Library of Babel - Wednesday 27th September
JAMES: I’m not sure how this relates just yet, but my uber driver last night asked that I mention her in my writing. Nadine, if you’re out there, you’re an excellent human. I gave you five stars.
REBECCA: Shoutout to the uber drivers who have gotten me to all the Fringe events on time throughout September. Love you all. For real though, uber rating anxiety is a legitimate thing - I found myself freaking out when I saw my average drop to a 4.8. I spent a good five minutes looking back at all my interactions with uber drivers, wondering where I fell short of supreme politeness and banter. Had I closed a door too firmly?
J: Actually I hate the idea of giving people ratings in life, in personal encounters. Who am I to know what’s going on with them?
R: A nice and totally smooth segue from uber ratings to human ratings here.
J: Yes, yeah, let’s talk about the show. The Library of Babel is situated in the industrial cathedral that is the HPG Festival Hub. It’s a tiny bubble of glowing plastic in the dark, an inviting cluster of hexagonal pods. Entry is timed to your ticket, and with each ticket it’s suggested that you explore the Library for about 45 mins.
R: I think I was expecting an actual maze-like library to travel through, with literal books and literary allusions. Instead, we came across several, individual performers gathered in a maze-like structure. Each of the performers evoked their own worlds as they engaged in interesting, physical intensifications of everyday experience that were dramatised to varying degrees of surreality. Scrabble. Dancing. Confessional journal entries. Crawling in costumes. Seeking the perfect love. Seductive monologues that enlarge the drama that can be found in quotidian experience.
J: There were times where I felt like I should be bringing more to the aesthetic experience, as an audience member. We were all just wafting around, examining people like they were works in a museum. That did shift a couple of times, when a performer drew me into an intimate encounter...but looking around the whole space, I felt like we were all just adding this layer of expectant consumption onto the experience.
R: It was interactive insofar as the audience members possessed the agency to walk in and out, look towards and away, and either engage or disengage when a performer invited one to sit, speak, listen or converse. But, like with the literary text in the library, while I had the freedom to pick up the performance, experience it and make sense of its language, there was no potential to change the textual and performative source itself.
J: I realised afterwards that the pieces I was drawn to were the ones that had some degree of communication – not necessarily interaction. Listening to a recorded story while the narrator – possibly the narrator – smiled at me, like I was savouring a meal they made; that was really cool.
R: Perhaps it is because I am currently experiencing a phase of life where time seems to be taking me wherever it pleases, quickly flitting from familiar to unfamiliar shores and oceans, against my consent... but the Library of Babel helped me gain an almost… clarity?
J: Yes. Afterwards I just felt so...peaceful, I guess. Not necessarily at ease. More like someone fishing, the rod in the water, lying on the dock knowing that at some moment they’ll have to leap up and land a catch, but for now it’s ok to simply listen to the lapping water.
R: A comforting, sweet, devious and peaceful reminder of how overwhelming and multifarious life simply is for everyone and everything involved, for all time. That it is okay, sometimes, to simply walk around the maze, to sit with a stranger, to look at the silhouettes that lay upon the hexagonal walls that surround you and marvel at the improbability of your arrival.
J: Cheers Rebecca, it was great being able to hang out with you afterwards at Sarays, us both sitting mutually in this post-show, deep-thinking calm.
R: Same. Yes, the Library of Babel was a sweet and apt way to end my time with the Sydney Fringe Festival for the year. Each of the events and performances I attended, like small hexagons within the library of life itself, were small but intense pockets of meaningful human experience. This month has offered me a special and new feeling of anticipation that I’ve never felt before.
[Venture forth with Alana tomorrow in a world of gender constructs and shibari]
Written by Rebecca Ha and James Dalton