Images from improvised performance piece, fourth version, Monday 30th Aug, 2010. University of Melbourne, Parkville Campus
It was an interesting decision to involve the witness element in the work, especially when the piece itself revolved around an intimacy created between two people in an environment that resounded with privacy.
The work itself did start with the intention of being entirely one on one, an experience shared between another and myself, only being made real by the conversations in the world that were to follow each encounter. Yet the further I went with the developments and showings the more the witness felt critical in adding another layer and completing a process.
Having the encounter in the room witnessed became important for several reasons, the first being to give an internal/external experience of the transaction.
This meant essentially a clear experience of what it is to yield and trust.
Why this is so important to witness rests on the basis of this shift, when occurring within us, is mainly corporeal and intuitive. The transaction within the space was silent and immediate not allowing you to reflect in the moment but purely experience these transitions as instinct.
Witnessing this work, this transition from one honest state to another, allows reflection on your own process and reactions within the space. Yet it also allows for Joy. Joy for yourself and for the one you are witnessing, in them achieving the heightened state you just experienced. A commonality shared with them in that moment.
Another constituent is being privy to an authentic exchange between two people. The environment may be highly cultivated yet the states achieved are sincere.
We live in a culture where privacy in these moments of intimacy is paramount, partially due to the extreme public outings we experience everyday through the media and partially due to the delicacy of these feelings. Unadulterated emotional states often leave us feeling self conscious, if witnesses, as they are moments of abandon. They are moments of release when we can be authentic with another. They are primal.
The opportunity to have this tenuous fine state witnessed seemed vital in creating a full cycle within the work.
Another factor, which is incidental in anything witnessed with this type of framework, is the pleasure we receive from voyeurism. The love we have of watching those who do not know they are being watched.
I think this is augmented by, but not solely due to, the outing of our private selves into a constantly public arena, yet is also more complex than that. Voyeurism is age old. The pleasure has comes from different places through the ages as we shift from a pleasure of the naughtiness of it, which is still present, to a relief in seeing another in a rested genuine place.
It is the joy of watching a child engaged in problem solving or lovers glimpsed in an alleyway or sorrow at an airport etc and even in these moments we cannot study them. We cannot stare at them to greater understand what is going on. We are fixated with the state of the other as an external refection of our own complex states.
In the witnesses of this work there needed be no shame or shrinking from the fascination at the transaction. You were able to take pleasure in studying the moments as they past with abandon. And again the attendant witnesses you in this state and as this information was relayed to me I became a witness to your pleasure and took joy in it.
I found during this project an interesting grappling happening within myself. The dichotomy of wanting to have a firm, well researched grasp on what it was I was putting into the space and a struggle with negotiating where to put all this information once obtained.
My research began as an investigation into intimacy, I then located play as being the fundamental catalyst for this intimacy to be established. Once these two main points (which I had a fairly firm understanding of) had been solidified, my task then involved creating around this conceptual base.
As I began my projects seemingly ‘simple’ idea began to reveal itself as potentially unendingly complex, each new spatial decision or layer of understanding required a whole gamut of research unto itself…..
Ritual structure began to feature heavily in the work, my preliminary research focused on the functions ritual has played within various cultures throughout our history.
Through having a deeper understanding of the intention, structures and symbols of ritual I was able to instil some of these into my work with the intention of evoking a very specific state within my audient/collaborator.
This research then led me to question the active influence the space itself was to have over this ritual structure, again another chasm of research into ritual specific spaces and sacred architecture /geometry.
This then dovetailed off into preparatory spaces within various ancient/contemporary cultures and the specific architectural decisions made when dealing with various states and situations.
All of this research felt valuable, yet with it came stockpiles of information building up within me, nearly all of it seeming relevant in some way.
At this time I began to note struggle between my intellect and intuition. My intellect, well nourished with all this new material, felt sure of this information’s relevance. Yet often when I attempted to actively place it within the work my intuitive reaction was negative, leaving me with a feeling of contrived content. This in turn led me to question the relevance of this whole component within the work, which inspired a questioning of the whole process!
So what was the point of all this research if I just ended up confused?
Relief came surprisingly through further research and contemplation, leading me to a distilled genuine comprehension of my research subject. This deepened understanding facilitated me in locating that which was variable against core principals that had a seeming unanimousness. To locate the essence of each area.
I realised these elements were already present within this piece as they are intrinsic elements of the human phenomena, yet now I understood why they were they and could make decisions based on that understanding. This knowledge also allowed me to extricate certain elements, that before the research seemed vital, to be replace with a symbol or to be removed all together.
