“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is on a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” – Martha Graham
Today a friend reminded me that I’m thinking too much about what others think of me. She quoted Martha and said, “it’s not your business.” Thank you, friend. The more I read from other choreographers and talk with other dance artists and movement makers, the more I realize how everyone is simply saying, stay in there, keep following the questions, keep following your gut, stick to the process. The thing that strikes me, however, is how often it is said, which leads me to believe that it is necessary. So, here we go again, it’s not my business to care about what other people think of me, just to stay motivated and keep marching.
My final “Tilt Brush” iteration this semester was an installation/performance during ACCAD’s open house on April 5th in the Motion Lab. The audience/participants entered a circle of projection screens where cardboard boxes, feather boas, pool noodles, and random small balls littered the space. Tasks were written on cards around the space for the audience to complete such as, “Build a castle.” Two performers were also in the space, one acted as safety and instigator of movement (KJ Dye), while the other (myself) was immersed in VR. As the performance transpired, painted traces of the immersed’s VR experience was projected throughout the space.
I wore the VR headset in the black void of Google’s Tilt Brush and except for running into the occasional cardboard box obstacle or feather boa adornment I was in my own world, a world absent from that of the audience-participants. People came in, sat on blankets or “played” in the space while KJ and I completed our score.
The technology stopped working at the beginning. A tower had been created out of cardboard boxes and was possibly obstructing the view of one of the cameras making it difficult for us to complete part of the score that began on the floor. The house I was to build, the tracing of bodies and the reflection of looking at the house from a transported place had to be skipped over. We completed this iteration with the standing portion of the score.
Documentation was also on the fritz, schedules had been mixed up and although Oded filmed the event, his video was corrupted. Technology often breaks or doesn’t work at moments when I am around. However, even though it didn’t work perfectly, I’m not sure it mattered. From my perspective, my world was cutting out, but from everyone else’s perspective (from what I have gathered so far from people’s explanations of what happened) they didn’t notice. It was swirling, surrounding colors in a space where the audience became performers. They watched me navigate blindly through a messy environment with KJ keeping me safe and directing my movement in alternate routes.
There was a push and pull to KJ and my relationship. Do I allow her to draw for me or do I draw residually? When she stops me, do I let her? Ideas of permission and control came up for me, perhaps, in part, because I wasn’t able to see her. One of the most unexpected things was that I have no memory of what the audience was doing while I was in VR. When performing without a VR headset, I could remember who came to see the event and what they did. But here, I only remember the brief time I took the headset off and hugged my babies because it wasn’t working. That moment is particularly magical for me because it is the only moment I knew what the space looked like and when I took my headset off the first thing I saw were my two girls.
Reflecting back to the beginning of this project, I was planning on short iterations of three different projects. The other two fell away as I became enamored with objects in space and the theory of absence/presence introduced in Dr. Nadine George-Graves Performing Bodies. In Leder’s “The Absent Body” the idea of yourself as nullpoint played right into the idea of yourself in VR. Sensation at the forefront, other theorists exploring perception (Merleau-Ponty), subjection, and the “zero point of orientation” (Husserl) informed my interest in these two worlds.
Finally the use of task to empower the participant in a way that the performer is empowered. Through Freire’s ideas of liberation pedagogy and praxis, I found a connection between Freire’s definition of praxis and what is happening in participant environments. Freire’s definition of praxis, “reflection and action upon the world to transform it,” can be applied to these environments. I was transformed. KJ protected me and the audience’s world left traces that were beautiful, creative and a reminder that they were there too, even though I didn’t see them.
Click here or here to view two of 12 traces created during the semester of rehearsals I had inside of Google’s Tilt Brush. During these rehearsals, I was researching how to create an improvisational score that I would paint live. These are traces 11 and 10. (These links are best viewed and interacted with on a touch screen, like your phone or tablet, you can swipe around to see different angles and zoom in and out. They will only work on computers with enough computing power.)
With my perceptions split wide open (with the floodgates of information that is downloading into my brain) including Queer Theory, Gender Theory, Philosophers Husserl, Butler, Foucault, Kristeva, all bodies and their labels, “The Explicit Body,” Daphne Brooks’ “Bodies in Dissent,” Drew Leder’s “The Absent Body,” readings on the complicated reality of empathy, perception and archive (and that’s just a few, mostly from my Performing Bodies Theory course lead by Dr. Nadine George-Graves), I am wondering where my ideas begin and if I even have any. Everything has been done. Things I don’t want to do, things I wish I thought of and things that I don’t even understand. It’s been done. I’ve heard this before, but now with my brain so full, it feels overflowingly evident.
This past week I taught my first full improvisation class and was evaluated by the chair of the dance department. I spoke and some of my thoughts landed in my discussion/theory course and I lead my “sandbox” which is part of my Interdisciplinary Research Studio class. Teaching, leading and talking out of my mouth (as opposed to my body)…higher stakes, yes…and done. I say higher stakes, but I’m not in the real world with these stakes. I’m in a safe little bubble where there are quite a few people that care about movement, embodiment, and dance in the way I do. It is also quite obvious they care about teaching and are very knowledgable in this field.
However, I do question the nervousness I feel when presenting in this environment. I have presented during two open works-in-progress showings this year and both have been in the middle of experiments with unknown destinations and/or purpose.
“Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art
I’m going to try to hold strong to the idea that right now is about experiments and possibly failed ones. It’s about my education, my self-exploration and not about what others think of me. Self-doubt is my ally.
This semester has resulted in a real community of support. My grad-cohort is awesome and most if not all the preliminary tools I need to make, write, create, put forth work and fail have been introduced to me in our “Foundations in Dance Research” course.
“Laban Systems: Movements, Methods, and Analytical Frameworks” has been a wonderful addition to the writing kind of making. Not only do I have a new treasure chest of descriptive words specifically crafted for movement, but also a new way to look at movement and a toolbox of sprinkles and ingredients to add to my movement-making process. “Aboutness” can be applied to my whole first semester here. Trying to frame and understand specifically what I am interested in is the “aboutness” of my work and my-artist-self.
My body feels strong and smart. I am articulate in my joints and muscles in a way that I haven’t been for a while and it feels amazing. Crystal Perkin’s Afro-Horton technique class was an integral part in this strength and agency as was my Pilates course. I was able to apply Pilates techniques in Crystal’s technique class. The integration of whole body movement in Pilates is something I am still working on but I now have a practice to bring with me for the next two years. Pilates challenged my self-motivation in multiple ways and Crystal’s class was my grounding force throughout the semester. Technique class is my home, I know how to be a dancer and trust the movement and my body, so once I gave into the discipline and physical effort, this class was healing and got me through other more tumultuous moments.
I believe the next two and a half years will result in a confident, strong, maker who can own her place in an academic setting. This department has a professionalism built into it that is transparent but also ingrained. Research is what you make it. Figuring out what specifically interests me is the hardest part. There seems to be a fine line between what I’m interested in and what falls flat. In this academic context, it’s about framing your questions and spending time figuring out your project and writing it down before you actually get to figure anything out. This backwards approach is difficult for me but a skill worth developing. It’s similar to grant writing, but with a different flavor I can’t quite place.
In the moments to come, I’m interested in exploring some new practices of making, perhaps more improvisatory or contact-based processes, perhaps some making with friends/current grads, perhaps some non-mandatory uses of technologies. I’m still working on what I’m interested in, who I’m interested in doing it with and how to get it done in this still new environment but I trust the process. At the end of the day, it’s about coloring inside and outside the lines. It’s about appreciating all approaches and angles but also figuring out where you fit into them, how to best apply them to help you grow and how you want to approach your own angles or angle your own approach.
Our final performance in Intermedia was the culmination of three months of “digital recess” as coined by a former student of Norah’s. It was so exciting to have two willing participants wheeled into our playground like “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”from Disney’s Magic Kingdom. That’s not a metaphor, they were sat in chairs and wheeled in. The participants/audience were brought into the space to witness, choose and be the performers often in absurd events like what we titled, “Dada Birthday Party” where we sat at a table and sang “Happy Birthday” to the participants in a surprising and upbeat way and then handed them a tiny mallet in front of a tiny cake and waited to see what would happen. The mallet referenced one of our readings by Soke Dinkla who wrote about one of the first Dadaist artists to include audience participation. “Ernst placed an ax next to one of his works to be used by the visitors in case they did not like the object.” (Dinkla, 280) We asked the participants to choose cards that would determine the next scene. The other three scenes were “Motion Capture,” “Hot Air Balloon” and “Box Head” which we yelled out when they chose the card. “Motion Capture,” a station that was from our second study, was a play on words, two people sat facing each other in chairs and one mimicked (captured) the movements (motion) of the person opposite them. “Hot Air Balloon” was giving the audience/performer a bag of unblown balloons and seeing what they would do when sitting on a white cube at the center of the space and “Box Head,” pulled from our first portrait study and had the person put their head on a box while we took a live feed of their face and asked them mundane questions about their life. Each situation was an experiment commenting on or inhabiting expectation and power. Other aspects of the piece included some movement developed from questions answered earlier in the work, saying a memory and throwing an imaginary ball to another person in the space and at times a voice over commentary, by yours truly. The aboutness of the work seemed to be community and absurdity or audience and performer or perhaps reflection and memory.
As I discovered at the end of our last lab study, “Interactivity and Participation,” I’m interested and excited about the awkward moments and the moments that could change each performance. Throwing an audience member into the mix throws a wild card that is performatively exciting and something that my lab group played with the entire semester. In this study we focused on comparing viewed performance and interactivity in the form of stations. Tricking the audience that they might just sit and watch and then ushering them from station to station where they were to complete a similar “Box Head” and “Motion Capture” moment from our final experiment. Our third and final station was an array of “bric-a-brac” which had a sign that said, “Arrange.” This was inspired by our readings from Dinkla about Duchamp’s ready-mades. At the end we performed some movements we captured during the “Motion Capture” station and watched peoples faces float around in bubbles captured from the “Box Head” station. The ideas of being seen and watched were at the forefront of the work.
