Countdown to Gala 2017, Day 21: Excerpts from Issue #31 of the Movement Research Performance Journal
The 2017 Movement Research Gala on May 8 will celebrate 25 years of Movement Research at the Judson Church and 50 Issues of the Movement Research Performance Journal. As we count down the days until the Gala, we’re posting #50DaysOfMRPJ with Editor’s Notes and excerpts from each Performance Journal.
Movement Research Performance Journal Issue #31 was released in Spring 2007. You can view the full Table of Contents here.
*The Movement Research Gala will take place Monday, May 8 at 6pm at Judson Memorial Church. For more information, to volunteer or to purchase tickets, click here.
MRPJ#31: Tere O’Connor
I can only say that I approach this task as I have every journal I’ve worked on — as a guest artist editor. Who I am as an artist — my own curiosities, sensibilities, and interest in the field of dance and performance and it’s many citizens — inform this work. And a very special thanks to everyone who contributed to its making! In the end, I hope it’s kind of like hosting a great dinner party and everyone is invited. So dig in! …….And Laurie Uprichard is gonna be missed, here in New York, but anyone who was at her farewell party knows the applause was like a song that wouldn’t end. It had to though, because everyone knows how Laurie hates to be the center of attention. Nonetheless, we decided to end this issue with our own interview with the Lady stolen by Dublin. Maybe that’s the best way for it to go down in history. (All in jest, of course.) Check it all out and send any thoughts and letters our way to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll print some here in the next issue and also post some online at MR’s Critical Correspondence.
Stay in touch, Trajal
by Eleanor Bauer
“Method” seems to be a popular word lately in performance-making discourses. Perhaps this is simply because the old process-versus-product issue and all of its anti-capitalist demi-politics are still making their rounds, making it difficult to use the word “process” without possibly implying that nothing is going to be made from it. “Method” is different than “process” in that it implies goal-orientation: a method is a systematic procedure by which something predetermined is attained, hence a guarantee that something will be made. There is only a method for something, no method as such. While there is also only processes of things, no process as such, “process” can be indefinite, ongoing, associated with continual, natural or biological functions. Surely method’s recent surge in popularity is also a result of a heightened interest in collectivity that is also still reverberating partially as a result of wanting to alter the politics of art production, and the utility of a method to a collective is obvious: to organize and regulate potentially chaotic interactions. Method could also be part of a concern to make performance communicable, shareable, not hermetic and private and mysterious to all but the isolated artist-genius. All of this is good and well, but the danger appears as part of a larger ongoing appropriation of scientific terminology by the art world as some attempt to validate, justify, concretize, or objectify art and its making-of.
In the performing arts our media and means of making include, among other things: the body, some level of collaboration, communication, or co- construction when not working alone and hence a certain degree of inter-subjectivity, and memory — physical memory as well the mental traces of conceptual developments and progress. These are not media of consistency; we are dealing with materials that are always shifting and changing biologically and perceptually, and hence are not easily conducive to maintaining the consistency of a purely methodical procedure.
In face of this “ephemerality” I have encountered (at least) two current camps: those who dive into this mess as subject matter, and those who aim to control it. In the first category I include such familiar artistic discourses as rejecting/releasing hyper-control, seeking the unexpected and unpredictable, searching for the anomalies and mutations, inviting influence and confluence, including disturbance, the differences in perceptions of the same thing, multiplicity, infection, intoxication, confluence, or any combination thereof. Whether these are a part of a contemporary culture of post-everything admitting of the massiveness and heterogeneity of life, or a continuation of the theoretical lineage of corporeal phenomenology with its emphases on inclusion, fluidity, the leaky and the impure, the frequency of these buzzwords are a practical indication of some trend in the collective (un?) conscious of the performance field today. In the second category lie those who desire firmer and more tangible building blocks in a process, blocks that withstand inter-subjectivity and surprise. These artists do not necessarily plan “a, b, c,” in order to see “a, b, c” executed, but do objectively pursue the conjecture that “certain procedures produce certain results” within a performance context, and hence imply a scientific kind of input to output hypothesis/observation level of causality and empiricism. The gentle irony of infinite relativism in all of this is perhaps in the frequent use of the terms “research” and “experimentation” to describe artistic processes in the performing arts, to the extent that those words are so diluted and abused that they aren’t really the property of either “camp,” though in their literal definitions might only belong to the second.
