So there I was at the Kaneko, one of those self-contemplating navels of the downtown cultural scene, a temple of artsy hipsterdom that exists solely for the purpose of continuing to exist, sucking up donations and grant money as it goes.
I was there to see the Tbd. Dance Collective, a collaborative ensemble of contemporary dance artists whom I generally greatly admire.
But I wasn’t… seeing them, that is. Oh, Tbd. was up there somewhere, in the big echoing concrete-floored main exhibit space, ringed by ceramic fine-art buyables. The dancers were walled off from view by a solid phalanx of beardy twentysomething boys with absurdly skinny pants, and reedy twentysomething girls with tall shoes and cotton-candy-colored hair. There were flashing colored lights and incredibly loud electronically synthesized music and a swarm of photographers and videographers flitting around and through the performance area. Once in a while I caught a glimpse of a dancer’s upthrust arm or surging torso, moving with what looked like commitment and focused energy, only to subside again into the sea of beards and pink hair.
Question: Why would a venue stage a performance in a manner that guaranteed that at least some of the audience couldn’t see a damn thing? Answer: Because it doesn’t care. Seeing dance wasn’t the point of this exercise. The point was to give the photographers and videographers a chance to generate content that the Kaneko could push out on its social media channels. The dance performance was just a prop and the audience was just scenery. The real artistic product was analytics – data that would look good on Hootsuite or Tweetdeck.
Not that anyone in the beards-and-pink-hair brigade was even slightly bothered. Everyone seemed to be having a marvelous time. Of course, some of them had the advantage of being close enough to the front to see the dancers, but I suspected there was something more to it than that. It reminded me of the Donald Trump rallies I had seen on television: the people there understood only vaguely what they were in on and were unequipped to analyze it critically, but they were absolutely thrilled to be part of a like-minded crowd. They basked in their shared sense of self.
I was struck by the melancholy thought that Tbd. used to be above this kind of thing. Its members had come together to share the process of being dancers. Now, it seemed, they were satisfied to be part of a media product.
I guess that’s the way of our Big Data world, but I was sad to see it. Or not see it. I still couldn’t see a damn thing.