So I did the night crawl through Ennis town on Saturday night. I know I am going to struggle with how to describe the experience as it was a strange and surreal one.
Describe the event on a practical level: See below for the map of the route I took. Its exactly .5k, and takes not even 5 minutes to walk. First mistake was thinking it would take 10-15 mins to crawl it. It took 35 minutes.
It was a bright, clear night, with no wind or rain (it had pissed rain all day) and it wasnt that cold. This meant there would likely be more people out and about and also there would be better visbiliity to livescreen and film.
I met Paul Corey, photographer, at 11.40pm at the centurion sphere at the bottom of Abbey Street. As a team I had Eoin Casey and Rachel Casey, brother and sister, kind, generous people with an interest in the arts and culture and a general up for it attitude. Another friend Elaine Hogan joined us later. They were going to walk alongside me and Eoin was going to keep any less well meaning types away, hopefully. I had had a technical hitch earlier in the evening when I’d realised I would be livescreening in landscape format which would come out on facebook sideways. I was furiously youtubing livescreening tutorials when Eoin suggested I just reposition the phone upright, and therefore in portrait format, on the headset. To do this I had to wear the headset straps scrunched over the wrong way but it did the job and the livescreen worked ok. I was wearing red jeans and a red jumper, and red trainers and a black balaclava with the head set on top. Paul had said not to wear black as it would not film well light wise. I decided on red as it’s a powerful colour and I hoped it would give me courage to get the job done.
Describe how I was feeling: it a funny thing- I had genuinely not felt nervous all day, it had been a normal busy saturday with the kids. But that evening after dinner I started to get that familiar feeling of churning stress in my stomach. This feeling used to arrive pre kettlebell competition and now comes along before I am about to do something new or scary. The feeling remained until I started the performance. As were setting up some guys walked past and were shouting and laughing, asking ‘what the f*ck I was doing’ etc etc so that gave us a realistic idea of what to expect during the performance.
The thing about Ennis is the streets are old and narrow and its basically small enough that you can comfortably walk around the whole place. I have discovered that when you do something atypical, like a performance, in a public place, people will stop and watch, yes, but in general they will keep their distance. They usually don’t want to be implicated in the weirdness in any way. They are outside, so they can watch if they wish, but can remain at a distance where they feel safe. However this was the first time I had done a performance at night, in a lively town with lots of pubs, on a saturday night. Therefore I was unsure how much the presence of alcohol would uninhibit the accidental audience. I thought yes, of course it would allow for more of a reaction, but I was unsure HOW much.
As soon as I moved across the road and started crawling I felt surreal, and very vulnerable. Being on the ground was a strange feeling, and quite obviously affected my visibility. I could literally only see the pavement and therefore as I travelled along I bumped into lamposts several times. I could see people’s feet up to their knees at most, if they were in front of me or beside me on the pavement. SO it was disorientating. It also meant I could not see Paul, Eoin, Rachel etc. I could hear them occasionally and that helped a lot. So I did not know what was going to happen next, or what to expect. I had to just keep travelling along. I realised quite quickly when I was crawling across at the bottom of Abbey Street that it was going to take a lot longer than I had thought. As I crawled along I could see streams of liquid, chewing gum, gobs of spit, rubbish, the normal pavement accessories that you dont usually view on quite such a close up level unless you are a dog. Around me I could hear people laughing, talking, sometimes shouting in response to me (as I could hear what they were saying) and the noise of cars travelling past. Music spilling out from the pubs and women screaming and laughing. It was all happening.
I was very early on into the performance, not even 1/3 of the way up Abbey Street, when Eoin informed me ‘you’ve got company’ and someone else said that the Garda had arrived. I looked sideways and could partially see a white squad car alongside. I remember thinking, Oh NO, are they going to stop me, but I decided I would keep on going and not change the pattern of movement in any way unless they confronted me or one of the team. I had emailed the Garda twice about the event, and explained exactly what I was planning on doing and why. Im pedantic like that and I wanted to do it right. I thouhg seemign as I wanted to do this thing in public place it was only right that they be informed, as its their job to keep public order. I was worried that they might ask me for insurance or for a liscence ( I do not know if one requires a licence to crawl up the street at midnight) but they replied with the gnomic response of “we are processing your email”. I decided that as they had not outright said no, that I would take this as a “yes” and would go ahead and do it. So back to the action: the Garda stayed alongside in their Squad Car all the way through, slowly driving alongside or driving up alhead and pulling in to the side of the road and it was a good thing for me and the team too, given the behaviour of some of the onlookers. They got out and watched the last part, standing leaning against the wall at the top of O’ Connell Street. WHen I’d reached the end I stood up and theyd already hopped back in their squad car. I shouted thankyou and they waved and drove off.
The reaction- public behaviour
What was interesting was how men and women reacted differently. In general the men were much more physical and several times stood in my way as I crawled up the street. One very drunk individual stood at the side of the pavement and as I passed by smacked me on the ass. Another pretended to kick me as I crawled past. But I was interested in that in general I didnt see many womens feet- they were instinctively getting out of the way, unlike some of the men. People constantly shouted and filmed on their phones. I heard one girl exclaim, “Oh thank god they have knee pads on” and over and over I heard various versions of “what is going on?’ its spiderman in ennis? what is this for? I’ve never seen the like.. Get up get up!’etc You can hear it more clearly inthe livestream.
Now I knew that if I was going to place myself in such a situation at suc a particular time of the night then I was going to be fair game to all of the above. I had hoped no-one would touch me and in hindsight only the one guy did, and while he hung around a fair but and followed me, even crawling along behind me at the last bit, Eoin kept him away physically.
Describe the context- The work was designed as an event, or a happening. I was not expecting peope in general to understand it. How would they? My team of protectors were in fairness answering the people who asked what was going on, when they were asked in a legible way. I
what was my goal and did I succeed?
make a performance- public. Yes. It worked. I had 2 audiences; an accidental one and an invited one, who attended in a virtual sense, therefore legitimizing the label ‘performance’ .
record the event through 2 different formats- livescreen- my perspective- and Pauls documentation- so to give it some context. we have done this and are editing Pauls film at present. This is two strong viewpoints of the event.
to experience the process of pushing work out to an accidental audience in a contentious setting. Yes, it was not particularly nice, but it was not supposed to be nice, and it was definitely a worthwhile event to do.
Thinking on a side note about privilege– it was a novelty for me to crawl along a street at night. I have never done it before, not being drunk enough or in trouble or in danger or hurt or homeless. I am conscious of my position of privilege, having enough money to live and a nice home and and enough money to even allow me to have time to make work like this. Being outside, low down on the ground, with drunk people, gave me an insight into the vulnerability homeless people must feel on a daily basis. It also gave me more of an understanding of my small daughters anxiety issues- being in wheelchair in a busy space, low down, when you cannot run away if you want- no wonder she gets anxious. Also for example my 5 year old gets stressed every day when we have to go collect the older kids from school- a crowd surges out all at the same time and he is lost in the sea of kids and adults- I feel him clinging on to me like a limpet. (he wont stay in the car by himself btw) Having experienced what its like to be down low and not able to see who’s is coming towards you or control it either makes me understand his situation more.