Water floats if allowed to

On Lois Alexander’s performance Neptune

© Oliver Look

A stream of poetry-consciousness from seeing Lois Alexander’s performance Neptune. Written by: Rania Broud (Norway).

There are blocks of ice hanging from the ceiling
The blocks of ice hare hanging tied, or are they iced, kind of glued, to metal chains
They’re hanging there during this screened performance
They’re hanging there like question marks and like
Exclamation marks
They’re there nonetheless
As a part of this performance
And as part of this poem

You can’t unsee the screen
I have to facilitate this
I have to concentrate
Knowing this is going to become a text
makes the concentration easier
as the dust flakes settle somewhere in the corner
If this was an institution it would be closed
due to hygiene
but it’s just my own filth
so it’s okay
I’m in my own bedroom watching this performance
definitely okay
(except every time my mother sees my room and comments on it
since I moved back home due to the pandemic
I’m also a teenage girl again rebelling
due to the pandemic
and dance is being filmed, again, even more so
due to the pandemic)

Screen dance
Screened dance

I’m not looking at the dancers body
I am looking at a screened body
An image of her body
How is the temperature in this room when this performance was screened
or filmed
or recorded
or captured
or performed?
The clips reveal audience heads
Was it colder than usual
because of the ice blocks?
Where they big?
How big?
Did the stage lights make the room temperature change and become warmer?

I have no answers to these questions
and that’s okay too

I’m a bit bothered by some technical issues
How do I get the image as full screen!?
I have to zoom the image in a way that the circular steering wheel I used beforehand becomes like some annoying audience head in front of me that – whether you like it or not – becomes part of your visual experience
Okay. Acceptance. Barely.

The dancer says
– in another space
– another clip
– in another screened costume or clothes
– in another setting
– commenting and interrupting herself
– interrupting her own performance flow
As a performance lecturer:
«I’m connecting with my ancestors through water»
and that
«Dance is liberation»
and that
«I am not free while
any woman is unfree,
even when her shackles
are very different
from my own»
Referencing Audre Lorde

We are now back in the performance
A new clip
Same space same performer
But now her previous clip
Where she paused and explained
Is with me in my head as she

She explained
her movements so we don’t
misread, misunderstand
miss references
miss clues
or miss – interpret miss –
art, history and hands that
she is chained too
Figuratively speaking
or perhaps literally
as her sisters and brothers across water, mountains and sea
shackled together to dig up stardust to make the very same computer I see Lois Alexander’s performance Neptune as an online performance on

I am shackled by the fact
That a poor child covered in dust
And again tomorrow
Is shackled in dust for me to write my poem
On my laptop

There is something about seeing frozen water in chains
hanging from the ceiling
and the performer referencing Audre Lorde
that makes me look at everything

I am in different spaces and times at the same time

I think of water
And how
Water boils
water freezes
water evaporates and freezes
It flows, flyes and falls
down like waterfall or
rains or sleet and hail
It beats us or wets us
or make the land white
and cold or it overflows
so the mud and the buried
dead floats to the surface
and reveal an ugly truth

Water moves or stands still
but only in captivation like
so many before us,
and in the years to come
in captivation for justice or
for better or worse

In plain sight or hidden
They too in shackles or chains frozen
In plain sight or hidden
like ice blocks hanging from the roof in golden chains

I’m looking at the performer
Underneath the block of ice
Which represents her ancestors
Black and Asian ancestors
Repressed ancestors
– we both have black ancestors in common
– I’m not sure about Asian ancestors – not impossible

The performers movement floats like water
beneath them
the ice blocks
Like a wave
While they are chained
her ancestors, and mine
but also the ice blocks
Dances her rain dance in remembrance of her ancestors
For those once repressed
And for those now repressed
There is something about seeing frozen water in chains
Frozen in chains

As she danced, and afterwards
And while looking at the second and third performance
And while waiting for the Zoom-meeting aftertalk
I too was dancing
Though in the virtual space of the festival
The Moving Festival Online
I would move around the space and take pictures
Videos even
(Okay, not pictures but screenshots)
Like I would normally do during a physical festival
Take screenshots
And Videos
(okay, not screenshots then, but pictures)
And I too – like the performer – I was floating
I too – like water – was moving across the digital landscape
And I imagined all the moves
Like in some of the dreams where my body can do anything
Like taking pullups and pushups as if I am the vaporized water turning into a cloud
Each morning after these dreams I try and fail and I am remembered of how heavy gravity can be
And of course it is a metaphor of how challenging life can be
A melanin life
A colored body life
An unprivileged life
But also how our relationship to our past
and future
Was and will continue to be a struggle until the path is paved by a million of people who have walked on water before us
walked on burning ice before us
walked with shackles tying their feet together
before us

