This article is a contribution from 2017-2018 LEIMAY Fellowship Artist Polina Porras Sivolobova. The LEIMAY Fellows are a group of local artists working individually throughout the year at the LEIMAY studio.

Drawing from my sketchbook, winter-spring 2018

“A one-woman piece of ancient rituals of transformations. This work, rooted in the body, explores the interaction between sound and image,” this was the first description, written on January 26, 2018 of the performance “Lilith under the last tree” (performed at SOAK, City Tech, Brooklyn, NY, June 16 2018).

It was this general because I only knew that much of what I was going to do: I was going to perform “…rituals of transformation.” Rituals and transformations had been my artistic language for some years, and I wanted to explore some kind of relationship between sound and image. This description, though short provided me with the information to create the rest of the work.

Working titles

"Lilith under the last tree"

"First woman under the last tree"

I considered removing the word “Lilith” and using “First woman” instead, possibly out of fear for what it could mean to portray such a strong and often controversial figure. But I quickly decided to take on the challenge of working with Lilith.

On January 28th, 2018 I wrote:

“In a destroyed world a woman sits under a tree, the last tree. She engages in rituals of passing time, there is nothing do, everybody is gone. She sews a pair of wings. There was a time when she knew how to fly without wings, now she needs them. She speaks, although she is alone. There's a TV next to her, guiding her or possibly making her company.”

Drawing from my sketchbook, winter-spring 2018

In this description, I expanded the idea by taking two elements, the very first woman on earth and the very last tree on earth. From this pairing, a series of questions arose: what is she doing in world where there’s nothing to do? How will her actions relate to the tree?

The doing something was a big part of the development of the performance; I wanted an action that would create longing, loss or duty. In a world void of humanity, what is she to do? Is she trying to save herself or waiting for her end? Since “She sews a pair of wings” she’s preparing to fly away; she hasn’t given up.

Lilith, according to the Jewish text Alphabet of Sirach, is Adam’s first wife and was created at the same time as him.

                                                                                                                                     

Drawing from my sketchbook, winter-spring 2018

“…While God created Adam, who was alone, He said, 'It is not good for man to be alone' (Genesis 2:18). He also created a woman, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith immediately began to fight. She said, 'I will not lie below,' and he said, 'I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while I am to be the superior one.' Lilith responded, 'We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.' But they would not listen to one another. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air. Adam stood in prayer before his Creator: 'Sovereign of the universe!' he said, 'the woman you gave me has run away.' At once, the Holy One, blessed be He, sent these three angels to bring her back…” (Wikipedia)

                                         Drawing from my sketchbook, winter-spring 2018

In Lilith Under the Last Tree Lilith has lost her wings. I imagined her coming back to earth and finding that not only Paradise was gone but also the whole humanity had been wiped out and only one tree remained. “She speaks…” this image of a woman speaking out loud is not a common part of my past artistic vocabulary, although, to me my characters are always speaking to themselves. Destruction and a television make the story sci-fi. Lilith, the queen of darkness and seduction is accompanied by technology and technology makes the story contemporary, it’s not an ancient biblical story (may be post-biblical) but a story of two survivors.

Note: the character of the tree was going to be represented as a moving image, screened in the flat screen TV, thus giving the feeling of an encapsulated tree or that the tree was only the idea of itself created.

   

Drawing from my sketchbook, winter-spring 2018

 

Drawing from my sketchbook, winter-spring 2018

This description gave way to describing on a more straight forward way what I intended to do:

 

“… The stage is mostly in all darkness, there's a diffused spotlight in the middle of the stage. I would like to create the 'tree' as an invisible element, through the use of my body and the relation of it to something that is not there (the tree). There is recorded music and lapses of silence. There is video, either on a TV screen on some other small devise (what are the possibilities of project video on a bigger scale) Approximate duration 10 minutes. This is a work-in-process. The movements are derived from the action of sewing, from the act of sitting under a tree (reference to enlightenment), flight, technology, and a destroyed world. The woman is inspired on Lilith, the biblical character, and first partner of Adam before Eva. She was made of clay, just like him and refused to obey his orders, thus she flew from paradise. She did actually fly. Rather than transformation is more a conversation with the tree, a precious living creature and her longing for flight.”

The idea of making the tree an invisible element creates a ghost-like figure that stresses the disappearing world. The setting expands into including more screens, creating a sense of watching and being watched, of projected realities long gone. Being a work-in-progress, the content of the videos – three screens – were the first draft. I used TV static noise and color bars, pieces of past performances and trees.

Drawing from my sketchbook, winter-spring 2018

Lilith Under the Last Tree, a multi-media performance required actions, sounds and videos. I wanted to challenge myself to use the vocabulary I had developed as a performance art artist and use it to create a work for the stage, a particularly challenging thing to, since it’s up to each artist to create their own vocabulary. Most of my past work hadn’t been for the stage, it was for public spaces- plazas and streets – and galleries.

My work fed from audience proximity and its participation, my strength (and favorites) is in durational works, meaning lasting from 1 to 24 hours. Also, my performances were about doing something with the intention of evoking a reaction or action from those around me, to tell a story in a non-linear, probably through repetition or exhaustion of an action or sometimes I just wanted to do something on the street. For Lilith Under the Last Tree, the intention was to evoke loss and sensuality, a possible curiosity for this woman called Lilith.

 

I searched for the one action that would give a general structure to the whole work but I wanted it to be a “real” action, meaning something done in real time but I only had 18 minutes. Some actions I considered doing: sewing wings (many variations), pulling a rope, making knots, making clay sculptures, eating clay sculptures among others. I also wondered how actions could become part of the videos so I included some of my past performances as well as re-creations of two iconic performances one from Marina Abramovic and the other by Ana Mendieta. Sound was an element that, from early drafts I wanted to explore thus sound became the main “action.” Rehearsals were usually about exploring sound.

Drawing from my sketchbook, winter-spring 2018

I wrote a short piece description in Elevator Pitch style, for the promotional material of 140 characters or less:

 

“Version 1

A woman sits under a tree, the last tree. She engages in rituals of gesture and sound, everybody is gone. A TV accompanies her, both engage in a narrative of repetition.

 

Version 2

A woman sits under a tree. She engages in rituals of gesture and sound as a TV accompanies her, both create a narrative of repetition.”

 

From this condensed version a few things stand out to me – “rituals of gesture” and “narrative of repetition.” Action gets replaced with gesture. I don’t think it was a ritual. I wondered how to create repetition creating a sense of confinement of space and time – a kind of glitch in a system.

 

[Note: around April the artists presenting at SOAK, all LEIMAY fellows had a sharing of the work. I figured most of my performance during this sharing such as the costume, the ipad on my chest, cables on the floor and a projector projecting a blue light on the wall.]

Image from April Fellow sharing photo by Eunjin Choi

This was the program version:

 

“A woman sits under a tree, the last tree. She engages in rituals of gesture and sound. Everybody is gone. A TV accompanies her and together they create a narrative of repetition. Lilith is, to many, the first woman created on earth. Fast-forward time: now she sits with the only remaining living entity – a tree. This one-woman work-in-progress explores the creation of narrative using the repetition of sound, gesture and video. Polina, whose main art form is performance art, explores how to ‘translate’ an action-driven art form into a theatrical staged work. She questions how the basic elements of performance art: time, space, the performer’s presence and her relationship to the audience, can remain the root of the work as they are transformed into the language of theater.”

Lilith Under the Last Tree photo by Shige Moriya

Let me describe what happened during the performance.

The setting: Center stage a pile of black and orange cables, to one side a turned-off projector and next to it a laptop on the floor, connected to an off stage flat screen TV.

The entrance: I enter in darkness from one side, carrying a flat screen TV which faces me. The TV is plugged to electricity and to the laptop; the cables are dragged as I walk up the stairs in the middle of the theater, among the audience. My steps are slow and careful, I can’t see but only feel each step and the cables being pulled, as I reach the top of the stairs I go back down being careful not to trip on the cables. I reach the center and step on the pile of cables. Still in darkness I turned the flat screen towards the audience, I’m wearing another small screen on my chest with the image of a tree. The video on the flat screen is a looping a sequence of black and white static noise, a part of a performance I did in 2014 “Soil, tears and brush” where I’m topless and playing with my long hair and the last shot is of tree branches being moved by the wind. I’m making an “SSSSS” sound, then as the performance progresses I make “A” and “O” sounds.

Lilith Under the Last Tree photo by Shige Moriya

With a spot light on me, I raise my right arm high up and point towards the sky, referencing a connection to a ‘higher being’ as well as flight.

Lilith Under the Last Tree photo by Shige Moriya

Then I walk towards the projector and turn it on, no image is projected but only the projector’s blue light, color bars and hands moving slowly. I stand in front of the projector’s light, which in turn it creates a shadow of me on the wall. I repeat the same pose of raising my arm, this time I lick my arm and laugh. The laugh wasn’t plan, and it actually never came up in any of the rehearsals. I had explored many kinds of ‘Liliths” this time I was bringing a sexual and possibly a bit demonic Lilith.

Lilith Under the Last Tree photo by Shige Moriya

Lilith Under the Last Tree photo by Shige Moriya

Lilith Under the Last Tree photo by Shige Moriya

Then I walked up to the wall and slide down, returned to the flat screen TV and lifted it high up, lied down with the TV on top of me and screamed for a long time. Then I cradled it from behind and ending the performance by unplugging the television.

Lilith Under the Last tree photo by Shige Moriya

Lilith Under the Last Tree photo by Shige Moriya

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