This transcript is from an interview that was first published on 2nd of August 2018. This transcript has been edited slightly to help with clarity, the audio of this episode and more information can be found here.
This is a warm and personal interview that covers so much of Luke’s work.
Transcripts are a new initiative of Delving into Dance to make the rich archive avalaible to deaf audiances. These transcripts are paid for through the support of audiences and supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria. It would be wonderful to have your contribute to this initative, You can contribure here.
The conversation started by talking about ways of communicating.
Luke George: In person is the best. Yeah, and that's where you understand you can feel each other and cuz I don't trust myself with language, which with my language, like a fully never had. And even though I’m probably fine but I just don't trust myself. And I know that I know that I communicate best with people in person, because a space has created an atmosphere is created in empathy, and gesture and body language and all the all the signals means they really carry a lot of importance.
The space or the thinking time or the correcting of oneself too like, I find that that's actually really important for me, I have to correct myself all the time or be corrected by someone or, you know, like to find the right meaning or to find the shared meaning. [1:50]
Andrew: Also make sense as somebody that is a mover that that interpersonal and being able to see responses and engage with responses responses, obviously, that's such a strong part of communication that many people.
Luke George: It's funny because I used to kind of gawk at that a little bit and go, No, don't like dances need to be like, you can't dance is kind of just go ‘Oh but I’m a dancer,’ so I can't sing or you know, or I can't, right. Like, that's not that's not good enough. Like, that's not an excuse. But the more I go into my practice, even even though I do work with language like without being reductive, or I'm going to be reductive. I realized that sounds a bit cheesy, but I realized that if I could reduce all of the work that I'm doing over the years, it's about intimacy and empathy and like, how do we share a space and that's it. That's pretty much it and like the other, all the other specificities I like, like, particular materials that kind of come into the picture different times. [3:16]
Andrew: Intimacy with somebody else within the performance or intimacy also with the audience?
Luke George: Multiple intimacies, like yeah, I guess the literal intimacy between bodies, not necessarily, I mean, yes, the intimacy between the performing bodies, but more the intimacy of observer and doer and… or not even that, just like we're in a space right now, you and I are in a space right now actually quite a big space, we've chosen to sit closer together because of this recording device.
Instead of we're sharing, we're kind of like, it's come between us, like, we're sharing the space of this recording device. So there's something connecting us as well as having a conversation.
So we've kind of chosen to be physically quiet, intimate and we are speaking at a sort of low level. So we can hear each other fairly quietly, like just noticing the kind of transmissions between people and how people see each other and how people witness each other and be with each other. And that may be the performing bodies or quite often actually want I’m more interested in is the relationship between the performer and the audience and that I call it a triangulation, even though it's not necessarily between three things, or maybe it is, but in a performance where there are multiple watches, potentially, like anywhere from one person in the audience, to 100 people in the audience or more like, what is it to what is it to share that space with each other.
And notice sharing that space and what that means and what that feels like. And to acknowledge that it's not just the audience isn't just one person, it's many, and the artist can't control how that what they're thinking or feeling. And actually, for me, it is an engagement with these multiple subjectivities all at once all engaging with each other, even even, like from the act of the audience to the witness to notice themselves watching and to be in their body when they're watching and watching through their body.
And that they can be observing something from a distance, but they can also be gazed back upon from the performer and that there is this acknowledgement of shared presence in that moment, which might then broaden out to an observation that the person next to them is also observing, potentially observing in this way, and the person next to them and the person next to them is having their own, they are there own body and they are having their own experience. So, like, how do we share that or reconcile that or contemplate that. [7:17]
Andrew: There's that sense that quite a few people have mentioned to me about that desire and gaze as well and that idea that the audience is watching with a certain intent or with a certain expression or you know there's an intention I guess in their look.
