Allison Wyper- One-to-One Fictional First Person Accounts Part III



The following performative text is an excerpt from a paper called “Always wanting you, but never having you: intimacy and desire in one-to-one performances by women,” in which I adopt an imaginary time traveling avatar self in order to virtually and fictionally “experience” three participatory performances that I have never seen.  Though fiction, this account is based on a detailed written account by Susan Kozel, a Canadian dancer, choreographer, and writer who works primarily in London and Vancouver (“Spacemaking: Experiences of a Virtual Body,” 1994).  Kozel has a Ph. D. in philosophy and specializes in dance and media.  As performer of Telematic Dreaming, a live performance that used ISDN teleconference technology as an interface between individual visitors and her remote body, Kozel explored physical intimacy through (then new) media.  The concept and technology behind Telematic Dreaming was conceived by a U.K. media artist named Paul Sermon, and the piece toured extensively in the early 1990s.
The intensely intimate proximity between bodies in Telematic Dreaming–one of flesh and muscle and the other of light and shadow–amplifies the emotional and ethical stakes of the participatory performance. This viewer-participant is given no instructions on how to behave; it is up to them to decide how to interact with Kozel’s virtual presence.  Kozel, on the other hand, is obligated to make her body available, and to figure out how to make virtual contact with the “user.” In her essay, Kozel’s account of the performance focuses on the “relation between my ‘cyber-body’ and my fleshly body” and the “sexual and political implications of the technology.”  She writes: “It was not a substitute for sex, it was a mimetic version with strong physical and emotional qualities… it was undeniably real, not a compromise…”


II. Paul Sermon/Susan Kozel, Telematic Dreaming (Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam, 1994)


The gallery is dark.  In its center is a full-size bed illuminated by a projection cast from the ceiling.  A two-dimensional projection of a woman with dark hair curls around the left side of the bed, the folds in the white bedding slightly warping and twisting her body.  She lies still, on her side, a profile on the linen.  She seems to be resting.  She reminds me of a Gustav Klimt painting—golden Danae curling across the canvas like a giant goldfish.


I stand, arms crossed, a couple feet from the bed, watching her, letting this live painting (literally) breathe for a few moments before I join her.  I’ve been invited to lie on the bed “with her” if I desire, and while I’m there, within the frame of the bed, she will be able to see me, remotely, through a live video camera on the gallery ceiling, in a kind of horizontal “teleconference.”  (I giggled when I thought of that joke, out in the lobby, but now it seems slightly disrespectful.)  In the darkness of the periphery I am invisible to her.  She displays herself for me.  I consume her, giving nothing in return.  I collect her beauty and store it up in my memory for later.  I could write a song about the way she looks, another courtly lover wooing from afar, impotent and selfish.  But that is not the invitation.


I tentatively, carefully, reach my hand into the light, holding it an inch or two off the mattress.  She sees me.  She smiles and reaches her hand toward mine.  Her fingers slide over mine, a collage of fingers and fingernails suspended inches above the sheets.  I expect to feel something, though logically I know her hand is just projection, not a real hand.  I nonetheless expect some warmth of contact, just for a moment.


We line up the tips of our index fingers, a feminine re-enactment of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, she the goddess on the cloud reaching me through the miracle of ISDN teleconference technology.  After a few minutes of acclimating to one another through this finger and hand foreplay, I am ready put my whole body on the bed, to lay into the light, as it were.  I take a breath and hoist myself up onto the mattress, a little awkward and panting ever so slightly from the exertion.  I lie on my side, still, shy, completing the frame of the bed with my body, facing her.  And so we lie, facing one another, eyes downcast, every now and then flitting over each other.  I giggle nervously and she smiles back.  We begin playfully shifting in small increments, describing complimentary arcs and curves with our torsos and limbs.  She nudges me with her head—or rather, I imagine the feeling of being nudged, and respond in kind.


We are, more or less, spooning or cuddling, getting to know one another within a prescribed “couple in bed” movement vocabulary.  I blush, suddenly physically aware of the intimacy of the moment—and that we are sharing this private moment in public.  A few gallery visitors stand in the doorway, at a respectful distance, watching us.  Aware of their probing gaze, I briefly stiffen, and shift a little away from my electric friend, wondering, what is a respectful distance in a public bed with a virtual partner?


