Anger in a Blank Space is a performance series comprised of nine durational performances. The first six performances are entitled “Anger in a Blank Space, parts 1 – 6.” The remaining three performances are entitled “Greyscale,” “1,000 Ways to Fall Apart,” and “The Third White Dress.”
A blank space is void of meaning and context; it offers no clearly defined containment. Placing this blankness in the center of the work is a way for me to externalize my own experience of alienation, particularly bodily alienation. I want to know if anger can be a force of reconciliation, a way to negotiate the space between embodiment and blankness.
I’m working with duration because time is an embodied reality; it is because we are bodily beings that we experience ourselves as existing in time. This project is a part of a larger project in which I compare the body in long duration performance work with the body in somatic dance, particularly in Authentic Movement. The somatic body is an internally focused, perceptive body. Somatic dance is reliant on this internal perception. I’m using time because I want to know if a new experience of time can be created for both the audience and myself that is both perceptive and performative.
Lastly, I want to know what it means to create a working performative space. These performances are the result of somatic research in which I have been coming to understand how to embody the traumatized body and overcome feelings of alienation. I’m taking this work and placing it in front of an audience and I want to know how this changes the experience of blankness that the work is being created from.
“Anger in a Blank Space Parts 1-6” are solo dance pieces. “Greyscale” addresses gravity, force, and consent through the use of weights. “1,000 Ways to Fall Apart” involves falling down and standing back up again 1,000 times. For “The Third White Dress,” I will lay in stillness for six hours while a stream of water drips on my torso. Each of these pieces are externalizing questions about consent in dance and movement because they require the body to integrate the force of the external as it acts upon the body.
I went in to the performance reminding myself that the most important thing was to live and embody my questions in the space. I’m walking the line between production and research, and have to stay mindful of that. Can anger be a force of negotiation? What does it mean to negotiate space through the use of a specific emotion. I'm not angry at something, I want to separate the emotion from experience and memory, I want to encounter it as an entity. I struggle to understand my anger because of feelings of blankness and alienation, this is something that I am working to confront and transmute through these performances. In any case, I told myself going in to just stay. To stay, and to live the questions.
I threw out my plans on day 1. I used the Proust passage on repeat… “But when from a long distant past nothing subsist, after the people are dead, after the things are scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”
When I first began I was still, not because I wanted to be still, but because it was public and I felt afraid. When there were people around I felt myself wanting to break down any expectations they may have, this was in an effort to find freedom. I was still, I wanted to speak the Proust line out-loud, but my I couldn’t find my voice. I stood for a long time and listened to the line. Then I started to turn. I turned 90 degrees after each time the line was recited. I stood and kept turning while people were going in and out, in and out of the gallery/in and out of the main building/walking on the street. I was present and visible, but nobody was with me even though it was very public. I felt like the center of a clock. I felt like I was watching the show, not being the show.
My body felt locked and that was incredibly difficult because I wanted to move. I felt like my body was hiding from me, because of the unfamiliarity of the space, and it was emotionally challenging. I started to walk in circles. I couldn't ground in the space, I couldn't let go of control.
I felt like the situation was out of control because it was so public and I handled it by controlling myself, as opposed to going deeply inside of my own body and process. I didn't want to let go of my mind. I didn't want to let go of my thoughts because I felt so afraid and stillness kept me company.
I felt incredibly isolated and unreachable, it was difficult to stay inside of that. I started to panic. I started to panic several times. I constructed the perfect situation to bring out my own anger and discomfort. I did it on purpose, but the self that constructs and the self that lives are different, and to reconcile the two in the present asks a lot of me. I kept moving in circles and when the panic started to settle in I started to move quickly and break the patterns, spontaneously and without ceremony. I felt resistant to letting anyone in the gallery count on me. I didn't want their expectations and it kept me from deepening.
This is about alienation, feelings of alienation are something I'm trying to move through, it’s horribly uncomfortable. After I knew everyone had left the building for the day I was able to move, to really move, but only on the floor. It was the first breakthrough to the perceptive body I experienced in the space. The one line of Proust was still repeating, it was making me feel crazy after four hours. I thought it would be a connecting point, like a mantra, but it didn't feel like that at all. It just felt like a broken expectation that was holding me in. Searching for meaning. Blank space void of context. This conflicts with the body being the keeper of time. No context expect the world of bodily memory. But the body memory that came out day 1 was a body memory of terror. But I stayed.
