Are you too much to handle or too small to matter?
Sarah Aiken's new dance work will shift your perspective
Our first performance for 2022 is almost here: Sarah Aiken’s Make Your Life Count is a solo dance work about… well, everything. From the microscopic to the universal, it’s an eye-popping piece that plays with scale to explore the spaces between the individual and the collective, the unique and the shared, action and insignificance.
We asked her a few questions to dig into this fascinating and thought-provoking work. Read more below on her thoughts on the show’s concepts, how she’s learning to live with and love how little she matters and what she hopes you’ll take away from the piece.
1. In your own words, could you tell us what the performance is about and what inspired this body of work?
This work is about the giant, and the miniature, the individual self and the ungraspable scale of the universe.
I was thinking about things too big for my mind to comprehend, scales in space and time that are too big for us to see/understand- so that we can only grasp them in fragments.
I was also thinking about myself.
I live, and participate in a culture which centres the individual, which tells us to make the most of ourselves, our lives, build identities that incorporate our contribution to the world, our values and politics. The process of personal growth and self-actualisation is undertaken to get more out of life, to be the best versions of ourselves, to make a difference, we have never been so conscious of ourselves, looking inward for meaning where we once might have looked to god.
The work zooms right in finding a gross realism, and right out losing the boundaries of self in replaceable Lilliputian multitudes. The giant is powerful, grotesque, singular, all detail exposed, severed from its referent- the miniature is perfect, neat, its horrors obscured by the limitation of our eye but it is one of many, replaceable, indistinguishable. The fact is they are the same thing just the scale is different.
2. Your artist statement for this work says: “In trying to make a positive mark on the world I need to learn (and love) how little I matter and how powerful that can be”. Can you explain this in more detail?
This work comes from the experience of grappling with the potential and insignificance of the individual, the worth of a self that is asserted on the world and attempts impact, or one which rides the tide of history and seeks nothing beyond an single lifespan.
I’m not alone in thinking about myself in within the scale of history and the universe and experiencing my own insignificance and powerlessness in relation to the problems of the world, yet fiercely believing in the responsibility for action that we have to each other and the planet but I guess I am always grappling with my very existence doing harm and simultaneously my irrepressible desire to live fully and actively.
In relation to climate, the pandemic, the ongoing effects of colonisation, feminism- there can be a tension between standing up, doing more, speaking up and acknowledging the value of listening, resting, repairing/maintenance, being quiet and doing less.
Cultural tendencies toward individualism bring up questions of obligation, freedom, responsibility, only by difference can identity be articulated- so identity is about what we have that others do not. We strive for individuality, to embrace our uniqueness- and this is beautiful and powerful but in the context of a market that loves a niche- perhaps we could shed identity to evade the commodification of the self.
3. Reflecting on the above statement, how relevant do you think it is to the current time we’re living in, where people have lost or had their lives impacted for the past 2 years?
I started this work long before covid, I was thinking more of ways to deal with individual and collective experiences in relation to climate and the ongoing effects of colonisation but I think the last few years have given us all a tangible experience of the potential for thinking collectively and acting individually.
The work of activism is often not aiming to have benefits for those doing the fighting, but rather for some near or distant future that will unfold from the actions taken today, to commit to that work can be motivated from a deep selflessness and hope, or seen from another angle, an attempt to continue, for ones actions to live beyond. I don’t think it necessarily matters which it is, so long as the intention and action is not destructive but maybe the first one believes in a longer tail, not just a legacy of one or two generations, but the contribution to an era, an epic, a tiny speck.
4. What do you hope audiences will take away from your performance?
It think this is something we all grapple with to some extent so I hope people can relate to this, but also see the absurdity in making a solo work about loosening my grip on my identity and the inescapabilty of thinking from individualism
The work doesn’t try to make value judgements on how we should perceive ourselves and the world but maybe advocates for a shifting perspective that hurtles from extreme close up, to seeing ourselves from a great distance, further even so that we lose sight of ourselves completely.
The consequences of getting to each of those extreme vantage points and how they interact with the intention are not lost on me, I really don’t think we need to go to space to feel collective responsibility nor do we need to achieve our ultimate best selves to live well and generously.
The closer in you go, the more you can detect the flaws, until they’re all you can see, but, from a great distance, it’s easy to forget that your choices matter deeply.
Make Your Life Count premieres at Arts House on 23 February 2022. Tickets can be purchased here.