She notices me withdrawing and retreats several inches.  She cannot see the others in the doorway, and so does not understand my sudden self-consciousness.  Perhaps she thinks she has been too forward.  She withdraws into the shadows beyond the bed, leaving only a disembodied right hand behind.  This saddens me, and I feel ashamed for feeling ashamed.  I’ve betrayed her trust already.  I reach for her hand.  Nudge it playfully with mine in apology, until at last she returns in tenuous forgiveness.


This first bump in our relationship mutually negotiated, we continue our game of overlapping, filling one another’s negative space, in small, incremental shifts.  At times our bodies overlap, and it occurs to me that I could line myself up under her, making us one composite body.  I could try her on, if she was willing.  But what would that do to her identity, her autonomy?  Would she be absorbed by me?  Would she disappear, cease to be her?  But no, of course, “she” exists safely ensconced away from me.  She is protected there.  This electric body is only a projection of her.  I can’t touch her here.  Not actually.  No one can.


And yet…


I am anxious about her telepresence, as if she has projected her soul into another dimension, like some hi-tech shamanic out-of-body ritual.  In that respect, this is an extremely vulnerable space for her to be in.  If she is damaged or hurt in this place, will she feel pain in her physical body?  Is she psychically vulnerable?  Her projected body must feel, because already I’ve hurt her with my carelessness.  It’s not that she is “out-of-body” with me on the bed; here she is a “virtual body” enjoying goddess-like access and power her physical body cannot experience.  Here she is liquid and electric at once.


The doorway voyeurs have multiplied by now, and I’m aware that I should give others a chance.  But I linger.   I don’t want her to be alone, vulnerable, isolated, and I’m not sure I trust others to care for her properly.  Those people might take advantage of her, distort her, make her ugly.  They could make fun of her, ridicule her.  They don’t have the relationship we have.  Hell, we’ve already had our first fight and made up!  She notices me growing introspective again and strokes my shoulder.  I shiver and gasp, amazed because I felt her touch.  I really did.


Okay, reality check: there were others before me, and there will be others after me.  Our brief tryst is ours to keep.  Now it’s time to go.  Reluctantly I move my hand to her face, my fingers melting through the edges of her cheekbone, the edges of her face bleeding into my fingertips.  This is the best way I can think of to say goodbye.   She nuzzles my hand as I roll off the bed into darkness as quickly as I came.


For more information on this piece see


About the Author

Allison Wyper is a Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary performance artist who creates intimate and one-on-one performances that challenge viewer-performer dynamics and the ethics of participation. Allison has been an Associate Artist of La Pocha Nostra since 2004, and a collaborator with Western Australia’s Hydra Poesis since 2011. Her work has been seen in museums, galleries, theaters, universities, and streets in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and Germany. Her writing has been published by Itch Dance Journal, Platform (U.K), Emergency Index, Whore Magazine and the Center for the Study of Women at the University of California, Los Angeles. More info at

Allison Wyper- One-to-One Fictional First Person Accounts Part I

The way that a performance piece is archived in the memory offers a piece to evolve long after it has been released by the artist.  What about pieces that one has never experienced first hand?  What happens when one allows a piece to culminate through their imagination?  Artist, Allison Wyper does just that in her  fictional first-person accounts in response to 3 one-to-one performances by women. Over the next 3 weeks, The Present Tense will be featuring these writing on our archive in 3 parts.  Enjoy!