Luke George: Because I work with the gaze a lot and with what it is to be seen and the returning of the gaze which you see a lot in performance some contemporary performance I guess like it's very present in contemporary performance but maybe not in the history of dance and we're typically that the dancer is not an agency of subjectivity they are a expressive object or functional objects the thing and so reclaiming that subjectivity has been really important to the earlier part of my practice I guess and now within that has been this exploration of like, how do you return the gaze without it being a challenge or a demand or a desiring back and need like I used to I've actually found I've had to really work on my own performance like sometimes I'm like too demanding likes to challenging in my return of the gaze in my look back or my curiosity like I'm super curious about the audience so much so that I often have like the lights on the audience the whole time because I just want to see them and I want to feel them.
There's been times where I’m like are there too, this is making them really self conscious.
Andrew: Your Gaze?
Luke George: My gaze or the situation or the light on them in a particular way. Like how can we be how can we arrive at this together not in a comfortable way but how can we arrive at this shit this this live moment together and be able to gaze upon each other and be in that and let go of expectation and desire.
Andrew: Is the expectation also around the transaction? The expectation of the audience and coming to a space and what they might expect and then that ping, broken through somebody else looking back at them or making their gaze more explicit or obvious by looking back at them? Or by seeing them look at you?
Luke George: Yeah, I'm interested in things in the in the immaterial and the intangible becoming visible, and that transmission or those desires of those expectations becoming visible, and it's hard to like, How the hell do you do that? And right now I'm I'm doing is I'm really working hard at doing less and almost disappearing sometimes as, as the, as the thing to be looked at. Well not disappear, but to lateralize, and that I'm not the thing to be looked at, I’m not the most important thing in the room to be looked at my body, it's about the relationships between things, and the things that are appearing over time and actually like, the development of the awareness of people's awareness of awareness of what they're looking for, what they're looking at, or how they're looking at something, or what is this and the expectations and desires that are in the how and to put some there and sort of there and also give some space around it. And maybe not quite give it to not as a game or manipulation. But just to open a space in the air for people to notice these desires or expectations. [12:23]
Andrew: And would that change depending on the audience as well, like, is that something that is then modified or shifted depending on their response?
Luke George: It depends, if we're talking about a specific work. It depends on the work and the kind of like, texture, flavor of the work and the playing of the work like how I played the last two weeks that I made, money and erotic dance. I have a very different way of playing them. And like, they they have very different sensibilities like Bunny, I almost have, like, a direct relationship to the audience, like an almost sociable relationship with the audience almost. [13:23]
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. And the audience becomes complicit or as a participant in a way they are somewhat witnessing, participating or reacting or responding. So in that sense, it is a while I felt watching, it was very clear transaction with the audience.
Luke George: So in that, I mean, when I start that show, and when it's like a two hour show, so it's, it's this practice of attention guy on the whole time and I have to do a few things. I have to build a relationship with the audience. I have to build a sense of trust amongst us and with me, and then I have to sort of set a certain kind of protocol for the behavior of this room right now. And like, so there's, it's visible in the room, and people may or may not adhere to it. But the choices around that are hyper visible.
And it's not about doing the right thing or the wrong thing. But it's sort of just more bringing, bringing that into light. So we can all engage together. And I'm the way I'm working during that is I'm listening a lot really, really hard, not just listening a lot to everything, anything, anything that's happening in the room, like movement, breathing, eyes where eyes are going.
The feeling of how people are in time, because it's a long show, like if there's a sense of impatience, or fidgeting, or if people have relaxed, if people are leaning in in their bodies, if people are listening with their bodies, but it's so hard to describe how bodies listen to each other, or listen to space. But this is the practice that I'm doing. And I'm waiting a lot in that piece too, have not tried really tried to, I have to kind of progress it in a certain way. But I tried to not force that progression, but just wait for the opportunity to present themselves of how to how to now invite this to happen, or how to ask someone to do this, or how to suggest Let's play some music or to take these little steps.
But perhaps the space of the people showed me how to do that. Whereas in erotic dance, I am now at the point where I don't even look at the audience until the very end of the piece, like a very, very end of the piece. Which is so weird for me, because all my pieces have had this direct eye contact and direct engagement and regarding of each other, and I've really tried with this piece to practice not being the center of the thing to look at, like to displace my role as the key thing, the key information and to be in the peripheral.