Our second “Media First” study, came directly out of discovering textures that could be used as projections. Zooming into a moving object or objects, water, leaves blowing, bubbles rising, screens moving or a swing shifting can create a texture when projected into an environment. We gathered textures and then made a study using them. The Motion Lab has screens that can be moved into a circle which made us think of a carousel and I was particularly interested in how we could guide the audience’s gaze around the space.
I found Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” music video to be even more inspiring after having learned the origin of the projection magic she utilized. Jerome Bel’s “Veronique” Series is an almost poignant solo for a corp de ballet dancer from the Paris Opera. These and others were “Viewings” we watched throughout the semester. The course highlighted an array of artists using not only technology but also other mediums. Our reading from Simon Morely’s “Writing on the Wall” highlighted artists influenced by Duchamps “readymades” that began to experiment with mixed media approaches to panel art in the 1950s. In the text I was interested with the “affichistes” and their ripping down advertisements and using them to create their own art. Intermedia is a course about creating with found objects. Everything we experimented with was already made, we just put it together in different ways. Use what you have to create something new.
The collection of topics, viewings, technologies and the history of media art we’ve explored has allowed me to place the concepts and people we’ve discussed in a way I couldn’t before. I can see how certain artists were influenced and where that landed their trajectory. I’m beginning to understand what interests I have and what kind of art I want to make. I’m beginning to understand my artistic world a little better and that is an important piece in trying to figure out what place I want to have in the puzzle. What’s the puzzle? That’s another question entirely.
Co-teaching grad students Josh Anderson and Gina Hoch-Stall opened their last Contact Improvisation class of the semester to the other students on Monday and it was a wonderful sharing of form, ability and spirit. The open class was an inclusive and attentive culmination to the semester. The warm atmosphere reminded me of the first time I had ever been to a Contact Jam, maybe…the summer of 2002 at American Dance Festival. Jenn Nugent and Paul Matteson were there in The Ark and perhaps David Dorfman. I remember being in awe of them flying through the air and across the space. The uncertainty of what was happening, the importance of each movement and the courage it took to try things out for myself amidst my heros and fellow newbies.
A bunch of years later it feels so different. Finally I am understanding the vibrant investigation of experimentation and how exciting it is when the unexpected happens. I feel like having children and also just being at the end of my 30’s has allowed me to let go of everyone else’s expectations and opinions of me so that I’m finally able to explore and be interested without thinking of others. Sometimes. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a Jam, but yesterday I found myself wanting to play with my new friends in a way that some old friends used to play. Connecticut’s Elm City Dance Collective taught me what I was relishing in last night: trust, play and surprise. I’m excited to find out that even in this still new environment I’m more interested in finding an unexpected conclusion than getting it “right” or indulging in every ounce of sensing what the other person’s weight is doing next. Or maybe I’m just impatient. Or as Josh has decided…”A bulldozer.” Maybe I’m finally ready to begin failing in order to find my edges.
A lovely moment with Emily of spritely play, a sitting discussion with Bita, a bombastic topsy-turvy interlude with Josh, an interruption of KJ and Yildiz’s tender moment and a rolling play with an unknown mover stay with me. Someone in the class described her experience as a hug that will allow her to achieve all her dreams this week. Me too.
When I was teaching composition at a magnlet arts high school, the class would often revolve around a set of tasks designed to give the students creative tools to craft “interesting” compositions. When it was time to give feedback, I would always say to the students, “Take what you want and throw the rest away.” If we had showings, other teachers also proscribed to the “Take it or leave it” mentality. Even though I said that, I didn’t really mean it. I think I meant, “I’d like you to at least try to apply a part of my feedback to get a different result. If in the end you don’t like the result, you can always revert back to where you started or somewhere in the middle. In the trying, you might find something new somewhere along the path.”
I still had expectations about their products and as teachers we would often struggle with how much to lead a student to get a “good product.”* If the student was using the tools, testing boundaries and following their instincts I was always happy with their process and often their product was more successful, but not always. When mentoring the creation of a senior project, the students were struggling with figuring out what they instinctually liked, navigating what they thought “good work” looked like and how to make their work “good.” I gave the advice, “Stick to the process and the work will follow.”
I’m now the student and it’s interesting to see the teachers struggle in the same way. How much are they leading me toward their aesthetic or their style of discussion. Am I learning how to survive in the academic world or am I learning how to survive in their specific setting. I’ve decided in this moment that I will try to apply what I wanted my students to do. Try out some options revolving around the feedback given and see where that takes the work. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a setting where I’ve had to take into account constant feedback. It’s interesting that I am also still wrestling with the notions of “good work.” Stick to the process and the work will follow.
*A good product by definition is something created that is desired or approved of and is therefore all about perception and opinion. Not everyone likes the same things, that is why there are so many options and reasons for creating the art you want to make. Not everyone will like what you make, but someone will…somewhere.