The following first-person, performative text is an excerpt from a paper called “Always wanting you, but never having you: intimacy and desire in one-to-one performances by women,” in which I adopt an anxious, self-conscious dream body that can travel through time to experience, through a leap of imagination, the intimacy that I imagine in participatory performances that I have never, and will never, see. These accounts are fictional, but based in rigorous research, including (in this case) personal interviews with artist Julie Tolentino, and with choreographer David Roussève, who attended the performance I describe.
In addition to the performers’ accounts I rely on the accounts of viewer-participants, including critics who reviewed the works, and visitor accounts that the performers included in their own writings. In order to perform a close reading that teases out the precise natures of the diverse kinds of intimacies created by each piece, I rely on my imagination, and my own subjectivity as a theatre, dance, and performance artist, experienced in the one-to-one genre, who is grappling with her own desire for a moment of connection. My ephemerally bodied witness, reporting back through time and space, is a passionate, eager young performance artist, tired of sitting and watching. So when she heard about Julie Tolentino’s performance For You, she was the first to call for an appointment…



I. Julie Tolentino, For You (Participant, Inc., New York, NY, 2003)

The street is icy, with that acrid Lower East Side bite as I rush to make my 4:40 appointment. I called three weeks ago, leaving my name and number with a young gallery assistant. I never received a confirmation—hope she didn’t lose my reservation. I spot Participant, Inc., the site of Julie Tolentino’s For You, and rush inside out of the New York cold. A gallery attendant greets me and asks for my name. I give it to him, a little anxious. He nods–like a restaurant host but without the strained fake cheerfulness—and asks me to wait in the lobby area. I’m a few minutes early. The telephone rings and he leaves the room to retrieve it. Alone, I wait.


Glancing upward I see a plastic slitted curtain, the kind you see in butchers’ refrigerators, loosely lining the entry to an open gallery space. I can barely make out the people inside. Softly, I hear a song I think I know. A woman’s voice trills like a bird. Joni Mitchell, I think. It’s comforting, familiar. I hum along.


I turn toward the sunken “lobby,” a small gallery space to my right. At my feet is a projection of the performance in progress. Every now and again I see a dancer’s body in a loose, white jumpsuit or pajamas drift slightly into and out of the frame, shot, it seems, from above her head. I never see the audience. These glimpses of the performance taking place at this moment are tiny bits of information, meager as the appetizer I had at that trendy Soho restaurant last night. They whet my appetite, not that I wasn’t already excited to see this performance (just for me!) for the past three weeks, but I have no idea exactly how I’m going to be incorporated into the performance.


As I start to imagine myself in that white room, the attendant returns. He hands me a menu of song titles. My first act as a participant in this performance, he explains, is to choose a song for my piece. “Something special to you.” I scan the menu. I know about half of the offerings, and the others I’ve at least heard of. They’re mostly pop songs. Feeling very “New York” today, I select a personal sentimental favorite, Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” A cliché, maybe, but I’m curious how Tolentino will use it. Right after selecting it, I momentarily panic—was that a good choice? Will she be disappointed in me? What will it tell her about me that I didn’t choose something more obscure…?


I hear the murmur of voices and glance up again to the gallery. Tolentino and a middle-aged woman are saying good-bye. The woman pushes her way through the curtain, a private smile on her lips, eyes downcast. As she descends the short staircase, she notices me watching her, and quickly transforms, business-like, into her brusque public self. She nods to me (cat that ate the canary, I think, its as if she’s done something forbidden…), thanks the attendant, and looks at him expectantly. Is there something else to do? Is the performance over? Does she have another role to play? He invites her to leave a comment in the guestbook. The woman, a little disappointed, declines, puts on her wrap and leaves.


I look at the attendant. My turn? He asks me to wait a few minutes more, while they re-set the space. I take a seat and watch the video projection on the floor, where not much happens. I feel as though I’m waiting for a massage or something. It’s as if I’ve made an appointment for some luxurious treatment at a spa—a treat just for me. At the same time, though, I am still a little anxious, not knowing exactly what the artist expects of me.


At last I get the go-ahead. The attendant instructs me to enter and sit in the chair by the bed. There will be further instructions projected on the wall. “Those are for you.” I take the stairs quick and light, and pause just outside the plastic curtain. I draw a breath and push through the clear plastic strips that rattle gently back into place behind me, loosely sealing me in. The room is semi-private, permeable; all white, but not terribly bright; beautiful and spare. A projection on one wall (vague moving lights… headlights?) casts a thin, cool illumination. “THIS IS FOR YOU,” I read on the wall.


