Chance spirituality and Manifesto in Performance Art. Margaret Dragu

Chance spirituality and Manifesto in Performance Art
Margaret Dragu

Part One: It's a Good Thing, said Martha Stewart
Last week, I made dinner for Tagny Duff and Kirsten Forkert at my home in Finn Slough, a 100-year-old fishing village on the south arm of the Fraser River. It was very dark, very rainy, and heavy on the root vegetables with brown rice. After dinner, we recorded a 90-minute audio record of our conversation about art, performance, the tour, and ReciproCity/cite. It was a great pleasure to get together as I had been really missing everyone since the tour. By the time Kirsten and Tagny were dropped at a very dark and rainy bus stop bound for Vancouver, I was certain of two things: ReciproCity/cite should continue as a group, and, I believe we are exploring a new area of spirituality in performance.

Part Two: The Spiritual in Performance
I love art that changes one's consciousness. This change of consciousness is a spiritual act and can be felt during the performance and/or in its creative process. I am using the word spiritual to mean developing awareness. Just plain old awareness or perhaps an awareness of a path towards making the world a better place through a shared awareness. The presence of the spiritual in performance art is sensed by what I call an "aha" or transcendent moment. This happens while an artist, employing intellectual ideas, materials, subjects, issues, actions, texts, personaes, gestures, rituals, props, visual imagery or WHATEVER, creates and executes a good idea but, suddenly, the idea has its own momentum. The execution of the idea transcends the original intent. The art surpasses itself as well as the artist's and audience's expectations. This is what I call the "aha" moment. I look for this spiritual presence in performance and other art forms.

I first spoke of endurance art practice and the presence of the spiritual in a recent art conference (Changing Role of the Artist II held at the Richmond Art Gallery in August 2001). Some artists and curators who presented and/or attended were making art in this area. I include Germaine Koh who showed slides of subtle performances designed to create a change of consciousness in individual audience members (ie. standing all day in a travel agency window meeting individual eye gaze) and who presented her manifesto on developing the skills of being small, unobtrusive, non-consumptive and able to easily flee. Also Kevin Ei-chi de Forest, Richard Rivet, Lorraine Sims, and Vjeko Sager to name a few. These artists would probably not use that word to describe their practice and some would be very uncomfortable with that word. I certainly don't mean it as the word attached to organized religion. Perhaps I should call it "gumdrops" instead of "spiritual"?

I feel spirituality in the work and process of the artists of ReciproCity/cite.

I am remembering images from Montreal: Paul -- reading the "news" -- by chance, the first newspaper he read at dawn was from Sept. 10th --wrapping/tying himself in newspapers until he was a newspaper Michelin man -- by sunset, he sat on the street corner in the pouring rain. Kirsten -- painting "ecoute", handing out cards saying: 10 seondes/tres lentement/Elle ecrit le mot 'ecoute' sur la vitrine. A memory of deaf-mutes using similar cards to solicit money. By chance, Kirsten and Paul formed a diptych about ways of seeing and asking. I had to ask myself if it is possible for us to see or hear "news", information, or art when there is so much information, mis-information, and so little time.

William -- carefully making his prepared typewriter - endurance, reference to John Cage.

Eric - a mutually regretful parting with a man who had completed a 3-minute silence for a country that had suffered military intervention. Everyone who left Eric's 'confessional' had made an emotional commitment to this simple act. Later, Eric as a giant GI Joe pulled by the innocently cruel children of Hallowe'en - a response to the night and times.

Shannon - a thrilling illusion to magic, flight, and memory that was illusion without falling into the trap of actually doing a magic act -- much deeper and fuller than that.

Josee - more naked than anyone later in the evening - dressed in a fashion created by her work history transformed to a hyper-sensitive antennae - pressing against the window, by chance the light shining into her genitals, leading us like a true queen down the streets of Montreal to Anti-Corps.

Victoria - exquisite but disturbing tableau of wealth and implied violence; discreet charm of the bourgeoisie plays real life Risk.

I am remembering images from Toronto: Kirsten and her small gang leaving the hotel wearing their leaky backpacks, then returning -- I could tell something-had-happened-to-them-as-a-group.

Tagny's grainy black and white surveillance monitor in the lobby showing herself asleep in bed - is it live, Memorex, history, or is she really sleeping?

Paul in his blue jammies serving Brita water and memories via shoeboxes of old photos; returning many hours later and seeing shrines and collections audiences had made for him, about him.

Eric's room feeling like an underground Marxist cell group meeting; next day at the Round Table Eric says he became a performance artist as an extension/development of political action and intervention. This revelation made me really like him and feel close to him and helped me understand his work.

Peeking through Shannon's bathroom transom to see an emotional performance about the architecture of the hotel and community in the broadest sense of the word.

