Friday, January 23, 2009

foi response from Jesse Zaritt (MA)


I want to join my voice to the chorus of appreciation: thank you for sharing your freedom of information with me.  Thank you for this dialogue.


I am about to share a lot of information… I have been writing and writing and tried to condense my thoughts as much as possible.  Some of the writing is still rough, and some of it I've probably over-thought and over-edited in an effort to understand what has been going on in my mind since the beginning of the year.  I am grateful to be able to put some of these thoughts into words, to have this community to address...


An introduction:


Through en email that I sent out on Dec 30th, I invited about 400 contacts of mine to think of me and of the questions that I would be dancing with during the transition to the new year.

This is some of what I wrote:


I think that artists today are searching for ways to make work that is relevant, vital, and responsible.  I feel the urgency of this search, but feel far from confident that my work as a dance artist meets these challenges.  I'm driven to experiment with different ways of using and creating dance in order to try to align my artistic practice with a way of being in this world that feels ethical, meaningful and somehow useful.  Seeing Miguel perform freedom of information in 2001 helped to open up an awareness in me that dance could be more, and do more than what I had previously imagined.  Ultimately, for me, freedom of information is an experiment: an attempt to understand how dance performance might become a provocation, an act of solidarity, a protest, and/or a simple meditation on sustained physical awareness.  I feel privileged to have been able to choose to be part of this experiment: this opportunity to isolate my body in space and time, to investigate my relationship to a violent reality that is both unknowable/distant and painfully close in image after image that I consume daily from the news media. 

And now some post-performance writing-

Part one written in early January:


My freedom of information was performed at the live/work space of Tirtzah Bassel, an Israeli artist and close friend living in Boston.  Before beginning FOI, Tirtzah and I had a long discussion about the current war in Gaza.


Some background: I moved to Israel several weeks before the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 (I just moved back to NYC this fall), and Tirtzah grew up in Israel- with memories of days and nights spent in sealed safe rooms during the First Iraq War, the years of the Intifadas, siblings and friends as soldiers.

Despite my proximity to war while living in Israel, I maintained my non-Israeli privilege and distance from conflict.  In terms of my sense of security, living as a Jewish American in Tel Aviv was not so different from living in NYC.  

At the start of my two years in Tel Aviv, I made some pathetic attempts to participate in the actions of Israeli center-left and far-left groups, but was so taken by the raw, passionate energy of the dance community I encountered that I abandoned my activist posturing in favor of moving alongside those inspiring bodies.  I tried to align Israeli choreography with political activism- dedicating my MFA thesis to an effort to uncover/create instances of resistance in contemporary Israeli dance.  I want so much for my practice and love of dance to be integrated with my politics, my sense of what it means to live ethically in this world.  I keep coming up short, dance keeps disappointing me:  but I keep trying, dance keeps trying. (Not at all sure about referring to dance as if it is this thing beyond what we construct it to be...)


Back to the last day of 2008:  Our conversation about Gaza was circular, frustrating- echoing conversations I've been having about Israel/Palestine ever since I first visited in 1995.  How to position myself?  My mind spins between attachment and disgust, connection and alienation - my concern for Israeli family and friends, my horror at the unjust treatment of Palestinians.  I end up ideologically, emotionally, and intellectually paralyzed: I have never attended an anti-Israel demonstration, nor have I ever attended a pro-Israel demonstration.   This paralysis disgusts me, until I consider the potential power of being in-between, occupying not the one-or-the-other, but the both-and-more position.  What kind of living is possible from this uncharted, complex, non-fixed position?


I feel that America, and certainly the Bush regime, encourages citizens to believe in clear but false oppositions.  Our media thrives on it.  Reading the posts from some of the press about our action reminds me that people are not comfortable with an art event that does not situate itself neatly inside a fixed category of being.  Movement is not a thing that can easily be judged as good or evil, effective or ineffective, liberal or conservative.


My answer to the paralyzing, oppositional emphasis on either-or has been movement, which for me has become an always-in-between practice of dancing through an idea.  I believe that if I can keep my body moving with these conflicts/questions, that I'll find my way to a place of arrival, a position from which more questions will inevitably emerge.  I remember that during the escalation of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, while some went off to fight, and others to protest- I spent a lot of time improvising alone in empty studios, on my roof-top porch in Tel Aviv.  (Soon after I started teaching movement to young adults with disabilities, to orthodox Jewish actors who had never been given permission to express themselves through movement.  I know:  It is indirect, it doesn't all line up, but it was a way toward action that kept me from feeling bound up in my own selfishness and helplessness.)


How perfect that freedom of information asked me to improvise continuously while attempting to wrestle with all these questions, inviting me to consider how this might be an act of protest.  Freedom of Information allowed me to try to line it all up: dance, protest, awareness, change, hope.  I am moved by how differently we all encountered and embodied this proposal: for some of us- it did line up, and for others it did not.


Tirtzah and another Boston-based painter where my only live audience members during the 24 hour action.  I had no live internet feed.  While Tirtzah slept from 12:30- 10AM, I was totally alone.  


During the first few hours, it was exciting and pleasurable to be able to isolate and indulge my body's love of movement.  I felt free, and I accepted this freedom as a gift of the action.  I was struck by how much choice I have in how I conduct my life- when and how to move in any way that I want, whenever I want.  


(Side note:  In a rare moment of Zionist identification during the winter of 1999, I told an Israeli friend of mine that I was going to stay in Israel and join the army.  She told me that the world needed more dancers and less soldiers.) 


The middle of the night and the early morning were difficult for me- I spent hours shaking and tapping different body parts, leaning against a wall and absently swinging my legs.  Once Tirtzah woke up in the morning, and gave me some oatmeal to eat, I regained energy and began moving more fully.  With my small audience, I returned to my movement investigations.  Tirtzah danced with me for an hour, I ate another snack, I moved with reckless abandon for the last hour of 2008 (Tirtzah told me when I had one hour left).  

I remember thinking as I finished freedom of information that I should teach more and perform less-  that more people should be able to discover how to access the kind of pleasure and awareness that I feel when I move.  

Shifting gears: some thoughts from January 16th 2009

I am generally an optimistic person.  I think this optimism fuels my belief in dance’s ability to be part of a vital and necessary creative dialogue around issues such as war, justice, and suffering. 

For me, as impractical and impossible as it may seem, Israel has been both the site of an imagined, yearned-for utopia and a failing, corrupted state.  Lately, America - in the transition between Bush and Obama – also embodies this both-and quality:  overwhelming failure makes possible a kind of desperate hope and optimism. 


The past few weeks have been difficult for me as an optimist.  I find it difficult to discuss this with others, but somehow trust this grouping of people.  This war in Gaza has induced a drastic decline in my ability to believe in human progress.  I feel choked, remote- as if the logic of both sides of this conflict has become completely unhinged from a reality where actual human beings live and breathe in the world.  There are very few people in my immediate circles who seem willing or even able to position themselves in the in-between- and all around us exists a vast sphere of growing hatred and condemnation, hope becomes more distant.  With eyes toward the inauguration, and a desperate, failing optimism pinned on a new America, I already feel as if it is too late. 


I have to reposition myself, this is the beginning of an eyes-more-widely-opened transition.


Again, my deep gratitude to all of you, to Miguel for taking on this project, this experiment.  I know that we have to keep pushing ourselves, keep asking the impossible from ourselves, from our chosen art form.


-Jesse Z

No comments: