S a r a h   C o l e      

  Back   About Current Work Commissions Teaching & Learning Residencies & Exhibitions   Contact


In-Kind is a live, mobile work in a decommissioned ambulance. The viewer enters the van alone, and experiences a twenty minute performance by one performer. As I sit in the work I’m reminded of an extraordinary poem about nursing, called ‘Coming Undone’. In it the voice of the nurse describes the process of combing hair and putting on clean dressings, putting the patient, who is literally falling into an obscene disarray, back together. The poem conveys a kind of patching together trying to make everything alright again, just for now. As I watched, or took part in In-Kind, I thought a lot about the poem. More than simply reflecting on care as an idea, In-kind animates the tawdry accoutrements of care: plastic bags, sudacreme, latex gloves, tablets. Somehow the appearance and activation of this bare materiality is terribly exposing, obscene even, capturing something visceral and impolite, and ‘offscene’-
what is normally backstage. Through this raw exposure everybody involved is made ‘undone’.

When the van door closes behind you, your role and your relationship with the performer is uncertain. My notes say:
I don’t know how to behave.
I don’t know what is expected of me.
I don’t know what the rules are.
I don’t know whether to be a good guest or a good host.
I don’t know whether to care for her, recognising the vulnerability of the performer.
I don’t know whether to let her care for me, as a performer does for an audience.
I don’t know who is in charge.
This list describes the tension of being there with the performer, and same instability must lie in caring too. What happens when a breadwinner becomes cared for, or when a breadwinner becomes a carer? Or what happens when the life and soul of the party becomes cared for, or a carer? The space of the performance- part transport, part house, part emergency vehicle adds to this uncertainty, but so do the acts of care. When we become carer or cared for do we recognise ourselves any more? If we are made up of the glimpses people have of us, rather than a fixed, central ‘I’, it is no surprise we don’t know who we are when the glimpses change beyond repair too. Beyond depicting the social phenomena of care, In-Kind uses care to examine performance and performance to examine care, scrutinising both.

I sit very still, under a knee blanket. The performer moves around super-quick. I’m not sure why I sit so still as no one is asking me to. The stillness is perhaps so I can watch every motion, a kind of heightened attention, but it may also be because I think I may now be the patient and should behave myself. The stillness is also, somehow, generated by the fast, busy compressed movements of the performer. We are almost on top of each other in the van so perhaps I am trying to occupy less space so I can give her more. The performance is for me, but I am uncomfortable at how hard she must work on my behalf. I am irritated by how burdened she seems by me. Is she making more of a meal of it to make me feel worse? I feel like I must make myself less onerous. All action is magnified because we are squashed in the space together: performer and viewer or carer and cared-for. We are in ‘it’, ‘together’, our
eyes roaming the room for escape routes.

At one point the performer sticks her head out of a hatch in the van and asks for help. At another time the performer simply stares out of the window. She looks out and I follow her gaze, looking out. You are both looking for the woman in red gloves and a new lilac leather jacket, (not this worn, withered one) enjoying the fountain and the cutting pleasure of the rain. At that point the performer looks at you. It's a questioning gaze asking who she is and who you are. Neither of us know. But what’s the big deal? In the past, we are told, we would have looked after our loved ones or relatives without being a ‘carer’. Care would have been just one part of the flow of family life. We imagine somehow that in the past ‘caring’ was less burdensome. This is unlikely, but perhaps in the past you were less likely to ‘care’ on your own- facing the desperate binary interchange of ‘you’ and ‘me’. Perhaps in the past the carer didn’t sit on an uncomfortable perimeter between professionalised ‘carer’ and loved one. Or maybe care is harder now because in the past there was less notion of a ‘personal life’ to lose.

Several times, things are pushed rapidly in and out of an ubiquitous blue plastic bag. The performer rushes between spaces; coat on, coat off. There’s a moment when she frantically tugs at her jacket to get it on or off. Its that stupid scenario when you know you would progress more if you went slowly and did the zip properly, but that would be to give in. The performer has to fight, in a niggling head-on collision with stuff. I know that zip scenario well, it is comparable with the moment when you bang your head on the car door, or catch your sleeve on the door handle. These are ‘innocent’ material conflicts but they are also valves where a whole vast silo of frustration is liable to pour out. Its interesting how we can hold it together through a whole load of meetings with doctors or arguments with social services, but the fight with the zip can reduce us to hot tears. In the van there are acts that are significant and effortful. There is a key moment when the performer blows up a balloon, sticks it in a bag with some other ones, then attempts, holding onto the thin tracks on the ambulance ceiling, to stand on the balloons. It feels like the top of a crescendo, but to some extent it is lost on me as I’m still struggling to process something much more banal that happened just before. The performer tips out the balloons and asks me to choose one. I chose a long pink one, like a deflated finger. The performer picks one exactly the same. I don’t know if this ‘copying’ was deliberate or unconscious but it takes my breath away. It is an enormous act of empathy. When I was a child I fell out with a best friend because I said my favourite colour was brown, just like hers. My friend was angry because she didn’t want me to copy, seeing it as some kind of lack on my behalf. My friend didn’t understand that copying is an act of great love and admiration. In the moment the performer choses the same balloon as me I’m undone, suddenly overwhelmed by
elastic forces of attraction and repulsion.

Becky Shaw