Belfast, N. Ireland
(What I am writing here is not an analysis or representation of Ikon. It is an analysis of my interpretation of Ikon.)
Tonight, I attended my first Ikon event. What is Ikon you ask? For me, describing Ikon is like trying to describe what it is like to feel warmth to someone who has never felt it. Warmth is something to be experienced. Likewise, Ikon is a unique experiential space that briefly inhabits a place, so that it exists N-O-W-H-E-R-E – that is, simultaneously nowhere and now here. Having said that, allow me to share Ikon’s description of itself:
Inhabiting a space on the outer edges of religious life, we are a Belfast-based collective who offer anarchic experiments in transformance art. Challenging the distinction between theist and atheist, faith and no faith our main gathering employs a cocktail of live music, visual imagery, soundscapes, theatre, ritual and reflection in an attempt to open up the possibility of a theodramatic event.
What Ikon is, is other. And that was tonight’s theme: others. As we entered the room, my friend Pádraig stamped our foreheads with artistically scripted ink of the word other. We sat in a semicircle around a chess table where two people “played” chess. I use the quotation marks because, having played chess competitively as a kid (…yeah, I know), what they played was in no way “real” chess. No observable rhyme or reason existed to the pattern of moves. I still do not quite know how to interpret it… Through music, video, costume, call-and-response, and ritual, we shifted bewilderingly through an exploration of others, what we don’t know about them, and in turn what we don’t know of ourselves. As Pádraig said at the closing, when we meet someone and we are asked who we are, the most honest response is to reply, “I will let you know who I am when I learn who I am with you,” for we are only a little bit of ourselves each day. We are one bit today and another bit tomorrow. We learn who we are in relation to our other.
At the start of the evening, a voice came through the speakers, deep and morphed so that the gender was for all purposes indistinguishable. “Hell is other people,” it began. We learned that we fear others, scared of what they might say or do. The voice told us that the others were about to speak a word, but we should hush it, for we already knew what that word was. And it was many words, words which called forth images of terror and destruction. But at the end of the evening, a voice came through the speakers again, but this time it was the clear voice of a woman. “Hell is other people,” she too began. Her script seemed identical until she arrived at the place where the others speak their word, the word we are not supposed to hear because we already know what it is. And it is many words, but these words called forth images of community and good living.
I do not know what my friends at Ikon intended to convey with any of their activities, for as Pádraig answered when I asked him if they explain anything once it is over, he said (and I paraphrase), “Nothing. It is a silent canvas on which you create your interpretation.” For me, then, at the beginning of the evening, before our exploration into the darkness and mystery of the other, the voice is ominous and amorphous, much like the voice you hear in the films when a kidnapper disguises his voice when speaking to the parents of the captured child. The words of the other that this voice spoke brought fear and anxiety. The second voice, emerging in the midst of the dark mystery of the other, is now very human – and here, it is a woman. Almost all the words she speaks are the same as the first voice, but now her final words bring different images to mind, create different feelings, of security and shelter. To me, this was an artistic expression of the human transformation that is prone to occur when we dive into the mysteriousness of the other whom we’ve always feared. What once was foreboding and nigh unto demonic has become familiar. The words have essentially remained the same, but we now hear them differently.
Our final act of the evening was to come forward, like in the Eucharistic practices of the church, and take from a bowl a small cut piece of a mirror. The square was no more than half an inch on each side. Pádraig told us that just as we are never fully who we are, so we can never fully see ourselves, but only a bit at time. In our piece of mirror, we experience this literally, able to see only a small fraction of our whole physical self. But the part that we now see through the broken mirror in our fingers may very well be a part of ourselves we have never truly noticed before, never stopped to consider before, for amidst the context of our whole self, it becomes lost and insignificant. But the tiny reflective glass allows us focus and thus discovery.
Though it was not stated explicitly at the event, this was to me a representation of the power of our encounters with others. As I have now repeatedly quoted, an Irish proverb suggests, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” As we embrace our living in the shelter of others, we begin to see, through our encounters and interactions with the brokenness of each other, a bit of ourselves that we may never have noticed, that was “lost and insignificant” in the swirling sea of who we imagined ourselves to be. Thus, through intimate connection with our other, we both learn something of them that we may never have believed could be true while at the same time learning something of ourselves that we never stopped to notice. And in so doing, we realize just how much of ourselves we do not know, cannot know, and will never know. So when we are asked who we are, all we really can say in the full honesty of the moment, is, “I don’t know. Let’s talk.”