Friday, January 23, 2009

foi response from Janice Lancaster (NC)

I’m so inspired reading everyone’s emails, and hearing about the powerful art we created together, and how we collectively invited this project into our bodies to let it change us.
I've been journaling about my foi 2008, and thinking about how to share those words. For me it was an empowering experience, the best combination of body cracking open thought and heart. To pen it is an elusive task. I don’t know how to express such expansiveness onto a page. Finding the words is definitely more demanding than the “doing” in which they were inspired. I’ll start off a bit by documenting my left-brain, seemingly mundane preparations, and then I’ll taper into a stream of consciousness about the rest.
I was presented at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Asheville, NC. A gallery dedicated to exploring the history and legacy of one of the world's most experimental educational communities. The current exhibition was titled Shape of Imagination: Women of Black Mountain College, and it was important that I not disturb the history on the walls.
So I set up a perimeter of corrugated cardboard on the floor that was 4 feet from any art, providing me with a safe moving zone that I came to know intimately as about 9 generous steps in length, 7 in width, and 13 along the diagonal. I had worried for weeks that I would not have walls to sloth along or guide me. Apparently, that was a naïve concern, as other foi reps have informed me of the hazard that their walls became. Did I cheat? I could feel the strips of corrugated cardboard through my socks and was grateful for its orientation, but more than that, my guide was near the earth and was a source for grounding.
I placed a cardboard box in one corner that contained water, kneepads, an extra pair of earplugs, and a paper bag stashing away two date bars and a banana. I had been worried that I could not complete twenty-four hours without any food. And, in a way, having the food there was the only way to ensure my mom’s blessings.
Yet, I never needed food, and this was empowering for me. My little body had enough junk in its intestines to sustain itself. In more esoteric thoughts, the ancient Agni fire furnace of my belly and mind energized me. Eight hours in, and I completely stopped caring for food. Except, nearing noon, the ominous half way marker, I craved stir-fry vegetables like a mad woman. I had rolled along, smudging my face into a spot in the floor that smelled as if someone had once dropped stir-fry right there.
I felt that, while I would be questioning US foreign policy, or even our collective impact in the world, I should also make a point of using reusable water bottles. I drank enough, but only so much to need the restroom four times within the twenty-four hours. In the same corner as my box I continued a strip of corrugated cardboard as a path to the restroom.
During preparations the day before, I found myself obsessively sweeping and mopping the gallery’s wooden floor. It’s beautiful chipped blue paint was surprisingly covered with a black dust. I knew that what I did not clean up would eventually be absorbed by my clothing, hair, and skin. In my obsessive cleaning, I became appreciative for the opportunity. It helped me come to know the give of the floor’s planks, the cracks between, and places that needed to be covered with tape so I would not end up with splinters in my bottom.
My husband, Adam, set up two cameras with an aerial view, one for streaming and one for a time lapse that would record one frame every five seconds (two minutes of movement to equal one second). We have 21 of the 24 hours in time lapse on
Sometimes I struggle yielding control, so I remember my own surprise turning down Adam’s offer for me to check the frame through the cameras. I felt knowing would induce expectation, and expectation I did not need. We decided to forego sound because the bandwidth for streaming would have more room for the image. I wouldn’t know this shit on my own, and Adam’s collaboration was essential. Later, I thought of how powerfully appropriate the silence was.
After the performance, I let a day pass before looking at a few of the clips that Adam recorded onto my ustream channel. His documentation is a dancer’s dream! As much as I’ve learned to protect my thoughts from my own laptop, I felt so grateful for the clarity of image that was circulated out and beyond via technology. Adam reported that the streaming received over 1000 hits!
All the day before, I was raising my eyebrows and shaking my head over my cluelessness on how to prepare. Fortunately, I’d been getting plenty of sleep for the past year, resisting skimping on dreams. And, in truth, it had been quite a year in the soul-searching department. Had I known on some level that I would be topping off the year with foi 2008?
