The Event of a Thread – Day 5
as artists, and as human beings, what kind of space do we create?
“It’s an empty city block…And wanting to make the place that everyone can be in and join the work in some way. And thinking about: What are those experiences that allow us to fall open to something? What allows us to become receptive? To pay attention? And all of the modes of attention that we can form…The responsibility of thinking about the nature of public gatherings and what are the opportunities to gather in public? How do we retain a sense of our individual presence and yet join to something larger?”
~ Ann Hamilton, Park Avenue Armory Artist Talk with Kristy Edmunds ~
of course i started off the New Year by being late. or at least, feeling like i was late. i actually got to the Armory 25 minutes before my shift. i like to get there at least a half hour early to prepare to read. even though i felt rushed, this gave me enough time to bond with fellow reader Kym Bernazky over our crazy New Years Eve bartending shifts (leaving me with not enough sleep and a slight distaste for humanity). it also gave me time to release into the floor of the green room and do a brief but much needed vocal warm-up before heading out into the space.
and what a space it was! somehow i had erroneously imagined that it would be slow and mellow on New Years Day. that (much like myself) people would have stayed up late the night before and want to cuddle into their couches to watch “Love Actually” and have a good cry. i forget that perhaps i live an unconventional kind of life. clearly, everybody wanted to bring their children to the Armory today.
it was an intense day. as time goes on, it seems that people are more aggressively approaching the table—leaning over our shoulders, poking at the pigeons, and hanging on the beautifully crafted structure or trampling over the scroll of text spilling onto the floor in front of it. i was grateful for the Armory staff who is doing sensitive crowd control. when it would get especially bad, they would swoop in at the correct moment and relieve us for a time.
“Initially I think I had an expectation of that history as I started to look at the history of the regiment and think about the early National Guard out of here and the history of riot suppression. So there was, on the one hand, crowd control and the control of public voice. And on the other hand, there was always the extension of care. And I thought: Well, how do we reconcile these two forms of power and the extension of that hand?”
to further add to the intensity of the experience, Ann’s crew is now filming the exhibit. the amount of external presence and interference has now increased. i do enjoy being a part of the documentation process and as an artmaker myself, i absolutely understand it’s importance. but it also felt difficult to find my own voice amidst all the chaos.
Audra Wolowiec is assisting Ann Hamilton on this project. she is also an artist and has experienced being a reader (and writer) in the piece. in fact, she has filled virtually every kind of role as far as i could tell. as such, her observations and insights are so in tune with much of what is going on, in terms of understanding the installation and mysteriously synchronized with my own internal processing of it as well. today she asked me about my voice warm-up and about different types of vocal training available for actors. this is a particularly passionate topic for me. i find voice work of the utmost importance and feel that for awhile it had lost an emphasis in contemporary American drama. with the onset of American Realism in art in the late 19th century, actors started speaking and moving in ways that embodied “everyday behavior”. we came to prize naturalism over a heightened sense of dramatic interpretation. new approaches to acting were created that emphasized psychology over physicality—Stanislavski’s system gave way to Method Acting as championed by Strasberg, Adler, and Meisner. to varying degrees, vocal training was separated from pure emotional training (and perhaps to an over-reliance on only the psychological). don’t get me wrong, i think that delving into this work was really important for that time. i also think that more a fully-integrated mind and body facility gives way to more possibility.
i believe our voices are a vessel for our imaginations—our breath unites our body with our intellect and spirit. it allows us to articulate all that we believe and to express our passions. for me, our spiritual/creative voice is just as important as the one that emerges as sound. so how can we support this inner voice if we do not develop our physical one?
i felt that today’s text from Susan Stewart’s Poetry and the Fate of the Senses really addressed these ideas. it was about the poet’s words as a structure for the basic sensations, most notably used to touch each other. touching each other with our words and thus, our spirits.
“So when I started looking at the photographs in the archive expecting a certain kind of document, I was surprised by all of the personal photographs. And I was drawn to the many, many instances of tenderness and camaraderie that were expressed in these photographs as the men worked together. Or as they put on large social events. Or as people gathered to honor public figures in the funerals that have happened in here. Or the sporting events, the behind-the-scenes. There was always someone extending their hand and touching another person with incredible tenderness. And I think that that had a huge influence on how the project formed. So the Event of a Thread is obviously two things touching each other and both being changed by the reciprocity of that.”
which, let me note here, that sharing a sense of touch does not mean that we should poke at the pigeons.
instead, how can we touch each other, with our words, with our voices? and no matter what tool we use, can we do it with awareness and sensitivity? can we develop the condition and the skills to touch each other in a way that changes each other for the better? perhaps i was pre-conditioned to be thinking about touch in a metaphorical way because of the voice conversation with Audra earlier, but either way it struck a chord. (no vocal puns intended.)