Like a process of being filled to be able to begin to empty out.
The second element that alleviated this struggle was coming back to trust. Trusting what was relevant would find it’s way into my work regardless and that which was not immediately applicable would filter down to where it was needed.
This whole process made very clear for me the difference between a work that understands its context compared to a work that sits purely within the artist.
As you go deeper into research it gives you an understanding of your work not being yours but simply being reflected off you and into the world. The notions that seemed so intrinsic to you are ancient, you begin to have a gratitude for those who have dedicated themselves to this research before you, taking this process out of the personal and into the communal.
It gives you a location to place the work in and on some level a deeper understanding of your own mechanics and why you are attracted to these themes in the first place.
Hence a reconciliation between the intuitive and the intellect. Allowing the freedom of the offers of the intuitive coupled with an investigated understanding of why they need to be there.
An aspect of performance I became acutely aware of throughout the duration of the showings was the concept of the audience as collaborator.
It became clear to me for this project my task consisted of creating a frame for the audient to construct work within, I become only a facilitator.
For this to function well a greater understanding of what exact facilitation I needed was crucial before I could undertake the task of facilitating others.
My task was to have myself in preparatory state that enabled me to respond to each ‘performance’ in the space individually.
This facilitation was revealed to me throughout the duration of this project in forms of a return to daily practice and a comprehensive understanding of my own work.
The daily practice did not have to consist of actual ‘training’ (although this was always helpful in providing me with grounding and clarity to work out of) it was often time spent in research, and approaching the showing, the contemplative time spent constructing my set.
As an initiating artist, feeing I was contributing and gaining a further insight into my project was vital to my relationship with the audient/ collaborator. Solidifying my understanding, beyond the initial concept, that which I was bringing the audient/collaborator into gave me greater awareness of what they would need in order for the next stage of the work to occure.
As this concept of collaboration came into light I had to then examine what exactly it was I was asking of each person who entered the work.
My feeling was it expanded beyond the paradigm, in it’s traditional meaning, of ‘audience participation’ as this construct usually functions as a contribution to a greater body of work. A way of adding the unexpected and putting the audient out of their comfort zones breaking apart a previously constructed distance, essentially asking the non performer to perform
As the work was essentially one on one, the audient/collaborator not yet aware of being witnessed, there was no feeling or obligation on his or her behalf to be a ‘performer’.
This was also considered within the design of the space, ensuring that a feeling of equality existed between the audient/collaborator and myself.
Owing to this, the usual gamut of nervous reactions particular to audience participation was not present within performance. I did indeed experience nervous reactions but they were of a much more intimate and personal kind. A new kind of nervousness, still an incarnation of fear yet it felt like of a fear of being seen as opposed to being exposed.
My aim was to create an environment that bypassed the concept of audience ‘participation’ altogether and instead cultivate a moment where the audience could respond to an invitation in a purely instinctive way. As the work revolved around elements of the human psyche mutual to us all I aimed to evoke within the audience/collaborator a retort as opposed to a performance.
There were structures implemented and precautions taken before the audient entered the work that subtly embedded permission and a ‘normality’ of what was being asked of them. This also assisted the removal of the performance element as the audient were put in a vulnerable position of which they had a input.
They dictated/collaborated on their preparation and within the work.
An invitation before hand of asking if they would like to enter the work, instructions asking them to remove garments to the point they felt comfortable with, asking them to wash, in their own way, before they entered the space.
These choices were made at the discretion of the audient empowering them, in an unusual situation, to understand they had choice.
When a person feels they have choice, even if they are feeling vulnerable and following instructions, there is an understanding of being in control and safe. Within this safety they can begin to make decisions of their own accord thus beginning the collaboration. It is when this sense of vulnerability is combined with feelings of insecurity or lack of safety it becomes participation, then the audience is merely doing what they are told with an underlying sense of not wanting to be within the situation they are in or at least not having a hand in it.
“There are, it seems, two Muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say. “It is yet more difficult than you thought.” This is the muse of form… It may be then, that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” (1)
In the undertaking of this project I indeed danced with my Muse of Inspiration. But there can be no doubt in my mind that for the most part, for weeks on end, I have wrestled with my Muse of Realization, to the point of exhaustion and complete nakedness. I am not sure if, having been impeded, I have sung, but I can be certain that a journey has crystallized, and perhaps even, that I have begun to walk it.
