Saturday, October 25, 2008

Statement on freedom of information 2008

Seven years ago, on December 31, 2001, in response to the frustration that I felt about the United States' invasion of Afghanistan, I decided to do a 24-hour improvisation titled freedom of information in my home studio in Brooklyn, NY. The rules for this improvisation were simple. I was blindfolded and wore earplugs. I stayed in my empty studio, I didn't eat anything for the entire day and I attempted to move continuously through the space for 24 hours. Moving continuously meant walking, dancing, rolling, running, sliding, crawling, etc. I allowed myself to drink water and tea, and, because I had stipulated that I wouldn't leave the room, I urinated into empty milk jugs on the periphery of the space.

My interests were threefold. First, by continuously moving, I wanted to create solidarity with the people in the world who are displaced by armed conflict, who do not have the basic right of rest after an active day, and who instead have to remain ever-vigilant for violence, ready to flee from their homes at any hour, and in worst case scenarios, become refugees. By depriving myself of seeing and hearing, I wanted to highlight and enforce both the disorientation that constant movement creates as well as the self-examination that happens when those basic senses are taken away. By depriving myself the freedom of leaving the room, I wanted to show how my ability to roam where I want when I want is actually a privilege, while for others, having to constantly move and find new shelter is a form of imprisonment.

The title freedom of information alludes, of course, to the American legislation, originally signed into law on July 4, 1964, that "allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States Government."* In choosing this title, I was also thinking about the constant stream of thoughts, images and feelings that emerge out of a practice of sensory deprivation and continuous movement.

I considered this action an intimate performance, protest and ritual. I notified the people on my email list, and people were free to come and watch throughout the 24 hours. I had a notebook in the space for people to write or draw their responses to what I was doing, and I set up a video camera in one corner of the room to record the daylong event. freedom of information was extraordinarily difficult, at times harrowing and excruciating. Some people came repeatedly throughout the day, and there was a good-sized group there at the stroke of midnight on New Year's when the piece ended. The extreme euphoria and compassion I felt in the moments after it was over and I was finally able to rest and take the blindfold off and the earplugs out were unlike any emotions I had experienced before or have known since.

Considering that we are, unfortunately, still engaged in the war in Afghanistan as well as the war in Iraq, it struck me that it was an appropriate time to reprise freedom of information. This time, however, I am inviting one artist in each of the other 49 states and Washington D.C. to perform the piece as well, in their respective states, creating a nationwide contemplative action that underscores a solidarity with the thousands of people who have been affected by these horrible wars and solidarity with the community of people who still resist and reject the U.S.' interventionist tactics abroad. In inviting other artists to participate in freedom of information 2008, I am interested in multiple expressions of the original action, in a wide variety of spaces that will be accessible to a broader segment of the population. My hope is that the participating artists will, on their own, identify spaces that they want to perform in with the co-operation of those spaces, which I hope will be donated to the artists free of charge. As with the original action in 2001, the event will be free and open to the public. Again, I hope that there will be opportunities for spectators at all of the sites to write their responses to the event. I am also talking to an artist about creating a video link so that people everywhere can follow the action on the web. 

Obviously this endurance based action, while certainly a physical, emotional and psychological challenge for whoever chooses to participate in it, is not and cannot be a direct reprieve for the many people in the world who do not have the ability at the moment to alter their current conditions. We, the artists participating in the action, can ultimately take off the blindfold and earplugs when we want, we can leave the room, we can return to the creature comforts of our daily lives. I believe that freedom of information 2008 is definitely a symbolic gesture, one of many, of solidarity with the many bodies that the action is meant to acknowledge, with the other artists involved and with the people who come to watch. I think of it as a ritual because it is a practice of consciousness, an exercise in paying attention and in engaging the unknown, and an opportunity to propose an alternative contemplation of the word "freedom." 

I thought it would be appropriate to perform this action on December 31st again, because as one year ends and another begins, we have the opportunity to reflect on not only our own lives, but on the lives of others, and we can attempt to begin the new year in a heightened state of consideration and mindfulness.

This blog is intended to document the preparations, ideas, activities and difficulties leading up to and around freedom of information 2008, with contributions from the participating artists, myself, and whoever is interested. Thank you!


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