– try to unshackle them
Time and time again

In the Nordics where I’m from
I say from but I am from here by birth and not origin
(I think I have a Viking ancestor too. Though it doesn’t reflect on my skin’s complexion. Some scholars think the Vikings came up the coast of West Northern Africa)
(But what they don’t always mention is that the same Vikings would bring slaves from Iceland with them. Perhaps slaves from Africa back to the Nordic)
And as that block of ice – I too melt when in contact with another human body
And the block of ice melts against the dancers body
She is now placing one on her stomach and balancing the ice block in a way that is challenging – in contact with her skin it melts faster
like how grandparents melt when they hug their grandchild
And as the chained ice blocks, I am too chained to the limits of the screen
This is not a performance in real life
I mean a live performance
A direct live streamed performance
Of course it happened in real life
Just in a past tense real life reality
That never changes
No matter how many times the footage is shown
These screened performance stays frozen like that

I am bothered by the dancers prerecorded display
Making us (I mean me)
– aware of the artificialness of this video performance inheriting another video performance lecture

Time passes
I carry the performance with me and keep reflecting
I change my mind
A few weeks later
I think Lois Alexander’s directory action actually was quite clever
Clever because an African-Norwegian artist shows her performance in Bergen, Norway
Where I was not, nor have I seen it before
I was only aware of the debate later on because of my previous professor being the critic of set performance and using a language that spiked a whole debate of how a white critic sees, writes and describes a performance of a black artist in a
Racist way

He did not get it

How racist his text was – and
Is perceived today
How full of shackles his perception was

Then I got it

Lois Alexander made sure that we understood the performances intention, history and strain of thoughts to why she did what she did and when
Only then
did I think that perhaps these performance lectures intertwined was a way of making sure we fully grasp the idea, the performance, the project and make the thought drift in the correct direction
Like how humans and beavers build dams to manipulate the waters movement
But also how we build our walls and attach it to our laws
«No trespassers»
«Trespassers will be shot»
But in reality «trespassers» will need to be educated about why they trespassed and why it hurt, and why in 2021 it is seen as political, ethical and modern incorrect
Our guns being academia

Yolanda Bonnell and her article
«Why I’m Asking White Critics Not to Review My Show»
Or Reni Eddy-Lodge’s «Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race» but then only speak about white people
If they will listen, or read in this case
Slowly I load my ship with more vocabulary
«Why is it discriminatory and racist?»
– Because
«Thank you for explaining»
«I did not know that»
«I never saw it that way»
– I/we never had the same freedom before to teach you this
– We never dared to say this before because we never had the same freedom before to teach you this
Because I had to teach myself this first before teaching you

«This never happened to you?»
«No, but really. THIS is not something you’ve experienced. Is it?»
«But I mean racism is something in the past, it doesn’t occur in..»
Yes. It does
«No. Really?»

«I am so sorry to hear that»

How easy it is to dismiss history with continuously insisting
How shackled the very foundation of keeping the opposition until they listen

Water floats if it is allowed to

Did you know that water pushes back to make things float?

«I appreciate you making me aware»
You’re welcome – water pushes back to make things float

The more thickheaded (dense an object is) the more likely the person (or object) will sink

Water pushes back to make things float

Humans push their children to make them grow

After resistance comes change:

For the privileged
For the rich
Every word written on my computer is from an unfair treatment
I have to push that thought away
While small children continue to dig for stardust we call aluminium that becomes my MacBook Air

Even ice cubes hold on to air
Especially if the ice cube is white in the middle
To make clear ice cubes one needs to boil the water first
Let it cool
And then freeze it
That makes it clear
When melted


Water floats if allowed to

I am
You will
From one place
Sail uncharted waters

Water floats if allowed to
If allowed to

Critic Rania Broud (NO) on Neptune by Lois Alexander after seeing the performance on April 24 2021 on the online Moving Futures Festival. This essay was commissioned by DansBrabant as part of Dance&Dare, a course series and movement by Domain for Art Criticism and DansBrabant in which writers search for new words for new dance.