I don't know if I'm actually am doing that. But it's sort of how I'm approaching being on stage and being an embodied instrument. And actually what I think about with that piece is that my role is to sort of conjure or invoke or invoke a kind of way of being for the way of being in our bodies and being in space, that you get this sort of about turning on the space and like, Licking the space like sniff something that we can smell the space like that it's starts to light, the whole space, these really banal room starts to become sublime. And like, all of it is just like this juicy kind of sense of sensual, sensorial experience to be in. [18:10]
Andrew: Is the one that's more taxing in terms of as a performer?
Luke George: Probably Bunny. I’ve experienced some very challenging things with, it's what it's been probably the one of the most challenging performances I've ever done.
And I've had to, for number of reasons, like, the level of care that I have to practice in that room for, you know, the hundred people that are watching, and I'm kind of caring for the whole room. And I actually have had to learn some detachment because it's too much. And I'm investing myself too much in that in that role of care.
And maybe my expectations or my desires for connection, they're coming into it a bit too much like a kind of, think of like a therapist who gets too involved with there clients, you know, something like that. Or a sex worker, but he's having a personal experience of, of what's happening with the clients like, something about needing to create a boundary for myself has been really important. [19:42]
Andrew: For me that one of the most interesting things in that piece was around the consent and that transaction and the different responses from the audience. And the night I saw it there was a, you know, big daddy that came out and, you know, clearly knew what he was doing took over from somebody else. Yeah, with a spanking. And it was just people's discomfort at that in some sections of the audience whereas his response and his knowledge of what he was doing and that transaction in that moment, he was, you know, consulting he was making sure it was okay, he was checking in. Whereas other people that was just such a foreign foreign experience and, I think it was at that point some people opposite and their faces were just, you know, they just didn't know how to read that moment. And I was just really beautiful thing, I guess, around the different experiences that people are having, but that's space was still held, they still held that space is still were present and still actively involved. Yeah, I don't know. It's just really, really interesting.
Luke George: Yeah. And that moment, I mean, that's why we do that moment, and several others is to, like we've taken so long to build through the show to build this some this level of trust and protocol of care and consent giving and it's very connected to us and to me, and Daniel, the other performer in the piece and co creator/ artist of it.
And this is the point in the show where we start to invite risk and further risk further is because it's already there's already a lot of risk happening, but further the risk and really step it up a big thing where we don't know. And Daniel's been really hurt. He's actually been very physically hurt by that whipping sometimes before because someone didn't know what they're doing. And they, they just went for it.
And we had to really work this out because I have to also care for Daniel during the piece as well, too, because he could he he's putting some very vulnerable positions.
And I have to be if I have to look out for him because audience members don’t necessarily know what they're doing. And so it is this like this big step. And that night, that guy to some of us clearly knew what he was doing.
But to others, maybe it was, so it's so like, this is the thing about BDSM right, to people who aren't experienced to it, it's about violence.
But, you know, maybe even if you've read 50 Shades of Grey I don’t know, you would know that you'd have some inkling that it’s about push pushing boundaries together, consensually in a trusting conscientious safe way and clearly through this guy's body that's that's how he was working.
But we have had people stride out before and then they just don't know how to handle these are not familiar with the whip that we've got or you know that kind of handle it but Daniel had like welts on his skin. And, you know, it's really not good. But he takes it because it doesn't stop. They didn't stop until I tell them to! [23:42]
Andrew: It sounds like a huge responsibility for you in that.
Luke George: Yeah, yeah, it is. And it's a little overwhelming sometimes. I had a few near breakdowns during that show, because I'm not trained. You know, I'm not a I'm not this is I never even entered that world until this, this show opened that up to me and part of the research was to explore in my personal life too. To look at the two things just naturally started happening together.
And exploring being a sub and exploring being a dom. And then I worked like in my last year of New York living there, I worked as a Dom and like, that's how I earned money. And now I'm not sure if I want to do that anymore. I'm not sure I'm having a break from it.
