Performing Silence

Page 1

process-based artefact#3

petros konnaris

evagoras vanezis


what is silence? listening to silence or performing silence in the name of listening


diaries of silence

Memories of the project Petros Konnaris



¶Silence, is frequently connected to the absence of sound, the lack of voice, the removal of anything audible; to nothingness1. It is associated with a negative connotation of missing something, of being incomplete, of being empty. However, the different experiences of silence (the silence in your home, the silence of a library, at a friend’s home, on a street at night...) raise the question of how diverse this notion of nothingness can be. Examining silence as something subtle instead of nothing, as a miniscule moment instead of an absence, as a mild vibration instead of a stillness, shifts the perception of it as something very dense: a community of subtle, unseen presences. ¶A few years back, during my studies, I came across a book by one of my university professors that shares this similar approach to silence. Written by Stavros Theodorakis, Το κενό που κοχλάζει (The boiling void) is a blend of contemporary physics, art, and philosophy. The book describes how different strands of physics analyse the notion of the void while including references to artists whose artworks act as a manifestation of these notions. “In contemporary physics, void is defined as what is left after the removal of everything you can remove from a space. However, even though we try to extract every form of energy from a particular space, there will always be energy left behind”. He explains that this phenomenon happens because of the principle of uncertainty, according to which we cannot measure energy exactly for a duration of time but only instantaneously. Additionally, in an empty space there is the possibility of matter to spontaneously appear and imaginary particles can be created due to the void’s vicissitudes2. ¶Influenced from that, I was curious in reflecting on silence as something that is present that does not receive any or enough attention. A something with a fluid, vibrant and dynamic nature. In my definition, I equate its sonic expression with the visual one (that which is difficult to see) and the socio-political (that with low respect and power). It can be a soft whisper or a white noise. A microscopic imprint on the wall that no one notices unless they come very close. It can be an act of care or a subtle gentleness that many times is considered insignificant or disregarded because of the too intense power dynamics in the world. It can also represent the unnoticed people, minorities of any kind, people whose voices are being muted. These notions share similarities with how the aforementioned are perceived in the world: as something small and irrelevant, easily being disregarded and without any value. My aim was to shift the attention to and engage with that smallness instead of the loudness, to observe the unseen moments vibrating. To spend time with the subtleness.

¶I am very attracted to this notion of silence and its dynamic and fluctuating nature – a kind of uncertainty, an environment that you cannot fully perceive and capture. I am curious in exploring the contradiction that arises from this redefinition of silence as a dense and fluid nothingness: to explore its nature and how to perceive what lies underneath the surface. ¶Silence, especially in this project, is intertwined with attention and listening. How to listen - or better - how to give attention to something minute, something else, something unseen: to find the silences in the loudness and the exaggeration. ¶In care theory listening is a vital element in understanding and finding what a caring act should be. It is the same as giving space, giving time, giving attention3. Listening and paying attention to silence became a tool in observing and understanding what exists in silence. ¶Claudia Firth mentions that listening for the sake of listening rather than for the sake of speaking is the foundation for the creation of an affective space. It contributes to the development of a safe environment to allow time and support for the speaker to take up space, open their mouth and voice their self4. Alongside Rene Gabri, they mention that the creation of an affective space is an ongoing process that allows listening and speaking to expand, get deeper and reveal other unseen dimensions of the process and the people involved. This way, listening becomes a learning process and a way to examine how to proceed, what the respective community/group needs and rearrange (power) relations5. ¶Having these concepts as a starting point, I was interested in performing silence and explore how silence is performing in this artistic context. Additionally, I was interested in creating a practice, a methodology that gives space to experience the silence in a collective manner, both as a practitioner and an audience member. An environment where you get to experience the subtle moments that live within the space, as well as listen to the complexity that appears when shifting the attention to a single unseen detail. 1, accessed 10.07.2021


Theodorakis S., To Keno pou Kohlazei, (author’s own translation), Diavlos Press, 1999, pp. 19-20


Engster D., Rethinking Care Theory: The Practice of Caring and the Obligation to Care, Vol 20, No. 3 (2005), Hypatia, p. 54


Farinati L. & Firth C., The Force of Listening, Errant Bodies Press: DOORMATS. (2017), p.18