When it comes to rendering method material and what actually happens in the studio, even with methods that are built to create their own contradictions and bifurcations, I am suspicious of the performing artist who claims to control her or his variables, following strict methods and plodding along “scientifically” to identify results. My suspicions arise either because of the reasons stated above, that our media don’t offer themselves easily to such consequentiality, or because there are always choices that escape such procedures, aesthetic or personal, attractors and desires that push the work in one direction or another, or because we are people and busy with producing experiences for other people, which means we are trying to aim for a sensory transmission between the observed and the observer that can’t help but be inter-subjective, and any attempt to actually unify the diversity of responses to a given stimuli are built upon very recent and underdeveloped biological/philosophical notions such as affect, or terms of agreement dependent on social construction and cultural reference. It is my experience that a use of method in performance-making practices seems more aptly to be something always in formation, temporarily crystallizing to the extent that it serves progress, and just as quickly being replaced or altered to adjust to whatever is learned along the way.
Perhaps because the work is not in making art objects, but in making something performed, this human enactment requires also investment in the outcome as a working process in itself, the execution as a renewal rather than a repetition, a real-time making in itself, an updating that activates itself within the act of performance and in each performative step of the process. We can find exceptions often in performance crossovers with the visual arts or film and video, when inanimate matter or documentation is involved and what is done stays put, as a permanent materialization of the method by which it is produced (and we can say that the artwork — no matter what media — always reveals something of the way it has been produced). But when the media are performing bodies, a method is never sealed from corruption. One could argue that the work of Merce Cunningham is made by a methodologically regulated process, but the effects of this method on and within the bodies — the way it is realized, executed, and embodied, the way the body negotiates with forms not produced by the body and passes them on as technique or repertory — constantly escape the regime. A few instances within performance in which I can imagine method working without infection by unaccountable circumstances are in examples from the Fluxus movement, which did not, by the way, identify itself as ‘performance’, though many Fluxus happenings and objects were highly performative. Perhaps the very use of the word ‘happening’ is indicative of some momentary crystallization which escapes repeatability, even in the most mundane circumstances. But in these cases I have in mind, the work is methodical in order to be methodical, and in a sense the method is the art itself. With many Fluxus scores, the authorship lies in the conception of the method more than seeing it through, as is exaggerated by the following:
Arrange or discover an event score and then realize it.
If the score is arrived at while awake, then make a dream realization, that is, note all dreams until a realization of the score has been discovered in a dream.
If the score is dreamed, then make a waking realization, that is, search in your waking life for whatever dream of part of a dream constitutes the score
The text itself is performative. Brecht’s method is to describe a method that lives in its description. The imagined experience of fulfilling it and the thoughts that come to mind of its realization create an experience that is self-sufficient, a serendipitous little performance between the reader and the text. It’s a virtual performance, a performance of potentiality, richer as such than it could be in any materialization. Yoko Ono’s paintings often underlined this emphasis on the method being the art itself, as in the original, instructional version of “Painting to Hammer A Nail” which denotes a painstakingly consequent method for producing a painting, but itself is a painting not made by the method described. The painting describes a score for an event through the painting as an art object itself, as loud as the content of its text. Paintings made by the process described in “Painting to Hammer a Nail” were indeed made, but as live performances of this methodical process, again emphasizing the process itself as the art more despite the integrity and self-evidence of the art object produced from it.
Strict methods with dependable results have their artistic utility within the performing arts proper indeed, not just for performing methods, but as methods for making something else than the method. As Trajal Harrell recently said to me, “What do you do when you get in the studio? There’s nothing to do there!” The empty room gives us nothing, nothing but space and time. A sterile luxury. Advantages of having methods we are aware of using are that we have things to do when we get into the studio and that the work is stronger than the constant shifting of our interest, confidence and motivation (which becomes even more important when we are working with others). Understanding the way we work in terms of methods can provide us with tools to apply when we are stuck, directions to move in when we are not sure, a feeling of purpose when we are working like dogs and don’t yet know what towards. Yet the moment when the tools disappear is the crucial moment of transformation, when one begins to make something besides an answer to a question or a materialization of a method, a moment in which the method begins to serve something besides its own verification.
