What is it about elevators that so disembodies us? We step into a small room and are whisked to new elevations which alters our attitude and usual signs of vitality.
Our personalities pale, conversation halts, all movement abates. We enter a type of hibernation, our senses and usual reflexes shut down as we anticipate the bell for the wanted floor to ring. We long to see the light turn on above us that indicates when to exit. We wait, suspended between parking garages and offices, between finalizing a report and meeting friends.
We abide by unspoken rules. Do not greet the strangers with whom we share our temporary room. There is no singing. No elbowing the person beside us nor leaning in to better whiff the scent of shampoo. No foot tapping or gesturing in any way that brings undo attention to the fact that we exist and are doing so a hair length away from each other. Rather, stare straight ahead. Stare at the door that periodically slides opened and closed. Be sure space between all occupants is equal. Adjust as needed.
Violators of the rules are sentenced to scowls, pursed lips, and tacit disdain. They receive no outward scolding or imprisonment. We dart away, escaping the elevator as quickly as possible as if fearing the unruliness will escalate into something worse. We escape with our lives and resume the four to twelve feet of safe space around us, entering the next situation with its own set of behaviors that society sanctioned as okay.
My fascination with elevator culture moved me to create “Going Up” with my performance group, Song-ah. It highlights the collision between intimate and public space, expected and unexpected behavior, and physical and psychological distance. You can watch it below.