Also, I had been thinking about drinking less coffee for over a month. My gynecologist had even suggested that it could be causing calcium deposits in my breasts. Mortality. I was conscious to be hydrated and avoid excessive sugar. I read and reread the participants’ loving emails. I read a crash course of Pema Chodron, “Start Where You Are.”
Out of nervousness, I almost avoided the 718 number of Miguel’s phone call. I made myself answer, and of course, I was relieved that I did. Soon we were laughing over a dream I had a few weeks earlier in which I fought evil forces in my childhood closet by belting the song, “I could have danced all night.”
Come 6pm, I asked Adam to smother me with physical affection. Then I napped. When I couldn’t sleep, I made myself continue lying there in stillness. Adam would wake me at 9pm. Until then, I would learn what it felt like waiting in the dark. I showered, dressed, and made sure I smelled good. I called my best friends. On my way to the gallery, I took in as much night sky and outside air as I could receive. I did not take it for granted.
All that was left to do before starting was to pee, poop, and decide what to write in the sketchbook that I would leave out for viewers. This brainstorming got my mind on the task of the next twenty-four hours. I wrote, “Share,” intending its dual meanings referencing wealth, resources, empathy, and expression. And “Thank you for your presence,” underlining presence. Then one last hug from Adam, insert earplugs, tie blindfold, midnight, and off to pacing my space, and my body.
I had a clear task – continue moving for twenty-four hours and observe my thoughts. Honestly, I was looking forward to the time with myself. I did not feel I needed to instigate more. I went in trusting that the commitment to the time and moving while blindfolded and ear plugged was a powerful image in and of itself, metaphor enough. Nothing could be too mundane in this context. My vulnerabilities would be evident. People would think what they think. Those who could hear the call for empathy would recognize it as bigger than me.
Over the previous weeks, and the more I engaged with foi 2008, I saw that my temperament would frame my participation as more of a humanitarian action than a political one. Yet, at the forefront of my mind was the week’s warring between Israel and Hamas. I was disgusted by my own revelation that my heart was hardening over their predictable fighting. Also, challenging my best intentions, were the words emailed to Black Mountain College Museum to say,
“The reason that you as an artist have the freedom to perform is due in a large part to the strength and diversity of the United States and the military that defends us. Try performing a contemplative piece about the cruelty and violence of the Taliban or Al-Qaida in a cave in western Pakistan.“
These are points discussed on the foi 2008 blog. I had already juggled his perspective, and agreed. I agreed, AND, I felt how his point came up short.
Only my doing could help address the incongruencies I’ve discerned over the past eight years. I can’t accept pre-emptive war, abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, and the divisive language used by our media and leaders. Even if all I could accomplish was to confront violence as it manifests in my own mind, I would be closer to rewiring ancient patterns, habituated reacting. Spanning 31 states and six time zones, could we improvise a world in which awareness could inform revolutionary peaceful solutions?
Time is relative, moving continuously twenty-four hours with its cycles and surges of exhaustion, energy, boredom, intrigue… desperation and strength, loneliness and profound connection… checking out and back in… coordination and nausea, disorientation and center. I gravitated to physicalized thought so I would not have to think about what to do next, or standards. I thought about time marching on, and how twenty-four hours would soon be behind me. I watched discomfort arise and dissolve more easily than it does in my day to day living, and it will continue to be a valuable life lesson.
Most of what folks have asked about has been my sense of time over the twenty-four hours. It seems to be the viewers’ point of piqued interest. Time/space - something that we all manage linearly, but experience subjectively - can understanding it one day ever dismantle violence as means?
Do we not all need a little more time to ourselves, less distractions, more play, time to reflect on relationships and our personal impact in the world? I’m drawn to Marlee Cook-Perret’s words about this after her foi 2008 in Michigan:
i want to spend more time alone. i want to spend time reflecting on how i treat people. and how i let people treat me. it's been a year of mistreatment, to myself, to my body, how i let others treat me, and how i treat them. being that alone made my mind swing to every relationship i have and have had, and how i want and need them to be in 2009.