That initial dance at the outset of this investigation inspired me to identify seven key elements to this work (whatever it would become):
A Completely White Room
Bandages on the Skin
The Aesthetic Image
As the performance season of the work came to a close two months later I believed I had made a complete ninety-degree deviation from anything I had articulated as my starting points. The place I had come to with the work, and its affect on my work in general and me as an artist, felt like it was so far removed from anything I had imagined at the outset. I am surprised, then, to reread my initial statement now and notice more logical connecting threads and understandable linkages between the outset and the outcome, than not. It is amusing now to observe this after so many weeks of feeling like I had been wandering aimlessly and anxiously in a dark wood. While being in that wood the obstructions and impediments overwhelm, and the sense of distance and abandonment from any initial inspirations dominate the experience within the investigation. It is only once in the sunshine again that one can see the relationship between where one came from and where one arrived at. In between there is only the bafflement and mistaken inertia necessary to facilitate the eventual kinesis. It is only once in the sunshine again then, that one can see that those two Muses – that the Inspiration and the Realization – are indeed sisters after all.
The Process – at the outset I had recognised that I was in the midst of experiencing a gear change from being contained within (albeit pressing against the edges of) the frame of creating a circus act, to creating a performative art piece. And so I had identified that an investigation into the actual process for making work would be in itself a key element of this project. My method and practice to produce this ‘piece’ would be as much a provocation as any concepts/content/ideas.
What took me a while to realise however, was that this state of transition, and this attention to process was not simply a springboard and provocation for the investigation, but that the claiming of that state and the seeking to define a process and practice were to be the heart of the investigation itself.
Much of the work over the five weeks served to realise the need:
1. to dispense with the notion of creating a piece as if it were a ‘show’
2. to embrace this state of transition: this sitting firmly in the realm of in-between-ness: where what has come before is no longer enough, but where what is going to develop has not yet crystallized; to claim the gap, and
3. to find/establish a model or framework within which to exist and engage in research in that state of transition – a framework in which to house oneself while in-between frames.
The performance season then became the execution of 1, 2 & 3. It served as the research experiment; the place within which to enquire and discover. Consequently it became the new beginning point.
The Body – From the beginning I was interested in the capacity of the body to hold story within it. The outward representations of the self, inscribed on the body; in the body; in the build up of tissue; in the scars; in the creases made from repetitive action; in the calluses on the feet and the hands; in the shape of the spine; in the grey hairs; in the walk, the gait of a body. And on how time has inscribed itself on & in the body: how ten years of hanging by my arms or my feet eight meters in the air, or balancing on a stacks of chairs and bottles, has written a language and stories inside this body of mine.
The body remained central to the work, in fact became the foundational experience within the work when I struggled to comprehend what was the work – the mantra: ‘when in doubt come back to the body’ – and in the end the investigation led to stripping back to the few essentials, among them: the body.
Chairs - At the outset I considered that my table, four chairs and bottles, which together constitute this circus apparatus, would feature in the performance of this project. The things I do with my body and these objects remain an essential part of what I paint with. I am a circus trained artist body. These are one of my apparatuses. They are also extremely appealing to me aesthetically: their shape, their rigidity and straight lines, their precision, their construction, the feeling of them under the skin, their timber colour, their relationship to one another and to me. They are as an old and familiar friend, and a new lover all at once. I had a strong urge to explore further the nature, the potential and the layers of this relationship.
Like the body, the chairs and the table remained central to the work; were among the stripped back essentials: as an apparatus and as adjunct to the language of the circus body.
A Completely White Room – Without a concrete explanation I had repeatedly envisioned a completely white room: with a window and natural light; the tracking of sunlight and shadows on white walls over time; not a “black box”. That the image was so strong in my head and refused to go away, became enough of a reason to simply honour and acknowledge it.
This image persisted and directed my choice of location to site the work – studio 419: a timber floored, white and mirror walled dance studio. The significance of the site became more pertinent only after I had finally dispensed with the notion of creating a ‘show’ and along with it the need to make something out of the site more than what it was already. The choice of the site served to support the resultant performances when the studio was, in a deliberate and considered manor, presented simply and cleanly for what it was. The expanse of timber floor, largely bare walls, the large mirrored wall, an absence of directed audience placement, and controlled even lighting. The fact of it not being something else – a black box, a theatre space, or a constructed environment – but that it was carefully allowed to be what it was, gave the work an architectural support that was essential.
Bandages on the Skin – Again without clear reason, Bandages wrapping the body was an image that persisted in the beginning: bandages used to cover parts of the body creating lines and definitions and frames of focus on the body, on different body parts; the act of binding – for nurture, for restriction, for warmth, for hiding; and the aesthetics of white bandage on the colour of skin.
