is explaining to me that she is only a participant ‘like you’. I take my jacket off, my bag is put on the side by Paul. “This will last 40 minutes”, I am told by Gillie. “For the first 20 minutes you could lay on the floor and you could tell us if you want us to do anything to you”, she explains. “Then you will swap role and for another 20 minutes you will be looking after those who come in next.”

“To start with, I suggest you lay on the floor and just give weight to the floor” Gillie continues. As soon as my back touches the mat I am in a state of collapse. Lying down on the floor feels so good. Paul and Mira are on stand-by for any assistance. “Do you want me to do anything?”, “Do you want me to hold your arm?”. “Could you please hold my legs”, I ask Mira. “And could you pull them up please?” She holds my legs tight, pulling them up away from my hips. Ahhh. This is great. Paul, could you please take my arms and stretch them away from me. Paul duly obliges. Gillie laughs. “Mil knows exactly what to do here”. I don’t really, but being on the floor really suits me. My legs and arms are now pulled in opposite directions. “Maybe we misread medieval images of tortures”, I say to Paul. “Maybe they just enjoyed a good stretch”, he responds. I then turned around so I could lie on my stomach. I ask Mira to lie on top of me, and others could come on top of her. The weight of bodies pushes my ribs, my lung starts to protest but having all that weight pressing my body feels good overall. It’s time to change roles.

Gillie is leaving and I am now looking after a man and a woman who followed the instruction to lie on the floor. Mira offers to put a rubber ball underneath the man’s knees. He accepts, gives a sigh of enjoyment as his knees relax on the rubber balls and adds “I didn’t sleep much last night”. He closes his eyes with a smile on his face. The woman next to him also makes a comment about the benefits of resting. Music is coming out of a small speaker – not exactly what could be called music for relaxation  – some post-punk, drum and bass, or hip hop. I am relaxed sitting in between them. I don’t think I am very helpful though. They seem happy to be just resting and not asking for any additional assistance.

I am starting to feel awkward as I am supposed to be of some help but am not sure what I should do. I look around the room. In the other corner it looks like a girls’ sleepover party. A couple of girls are taking selfies while their heads are touching on pillows. They are lively and obviously not tired. They change positions, take pictures, chat. Then they take a thin silver blanket, the type used by emergency services to keep bodies warm, and play with it as if it is a big parachute. The couple next to me are slowly getting up. We are now copying the girls by moving another silver blanket up and down, up and down, up and down, we all start laughing… time’s up.  

The next group is in and I am on my way out. Now I notice that the anteroom is lit by orange dimmed light. “May I take a picture?” “Oh, yes, a poor man’s Sun”, replies Hamish, in reference to Olafur Eliasson’s Weather project for Tate Modern some years back. I am now up the stairs, down the corridor, in the bar and on to the street. I get to watch the sunset while eating fish and chips on the beach. I walk to the water and take a few more pictures. I stare for a minute then walk back the station. On to a replacement bus to Three Bridges, then train to Croydon, change at Clapham Junction and then walk home.

Photo: Mil Vukovic-Smart

Non-existent activity outside the capitalistic time
25 March 2017
Swallowsfeet Festival 2017
Old Market Theatre, Hove