Collaboration. I had a few markers for knowing what time it was based on who I had arranged to guard the space and voice recognition. When my father-in-law arrived I knew it was 2am. 4:30am when my mother-in-law arrived. 7am Connie, and 10am Alice. The hours between 10am-4pm were hazy because that was the longest shift with many visitors. With my tiny ears pushing on my earplugs, I could hear Alice explaining the history of when Josef and Anni Albers were offered teaching posts at Black Mountain College after the closing of the Bauhaus by the Nazis.
My brother-in-law finally arrived at 4pm. Claire at 6pm. But 8pm and onwards was long and impossible to guess. Probably any point after 10pm I was expecting the end at any moment.
It is not easy for me to wrap my mind around the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I like how Kylin Kleven, foi 2008 rep in Alaska, articulates the challenge:
War is complex. It is intertwined in capitalism, racism, sexism (and on with isms). Its complexity means that instead of stopping lots of things in isolation from one another, something must be created as an alternative baseline for living all at once. It matters that I've made an emphasis in my life leaning towards self-consciousness -- even when I'm alone in a room far, far away. It matters that others have made that same baseline shift.

I let go of intellectual pressures, and began with a form of tonglen. I contemplated the violence I’ve known, and extended this compassion to the people I know. If someone passed into my mind, I tried to keep my thoughts on them for longer, to feel their talents and creative energy, to feel how they struggle and how violence surfaces in their life: fear, right and wrong, malicious words, malicious tones, addiction, exploitation, poverty, objectification, mindless consumption, polarization…
I couldn’t escape how all violence seemed misdirected creative energy. I was happy to be moving and expressing. I felt grateful and abundant in light and love to be making art, and exercising that freedom. How healing. I focused in on a feeling I called “One Love.” My fingers began painting the words “one love” all over the floor. Anything else was “misapprehension” - “mortal mind.” Self-destructive and divisive, the source of violence is a branching from recognizing its ultimate creative source, “one love.” Miguel pretty much summed this up for me when he emailed the Alan Ginsberg poem that begins,
The weight of the world
is love.
Under the burden
of solitude,
under the burden
of dissatisfaction

the weight,
the weight we carry
is love.

my body observed that the corners’ double layers of corrugated cardboard were puffiest
stretching a reach into the vertical gave me orientation
handstands, headstands gave me comforting vertical orientation, plus a sense of center (more than I’ve ever felt with my eyes open)
my core felt strong
I liked feeling empty from fasting
my left hip, obstructed somehow, not rotating as smoothly as I’d like
calming figure eights
calming repetition
rolling about as passively as I could figure
arms with joints between joints
imagining wind, wind tunnels, diving planes, gusts, weather, and from that place exaggerating breath, vocalizing
breath derived movement lacked expectation, or standard, and sustained itself
I liked this best
tasks of balancing on one leg.
tasks of spiral turns into the floor
Sun salutation
my family energizes me
Streaming online inspiring me to keep going
I’m not sure what my energy would be without it
movement from my bones
From my breath
From my skin
From my distal points
From my center
From my emotions
From my tasks
From my thoughts
From my flesh
chasing foot steps
leading with the weight of my head
one hand on my heart, and one on my belly
I’m not sure what I’m saying, but I’m channeling mothers
a song on the corrugated cardboard like sandpaper
beeping when backing up.
pieces of crawling.
turn signal for corners
frivolous chit-chat between my hands
I’m not easily bored
body mechanics especially interesting in this state
anything to adjust my left hip
seeing black
seeing red maple leaves flicker
seeing a stone wall for beating laundry
a past life in England
a past life as a sufi
I like my mind
it does not feel destructive
Hamstrings, hips, quadriceps, IT band tight
left ankle pops
kinda a circus freak
cup my palms for holding
pieces of choreography
torso mimicking gossipers
be the beast
a transformer
a totality of body prayer