The bandages: theirs and the bottles’ presence in the investigation right up until the final run before opening became meaningful at the point when I realised I needed not to have them. I finally understood their presence by their eventual need to be absent, facilitating my realisation to strip back to the bare essentials.
This realisation was affirmed during the performance season when I was confronted by a pertinent question in response to the piece I had just performed. A friend, who is witness to much contemporary circus in Australia, came and saw my work early in the season, and afterwards asked me why I didn’t use this project to explore a different apparatus? why stay on the chairs when I had been performing on them for the last two years? (in fact it has been more like eight years!). This was a valid question I supposed, and yet to me this was a strange question and therefore very informative because I had found it strange. After a long-winded, winding answer, I finally said “it would not have answered the questions I had”.
My goal was not to create a new act, or a new show, or new material. My goal was to explore what it is to perform: what is at the heart of it. Stepping onto a new apparatus would serve absolutely no purpose in this regard. It would be a distraction. This investigation required subtraction of elements, not additions.
The Aesthetic Image – At the outset I identified that “I was more concerned with the picture/image I was to make than telling a story or narrative. I want to tell essences, speak in pictures. I don’t want to ‘act’, I want to exist. I want to share with an audience a present-ness. I want to use living, breathing images, with my body inside them to speak through pictures: speak through created circumstances involving my body and objects.”
Very early on into the project, I thought I did away with any fixation I had with “The Aesthetic Image” as one of the key elements in the investigation. And yet, the above statement could be written word for word by my hand post performance season as it was written at the outset. The statement requires a different heading is all. What altered in the process of this investigation was giving name to what it was that I was already identifying as important to the heart of the enquiry: the state of being as a performer, the present-ness and “on-ness” (in order to commune with an audience), the full-engagement.
Risk – “Corporeal Risk is often an inherent part of the work I have made. I am undertaking an interrogation of the nature of this in my work: in particular how it serves to heighten an awareness of present-ness. For me. For my audience. This is an interrogation of present Time – of the nature of being fully in the Present moment. Using the placement of the body in situations of physical risk to pull focus in space and in time, to a place of full engagement in the moment for all witnesses in a room. Heightened awareness.”
Risk, like process, not only remained central to the work but became more of a focus than I originally imagined once I decided to utilise improvisation as a tool, not simply for creating the work, but within the whole performance season. No two performances would be the same, and each was created real-time. The investigation wasn’t necessarily about improvising, but improvising was a useful tool to place the ego on stage in a state of risk in order to facilitate that state of honesty and present-ness and thus full engagement with the audience.
When I wrote the above statement about risk I was referring in particular to the doing of dangerous things within the context of performance. During the final trial run before the performance season, I suddenly questioned the validity of actually doing any ‘tricks’ in the piece, given that I had stated to my invited audience only a few minutes earlier that I was uninterested in simply parading them in order to impress. That performance was a flop. In the moment that I began the piece I confused ‘parading tricks’ and speaking a language. In being concerned not to parade tricks, I spooked myself into not really performing any at all. It was only after this piece I realized that the important detail: that the ‘tricks’ are my language, and the language is valid. The challenge is to not be on autopilot so as to be regurgitating old patterns, but to expect and observe and be responsive to each new moment within that circus language.
Another little ‘dis-engage’ trap I noticed happened in another performance: whereby the moment that I consciously considered that what I was doing might be boring the audience, I ‘dropped-out’, disengaged, was no longer fully present, and ironically I become boring! The work suddenly becomes a training exercise or rehearsal, and the need for an audience to even be there completely evaporates: they have become redundant in the exchange and they can feel it, and consequently (and understandably) they disengage, become disinterested.
The improvising clown maintains:
1. a present-ness and ‘on-ness’ in her performance by rigorously staying alert and alive to the possibilities and ‘gifts’ offered in the space during the performance, and
2. a full engagement with her audience by constantly ‘checking-in’ with them, contacting them directly.
The improvising dancer and the improvising musician maintain a constant and deep engagement with the work (the technique, the facility, the expression) in order to be ‘on’ and remain interesting to the audience.
In my performances I found myself drawing on all of these modes of engagement at different times. Variation in method depended on many possible factors, for example: the strength and nature of offers made by an audient; my degree of success in being alert and alive to offers; the nature of the audience in the particular performance (shy or bold); the actual placement of the objects and audients in the space; and of course the artistic and technical choices I made during each piece.