Even though I can do it. It's very draining for me. And I'd sometimes I'm like how do people do this, like it's demanding, but maybe there's a way to do it. In Portland, we did the show. When we did the show in Melbourne. The very last show, some things came up during that show.
One was like a colleague in Melbourne, it really triggered her in a really intense way. And she left halfway through the show, I think it's the night you were there, actually, and wrote about it online that was then I have so much respect for this person. And it was really challenging for me to read those words. And I felt I didn't feel misunderstood. I'm sad that she didn't see the rest of the show that I'm really sad, not sad. But I'm very stressed that this happened for her. And this was her experience. And that caused me a lot of distress.
But I still felt really clear about the show and really clear about what what how we're dealing with things about around consent, and about the visibility of consent and the relationship building and the trust building. And that this is a collective experience and that we're, we're, we're building this together and that I’m not my intention is to not manipulate and take advantage of people. [26:42]
Andrew: Well, it's a clear transaction that was set up. You know, my memory of it's a transaction that is physical It is verbal, you know, there's so many different ways you can read consent. Yeah, I guess that's the thing, though, everyone's responses quite different.
Luke George: Yeah for sure. And it's made me it's made us really think it made us really think, you know, and I really appreciate the opportunity for that, and the learning for that. And it's made me think about like, okay, yeah, so what are all the potential perspectives going on in the room? how, you know, if this, this could potentially really trigger someone? And what's our relationship to that and how do we consider that I mean, any piece of art can trigger anyone in any way, you know, and we will have to be responsible for ourselves in a lot of ways and particularly if you're coming to a piece it's about pushing the boundaries of consent, trust and desire through bondage. So, you know, using bondage to the material, maybe you want to check in with yourself before you step into that room.
Andrew: And triggers always framed as a negative an idea of ‘being triggered’. But even something that you respond to positively can be, you know, It’s like that idea that it's, I don't know, I just think we often when trigger is talked about, talked about pushing somebody in a negative way. There are positive triggers, there are things that can respond, you know, a response can be valid, even if it does push you in a space that is uncomfortable that is, I don't know, I guess it's a spectrum as to what the trigger is and where it takes you.
Luke George: The thing that there was another learning that I had about that I can't remember but the thing that kind of sadden me a little bit was that… like ultimately I want experiences of audience ship to continue to expand and I know it's not always possible but I want art work and my practice to be engaging time and space where people can experience themselves experienced the action of it.
The work and the action of the work and what's happening experienced themselves experiencing it but then also get a bit more meta than that, like to be able to go beyond their immediate reaction like our immediate reactions to things like how can we how can we kind of broaden our noticing.
And it kind of sadden me I was like the work kind of like failed for this person in that way it failed this person in this way because we couldn't get beyond that she had to leave and she had to leave and that's fine you know. We’ve had to stop the show before you know because someone is so distressed.
Not the person being tied up, someone in the audience is so distressed about we've had to like pause and have a conversation about what's happening and ask the person who's getting tied up are you okay? this is like what's about to happen. Are you okay with that? And they're like yeah totally okay and to the person are you okay with this? you know the in the audience and they're like as long as they are okay you know, kind of thing was amazing as an amazing opportunity to do that. [30:37]
Andrew: What is it about dance and art and I guess your practice I mean there's so much about it that challenges a lot of the normative notions around you know gender, sexuality. practice sexual practices. What is it about art and dance that allows for that? Like why is that a good medium? Or is it?
Luke George: [long pause] That's a huge question for me.
Andrew: I guess for me your work sits in this area where a lot of it challenges common assumptions or common social expectations around bodies, space, sexuality, sexual practices.
Luke George: The current works that I'm making I'm really actually having a break from dealing directly with sexuality. I see it's funny, like Bunny and Erotic Dance actually don't feel like you're even about sexuality. For me it's in there for sure. Like, it's like it's part of the materials good but it's not Yeah, I'm not thinking so much directly about those even though they are in the conversation.
Andrew: But it's still challenging other people's perceptions around those things. Whether
I mean, if somebody is questioning consent within that setting, you know I don't know…. maybe not. It’s certainly, my reading.