For me methods are most useful when they produce the desire to work, the desire to look farther. Hence impossibility as method and the use of productive paradoxes. Deborah Hay’s method, for example, is to work always and only on impossible scores in order to produce interest and investment in the immediate work without thought of the end or the accomplishment. Unless it is completely impossible, there is always the option of finding a clever solution and being done with it, so in order to never be finished but always busy she writes impossible scores that begin with and return continually to an unanswerable “what if…” question. Her scores must be performed in order to be activated, exist always and only as a performance practice, and the language of the score is constructed towards perceptual complexity and precision of attention, rather than towards an idealized form or result. Hay’s is a method for producing physical curiosity and continuous work, with a relatively open range of acceptable results. The method is the stable underpinning, the consistent base to the unruly possibilities, the daily work of not knowing what will be produced and reinventing/refining the parameters of what can be produced.
There is also a way in which what we do when we are moving forward without a method in mind produces its own methods. Of course making work does not require always knowing what tools you are using and how and why. By living in the world and processing its events, what one can produce is of course a construct of his or her experience, so it is necessary to have an acutely developed awareness of context, but the mode of production is something that needs room to breathe at times, and it is my experience that excessive marriage to methodology can suffocate or nip in the bud what might have been a brilliant or fortuitous contribution. When we want to move quickly and something feels correct in one way and not any other way, why not trust that intelligence called intuition and use the time later when that momentum disappears to look back and say: “what did we do first, then what did we do second, why did we take those choices?” Through retrospective reasoning and analysis (not to be mistaken for justification), methods are revealed based on the interests followed or the manner of relating to the work, and can be re-used, re- applied, transformed into tools for later use — in short, methodized.
Hence, what can be done at any point is constantly a negotiation between foresight and hindsight, and when it’s not, the stakes are perhaps not as high in the doing because the process has been sealed from producing anything one couldn’t have known before. When I am excited about making, and feeling productive, capable, and dare I say, “inspired,” I am working with a surplus of ideas, problems and solutions, and perhaps 90% of them are utterly useless, but to stall this movement of thought and productivity is to eliminate the 10% that proves workable. The trouble then is in relying on such momentum or excitement, whereby the demand to work or the need to produce is not necessarily proportionate to the actual production of ideas.In short,the market is another force that can be managed with an understanding of what methods can be procured from experience. Furthermore, in a larger group of collaborators, you certainly can’t wait until everyone ‘feels inspired.’ I by no means intend to debunk the face value of methodological thinking. I imagine that a discourse of methodology is given more esteem in performance making than in other more individualistic art- making situations because there is a need for everyone to trust that they are working on the same thing, and a desire for that other popular virtue of transparency.
Alas, I am for method-awareness. I am not for procedure-obsessed method-madness. I am not for chaotic method ignorance. I am for a hybrid of foresight and hindsight, method implementation and alteration, needing method and escaping method, creating methods from anti-methods, responsible irresponsibility, seeking the method within the madness, the method monsters. And by method monsters I mean that the work is the monster of the method(s): Monstrous (as a mule could be, an irreproducible hybrid) because it is a product of connection between the method you planned and the method as it became, the method as it is infected with other methods appropriated in order to become something else, specific to the project, something not universal or re-applicable, something unscientific, something that can never be done the same because the circumstances cannot be reproduced and the methodology acknowledges and is a synthesis of that specificity.
This text was originally written for a publication on methodology called The Making Of The Making Of initiated by Mette Ingvartsen as part of a 10-week research project at Nadine (www.nadine.be) also called The Making Of The Making Of. Other formats of presentation and documentation derived from TMOTMO can be seen at: http://www.aisikl.net/tmotmo/tmotmo.html.