If the five weeks of leading up to the performance season were the dark wood, the season itself was that place right at the edge of the clearing: no longer in the wood, and not yet standing in the sunshine. In this place there must be the actual doing - the performing, with an audience present; and the trial-ing of the model, the framework for sitting between frames. Having taken that time and effort to finally arrive at the edge of that clearing, the work within the performances was simply to be in them and to observe. Now, well inside the clearing (and thoroughly enjoying the sunshine!), I am heartened by the sense I can make in retrospect out of a path I trod mostly in the dark back there in the wood. And I notice that the path has been a bit of a spiral: that while I am definitely in a new clearing, there are similarities to the one I began in. I sense that soon (after a bit more rest) I may feel ready to begin a newly developed list of key elements.
(1). Berry, Wendell. “Poetry and Marriage,” in Standing by Words. San Francisco: North Point, 1983 (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005).
Forty pictures lined next to each other. Forty people I have captured a moment with. Forty times I have given myself over.
Each one had been so much the same and so much different. Each one gave of themselves in ways they each would: reserving themselves at moments, offering their stories at others. They listened, got distracted, laughed heartily, sat quietly with me, teared, smiled, thought and dreamed, remembered and forgotten together with me.
I know this because I could see it then, in each one of them. When something evoked a feeling or a thought, or conjured up an image in their head, a memory recalled, or when the boys rapping in the subway were perhaps a little more entertaining, in their eyes it was clear. In varying degree of subtlety, their body language revealed.
This is where it was intuitive and I find it difficult to articulate my reflection. It was reactions and responses I could sense, feel, perceive and understand, but I could not list each different one. How do you break that down and describe how I then responded to each one of them?
But in all of them, was there an exchange? Did my audience participants participate, to any degree if at all? Was there mutuality? Did we co-create?
Yes. Yes to all. But it is not enough to say yes, because all that would mean is that I discovered answers in what I sought to investigate: answers like “yes it is possible to find a concept and a form and a performative state that could enable such a shared experience.” The fact is forty people have, in the here and now, undergone something immediate and real with me. Their relationship with me had been contested (not aggressively) and explored inasmuch as they have put it out for question. In the context of Live Art, the audience participants have played a role in defining the happening of this performance, of which would otherwise not exist without them.
But in the process of creating and preparing this piece of work, I have discovered that every time I have had a productive day, it was because a new question had been raised or a new angle of investigation illuminated. The end of the work is no different.
I finish the run of the season with ideas for extensions of the work. Where and how will the pictures be kept and used from here on? An idea Leisa offered very early on, using the windows at Platform gallery, contextualising the part of the journey where I take them through the subway with the residue of previous participants, like memory lingering. The possibility that the pictures may come back together in some later exhibition, that the recalling of them means a re-contact with these audience participants. That these pictures are one of their kinds and are the only copies: could and would they disintegrate? How do we or do we not preserve it? How could it be re-imaged by another artist perhaps? What if I now choose a different site? The story will change in the re-contextualisation. How will I do that? What if I now go to another city? What then happens to the stories that the audience participants have shared? If I had the capacity to have recorded them, what would become of these recordings? What would become of these audience participants after leaving the work? And more so, by the last five people, I had known, intuitively as well, that it the lifespan of this work was coming to its end in this particular version.
The story would tell itself, I’ve said this many times earlier, and the fact is, the story did indeed tell itself. Here is also where my co-creators did their part. The stories of forgetting that I had forgotten were vehicles for my practical explorations, but the process of offering them to each participant became an exercise to reconstruct the memory and the stories itself. And in its fullness, it had come most fully alive in my memory and thought often triggering new details or a different facet to the stories I had begun with, sometimes a colour detail, sometimes an emotional response. And in its essence, it had also gradually started to diminish. I was leaving out details, chunks of the stories even, without jeopardising any of what I wanted to create with the audience participant. It was as if the work had answered itself. There was the very early stage where the skeleton of the work was loose and I was finding my way in and around it. Then it grew, full and whole, almost for a moment feeling like it was bursting at its seams with details. But it found a sense of compact as I learnt to be more aware of the needs of the other person, of how much they needed to be taken where I had wanted to take them. And then I learnt that many in fact, did not need all that much. And as I reduced it, I wonder, I could go on with more sessions and discover the most reductive stage of the work. How long more before the story fully diminishes? How long more before the memory diminishes and fades back into something vague?
And so, new and different investigations beckon.
And maybe this is why one of the text messages I receive from an audience participant after he had shared the work reads something like this: “…can’t quite make out if it was elegantly beautiful or disturbingly complex…”
That the form of a conversation appears so simple and yet, the work is incredibly layered – the layers underneath the stories in itself, the layers of practical exploration and the layers between truth and craft…are present and to be excavated.