Glimpsing William wearing a giant white headpiece/mask in the hotel hallway. Ed describing his one-one-one audience experience with Victoria; receiving a $10,000 Bank of Victoria cheque to achieve his dream, what that means about how close our dreams really are -- just a slip of paper away.

Part Three: Freedom is NOT Just Another Word
The ReciproCity/cite Tour gave me freedom. Artistic freedom is a rare opportunity. Everything conspires against it: administration and grant writing, audience expectations and desires, as well as publicity and criticism.

There are times to say yes and times to say no. I had stopped showing my work in cabaret and festival formats as I resented the formats affecting my work. I collaborated with artists of various disciplines (painting, sculpture, conceptual art, performance, dance, theatre) for many years and then stopped collaborating for many years. I have just begun to collaborate with other artists again as well as work improvisationally. I looked at ReciproCity/cite as an opportunity to explore chance and collaboration.

I felt free because the pressure to provide what the audience might expect, want, or need was spread around the mutual shoulders of the group. I never worried for a minute about the audience or allowed them to change what I was doing because I knew they were being presented with an enormous buffet of choices. Perhaps more a circus than a buffet table - if they didn't like my tiger act in Ring One they could watch trapeze artists in Ring Three. Another jolt of freedom came during our dinner before the performance in Toronto. We had forgotten the posters in Montreal. Should we or should we not stay up late designing a new poster and run around town putting it up? After a group discussion, we realized that kind of publicity is "old think" and simply not an effective tool anymore. However, targeted email listings and Jane Purdue's CBC radio show proved highly effective. Letting go of old thinking is very freeing!

Tagny Duff and I collaborated in Montreal performing a 3-hour work we viewed as "overlaps". Tagny was interested in surveillance, signals and response. In fact, she wore a surveillance camera on her chest to transmit video to a monitor in window A of Gallerie Elle Corazon. I was interested in executing pure movement sequences found by chance games similar to proceedures by John Cage and Anna Halprin that I had used in the late '60s and early '70s but I had not tried since. To accomplish all this, Tagny and I developed a mutual kinetic language cued by chance.

Every half hour, Tagny shuffled her prepared deck of playing cards and laid out a 4 card fortune teller spread. The cards had movement directions printed on the back of them. She performed these movements that were slow, nearly-natural, and almost subversive in the pouring rain under her umbrella while standing in front of the bike shop across the street from Elle Corazon. Tagny's movements were signal codes that I translated into movement directions for me. I wrote the instructions on the wall along with the number of repetitions (1 - 10) and spatial placement (Left/Right) based on a normal playing card deck I had in window B. After writing, Tagny and I would stop and gaze at each other for as long as we felt the space between us was charged. When we stopped our gaze, I performed the written movement instructions over and over again until the next time I saw Tagny. Meanwhile, Tagny documented her tactile exploration of the neighbourhood: objects, movements, gestures, car lights, people, etc. Every half-hour (yes, like good spies we began by synchronizing our watches) Tagny shuffled her card deck, spread the cards, performed the gestures, I decoded, determined the repetitions and space, wrote the by-chance-choreography on the wall, we gazed, we separated and did our actions.

To this pure game, I added random radio transmission, a prepared audio tape with selections from the film "From Russia With Love", and some selected-by-chance slide images from pre-fall-of-the-wall Berlin and eastern Europe. I played and projected the sounds and images by chance. And I had made a blue stripe in my performance space dividing it into two halves. I called my performance "The Wall is in My Head".

Tagny and I both agree there was one "aha" moment during one of the gazing sections when our piece found itself and became itself. Two women stood close to Tagny as we looked at each other. This time our gaze felt electric. It approached drama without narrative; why are these two women looking at each other, are the two women friends/lovers/mother/daughter, why is one outside in such horrible weather, why is one inside sweating in shorts, is this conflict, compassion, what is the window glass barrier of looking/seeing, the beholder and beheld, whom is causing action for whom? Certainly for me, the three hours of performing was the petrie dish that allowed this moment to occur.

Part Four: Darling You Were Wonderful Because You Are So Full of Shit!
My Toronto performance of "The Wall is in My Head" at the Gladstone Hotel evolved directly from the Montreal performance. My piece became dense and ritualized; I executed all my actions in the same order every 20 minutes. They were jammed with cultural and political references. It was extremely physical and appeared dangerous (especially dancing with knives on my feet) but wasn't. The performance skirted dance and theatre - a dangerous area. Art audiences can be flummuxed by content, narrative, or sourcing from other more traditional disciplines. In fact, they become so flummuxed that they stop seeing, thinking, and simply say, "That's not art!".

I received good feedback from the performances. But I want to address the criticism we did receive because it brings up interesting areas of debate. I don't intend this as a defense or rebuttal but I simply offer some ideas on the subjects.

Some art audiences (especially in Montreal) thought we showed "a lack of criticism and awareness of the framing of the work". Johanna Householder (in Toronto) wondered if one-one-one and other spiritual-area performances preclude criticality. What does it mean for performance practice if it cannot be criticized because it only "works" if the audience member "gets" it or participates satisfactorily? Does that put the criticality on the audience and not on the artist? ReciproCity/cite actually had two audiences: an incidental audience (especially in Montreal) and also an invited art audience. The art audience was invited to witness a process of a group getting to know each other, discover each other's creative process through making art, and expand sharing and intimacy through discussion.

Part Five: Polly Wants a Manifesto
I really do want to write a manifesto but not yet because we are still in the process. Ideally, we would share the values and structure of the work with the audience before the performance, perform the work, and the audience would return the next day to participate in the public round table discussion. But this is very demanding for an audience. When we are artists-on-tour, we are in special time: a-leave-the-day-job-behind-and-join-the-circus-time; 16-hour days of non-stop art making and talking is wonderful for us and is, in fact, our life! But the audience is still living their "real" life. Hard for them to experience durational work and return the following day to discuss it for another few hours. Everyone is so busy. Busy busy busy. Way too busy. In Toronto, it is insane, even hilarious, to attempt to meet people or even get through their voice mail system. Montreal is more human but still busy. Working. We are all working too much and yet getting paid less with a constantly dwindling social safety net. I know what must go in our manifesto. Demand more unproductive time!

While in the process of creating something new, we must fight criticality and all processes that promote the commodification of art. You don't (shouldn't) worry how you fit into the spectrum of art history while making art. In response to the question "How does criticality look at this new one-on-one, spiritual, emotional performance work?", my response is that it doesn't matter. Fuck criticality! This should also be part of the manifesto. Criticality is part of the commodification of art. Leave this to the historians not ask it of the artists.

If some audience's expectations were clearly not met by what we presented in Montreal; we must ask ourselves if it is valid to share process? Is there a way to cue the audience to ways of seeing this kind of work? The art audience is familiar with the '60's and '70's history of process and chance performances and video -- perhaps has even studied them. Although desiring anti-spectacle may be a popular position, when it comes right down to it, audiences love the big show that spans cabaret/museum/theatre in a way that is tight, directed, and presented. Kirsten said she is trying to encourage her students to spend more time with art that is difficult like watching Vito Acconci video at the recent Video In panel discussion that Tagny was a member. There is a constant pressure to commodify art and relieve it of process.

All art forms have practitioners who deal with chance and improvisation. They are usually not popular. Generally distrusted by the public and other practitioners. It is part of the old "well, anyone can do that" criticism directed towards Barnett-Neuman, meat dresses, and even Jane Sibery. When my daughter was a baby, my mother visited. As I served dinner, CBC radio played Jane Sibery's [then] new song "Everything Reminds Me of My Dog". It was a list of things in the world that reminded Sibery of her dog. My mother suddenly shouted, "My God, what an awful song! It sounds like she is just making it up as she goes along." My partner, an amazing improvisational musician of many genres using many instruments asked, "Is it necessarily a bad thing - to just make something up as you go along?" And just for one tiny moment, you could actually see my mother contemplating the idea that it might be okay to just make something up as you went along. But the moment passed.

Part Six: What Do We Want? We Want More!
It is expensive to get together and make art especially with the luxury of no formulated agenda or any other formula including a manifesto. Time and space has shrunk but it is important to do demand unproductive time and allow process! What we had in Montreal and Toronto may be luxurious but it is still not enough. We should spend even more time together. Make more art together. Create new ideas and processes together. It should not be such an amazing thing that Tagny, Kirsten and I got together for dinner and art discussion even though it involved a 3-hour adventure in the dark and rain for Tagny and Kirsten to find my fishing village. It should not be so amazing I made it to the grunt gallery to see Josee, Natalie, Victoria and Louise perform last week. This should be normal, necessary and natural. We are making something together. We must affect each other.

Since collaborating with Tagny in Montreal, I am interested in surveillance. I see it everywhere. I am beginning to videotape surveillance in my life: at my bank, Save On Foods, the liquor store. Even if the cameras are hidden, I shall video the signs announcing I am under surveillance. I have been researching anti-surveillance art activists and other culture jammers on the web (ie. Surveillance Players).

I am moved by ReciproCity/cite work and process. We are overlapping our individual art practices in spiritual and political ways that is very exciting. I am interested in the presence of so-called "one-on-one" work including Eric's ongoing 3-minutes per country of silence, Victoria's menu, Shannon's bathroom view, Paul's water service, Josee's bath, William's salon with found objects, and the intimacy of Kirsten's small group excursions.

Texto extraído de:
Slaps Banks Plots
Performance Art Magazine
Issue # 5