“Each concordance is 12 inches wide, which is the length of half of a newspaper. And it has a central spine of words that marches down the center. And the horizontal line comes from, in this first scroll, Aristotle’s three-book work ‘Danima,’ which is a treatise, or writing, about: How do we know that we’re here? And he talks about that the common sensibility, the common sense, we all share between species is the sense of touch. And he was a biologist, really, but it was before the word ‘consciousness’ existed. So instead he uses the word soul.”
as i was leaving the Armory after my shift, Ann came back into the green room. Ann, Audra, and i were talking about the installation. Ann mentioned moving back to Ohio and how it created the space to make work like this.
i have to admit that, for some time, i have been heavily contemplating leaving the city after grad school. i mean, i am already developing the plans to create my Butoh Robot Theater piece in Japan next year. but after just having spent the holidays at my parents’ quiet and warm home in South Jersey, i am reminded of the kind of inner peace that is possible (and increasingly, much-needed) to do creative work. i have been wondering: can i just move out to the woods and make my work in space? can’t i just go out and stare at a tree and have that be enough???
Ann reflected on the casualties of making a change like this. you simply don’t bump into things like you do by virtue of being in NYC. but of course not. as New Yorkers, we sacrifice the space to breathe so that we have more opportunities to bump into each other. i can’t stop thinking about molecules—the more densely packed, the more solid the substance is. atoms that have more space to move around embody the qualities of fluidity and breath. but somehow talking with Ann gave me great hope and inspiration that it’s possible to have space, freedom, and a solid artistic career. i acknowledge that eveyone’s path is different. i also acknowledge that as long as you keep making the work, something will come of it. the work comes out of it. so how better than to create the space to do exactly that?
Ann also spoke of teaching and how, even though it takes up a lot of time, it creates some kind of stabilizing force that allows for the work to still take place. we wondered if Anne Bogart feels similarly teaching at Columbia.
this led to a whole discussion of how their collaboration came to be, which sounded so serendipitous in the way it all came together. when Ann and Anne met, it sounded like a time portal opened up and they both jumped right in. Ann was really at a loss about who would be the readers in the piece; Anne happens to have a company of actors who love to read (and in particular, they are experts at using text as theatrical composition). Ann said that every part of this installation just kind of fell together in this way. the many elements crossed together and created this whole new thing. as the reading today stated, once a object is touched, it changes. and it’s reciprocal. the subject touching the object is also touched. the subject becomes the object, in a sense. it too is changed by the event of touch. and change is generative.
i have been touched and changed by this project. and despite all that is chaotic and hectic, when it feels like people are too many, space is not enough, and life is robbing me of all-time, i will remember to stay the path, my own path, and remain open. the possibilities and connections will emerge.
in this busy last week, everyone is vying for Ann’s attention. people are saying goodbyes and she is needed for a myriad of inquiries and actions in wrapping up the project. i felt really grateful for this time to connect on a personal level and glean some of her great and grounded insight. with my own life and energy so up in the air, it really felt like a tremendous gift.
right before i left, Ann was talking about the Viewpoints training and the work of SITI Company. she said,
“And that’s what that process does, is create the space for possibility.”
i think she was talking about the Viewpoints. maybe she was just talking about life. in either case, i believe that creating the space for possibility is exactly what i need right now. it may very well be what the world needs right now.
to make that my life’s work (and not just the process of training or artmaking), this is the next step in my own personal evolution. and i will trust that if there is space, the rest will fall into place.
Red Rover opens with “The Owl,” a poem that is at once invocation of the muse, genre exemplar of the nocturne, figure for the creative act, and catalyst of a primary thematic exploration of the book — the relationship of perception to conscious being, to knowing, and to human and aesthetic encounters:
I thought somehow a piece of cloth was tossed
into the night, a piece of cloth that flew
up, then across, beyond the window.
A tablecloth or handkerchief, a knot
somehow unfolding, folded, pushing through
the thickness of the dark. I thought somehow
a piece of cloth was lost beyond the line —
released, although it seemed as if a knot
still hung, unfolding.
I called this poem “the owl,”
the name that, like a key, locked out the dark
and later let me close my book and sleep
a winter dream. And yet the truth remains
that I can’t know just what I saw, and if
it comes each night, each dream, each star, or not
at all. It’s not, it’s never, evident
that waiting has no reason. The circuit of the world
belies the chaos of its forms —