I expected the space to feel different. To feel new. On day two I felt a different kind of resistance. No sound. I made sound with my body while I was moving. I was alone, I was more present when I was alone in there. I walked and hit my leg while I walked. Hard enough to bruise, but that wasn't the point of doing it. I liked the sound, it comforted me. I thought about rules and about the beginner’s mind. About approaching each moment as if it were new. This is hard when your choices for change feel limited. I asked the gallery assistant to ask me questions. I wanted to see if I would have deeper access to my body while my mind was engaged elsewhere. I've experienced this in the past, but it was Sarah Michelson, an experienced artist and choreographer, asking me questions in that case. It had helped me to go deeper when she asked me questions while I moved, so I thought I might try it today, but today it felt like I was giving something away. I felt like I had to make the gallery assistant comfortable and this was difficult and distracting.
I thought about the point at which you break your own rules. Before I started the performance today I talked to Keith about Yoko Ono's Cut piece. In the end she covered herself. This is either the moment the piece is made, or the moment it is broken. I thought about the moment of rule breaking. It's a matter of revoking consent. In the moment the rule is broken a very important humanity is exposed. Something deeply internal becomes more important than the work. Her need to cover and protect herself was more important then the piece, this was her humanity, her vulnerability. I'm struggling with my own fear of being vulnerable. I let myself break all the rules today and I think it was a mistake. Or it was okay, but I don't want to do it again.
I had the gallery assistant go into the circle. I was tired of feeling like I had to “do”. I wanted out for a minute. She wasn't engaged enough with my process to hold the space and I think it was my control issues manifesting. I couldn't maintain inner control so I put someone else in the center to negate responsibility. I went back to the circle and asked her to go out. At that point I started to find my movement. I made a lot of sound. I slapped the floor and stomped and tried to find my body. I was able to let go a little. But I was still frustrated with my body. I wanted a dark studio and to feel safe. Everybody left and I just stood again for a long time, for about an hour I just stood in silence and felt the resistance and fear and then I hit a point when it felt like the fear was turning on itself and growing and I just had to get out. That's when I left.
I feel like it's important to stay. To stay and to stay in my own process and to stay alone in the circle.
Masochism and endurance, masochism is not the point. I think when I originally conceived the first three pieces I was trying to externalize an inner battle in a way that felt positively ritualistic—and the performative space felt like the right kind of ritualistic space. It's been two years since I wrote those first pieces, and when I got the gallery space it was for 9 performances and not just the original three. I was excited about this because I feel like I've changed so much in the last two years and through the work I've been doing my relationship to my body and movement had changed. Now I'm struggling with the desire to ritualistically externalize, to externalize anger, to externalize the inner conflicts in a constructive way. But at the same time masochism is not the point.
I've come to relate to time differently, I think time expands and changes consciousness. I think pain can do this too, pain was my original connecting point to this change, and when I wrote the first pieces that connecting point was obvious, but now I'm struggling because I want to push my limits, I want to change my relationship to time, I want to find the true integrity, and when I get in the space I feel the inner meanness coming out and that's why I stop, I don't want to internalize my anger but that's the habit and I'm pulling it into the pieces and this is breaking the ritualistic performative space I'm trying to create. Day 3 was easier for me. I found flow. I'm realizing kindness is necessary. But it's a fight. What are the lines between healing and art? What can you reasonably expect from an audience? Audience witness lines. Who's holding space? The new museum just had a show that was entirely healing... And art is always an expression of unconscious, a way of navigating and integrating and handling long things metaphorically and symbolically... But where are the lines? The somatic body is personal, so many questions still.
From a somatic perspective the answer is simple... You're teaching yourself to perceive deeply, and to take this perception and find a point where it creates embodied action. You're learning to listen and understand impulse and articulation. But what about when you remove the somatic element? What about if your teaching yourself from a performative perspective, you're trying to embody meaning? Or create an embodied meaning making mechanism? I think I'm amused by the idea because of questions of readability. I struggle in myself between working with what is readable and working with what feels organic to me. I think because I came to all of this in a unconventional way and don't have the same background as most of the people I'm around I feel a more exaggerated need to be readable. It really gets in the way sometimes. More later...
2: The circle. Leaving the circle. I like the energetic space of the circle. I love blank spaces and I want people to see it the way I do. When I leave I love to look at the circle and at the space and let it hold itself. It doesn't feel the same when I arrive in the beginning. The space has to be lived to have the quality that I love inside of it. But I want to make that space just for itself. More then I want to perform, I want that space.
From inside the space:
I can't tell if it's getting harder or if I'm letting it change. This has taken an extraordinary amount of energy and my relationship with the space is changing. On the one hand I feel very tired. I've only made the full six hours once and I'm nervous because the three pieces next week require the whole six hours and I'm getting so tired. Yesterday was so cold, the space was so cold and I started getting sick on Saturday and I'm struggling with that. But I found a certain peace in the space yesterday, I felt more at home and I felt like it was easy to move and be seen. But I'm still hitting a limit and it's just getting harder to find value in fighting the limit. There's so much more to say... But I have to keep moving now!
I felt overwhelmed about going back into the space after having a break for a few days. I told myself to just go in the circle and see how it feels. I had come to a point where something about it felt whole without me there. I felt that on day 5 and 6, my reason for leaving was getting sick, but I liked the hollow feeling of the space, I set it up with lights and was in it for a little while each day. And the space left behind sort of fits the idea of "anger in a blank space" to me. In my artist's statement I wrote that a blank space is void of context and meaning, but also holds a naked potential. Potential itself it difficult to ground without context, but this lack of context has been the most interesting and the most challenging for me. I have a certain amount of context in my reasons for doing the show, but more and more I'm finding the performative space, and my body inside of the performative space, is very different from the somatic space... Even if I'm taking a somatic approach to my body within it. So I have the personal context of my simple objectives, but in the actual space there is a lack of context. I like this in relation to anger. Anger feels like the ghost in the room. On days 5 and 6 when I left all that was left was the ghost, the ghost of the performance and the ghost of anger. When I thought of the performances I was the element of anger. My moving body in the center of the circle was anger embodied, but it's also interesting to me to let the anger be a disembodied idea. I've spent a lot of time thinking about anger with this show, I named it in the space and so it's always present. The space is framed with the title in the window and so the idea of anger is totally present. But anger, like all emotions, has to be embodied... Because it's human. I wanted anger to be a force of negotiation. I'm interested in the idea of dance as a negotiator of space, and when I've been moving I've been thinking about how a specific emotion can active this negotiation. I also wrote about reconciling alienation and embodiment in the statement. This alienation is the blank space and lack of meaning and context, and embodiment, which I think necessarily implies presence, is a way to overcome the blankness. It's strange though, to create meaning through simply being, with no emphasis placed on doing. The gallery is open. When I was working out the details of the show I told them to keep the gallery open when I'm not in there, so anybody can go and be in the space and do what they want with the premise and the blankness. I like this, even if most people need a more direct invitation to participate.
On day 7 I went into the space and meditated. I was only there for about an hour. I meditated and then pulled the bench into the circle. Then I sat behind it and watched the people outside. I wanted to relate differently to them. I wanted to feel safe in the space. I thought about how strange it was to meditate instead of use anger, but it seemed sort of appropriate too. After I left I went to the studio and danced for three hours. I hadn't planned that but my body just wanted to move in privacy. I keep reminding myself that I'm doing something very private in a very public space, and that is enough, even if it doesn't look how I thought it would.
Searching for the point of surrender. I had forgotten until I was in the middle of it that I was originally interested in the falling piece because I was playing with the point of surrender. If you're choosing to fall you have to consciously release something in your body that is holding you up/supporting you. I kept thinking about that with my knees, it's difficult to let go, but I like that point of surrender. On Sunday I was talking to my uncle and he told me that I designed all of this, and stacked my upcoming India ashram trip up on it, because I was trying to break myself or crack open. But he told me that I was too strong to ever be broken by force, he told me that I had to kneel to meet the change. So I was thinking about that while falling. I was thinking about kneeling to meet the fall so that I could fall without hurting myself.
Before the performance I talked to Keith and he told me that performance art is usually uncomfortable, and he told me that it's more like watching somebody paint, then like looking at a painting. Both of these things really helped me. I found a willingness today to both be uncomfortable and to not try and make a space that was comfortable for others. This felt important. I didn't feel self conscious and I was able to just be inside of what I was inside of.
For the final performance I ended up pouring water from one vase to another while singing "what a life I lead in the spring, what a life I lead in the sun. What a life indeed when that ancient seed is unburied watered and plowed". I did this because I wanted to keep the water and keep it simple. After my pool started leaking in the gallery and I had to disassemble it I was confronted one last time with a totally blank space. My body was so tired and I was so tired of the blankness, however this final performance ended up being one where I felt like I found what I had originally been looking for. I felt time stretch in the way that I had expected it would and it felt beautiful and whole.