photo: Timothy Scott, Sophia Treanor, Nicolas Noreña
The Space: a square some 6 feet by 8 feet, comfortable enough to fit two to four people, but tight enough to frame them well marked in the corners by four shoes, socks or other small objects.
The Form: two to four performers stand on the outside perimeter of the Haiku space, and enter together to complete a series of three movements, or moments. The first presents a piece of information, the second complicates, adds to, or changes the shape of the first. The third is a resolution between the first two. Resolution does not necessitate a movement that causes sense-making logic to occur within the audience, but is a resolution of the information collected between the performer and the performance materials that have been encountered within the Haiku. Classically, the shift between first, second and third movements happen in unison amongst all performers and is ended by the group exiting at the same time.
The Origins: an exercise in honing one’s abilities to work with The Viewpoints. A brief performance in which one can take a diagnostic of their understand and precision of the six materials presented forth in Mary Overlie’s Viewpoints (Space, Shape, Time, Emotion, Movement and Story). How well am I able to let space communicate to me? How completely can I perform my understanding of that conversation with space, or any other material? If I enter the Haiku square with the intentions of working with space, how long does my focus stay with it? Do I slowly and passively let my focus slip around my bones and begin a conversation with Shape? The Haiku became a training ground to test one’s focus and and let them slip, albeit briefly, into the infinite pool of possibilities the materials hold for performance; all in the square the size of an above ground hot tub. In addition to the personal practice, there grew an appreciation for the Cage Chance Operations that are created effortlessly amongst the two to four participants in the square. The combinations of movements have endless possibilities and are untied from any script, genre or other framing devices and therefore, can appear to take nearly any form: ballet, kitchen sink drama, part fosse, part tragedy part chance happening. The Haiku, for me, has played an integral role in understanding how to view and how to create postmodern performance, or at the very least how to create a performance within a horizontally structured (or often times in the case of the Haikus, unstructured) framework. That, although I know this sounds redundant, a performer does not need to work with more than one material to perform something artfully; to take this slightly further, that a performance does not require a complex ordering, or hierarchy, of The Viewpoints’ six materials to seem complete. I learned this in a very profound way as a performer and a viewer of Haikus and have developed a great appreciation for watching a performer working through the six materials with dedication.
The New Idea: I have been playing with The Haiku practice for six years as a mostly technical practice and now myself and my collaborators are trying to restructure the form as performance rather than research. From where I stand looking at Haikus now, I am able to look at an index of information that I have gathered over six years of research as if it were an open field. Standing in this field, I have seen the field itself blossom, withstand winter, summer, dryness, heavy rain, I have seen many critters enter and exit, dig, barrell through flowers, etc. The Haiku practice allows this field to bare itself to the viewers with no pre-planning: no idea of the weather, its inhabitants or as a container for any story. Instead we enter the rectangular space and through a very close focus, converse with our own chosen elements of the terrain. Nicolas focusing on the movement the prairie dog, Hannah the shape of lavender standing in grass and myself the space of a cloud barely formed above the horizon. We won’t know that we are doing this, just as a cloud doesn’t know the prairie dog scampering below and cannot smell the lavender growing happily, but something can be discerned by the audience from our commitment to working with the terrain as we come into contact with it. In part, the Haikus function to make both participants and viewers active as “observer-participants,” a term introduced by Overlie to express the shift in both artistic activation and viewership within postmodernism. The role of the observer-participant, in Overlie’s words, is centered on “witnessing, and interacting,...working under the supposition that structure could be discerned rather than imposed” and is vital for both performer and audience member. Now, as a performer, an artist, an audience member, as someone who everyday feels less like a child and less like a student, someone who has a harder time locating my innocence, the Haiku square stands in a very special place. I have been in a struggle with art, contemporary art both as a genre and art as it is happening now, and it continues to become more tangled, and we both seem to grow heavier, pulling each other nearer to the floor. I have become concerned with an idea that I previously hadn’t when looking at art: what is this asking of me/where is this leading me? I believe this question comes from seeing performances and other works of art and feeling further isolated by them. Feeling myself more clearly in some sort of vacuum. It’s a strange feeling to view something and almost instantaneously feel yourself in the absence of that thing, having moved nowhere. I don’t mean to be referring to bad art, or to be calling art bad. I think it actually has to do with some kind of audience confusion. That as our cultural and political tectonic plates shift, quake and rupture the needs of the audience have transformed. We no longer need to see performance from the distance we are used to seeing it from--a distance where the structure of it is very clear and we can make out how the story affects the emotion affects the movement and so on. It has become necessary to see things from less of pedestrian distance, but instead far more microscopically. That we learn, or re-learn, how to read the materials as separate containers for information on their own and in conversation with one another. This idea is central to the Haiku.
The Theory: In my understanding, performance and the audience’s mode of viewership is still very rooted in the Modernist set of values which concern themselves greatly with an understanding of the human experience, psychological plight and our interiors as they manifest just barely beyond our reach. This has created an affinity for sensationalism as it speaks to this psychological concern very directly and can be seen in almost all arenas of our social lives. Sensationalism has given rise to such figures as: Donald Trump, David Mamet, Shonda Rhimes to name a few popular people in different arenas. It allows to indulge in inflammation and the pseudo-provocative, we enjoy an emotionally swollen speech more than we care for a call to arms. The paradigm the Haiku is offering asks the audience and performer to reduce what they are doing/seeing to its most particalized self, to focus on what is actually here, or there [in the space] or around us. The Haiku begs you to first sense and then to intuit; to trust your own modes of perception, to value the ability to collect data through witnessing rather than a superficial version of viewership, in essence to look and perceive deeply. To challenge our ability to do that. I understand that these ideas are not new, but they are wound very tightly around the performance of Haikus and enliven them as a form of art.