As I enter the room, Tolentino lies on a bed, swathed in white sheeting. A small lamp casts a pool of pinkish light her feet. Next to the bed, a plastic chair. I flash momentarily to a hospital scene, a sick ward, a maternity ward. I smell the plastic of the curtain, the chair. Quietly, respectfully, I take the seat next to the bed. The seat of care, I think.


She lies with her back to me. She does not speak. She lies still, breathes, occasionally shifts or moves a bit, never leaving the bed, subtle adjustments, as if she’s listening to me, for several minutes. Eventually…


She performs. And it is for me.


The sheets rustle softly. I sit back in my chair, hands in my lap. I imagine, absurdly, that if I sit back I am giving her more space, though she makes no move to approach me, or even look at me. I sit. I witness. I am quiet by her side. She rolls, shifts, reaches and retracts. Her movement is gentle.


She gets up out of bed, crosses the room, brushing her hair from her face. I let out a kept breath as she moves away, in a mixture of relief and disappointment. She gives her body a loose shake—to wake herself? To warm her muscles? To reacquaint herself with verticality? Her movement is gentle, loose, organic.


A new projection: “VIEWER: SOON, TIME TO MAKE A MOVE.” I sit up. Maybe I get to choose where to sit—how to view the dance. But not now; “SOON.” I relax, wait, watch.


She finds a spot in the corner, left of the projection, and slows down, releases her head so she gazes at the floor, arms loose at her sides, hidden in the very long sleeves of a white lab-coat-style pantsuit. She turns slowly, looking like a naughty child dressed in her mother’s shirt. But she is not a child. She is quiet. Waiting.




I do. Now I am seated on the side of the open floor, nothing between me and her but a few feet of space. She walks toward me, pauses, and begins a new dance. She dances hard. Head relaxed on her spine, her arms swoop and swoosh in big, long arcs, dipping into the floor, then whirling up and around. The kinetic force builds as she sinks and energizes into her movement, opening the room in front of me, charging the large white walls with her long, white-shrouded limbs. I’ve rarely been this close to these large movements when I wasn’t dancing as well. She smells of sweat and Ben Gay. I wonder how sore she is. I wonder how tired she is.


From a soft focus gaze, indirect mostly, but with flashes of directness, she reads me. She takes my temperature with her nearness. She listens for my breath, the squeaks of the chair as I shift, she sees me look for her eyes, she sees me smile, seeking her smile. She dances for me. She dances off me. She gifts me a dance. (Me, a total stranger.) She takes my hand.




She chooses a new place for me, on a different chair. Or perhaps we choose it together, but I admit I am following her lead. The dance is for me, but I still feel like a guest in her home. I sit along the opposite wall, next to a pinkish red theater light. She dances to music—my song, “Walk on the Wild Side.” She lowers her eyes. She dances a memory, I think, a private memory to a shared experience. We share the song, but she has her memories associated with it, and I have mine. We are two different people with different histories, but our histories are linked by this common referent.


She dances in the red light. I hesitate to describe the dance to you now, because, well, it’s private, between her and me. I am overwhelmed with emotion, watching her. My heart catches in my throat. I notice I’ve stopped breathing and gulp in air with a mixture of gasp and sob.


The song ends. We are quiet. I hear her breath, heavy, but steadying. The dance relaxes into an end as she releases it and meets my eyes. She takes me by the hand. We thank one another, and she escorts me to the plastic curtain. I seek her eyes, and we exchange brief, shy smiles. I slip, slowly, regretfully, through the plastic slits, back into that other world, where I will again be no one special. No one out there will dance just For Me.


(For more on this work, see Julie Tolentino’s website at



About the Author

Allison Wyper is a Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary performance artist who creates intimate and one-on-one performances that challenge viewer-performer dynamics and the ethics of participation. Allison has been an Associate Artist of La Pocha Nostra since 2004, and a collaborator with Western Australia’s Hydra Poesis since 2011. Her work has been seen in museums, galleries, theaters, universities, and streets in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and Germany. Her writing has been published by Itch Dance Journal, Platform (U.K), Emergency Index, Whore Magazine and the Center for the Study of Women at the University of California, Los Angeles. More info at