Farinati L. & Firth C., The Force of Listening, Errant Bodies Press: DOORMATS. (2017), pp. 19, 170-172





listening to silence or

performing silence in the name 12

of listening

/ Silence is often thought of as an absence: of sound or of speech. However, it is an absence linked to the living, and as such it is never total. Even when willed, it is precarious – it can be easily disrupted, refused, killed. It is thus a reminder of life’s fragility, for to speak of it is to break it. If silence is not an absence but an action pertaining to a certain affectivity of sound or speech, it needs to be lend an ear. And then, barring the proof of our ears or our inability to believe in the value and usefulness of lending silence an ear, we might need some other cues that silence can be made to mean. So, besides an ear, we lend it eyes, starting to pay attention to the little things that go unnoticed - to the quality of a look, to the preciousness of a gesture, to the marks on the walls that speak of - and do so silently - the passage of time. Perhaps this seeing of silence (the recognition of traces of things that happened in silence) is something that is alien to it, like an intention to speak that wasn’t really there. [ I do not and cannot remember the first time I’ve seen or heard silence being performed. I am trying to figure out what a text on performing silence could be if it isn’t something like an introduction or a margin note - possibly a postscript - to the question of whether the world is ever truly silent. What would it mean for a text to perform silence? Does writing ever do anything but that? ]. There is, prior to the putting down of words, an area of affectivity that runs ahead of understanding. This running ahead, this ability to register emotion, without being simultaneously able to comprehend its meaning, creates for us the feeling that words only jeopardise the preciousness that makes us attentive – —


T h e re i s s o m e t h i n g ve r y t o u ch i n g i n s p e n d i n g t i m e t o o b s e r ve s m a l l d e t a i l s a n d f i g u re o u t wh at e l s e l i e s u n d e r n e a t h t h e s u r f a c e . To o b s e r v e t h e h a n d s t r a v e l i n g t o e a c h o t h e r, t o l i s t e n t o a d e e p b r e a t h b e l o w t h e m a s k , t o a c c o m p a n y o n e ’s j o u r n ey t o p r e c i o u s n e s s a n d _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 1.

–– – that makes us slow down, that allows the congregation of forces to the one little detail that gets overblown, and whose presence as if all of a sudden, reaches the status of the event of love. A performing silence holds varying temporalities and textures of time dear; it plays them lightly off each other within manifold caring and loving attentiveness. So, the question is: Could there be a community not of silent people, but of silences? [ “The listener I am [que je suis] can happen only when I follow you [je te suis], when I pursue you. I could not listen without you, without this desire to listen to you listening to me, not being able, since I am unable to listen to me listening. In sum, my question, for us, has been (hear it with all the chances, nuances, that our idiom preserves): What summons us to listen?”2 Us, the community of lovers to gather at the time of our rendezvous, chit chat, smoke, share some banality or other, wait. Could there be a community of silences, a community of bodies emptied of burdens, of history? Months of isolation and depravity have not changed much. A rendezvous might not be the best occasion to share existential worries, but it appears that we are more aware of our sharing in finitude. “What does it mean to be silent together, to share a silence with another, to share an exposure to and in silence? Is there such a thing as a “community” of or in silence, or is “community” itself dissolved by immanent and transcendent exposures to silence?”3 ] The long _______: a vibrant void. I always thought of this void in temporal terms, as a moment when words or the speed of writing fails to keep up with thought, or vice versa. In all scenarios my performance of silence attempts to prefigure the eventness of the book at hand as a leap into the vibrant void that you describe, my love. The leap is important to you - static perhaps, impossible I would add, it probably describes the lightness felt when the body moves and becomes one with a rhythm which we often discard as idle, unproductive - in short, as too good to last. 14

I wonder if this vibrant void is where we all live or where we would like to live. In other words, is the void a matter of an epistemology or is it a matter of ethics? Does it hold anything but the ineffable? ============================================= Maybe it is difficult to construct a history of performed silences because they have always been happening. Maybe our difficulty of going about silence, of trying to articulate what a silence might mean, reminds us of the precarity of traces that have found their meaning somewhere, not because of but despite our actions. After all, performed silence is also a social silence, a silence which we think we can share. Silence, then, does not denote an absence of relation, but a relation happening outside the hegemonic regimes of visuality and speech. What we need, perhaps, are ways to engage with this silence, without usurping the position of the silent subject, for what would the complete disregard of its reality and circumstance mean? // Silence is not to be expelled from the community due to what it is not. It is to be looked at as that which it is - an exposure to alterity through which we can learn that things exist without being ‘appropriated and assumed by the paradigm’4.


