hey there folks...
i got this super interesting email from gregory holt, who is "rep"-ing for New Hampshire and i asked him if i could re-post it here and include my response to it. i think it gets at some of the central ideas about how to approach doing foi... i'm very curious to hear anyone else's response..
From Gregory Holt:
i've been having many conversations about this project, raising a lot of intense issues, and wondered if there were a way to open a larger dialogue between all the participants of the project so we can learn from each other's thoughts. maybe a bulletin board on the blog? or some kind of forum? or just 'replying all' to your email list? i also really want to hear more about your first experience with this, and what was successful, and what was difficult, and what was communicated, and what you learned. here are some of the conversations i've been having, and i'm really interested in your experience not as an 'answer' to any of these questions, but just more about how the questions play out in the act.
when i talk about this project, i've been getting many responses from people reacting to it as a form of shock art, self-torture, and aestheticized suffering. my roommate was talking about how in her experience art/representations which generate pity through proximalization of suffering do not open space for transformative response, and somehow paralyze her responsive abilities- if she follows an intense, triggered, emotional response then she 'doesn't understand art' because she's not detaching herself and remaining in a conceptual space, but if she focuses on a conceptual or interpretive response, then she feels she's cutting herself off. how do we encourage transformative witnessing?
i've been kind of surprised by these responses because i don't think of this project as shock art, self-torture, or suffering. it seems too understated and non-sensationalized to be shock art, and too voluntary to be torture. however, prolonged sensory- and sleep- deprivation, and forced repetitive exercise are in fact torture methods employed by the US and the replication of that experience as performance, regardless of how controlled, is an aestheticization of it.
i've been approaching the project not as primarily a representation or a concept, but rather as a process engaging our physical capacities for working through and elaborating limited information and nascent ideas, and for reaching new conclusions about how-to-be in the world. as a live performance, i think this action circumvents the abstraction of written or intellectual analysis, while avoiding the sensationalism, flattening, and distancing of visual media. however, another friend was saying that she, as a non-dancer, doesn't know to approach dance performance looking for those things. trained in a visual culture, bodies in performance seem to be necessarily images and signs. how do we call for other ways of seeing?
i recently read the autobiography of chan khong, an activist from south vietnam, who writes extensively about meditation and ritualized protest as components of political action. meditation and mindfulness retreats have served her to reground her work and center herself for difficult action. ritualized protests have helped motivate her and thousands of others to re-dedicate themselves to peace. living in an america without a strong tradition of either, how do these aspects of the action communicate?
oh yeah, and in the list of participants can you list me as 'gregory holt'? i still haven't found a space, but keep approaching places...
here's crossed fingers. we just had an amazing week with deborah hay, what a fantastic person!
thanks for this awesome email. and yes I will change your name to gregory for the press release.
I’m surprised as well by the responses you’re getting. I don’t really feel like responding to them directly because I am not interested in getting into my “rebuttal”/argumentative head. people will think what they think and that’s fine.
my interest in this action is in the contemplative/potentially “transcendent” space that engaging an endurance based action proposes. I am interested in keeping the situation simple. one body, one room. no special “lighting” or “sound” or “partner.” my experience the first time around was that the simplicity of the score and the challenge of doing it blindfolded and ear-plugged brought my body through tons of feelings, time zones, imaginary spaces. I chose to privilege my interior world for those 24 hours, and it was exhilarating, disorienting, harrowing, exciting, lonely, intensely sad, and then, when it was over, extraordinarily euphoric.
I am not interested in “representing” something directly per se with this action. of course I am not so naïve as to be ignorant of the fact that the presence of a blindfolded person evokes images on the more harrowing end of the spectrum. so be it. I am not interested in “acting” imprisoned, tortured or anything like that. keep moving for 24 hours. don’t eat, don’t sleep. drink water. pee when you have to. interact with the people who come to watch at your own discretion. like I wrote in the original statement, I am acutely aware of the fact that we are engaging this chosen action as people who have the option to walk away from it. and we will. duh. of course that’s the case. but I believe that in some very basic way, this action, and all of my performances really, are practices of consciousness. some people even call that “prayer.” that’s maybe a bit of a strong word, who knows. but I don’t mind it. do I know if doing this 7 years ago made me a “better,” more “politically sensitive” person? I don’t know. I’d like to think that that’s just my nature. but I like trying things that freak me out, that bring me to close proximity with the truths of my body, my mortality and my feelings. I like to think that by extension this gives me an opportunity to practice empathy with other people in the world who have those concerns, which is maybe everyone?? hell, you just studied with d hay for a week, right? she has a score that’s “what if you could dance with all that there is?” in a way, this action evokes the same question. it’s not perfect. it’s not nearly enough. but it’s something.
I think that engaging the simplicity of the action with an open, curious heart is what can lead to “transformative seeing.” shit I didn’t intend to respond directly to the things you said you’re friends said, but I guess I just did and so I will also say this: there’s a difference between responding to an idea of what something might “look” like and then the actual being in the room with someone who is going through an experience. if that weren’t the case, then I’d never need to go see a performance again and I’d be content with looking at pictures of shows. again, deborah has that marvelous phrase: “Invite being seen...”
of course the action is borne from the political context that inspired it. this action is A way, not THE way, of acknowledging that context and at the same time attuning myself to the work that must continue to be done to end the wars and to work towards people’s true freedom. I am also interested in practicing consciousness on the micro-level, with my daily interactions with friends, strangers.. etc. I FAIL ALL THE TIME at trying to be present and attentive to these things, but I believe in the effort of trying.
I genuinely do believe that I will be emboldened doing foi this time knowing that there are, at least, 28 other artists doing it at the (more or less) same time. I believe that there is power in that “telepathic” connection, and I like the symbolism of several bodies in various spaces working with the same struggle and from the same intentions. it makes me think of how I in general am emboldened when I remember that I am not the only person feeling frustration, or loneliness, or difficulty. of course the specifics of each participating artist’s “journey” (hate that word, but had to go there...) is not something that I can, or want to control. I can say that I hope it’s a full experience for each person who does it.
last time I did it, people came and went throughout the day. some people came multiple times. I had a notebook in the studio for people to write their impressions, or really, whatever they wanted to write. a bunch of folks drew stuff in it. I mean, it’s not like SO many people wrote in the book. most of the responses are earnest, sometimes poetic responses or acknowledgements of what they were thinking about. it was direct and small and subtle in the way that most “transformation” is.