Friday, February 27, 2009

Marissa Perel's Response to doing foi 2008

hi there everyone.
it's been a while since i updated the blog. marissa perel sent me this at the beginning of february. it's the text for a talk she gave about doing foi 2008. i love it, and this it is so powerful. i'm happy to share it here. 


by Marissa Perel


The place where my deepest relationship to fellow artists and my career really began is a top floor loft on 249 Varet St. in Brooklyn, NY that is known as Aqui the Bushwick. The choreographer John Jasperse moved there in the early nineties and rented it out from a construction company that had offices in the bottom floors. Soon it became of hub of activity for dancers, musicians and experimental theater performers as well as an important underground venue for eclectic shows, benefits, recording sessions and film production. Miguel Gutierrez, the who organized Freedom of Information, moved into that loft in the mid-nineties and his formative career as an emerging choreographer began there. Musical composer, improviser, and hacker Jaime Fennelly moved into the loft in 2000 as he was working with Gutierrez in a duo called “sabotage.” I moved into that loft with Jaime shortly after the first time Miguel performed Freedom of Information in 2001.

I had recently survived a major accident from inner-tubing down a mountain slope and was looking for more approaches to healing. Amidst the constant activity in Aqui the Bushwick were a myriad of processes and practices with the body that I learned in order to heal myself. I consumed anything I could: Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method, Body-Mind Centering, Skinner Technique and Authentic Movement as well as Qi-Gong and a variety of Eastern healing practices.

Because I was learning these methods among dancers, they were never kept at a purely therapeutic level, but were always utilized in order to build dance material. So, my evolution from recovering to dancing really worked out of a perception that what my body had to offer was interesting source material. The sensitivity of a dancer's able body to witness my disabled body, and through these practices show me what was possible in movement, persuaded or very tangibly forced me into a performative relationship with my body. I would say that this is how I developed an artistic relationship to my own pain and the pain of others. Though I became stronger, I could "pass" as abled, though I could dance at Judson Church and successfully choreograph, my pain was never absent, nor is it now.

I turned to language, researching psychological and theoretical texts as well as essays, autobiographies, poetry, performance texts that related to pain in any way. Two of the most powerful books for me were The Body In Pain by Elaine Scarry and Out of Actions, a book about an archival exhibition of performance art that took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. Between these books, I learned how multiplicitous one's relationship to the body and the larger social body can be, and that there was room in the world for me to make work out of my experience and use my body as a tool within it.

It was at this point that I started to be an artist-in-the-world. I collaborated as a poet with Miguel Gutierrez for his second piece at Dance Theater Workshop in 2003, and from then on regularly collaborated with other choreographers, composers, dancers, and experimental musicians with text or dance or my own scores for music and basically made my career up as it went along. I didn't limit myself to one discipline believing that I could learn what I needed to in order to perform for a given piece. The lack of boundary I had due to the organic way in which my recovery informed my artistic practice made it possible for me to approach other disciplines without fear. It also allowed me to experiment with my body in ways that most others perceive as taboo.

Informed equally by predecessors in performance art such as Marina Abramovic and Gina Pane as choreographers like Simone Forti or Anna Halperin, and composers such as John Cage and Terry Reilly, my performances combine ritual, movement, improvisation, and a variety of relationships to time and space based on Eastern healing practices and indeterminacy. The body is always central to my work, meaning that my performances are not embellished with larger sets or costumes, and they are always staged in an intimate manner so that the audience can be close to the actions being performed. I have used animal blood, milk and urine, copious amounts of baby powder, glitter and vaseline all within a choreographic framework. Often text and music are used in my pieces as improvisational structures.

Even though there is a great deal of mystery in the lifecycle, my perspective on the body is that of no mystery. I want to lay bare the pain and strife of the body's limitations in relationship to one's desires, dreams, memories and to those of other's as well. Imperfection, failure, defeat and helplessness are powerful resources for making art and learning why you make it. For me, these are starting points, places that are open and real and necessary in order to bring oneself to a place of deeper recognition and awareness.

This is a good place to begin a description of Freedom of Information 2008. As you have there in the press release, it was a performance-protest-ritual-dance lasting for 24 hours, from midnight on the 31st of December 2008 to midnight on the 1st of January 2009 in which artists from 32 states moved continually, blindfolded and ear plugged while fasting.

Gutierrez first performed this in 2001 as an impulsive reaction to the war in Afghanistan reflecting his own feeling of a complete lack of accessibility of knowledge about what was happening, so needing to go deeper, to undergo this endurance experiment and come up with his own answers through a somatic practice. This year he decided to open the experiment up to a national level and printed is a list of the participants (which you can look at during the break). So, at this point, 7 years later so much more has taken place and is taking place in the world for us to respond to, and in this regard all of the participants had their own reasons for and investments in doing it.

If you go to the blog:, you can read responses from all of the participants except for me, as this lecture is my first formal response to my performance. However, I have started my own blog: where I write about my disability on many levels that developed as a response to my experience of Freedom of Information.

My own motivation for performing this piece is of course linked to my history with Miguel and my participation as support for him in 2001, and also as test of my own strength 7 years after my own accident. It is also an act of solidarity for those who can't use their bodies according to their own will and for those who have used their wills to fight injustice (which I know is a broad term). I performed in my apartment, opening it to the public and I believe that under 10 people actually visited me. Local dancer, Steve May accompanied me as an auxiliary dancer because I was afraid my body might not hold up for the duration of the piece, however something for profound occurred between us. I think that recounting my experience along with Steve’s as part of a group exploratory practice will best reveal the depth of my experience.

Please take the black cloth from under your chair (or take a piece of black cloth) and tie it around your head to make a blindfold. I am going to read you part of my experience of the performance. Take your time to get used to your lack of sight. Utilize your other senses to take in my voice.

After Freedom of Information 2008:

I want to keep my experience even though it seems that part of it has to be an articulation of the dance. To emerge from darkness, where time and space collapse, or rather where they become everything. I dance because it is what has been asked of me by Miguel. I dance because my body is not bound. I dance because I can feel my breath, skin, heat and take it all with me. Because I am not about to collapse.

Every moment was another task, another limit, maze, another beast. The beast and I start a dialogue, we negotiate, we start playing tricks on one another (as I continually mistake one wall for another). At this time of year, many desire time, seek leisure, but here I began to feel something beyond time. Patterns of thoughts, cycles of memories, the bank of somatic triggers send me into wild limb-shaking, pounding, groaning and writhing.

New York, 2001: Miguel moans, his leg is bleeding, the skin of his lips flakes away and I am holding a camera, waiting. My body is freshly recovered, enough to be walking up the four flights of stairs to our loft, though I need to stop and rest each climb. Streaks of red from the dye of his sweat-pants stain the walls, but more stains develop- anger, shame, revelation of a flawed character, the disorientation and helplessness of being American, an artist, not knowing where to go.

I am stuck to the wall for the first two hours of foi 2008. The sensory deprivation of the blindfold and ear-plugs combined with being alone in the apartment are immediately overwhelming. I try to break the ice with the space by talking out loud. I talk about who has already been dancing on the East Coast, who will soon begin on the West Coast, try to feel them. It's cold, I feel my way to a couple of shirts on the floor. I finally feel comfortable moving onto the floor, and then I begin to breathe.

I remember the history of my body in relationship to Miguel, the ways in which we witnessed one another, were there for one another when one or the other was on the verge of collapse physically or other wise.

I remember Jaime Fennelly, I remember his hands on my body and imagine them there, somehow indelibly enclosed within the scar on my pelvis.

These memories give me power, they enable me to see the pain that lies ahead without fear. I fall into a meditative trance where I am letting go of layers and layers of self-hood, reduced to a respiring mass of flesh feeling itself, snake-like.

I can sense dawn approaching as a smell. I can't describe it, but a sharp unnameable scent perks me up. The atmosphere is changing. My whole body opens as if answering to something. I sit prostrate and do some yogic stretching. Everything is possible, I am unified with the emptiness of my apartment. We are symbiotic structures bound to the task of the piece, and I have no sense or aspiration toward anything else.

Joy stirs in me from a depth I could only feel by such extreme silence. It rises and forces me out to the edges of the room. I am cold, but happy. Silence grows in me to a degree that I feel awakened, at ease with blindness. I know the day has begun and the city is getting on with its business, and I am part of its larger body.

Mike comes to the door, I'm terrified.
I've been alone for at least nine hours, enough time to forget about contact. He approaches the room, and I can feel the heat from his body from all of those feet away. This is witnessing in its simplest sense. I stand blocked from sight and sound, however my body is reading his. He sees me, but he can't know what I am feeling. We are equal in this encounter.


I realize I've been trembling, so I start jumping around, making big movements, adjusting to the shift in the space. I get warmer, strip off layers, start letting myself go. Flying into the walls, the heater, window, I attempt to push the boundaries. I get hungry and horny at the same time. My body is a channel for something now, and I want to feel everything. I drink some water and slowly move toward the heat in the room, reptilian.

Mike touches my hand, and suddenly I feel like I am going to crumble.

My ecstasy gives way to my own awareness of my vulnerability, that extreme softness, and my sense of safety vanishes. I don't know how long I've been going, I know I have a long way to go, I've been talking to the walls, hitting the walls, rubbing against them for comfort, and this touch reminds me of that emptiness.

I retreat against a wall. Panic sets in, I talk to myself. I pace, I breathe into my pelvis. I pee. This is one of many moments throughout the 24 hours that I realize what I got myself into and have to talk myself down from losing my strength out of fear. I start swearing at Miguel, I say I'll never do any performance he asks me to do again, I get frustrated because even though this is supposedly a protest piece, I can't access anything to make me think about the world. I'm getting into my memories and my desires, staying in that personal world, letting my life catch up with me, so to speak. I start wondering what this is really about, who or what I am confronting, whether or not I can handle being witnessed.