“…a network of expectations and obligations…”
I never once hide the fact that this was a performance. In fact, I bring up the truth that I had been exploring material for this particular work. My one true clear expectation was perhaps to let me spend some time with you (the audience participant) and my only obligation was to be open and respond to your expectations, or lack of. Although I do not think it possible to have absolutely no expectations, for even keeping an open mind means there is the expectation that the performance could go where ever.
From the comments on the previous entries, and as I await more to come, I will continue to consider these expectations. And I reiterate, it is not enough to say, “yes I have found answers to the investigations,” precisely because I alone do not have the answers. My co-creators have the other half of the answers that I do not have privy too. Despite the mutuality and shared experience I have perceived, understood and felt, it does not mean that in their cognitive sense, that they did not have their rational intellect to contend with. To perceive me as a creator, or a performer – to wonder how much of what they were experiencing/have experienced was created and crafted. How much do I want them to share and why? Many of Emma’s questions in one of the earlier posts are absolutely valid and the sheer fact that her questions became “self interrogating” as she so described, is telling as well of what the work had evoked. And while that is my “yes” of answer, it is also what reaffirms that there is still much to consider and continue investigating. The line is thin between my inviting them into this shared experience and their individual inhibition and careful-ness.
A recent topic for dialogue was this idea of invitation and I suggested that to invite is to manipulate – that I so craft and create a trajectory for you to enter, but in the nature of this work, would you allow yourself to enter? If you could and did not enter, was it because I did not craft it well? In the aim to meet with you in this state of Rasa in this shared experience, how much of it was prevented by you? And I ask these questions not to point fingers and shirk my responsibility, not at all. In fact, it gnaws at me constantly, to question how much I did or did not meet the Other in the space. But I ask these questions to constantly find the balance between what it means to co-create? What does it mean to enable an audience participant and be also enabled by her? Was it a sheer coincidence that it was on the particular Monday that I felt the work reach its fullness? Or was it the particular audience participants on that particular Monday who made that possible by what and how they offered themselves?
The questions will keep asking themselves because as of now, this is still a current, living and breathing piece of work. In the possibilities of the new and different investigations of and around this work, it still has a lifespan. It has many more versions to discover and form itself. If it no longer asks questions, then the work is dead. It would have finished itself, and it would be time to move on.
But move on I must, even if for a while, because I must allow myself to forget these newly made memories, these stories I have told and heard over the last couple of weeks and these experiences I have shared with these people I have met. Because perhaps it is in forgetting that I could re-trace the lines on my face, and re-trace the memories, and the memories of the memories and come to know again.
Before I post my reflection, I would like to share an earlier writing for a showing of a smaller piece of work during our solo provocations earlier this year. There is something in re-reading them and recognising very similar core ideas of investigation and interests. Interestingly, I had given this out in a handwritten letter sealed in an envelope at the end of the performance as I did the excerpt of the Borges poem.
The experience of art, from its conception to creation, is a deeply spiritual one for me. The space is a sacramental reflection of my visceral response to that experience and I want to invite you in.
We are our own vessels, with our own memory and perception. Excavated and contemplated, this is where my stories come from. Perhaps in these stories, in this shared space, we can understand our selves better; we could be truthful with our Self, together.
A communitas – a sense of solidarity and spirit between maker/performer and spectator – that is derived from a totality of the sensorial, emotional and intellectual impulse and response; we could share one breath.
(The origin of “spirit” in Greek is Pneuma [pnév̱ma] and is also understood as breath, wind, to breathe.)
Augusto Boal believes Theatre is the art of looking at ourselves; to be one and the same time, actor and spectator – in the dialogue between our own cognition, affect and volition, our memories are evoked and perceptions inspired; we become, spect-actor.
Could we, in the sharing of this communitas, be inspired and empowered to make new the way we see or live our lives? Could we refresh a memory? Could we heal?
I certainly hope so.
And because, breath transcends language, my stories know no barrier because they are just as much yours to re/tell.
In the initial wave of investigation and articulation of what this performance would be, months ago now, I articulated a key concern for myself; that the work “rest upon the central ideas of entropy and disintegrating communication, but not fall into obtusity itself.” The resulting process led me through extensive research, in terms of study and performative exploration, to a form which led me back to this key consideration; as a work concerned with the fractures between people, how do I communicate the feeling of that disconnect without falling into it?
My research was an integral part of my process, and of the final work; it enriched it acutely. I spent weeks reading and analysing data, giving myself the freedom to follow tangents and hone in on ideas that, from a processual perspective, were far from the initial point of investigation. However, the wider I researched - through books, through transcripts of lectures, academic articles, old newspaper reports - the more points of connection and the vastness of what I was looking at become apparent. From the initial seed (that in retrospect I had been ruminating on all year) of the dissatisfaction I felt with text and language as a conduit for connection and communication, I grew the stimulus outward to encompass international miscommunications; the global effects and conditions of peoples unwilling and unable to understand each other. From this also developed a sense of the timelessness of this condition; both an ancient archaeology and a futuristic consideration of the fractures that occur within humanity, and the tenuousness of the unions which form and crumble, on gross and intimate scales - between two people or millions.
The regard of this work having grown exponentially thus in the weeks of research, the next step, in actualising, was to reduce the form of the work down. This stage of the process came somewhat rapidly and instinctually to me. Within a number of variations, I landed upon the image that I want to explore fairly quickly; and having undertaken a long and expansive process of research, I feel that the eventuating physicalisation was resonant with the ideas of what I am exploring. That it does not speak of the specific images I have explored is not important; it is better, in fact, that it does not. For the work to explicitly evoke any of my starting points would be to rely on them as a crutch to transfer the ideas, and affect the audience in the way I seek to. What is aimed for is creating a work that has the concepts of the research at its core, without the weighty starting points. To state them explicitly, for this work;
- the tension between individuals and cultures; without images directly referring to conflict.
- the ineffectuality of language; without words to that effect.
- the systematic disintegration of the world, effected by our notions of ‘civilisation’ - without blunt reference to our culture of waste and destruction.
To consider these ideas in light of that first concern; were these ideas inherent in the work? And were they, then, accessible? We will come back to these questions after some further reflection.
The process of enacting the work went through a further series of changes in the week leading up to the performance. Following the method of reduction, I had forged the task I would undertake as within quite a firm stricture of rules and concerns; I was to remain stationed within the performance space, surrounded by the concrete objects, in their varying states of collapse/decay, meditating only on one piece. I would then proceed over the course of the exhibition week, to tend only to that one structure, continuing to assemble it with the silent maxim that I was working on it to a point of completion. This was a task of Sisyphusian consideration; the re-assemblage of a power that was in some parts ground to dust could only be truly complete when every speck of that dust was back in relationship to the rest - and the tower, its bindings dissolved, would continue only to crumble under its own weight and my relentless interferences. The natural resolution of the work, then, was not the tower’s reconstruction, but in its further deterioration in part due to efforts to reverse it.
This was an intellectually sound mode of operation, but one that it became apparent left the relationship with the audient as secondary. It communicated the core of the work, but failed to engage the audient as a viewer of or participant in the action; and thus communicate a wider understanding of the weight of the work. The door was unlocked, but not open.
In reflection, that approach would also have not yielded for myself, investigatorily, as much as the subsequent work did. As a work that was to take place on a single evening, over a longer duration (say, at least five hours), I feel a deeper state would have been entered into for both myself and the audience (free to engage for as long or as little as they wanted, and to come and go); but as a framework it would prove deficient for an exploration that would take place for only two and a half hours, and repeat for five evenings. Without the state that the performer enters into in longform work, and the changes that would be more apparent as both the object and the control and detail of the performance crumbled, the work would essentially repeat on each evening, unable in such a short timeframe to reveal all it could.
The divorce between the audient and the performer thus clear, the following week began a series of experiments and shifts in performative consciousness to open the work further.
The relaxation of the restrictions I had placed upon myself was key. It was important to me that the work was not repetitive in nature; that the state of the work that each evening’s audience encountered was not a reset - not a contrived starting point that the work began at each evening - but a continuing investigation and relationship between the performer and the objects. The decision to free myself to move within the space; to engage with different assemblages of the objects and eventually alter their relationship to the space; was the spark that first knocked the door ajar. The decision enabled me to invest in a greater rhythm in the work in how I traversed the space, and gave import to the amount of time I would spend in relationship to one tower. It also allowed me the option of occasionally moving outside the work, echoing how the audience would stand and look around, sit against the walls of the stairwell, watch from near or afar. The direct relationship between the audient and the performer was thus problematized, to exponential growth of the work.