In the last two hours, I observed myself trying to instigate resolve and an end. Many people came into the space around 10pm. I thought, “they must be here to spend the last hour.” But then these folks left, and more came, and I was thrown about the time.
I decided to try to hear the sounds from the street. Folks were rather loud outside on New Year’s Eve. I expected they would be at their quietest nearing the countdown. I also suspected that the group in the gallery would surround me at the end, so every shuffling of feet, or shift in the wood floor, had my interest piqued, but there were many, and it wasn’t reliable.
Eventually I dared myself to walk the path of the corrugated cardboard as fast as I could. I moved the box away and dragged my feet along the strips trying to pick up pace. I was dizzy and not so good following the path. I began to run in a circle. I could not keep a safe axis. I began to run in place. Like an instance, running, my eyes filled with tears. I felt my most visceral empathy with people whose lives have been wrought with war. My own adrenaline cycle helped me to know someone else’s fight or flight.
I ran for nearly fifteen minutes. I thought, ”Of course! I’d run! I’d run until I couldn’t run anymore… EXCEPT, would my family slow me down? How could we all keep up? What if we lose someone? How long can I stay like this?”
The duality was that my own running felt sustainable, and I could quit whenever I’d like. I could quit the whole piece of art whenever I liked. I could take my blindfold off, walk out the door, and go to sleep in my safe bed.
I wasn’t breathless. My heart felt good. I liked the openness I felt through my veins. My body was more than willing to cooperate. I was intent to run until the end. I had no way to know when that would come, but I was free. I knew that there was a definite end in sight for me. Not knowing would be a primal desperation.
Just then, a man burst through the front door of the gallery demanding $9.25 in his own drunkenly primal desperation. It took a group effort to redirect him. And Alice learned that someone had been beat up out on the street and called for assistance. These surreal events were loud, ironic, piercing. I heard them through my earplugs, through my running. Privileged, fearless - I could trust that others were holding the space and that my job was to stay at task.
To stop running would be a bold choice, just as it was a bold choice to start. I worried “what next?” briefly, but almost simultaneously I stopped and found myself balancing on one leg. “Of course,” I thought, taking a lesson from my body, “It is all about balance!”
And I was pleased, because balancing upped-the-ante in a different way, and it was an invitation direct to my community, for all of us to find equilibrium, balance, and share. Finally when I fell to the ground from balancing and felt a strip of cardboard, there was nothing left to do but to pull it up. Ahhhhh, and tearing up the perimeter was fun and cathartic. I felt the chaos that the corrugated cardboard bundled up to be was creativity at loose, alternative ideas to preemptive wars. I began to partner with the cardboard. Interactivity became process for coming back into the world.
At 12am the group gathered in a circle around me. I felt the proximity of their steps near and the timing for them to kneel by me. Yet, no one said anything. I wondered if I could take my blindfold off. So I asked, “Is it 2009?” No answer. Then I asked, “Am I done?” Giggles. So I took the blindfold off and saw the most beautiful eyes, some familiar and some new, taking me in. Visibility.
I felt clear. Colors and contours were very distinct, and I wondered how much of life could stay this way? My face felt like it had symmetry, and this struck me with an overall sense of harmony through my body. Upon questions, I liked how my words were arranging themselves. I moved slowly. Exaggerated intention imbued everything. Claire pointed out that my veins were elevated and thick.
A woman named Caprice, very tall, had learned about foi 2008 the day before. After visiting earlier in the day, she felt inspired to bring me food for the end. She prepared brown rice, tomato based vegetable soup, an orange, a banana, a granola bar, an oatmeal cookie, a chocolate, applesauce, juice box, and spritzer. An offering. I was moved. My eyes ate it all, but my belly could only hold the soup and half the rice… slow spoon to mouth – chew – swallow – smile knowingly at my family.
When I left the Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center it was as if I had just arrived. The last twenty-four hours were a dream, a blip in time that may or may not have really happened. I looked at the sky and saw so many stars. Actually, I saw way too many stars! My mind was turning the lining of the clouds into Milky Ways of numberless stars. So amazing!
Adam and I showered. He was tired, having been nearly as invested as me, but without the performance high. Washing my face, I closed my eyes and began to hallucinate a scary, swirling face. I opened my eyes and made it go away. Not real. At some point pre-foi 2008 I had learned that the sleep deprivation, fatigue, and/or sensory deprivation could induce hallucinations and I was not alarmed. I thought about how beautifully I could progressively access my visual cortex during the pass twenty-four hours.
1:30am. I was more interested in elevating my feet up the wall than sleeping. Adam turned out the light, and when I closed my eyes I could see the bookcase in my parents bedroom. It appeared to me so vividly that I opened my eyes in surprise. Yet, with my eyes open, I could still see the bookcase as plain as day, as if I could reach and grab a book. I tapped Adam’s chest, “Ok, I’m hallucinating. I’m seeing my parents bookcase as if I’m in the wrong room.” He turned on the lights and the hallucination went away.
I had enjoyed this sense of being in two places at once. And, later speaking with my dad I learned that around that same time, he laid in his bed with the light on, bookcase at the foot of the bed. He had had a difficult time watching me that day.
My mind was tired of not seeing. Lights out, and it would fabricate something to see. Even with the light on I watched a crack in the wall swell as if to burst, but I knew it could not, and then I’d watch as the swell subsided as if defeated. I did not have to react.
Finally, I fell asleep with the light on, and woke up four hours later. I had the instinct that my eyes wanted to be open and blinking. Blinking would help them cleanse themselves. I washed my eyes with saline solution, turned out the light, and went back to sleep.
In the morning I was up around 8:30am. My appetite took priority. Yum, a breakfast of toast and eggs. Then I napped again until lunch. Called my sister. Lunched again. Called my mom. Wrote by the wood stove. Protected my own thoughts. Avoided internet because I associate it with multi-tasking and I just wasn’t there. Dinner of black eye peas, collard greens, beets, a little wine. My body was only sore in my calves, from the running.
By chance, that night I watched “Charlie Wilson’s War.” It’s about the covert war in which the US supplied Afghanistan with weaponry to defeat the Soviets during the Cold War. Then the US missed its humanitarian calling and failed to fund for Afghanistan’s rebuilding, leaving a population in which most were younger than 14 with no infrastructure. These youth grew up in a land ripe for Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.
This being human is interesting, all of our blind spots. No human endeavor is immune from criticism, or unworthy of compassion. I think about Tahni Holt’s words, foi 2008 rep in Oregon:
”Compassion is my weapon. This is what unites me to you and you to me. Sometimes this feels like enough and at other moments it can never possibly be.”

Sometimes, in the saturation of our busy small worlds, our preparations, and getting things “done,” the body’s empathy taps an expansive hologram of light that knows a humbling interconnectivity. One love. Lets continue to materialize it.

No comments: