Writing from our present historical moment in the city of Los Angeles, real estate interests force two of the best-organized and longest-running all-ages punk venues (The Smell and pehrspace) to move, shut down, or change. The work to grow an intersectional safe space (for performers, for audience) is revealed to be entangled in pervasive structures of power, and our role as contributors to this work demands critical examination—specifically, how this work informs our practice as performers: our coming to understand the dialectic of participation and dissent by way of the non-dualism of punk—alienation and coming together, love expressed through negation.
Volunteer-run punk venues, offering an alternative to commercial enterprise on the one hand and temporary autonomous sites on the other, provide a unique and necessary platform for performance that navigates the limitations of consensus reality. As public spaces centered on self-identification, they sustain multiple forms of attention simultaneously: perceiving time (common, individual, or other), participating in an economy of attention (valuing attention as labor), realization (encountering actual reality), agreeing and disagreeing, becoming alien, becoming plural. A performer’s own attentions coordinate a background process of observing, learning, and modifying that runs concurrently with these forms of attention. I outline a few private mental exercises, collected from experience, to practice and apply within any performance:
Devote your attention to the unquantifiable: forms that exist only in the space of a thought, whiffs, brief encounters, or not. Feel the lack of encounter in spite of the conditions for coming together. Savor moments of loneliness. Cultivate an alien perspective. Honor the observer, the passerby, the wallflower, the critic—all who exercise under-recognized forms of attention and participate at a distance through alienation or refusal. Weave in and out of intimacy. Harness the economy of attention—give it, revoke it, then renegotiate.
A performance pronounces its own schedule, declares its own calendar. By warping dominant time, it provides an exit, a trap door from which to escape time linked to stresses of survival, precarity, and labor. Attention, with its range of options for rejecting or accepting what is sensed, assumes a high-definition dazzle—enlarging and minimizing events and sensations to form a variable self-image. Hyperactively perceived, this image is unrecognizable, unstable, an image of dissociated parts that won’t hold together—an eye, an ear, a finger, a tongue. To maintain a space for forms of dissent is to advocate for the beauty of difference, disagreement, and complexity. To acknowledge the mutating, atemporal web of attention that forms between individuals during any performance is to define performance as ecology spanning between the world we occupy and the world we construct.
How many ways of listening or looking can a performance support? How many modes of attention can exist simultaneously? Is consensus possible? How many times can power hierarchies be restructured in a day, and at the end of the day what remains? In how many ways can I reshape my attention to allow for a shifting self? What does it mean to make these questions explicit, to speak them? It is not important that these questions be expressed by the performer directly, but rather I mention these questions to lay a groundwork for action through attention.