The audience thus coming increasingly closer to the work - both physically and in terms of their conceptual consideration - my behaviour in regard to them also began to grow and change. I could look at them from afar - usually within a short amount of time of the fall of a tower - and thus imply their involvement or concern. Most often it was a person who had spent some time with the work already, engaging with the task and the environment for some duration. The subsequent occurrence of the contact was not a reward, it was not to answer the question of the work; but to enable more questions to arise for the audient. Were they in close quarters, however, as increasing numbers of audience came to me, I refrained from eye contact. Reflecting back to the starting point of language; were I to engage with them so directly, so closely, the question of why I was not talking would be explicit; language would emerge as immediate and absent. It would be something that would aid ‘understanding’ the work, and my silence would be a hindrance. How to engage with the adjacent audient became as subtle as they were near; I would engage in silent communion; examining the pieces I was working with with my hands, slowly and thoroughly, and lay them out before them; ‘this is the task’.
(All of these justifications became apparent only in reflection. In the space, I was reacting instinctually and immediately.)
The relationship between task, performer, and audient was to come to a head on the Monday night of the season.
From the first night of performance conditions, the way I approached the work was to grow and shift. Accordingly, the relationship with the audience grew and shifted as well. Part of the nature of the work, in how it was placed in the building and the slow and methodic form it took, was that it could easily be bypassed; I have reconciled myself to the fact that my work is not appealing to all audiences - but I do pride myself that the audient who will commit to and engage with the work will uncover layers within it. Evidenced by their entering further into the work each night, it became clear that the work increasingly unfurled; I felt it as my task and the environment changed. On the Monday night, two audience members entered the work performatively; taskwise, they were engaged with the space as much as I was. They first engaged with me directly, at which point I laid out the pieces of a tower before them. They continued to shadow me, the woman moving the pieces of a tower through the space, and the man entering into co-operation/assistance with me; my finger caught as the keystone in a tower and under its crushing weight, he freed me, found a small piece of concrete to take my place, and together we completed the tower. From this point of complicity, the three of us were silently in league, completing towers, and - an aspect of the work which emerged instinctively and had not previously occured - relocating them through the space; constructing a close-knit knot of towers. City? Conference of totems? As an extension of the task, it had instinctive echoes of the state that we had come to as collaborators.
Before the week commenced, I had freed myself of the task of duration. I would not perform for a set amount of time, as I had initially though, but would leave the work each night when circumstances aligned; when it felt right to leave, like the work had revealed all it could that night. That Monday night, I left soon after the three of us began work together; at the point that the pair of audients were autonomous. Initially following my lead and subtle direction in the work we were doing together, they eventually fell into a rhythm alongside me, engaged beyond a relationship with or curiosity concerning me and my performance; they had felt the weight of the task. That mutuality invoked, was where the work needed to rest, and I left the space whilst they were undertaking the work.
And here we must consider again those questions left earlier; were the ideas inherent in the work? And were they acessible?
Following that Monday night engagement, the male participant, and I have engaged in further dialogue via email. The particulars to the side, this discussion has enabled direct reflection on the work, by both of us. It is apparent to me, more than ever now, that the work was concerned and imbued with all the starting points of my research. That the work was conceptually sound and solid, I have no doubt. The extent to which it problematized those matters, it fact, plays greatly into considerations of the accessibility of the work.
The aforementioned email dialogue, and several other conversations I have had with other audients, have brought the question of accessibility to the fore. Indubitably, the concerns of the work have affected those who engaged with it. The questions they have articulated reveal that the core considerations of the work have resounded with them; they have been caused to question the very things that I set out to investigate. The level of satisfaction that this has occasioned for them has, resultingly, been varied.
I have a strong belief that artistic work should be challenging. It should try held ideas and beliefs, and notions within the art world itself. Creative work should be concerned with asking the difficult questions; questions for which the answers are too great to answer within that form; that require changes to the audient and the world to accommodate. If a question is worth asking, the answer must be difficult; and if a question can be answered in the same breath - or in the same work - it is trivial.
My work doesn’t hold answers, and I feel that makes it stronger. What this work, particularly, provoked were ideas too vital to answer within it. Engaging further with the work would not be a way to reach answers, as I think that some people assumed; it was a way to unlock more questions. In that sense, it would not be complete satisfying experience for everyone. I have resolved this within myself, because what the experience would be is accessible, beyond a sense of satisfaction or contentness; it would enable the concerns to array themselves for the audient, to affect them and effect their thinking - in some cases, to the point of extreme provocation. The points from which I began my investigation are mighty, and crucial in regards to how we live our lives. The work, it follows, would hopefully evoke some small sense of these disquieting ideas. It would perhaps not answer them - but perhaps there are not answers.