I lay down on the floor, fingering the wood, my shirt, my ribs, making small circles with my knees. I allow my whole body to sink into the floor, I breathe, I sense that people are around, but I try to forget them for a while. I have a serious confrontation with something - my own intentions going into this, what art means to me, why this is artistic, why this is political, why I am alive.

A projection of images begins to slowly revolve before me:

-the brutality of police officers at the WTO/IMF protest in Washington, D.C. in 2000
-protesters getting mauled by horses during the Republican National Convention a few months later -women in fur coats and cowboy hats during Bush's first inauguration
-the black spiral of my body going off a mountain's course and hitting a tree
-x-rays of the fractures,
-looking down at my body bandaged and swollen, bleeding
-sitting at the kitchen table in the loft I shared with Miguel and Jaime unable to sleep due to the pain -writing at 3AM or 5 AM
-one morning sitting down and seeing the paper filled with images from Abu Graihb.

My whole life stopping.

Realizing I could no longer be a poet, but had to use my body urgently from now in order to make the art I felt I needed to.

More images:
Guantanomo, and testimony from detainees. Being beaten to a pulp in the chest and genitals, electrocuted, bound, made to perform sexual acts on others, being forced as a man to wear ladies underwear, being given pants with the crotch cut out, bathing in your own urine so no one will come near you, telling someone the food is drugged and then blacking out for an indeterminate amount of days, and then being told you have to go on medication, the number of people who tried to commit suicide in these circumstances, and who were dragged, drugged and humiliated because of it, being separated from your family, losing your home, breathing in the toxic fumes from missiles exploding, giving birth to a child that will never live, getting cancer, not being able to find a safer place, fighting in a war and then coming home with a tumor in your leg, losing a leg, both legs, arms.

The cycle of this violence, what we are doing when we create an image of a human being as an "other."

Who benefits from that subjectivity?

"faith," "vigilance," "detainee," "homeland security," "national threat," "orange alert," "suspicious package," "remote targeting," rape, murder, jihad, and on and on until I cried, taking in that terror - the imagery, language, sense of imminent death and destruction we've been threatened with but of which we are the real assailants.

I had arrived somewhere that wasn't a place- it was an interzone - an imaginary scape that encompassed chains of broken bodies. Mine was part of that continuum. I felt incredulous that as my body was beginning to rise others were being extinguished brutally and without remorse, without identity. How do we mourn this world of others -without-identities?

How is it possible, doing this dance, to name that pain?

It's as if I was dancing around a loss, an excavation site where the remains had been stolen.

This question, this gap forced me into a recognition of my own ability. My body began moving with a force that was not of it, it seemed to lengthen, rising into another form.

I can remember the feeling of a light vibration going from feet into arms as lines of light released from my chest and hips. It was deceptive, I sought to jump, climb, to actually physically lift-off. This made me aware of the stiffness in my hip. I stopped, breathed, braced the wall and began to laugh.

I moved away from the wall, facing the heat in the room I perceived as people, and said, "this doesn't matter," "this pain in here, it just doesn't matter," and I felt resolved that I would finish.

It was a greater task than duration - the endurance was no longer about the physical constraints, but more the fire of truth.

This is the place from which I have risen - the decay and deceit of Bush have ruled over the majority of my adulthood - from the moment of my accident in 2001 through to December 31st, 2008. I have been recovering in the age of terror, and perhaps in a sense like survivor's guilt, not knowing what for. So this was the moment of me facing myself, acknowledging all of the culpability and resistance that had been negating the agency of my body.

That is all I can describe for now. It is the progression of events up to about 8 PM. It is still raw and emotionally difficult to talk about me experience after that time because the suffering I experienced was total. Hallucination, overwhelming nausea and dizziness and complete illusory sensory perception took over as I just stuck it out until midnight. However, I have a statement from my dance partner, Steve May, who was there from the afternoon through to the New Year, and who fasted and maintained a vow of silence in solidarity with me for the day.


“As you kept going I found it more and more difficult to watch without responding. I remember laying down in the space with you and doing some recuperative work on myself…From there it was pretty inevitable to want to work with your body. I don’t remember whether you asked me, or I just started doing it, but my sense of responsibility to take care of you was overwhelming, and once I was actually able to start doing something physically with you, I decided that I wanted to dance too.

After that, I went in and out of moving with you in the space, sometimes on my own, sometimes interacting with you. But after a while I started to become increasingly self-aware and began to question my motivation around 8PM. I started moving with you because I wanted to help you, but then it became about enjoyment. Around 9:00 PM I blindfolded myself with a t-shirt, and then I was able to experience a little bit more of what your world was like. I navigated the space thinking about how you had been like this all day. It was only after I did this that I felt totally connected to the project.

Then, for the last 2 hours, I went through a cycle of being really hungry, aware of being blind, being there with you and doing whatever we had to do to get to the New Year. I think that after being with you for several hours and then participating with you for several more was equivalent to several months of foundation laying for our friendship, which I find to be awesome.”