Konnaris P., Performing Silence Press Release, 2020,, accessed on 20.12.2021


Szendy P., Listen: A History of our Ears, Fordham University Press, 2008, p.142.


Gould T., Silence in Modern Literature and Philosophy, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, p.90


Gould T., Silence in Modern Literature and Philosophy, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, p.10


Being attentive to silence is to acknowledge the radical vitality of being and to remain sensitive to the preciousness of a feeling that seeks not to overtake but to trace its points of relating. A pulsating affect, a gut reaction: there is more to be said, we haven’t reached the truth yet / let’s be reticent towards that impersonality which holds the space of our intersubjectivity.

diaries of



¶The project started at the beginning of 2021, having the first series of performances in April 2021 in Nicosia. Together with fifteen collaborators we created an environment that was welcoming to an interaction with silence. The project had many different components, which shared different parts of the research: the performers and the event score, two process-based artefacts, the sound score, and the visual environment. The following text introduces the project’s parameters that were engaging with the audience/visitors in a chronological order.

The audience arrives at the space. I greet them with the process-based artefact #1.


¶The process-based artefacts are a series of three publications that were created with Evagoras Vanezis, based on various writing scores that were performed during the creative process. One of the intentions behind the artefacts was to provide a different exposure and materiality to processes of artistic research that many times go unnoticed and unacknowledged, just like silence. The process-based artefact #1 took the form of a 2.5m long paper roll with approximately 600 questions. The questions were produced during a thirty-minute process at the beginning of each meeting between myself and each collaborator, while activating our body to get ready for the rehearsal or any other task related to the project. Every couple continued from where the previous one left off. The aim was to write a question triggered by the last question in the document. The writing was taking place in a shared online document using our phones and as we were moving in space. ¶This method of collective writing became a way of relating to the rest of the group. The process, that lasted around 1500 minutes in the span of two months and 50 individual meetings, was something that became very precious and created silent connections and encounters with all of us, even though we all met together only once. While the text was progressing, it provided different levels and contexts of silence that deepened our relation to the concept through a very playful, unexpected, and exciting methodology. The writing score that led to the series of questions was influenced by the dramaturgical practice of Rodia Vomvolou and the task of re-articulating questions from the book The Practice of Dramaturg y1. ¶When waiting outside of the space, the audience could engage with the second artefact: a slideshow of scanned images from the collective notebook where the performers were writing at the end of each meeting.



The notebook includes their individual answers to what they heard and what they did not hear during the rehearsal. The first question acts as conceptual extension of the project, a self-reflection on what happened, what caught their attention, and what they discovered. The second one embodies the goal of the project to identify the unseen and spend time with it. By asking what each did not hear, a journey of discovery and visualisation manifested as a different modality of looking. ¶The notebook was moving from one collaborator to the other, capturing different personal moments from the process. Watching the slideshow and being confronted with ten different handwritings, and various ways of engaging with the same questions, created a feeling of intimacy with the otherness of the performers and a way to observe their thoughts. ¶The audience was invited to spend time with the artefacts, to engage with manifold entry points to the project and get a glimpse of the conceptual and artistic process that took place the previous months. Additionally, it produced a new framework of silence with silence. Taking the time to read the artefacts and enter the world they created, produced an individual, intimate moment with/in silence where the reader interacts directly with the concept. The questions were inviting the reader to answer them and continue the trajectory on the paper roll by imagining and asking new ones.

At about 19:15 I invite them to enter the space in a soft and calm manner. ¶“Welcome to Performing Silence, a performanceexhibition that explores the density of silence and what exists therein. In the space, you will find a series of artworks and in-situ installations by Kyriakos Theocharous and today we have with us ***2. The performers go through a personal yet collective journey and invite us to observe the subtle moments that they magnify. In the following hour, we invite you to walk in the space, take a deep breath, wait, stay with a performer, walk around to find another, and give yourself time to observe what lays underneath the surface. You can enter the space but before doing so I kindly ask you to slowly count to 10. Thank you!”

The audience enters the space.


¶The performance takes place at DriveDrive3, an old fabric warehouse designed by the architect Neoptolemos Michaelides, located in the Nicosia old town. What intrigued me to select this space for the performance was its complexity. It has four floors and

you can get a very different view of the space from where you are standing. For example, standing on the ground floor also gives a view of the second and middle floors, and if you stand close to the stairs you can also see a frame of the basement. It has a feeling of a maze, a complexity that excites curiosity. The facade is all glass windows and even by standing outside on the street you can very clearly see two levels of the space. ¶The visual environment for the performance was created by Kyriakos Theocharous who was influenced by the brutalist architecture of the space. Brutalism is a movement that “established the right of building materials and structural features to be seen, admired and even celebrated, […] prioritising function over form, and stripped-back minimalism over flashy design”4. Exposing the honesty of the materials that construct the building is something that Theocharous was focusing on, in his artworks and the in-situ installations. There is a deconstruction of the materiality of the space through the process of print-making that performs a search of reality 5. ¶Through the texture of the artworks, their careful placement, their relations to each other, the architecture and the visitors, the space and its silent moments become activated. When the installations are placed next to a light switch, a water pipe, or the chipped away paint from the wall, these unseen elements receive a different kind of attention. This produces a sense of curiosity to search the space and find out what else there is to observe. There is a notion of effortlessness in how these moments become activated and capture the attention of the visitors. The architecture of the space creates different visual frames and opportunities for interaction. ¶The space is also activated by the sound score of Panos Bartzis. The sound-score is mostly a silent piece with short moments of edited bird whistling that were recorded in a rehearsal. However, there is always a sonic stimulation during the performance which keeps everyone activated. Even with no sound from the speakers, you are surrounded by the white noise of the space, at times the sound of cars passing by and chats coming from the street, even live TV sounds from the neighbouring houses. Every sound is very subtle, very easy to miss but also to catch from different areas and floors of the gallery. The echo of the space is offering an extra sense of uncertainty. There is always a feeling of “where is this sound coming from” making the audience starting to question what they are hearing and what they are imagining. Even when you are listening to the bird sounds from the speakers you would ask yourself if the sound comes from outside. There is a soft alertness, a gentle activation, a different mode of attentiveness to grasp reality, to make a sense out of what you are experiencing. 22

The audience encounters the performers who are scattered along the space. ¶The performers start before the audience enters by observing - a journey to find details they have not seen before. They are looking for what is silent and what is hidden in plain sight. About fifteen minutes afterwards, they change their position, getting ready for the next part: a slow and concentrated trajectory of the hands from one specific position to another. Each performer has a different hand pathway, collectively producing a variation of a careful and subtle course of the hands. We collected a series of gestures in our process, concentrating on the hands moving slowly towards or away from each other, towards the floor, the wall or the stairs. ¶While staying concentrated on not losing the relation of the hands, the rest of the body is casually supporting that journey and not spacing out. They change their body position, shake their head or other body parts. They stay present by observing the rest of the group and inviting the audience to stay with them. At times, they call the name of someone to support themselves or the callee when there is a need, or to share a moment together. When the hands reach their destination, the performers take some time to acknowledge the arrival. Afterwards, they relax their hands and walk to find the other performers. When all of them come together, they collectively make the decision to leave the space. ¶The performers engage with the score and by extension the environment in a casual manner, as they would do in an everyday situation, figuring out their actions in the moment. There is no concealing of their process and even the moments of frustration and fatigue that might occur. They acknowledge the presence of the audience walking around the space, having subtle eye contacts and inviting them to stay, pay attention, and become part of this community of silence. ¶Something that is very vivid in the project is also a feeling of “πνάζω” (pnazo), a feeling of rest that also includes a sense of exhaling/breathing, letting go and arriving to a more relaxed state6. There is a notion of effortlessness yet being aware of what is happening, trying not to space out and stay present to their action and the people around them.

The audience.


¶The performers were engaged in a minimal range of movements whilst the audience was moving



freely in space, having the power to support the subtle environment or disrupt it. Being present at all of the events, it was interesting to observe how the audience’s energy was affecting the performance. The distinction between performance and non-mediated everyday life was extremely thin, making it difficult to understand who is a performer and who an audience member. This was aided by the performativity and the choice in costume, as the performers were dressed casually, with only the same light blue nail polish hinting to their status. ¶As I was observing the audience throughout the events, I realised that to fully explore what the project was offering, they went through a process to reach the point of letting go, of taking a deep breath and να πνάσουν (na pnasoun)7. This arrival to the subtleness of the project, of being captivated by this notion of silence and being attentive to what was happening in space, happened at their own time. In a very intuitive manner, the visitors were finding their way of being present. They were for example sitting on the middle floor watching a performer from afar in their journey, or zooming in to the one closest to them, following the pathway of the performers’ hands, acknowledging their fingers, channeling their thought process. They were focusing on the gestures of the performers, the texture of the artworks, the liveliness of the sound, the depth of the process-based artefacts. ¶At times, I was observing a struggle to engage with silence and the need to experience the event through conversation was overpowering. What intensified this behaviour was experiencing the performance in the middle of the pandemic. At the time, Cyprus came out of the second lockdown with many regulations about social gatherings. The stillness of the lockdown produced a greater desire for socialising, making it much harder to pay attention to something small and subtle. ¶There were different modalities of attention that were manifesting. At times, there was a level of mindfulness (being fully attentive in the present moment, both internally and externally), a level of absorption (being present by focusing on a single detail) and a level of mind wandering (traveling to other thoughts and feelings triggered from moments in the present)8. Within these acts of attention, there was a sense of prolonging the moment to capture as much as possible from the newly found moments. A form of gentleness and sensitivity was created to take care of this new relationality and the people by collectively being present.

Anachoresis: Upon Inhabiting Distances9 ¶In November 2021 I was invited to perform silence at the Cyprus Pavil26

ion, at the 17th International Exhibition of Architecture – La Biennale di Venezia. The pavilion explored the table as a social object, in a site-specific intervention which functioned as a non-hierarchical installation of different archipelagos, where all the elements came together to express “atypical and idiorhythmic manifestations of co-habitation”10. ¶Performing Silence took the form of an eight-hour durational performance where the exhibited table was activated through proximity, touch, and observation between the installation’s body and myself. I was interested in embracing and activating the many elements of the table such as the organic (plants and dust), the textual (the press release notes and the wall descriptions) and the table’s joints (the movable parts and objects). The table was casted as a community of multiple silences, entities put together and functioning as one body. My intention was to engage and spend time with each element individually, directing the attention of the viewers to the space and the found details. ¶It became an open game of fragmentation and reassembly: spending time with each element and finding different connections within that community. A reorganising of words and images revealing new poetic perspectives. ¶Reflecting upon the two rounds of the project, the series of group performances in April and the solo durational one in November, I found a new potentiality for the conceptual development of the project. In April, my intention was to explore and shift the attention to the unseen moments, the disregarded silences in space. The performance in November unlocked a question of my understanding of the project: what does the newly found silence need and how do I take care of it? ¶There is a notion of urgency and responsibility arriving from the question, a new attentiveness and activation, that reveals another political element of the project. The performer is still the medium to see the otherness but a new modality is created, a new relationality between the performer and the silence, manifesting from asking what do I do now that I see you? It becomes a matter of giving time to silence, listening to and engaging with it within the frame of slowness, openness, and awareness that the performativity of the project provides.

Performing Silence


¶The act of performing silence in this project attempts a rearrangement of power and value: shaking existing norms of what deserves attention and visibility. The performers become a medium to engage with silence, sharing the space with companions whose agencies speak in different ways. More-


over, the difficulty and rarity of capturing the subtle sounds, the details of the movement and the traces of the wall, makes the moment of encounter very special, unique and soothing. This preciousness derives from the fact that these moments are extremely easy to miss, especially when occupied with the weight of a high-paced, high-pressured world and the urgency to be constantly productive. ¶The performance is quite demanding both for the performers and for the audience, since it requires to be fully present and attentive to silence for about an hour. Taking about thirty minutes to close your hands, something which normally takes only a few seconds, pushes the boundaries of engagement by giving the time to a situation, that might be considered boring, to become eventful. You immediately recognize what will happen and how this is going to end, yet taking the time to observe step by step this everyday action, performed with such a commitment and carefulness, has something very humane, relatable and sensitive.


Georgelou K., Protopapa E., Theodoridou D., The Practice of Dramaturgy: Working on Actions in Performance, Valiz/Antennae Series, (2017)


Each performance had three to five performers, a different group each time.


DriveDrive is an artist-run by founded Nayia Savva and Raissa Angeli.

4 list/a-look-at-brutalist-architecture, accessed on 10.07.2021


In conversation with Theocharous.


Giagkoulis K.G., Thisavros Kipriakis Dialektou, (translation author’s own), Theopress publication (2005)


Να πνάσουν (na pnasoun): to rest .


For an analysis of the concepts of attention see: Dane E., Paying Attention to Mindfulness and its Effects on Task Performance in the Workplace, in Journal of Management, Vol 37, No. 4 (July 2011), pp. 999-1003


The Cyprus Pavilion, 17th International Exhibition of Architecture – La Biennale di Venezia, May 22 - November 21, 2021, Press Release, accessed on 4.11.2021






Petros Konnaris| Petros Konnaris (Cyprus, 1988) is working between the fields of live art, participatory art, and dance. He received an MA in Live Arts and Performance Studies from Theater Academy of UniArts Helsinki. He has also studied Dance (University of Nicosia, 2011) and Mathematics and Statistics (University of Cyprus, 2011). Konnaris performed in various festivals and events in Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Spain, Finland, Germany, Singapore and Thailand. In his work Konnaris explores the performativity and the embodiment of caring, intimacy and gentleness, nakedness and playfulness. His artistic work manifests in the form of everyday situations, durational happenings, 1-1(one with one) performances, public interventions and performance scores. His methodology includes the use of conversation and text, performing yourself in extraordinary situations, and feminist and queer discourse. Konnaris is based in Cyprus and is currently the artistic director of Dance House Lefkosia and vice president of Nea Kinisi Cyprus.


Evagoras Vanezis | Evagoras Vanezis is an independent curator, researcher, and writer based in Nicosia. His practice incorporates a strong interest in creating spaces of openness, promoting the rethinking of notions and processes of human relationality to the world. Working along poetic and fluid materialisms, his writings and curatorial constellations explore the political and social valences of affects, especially as they cross economies of labour, language and image flows. Since 2016 he has organized various exhibitions, programs and publishing projects. Recent projects include Anachoresis: Upon Inhabiting Distances, the Cyprus Pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition, Venice Biennale (co-curator, 2021) and Formworks, Thkio Ppalies Project Space (2019 – ongoing). He holds an MRes in Art Theory and Philosophy from Central Saint Martins.

artistic direction: Petros Konnaris with: Eleana Alexandrou Georgia Andreou Pascal Caron Athina Georgiou Annie Khoury Marilena Kyriacou Kalia Maliali Arianna Marcoulides Despina Michaelidou Alexis Vassiliou dramaturg y: Rodia Vomvolou sound design: Panos Bartzis visual art installation: Kyriakos Theocharous process-based artefacts: Petros Konnaris Evagoras Vanezis photos by: Pavlos Vrionides design: hi studiooo: Natalie Yiaxi Performances hosted at DriveDrive, Nicosia 8th - 24th of April 2021 Funded by the Terpsihori Program 2021 of Cultural Services of the Cyprus Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport and Youth

ISBN 978-9925-603-20-6

Silence is connected to the absence of sound, the lack of voice, the removal of anything audible; to nothingness. It is associated with a negative connotation of missing something, of being incomplete, of being empty.However, the different experiences of silence (the silence in your home, the silence of a library, at a friend’s home, on a street at night) raise the question of how diverse this notion of nothingness can be. Examining silence as something subtle instead of nothing, as a miniscule moment instead of an absence, as a mild vibration instead of a stillness, Performing Silence is an artistic project by Petros Konnaris that shifts the perception of silence as something dense: a community of subtle, unseen presences.

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