Luke George: Consent, I mean, nothing sexual happens in that show. Well, directly sexual in the way that we…
Andrew: Certainly reference?
Luke George: I mean, some people feel like they are having sex with us during that show, you know, if you get if you go deep into into BDSM play, quite often I've tied people up and there's been nothing overtly sexual about it, but it's been it's like deeply sexual experience for us because it is about connection and trust and sensuality and like the whole body turning on, you know, and the turning on of connection going on between people I mean that really excites me I'm actually thinking about plants a lot of the moment I'm kind of wanting to like.
I have like all these houseplants just upstairs, and I'm, I'm so obsessed with them. Like, I actually feel like they’re my lovers in a way and I’m really, and nature is like, going out. I go on long kind of walks in any environment at the moment, particularly when it's a natural environment, but just sort of like communing with with nature. And I feel like it's some kind of lovemaking that's going on. [33:55]
Luke George: Thank you, Annie Sprinkle. Yes. It's, it's interesting to me this, I'm like, personally, I know I'm my sexuality is like a massive part of my being. And so therefore, it must, it must sit in the work as either an undertone or an upper tone I am not sure. But it's more about like, the politics of being together, it is more of interest to me, like, how do we be together, whether that’s sexual not.
And I guess like dance is this embodied space, it's a set, it's a visceral space, it's sensual space. And like, I have just have such a strong desire the audience to be in their bodies, as well as, as well as the performance and then not to be not to be sitting in a black box, like they're watching TV in their heads, thinking about things and analyzing things.
Andrew: So where do you want to leave the audience as they go? Like, where? What's your I guess in terms that intention? What change do you want that to do to them? Is it just in that moment, or is that something that they take out of the theater, take out of the space?
Luke George: I find it really hard to, to say, this is what I'm doing with my work. And this is what it does for people. Yeah, I, I cannot, I just can't do that. And, I actually, don't know if that's my place to do that.
Or even sometimes I'm confused about even if I can say what my intention is for people like it's funny, because, of course, an artist has intention behind them what they're doing and why they're doing it. And sometimes I feel like when I say what those intentions are, they feel like really like I’m writing new age self help book, you know, and I know that there's more, there's also criticality contained in it that I haven't yet been able to kind of articulate that as well too.
Yeah, I know, it sounds really weird. But I'm actually thinking very small picture at the moment. I think it's a maybe it's a response to the way the world is at right now.
But all I can actually all I can deal with is this moment. That's and that's about it, like I had enough. It's something about getting older as well, too, I'm not sure. But I I don't know how to respond to politics. And I don't know how to respond to the environmental trashing of the world. I don't know how to respond to war and terror and torture. I'm really lost. And maybe a lot of people feel like this. [37:44]
Andrew: They are issues that are bigger than us. And that's like, where do you start when you are a compassionate and connected person, to changing those things? or to even, you're focusing on them. It is a lot, it can be incredibly overwhelming.
Luke George: I just wonder I don't, I’m not a do good-er, I don't, I'm not a social worker, I’m not a missionary. I'm not like, I'm an artist and I want to engage in critique and critical thinking.
But actually right now, I think all I'm trying to understand is how how do we be together and how do we share space? And how do we reconcile that a space of many people is full of difference and full of multiplicity and how do we account for that and be be within that without a flattening or to be unifying like not to like being together without the act of unifying, flattening? Individuality and difference….
Andrew: Homogenous idea of thinking of community or thinking of everybody as the same….
Luke George: Which is really tricky, because I keep finding like, you know, as an artist, you spend a lot of time with yourself, and then you make this thing and you're the driver of this thing. But, and I'm really, I'm interested in this word collaboration. Where a room of people, including the audience can kind of collaborate with each other in a moment to sort of press the suspended period of time in a suspended type of reality where we can entertain
role play or fantastical ideas, or, or things that we don't know don't understand, or an engagement with form and texture, or we don't have to even interpret what that means or come away with a meaning but like, how can we progress as people that way? Or not! [40:36]