Updated: Dec 1, 2020
The body is a place. We think of our minds and bodies as separate containers, but in fact, the mind is a part of the body. The body, in fact, is a place in which we store our memories and associations. We often think of a place as a site to encounter or experience. The same can be said about the body:
How do I encounter my body?
When do I experience my body?
For many, the answers to these questions are limited to a handful of experiences. Often we disassociate from our bodies in order to rationalize and live in a world that celebrates thinkers and in which the mind is allowed to lead. Much of the world associates the mind as the primary used muscle. In many of these cases, the answers to the above questions are left at, "Never".
The reality is that due to a series of circumstances in human history, such as patriarchy, colonization, white supremacy, heteronormativity, humanity has learned to support top-down thinking, and this, over generations, creates the belief that our minds do all the work and our bodies just tag along for the ride. Our bodies are the site of the impacts of patriarchy, colonization, white supremacy and heteronormativity. When we begin to connect the mind to the body, we can begin to sense the triggers and memories we hold in this vessel of ours. We begin to see the full site.
I struggled for a number of years, thinking that thought and ideas were the way of the future. I stumbled over articulating ideas as fully conceived concepts. Little did I know that the way my body works is in sensing and experiencing, Therefore, I can't promise that every time I open my mouth something smart is going to come out. Often times, my mouth is part of an elaborate process that my body needs in order to understand itself. It usually starts with a simple thought, that initiates my mouth speaking in real-time consciousness, while my body experiences what my thoughts are attempting to formulate. Only after I have spoken the words, do I feel. Only after I feel, do I understand. This is very different from this idea that anything coming out of our mouths has to make sense right off the bat.
This idea that the most articulate are the ones that are most celebrated is an output of patriarchy, colonization, white supremacy and heteronormativity. Hence why we get so much fragility when power is met with a request to unlearn. The unlearning requires us to experience this through the body, not just the mind. Deep in our bodies, we can all find memories of abuse of power. What would happen if we began from that place as we all attempt to unlearn patriarchy, colonization, white supremacy and heteronormativity?
All in all, this requires processing. We have assumed that the mind must learn immediately. That it is at the forefront of who we are as individuals. In fact, the body is the site of our experiences. And these experiences, are in process. Just like our words. Just like our thoughts. Just like our bodies -- ever encountering; ever activating; ever experiencing.
I am preparing for my upcoming performance creation residency of "Cruising at 30 km/s and Attempting Not To Crash". Anxiety has set in based on my inability to make decisions about what the show will look like. Ever since the development of The End, the show I created last year, I have been attempting to embrace a certain level of unknowing. I feel I have made some terrible work in the past because the audience, artistic programmers and marketing staff demand a certain level of what I call 'arrival' (this attempt at knowing what the show is about before you've even made the show; removing the true liveness from the live art), I am compelled to stay in this state of unknowing and move through a performance creation residency without making a firm plan, but this doesn't always work when audiences, programmers and marketing staff require this level of knowledge.
I've been examining this tyranny of planning for over 7 years now. Last year I was invited to participate in a queer performance residency as part of CANdance (a partnership between Springboard Performance (Calgary) and Studio 303 (Montreal)). The residency was titled This Is Actively Built and featured 4 queer Canadian artists (Kevin Jesuino, Melina Stinson, Winnie Superhova and Nuiboi). The residency was the idea of contemporary dance artist Nate Yaffe. Nate had established similar residencies in the past with other queer artists. At the beginning of the residency he reminded me of queer theory texts such as Jose Esteban Muñoz' "Queer Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity" and Jake Halberstram's "The Queer Art of Failure". Both of these texts provided me with a strong inspiration towards the unravelling of these expectations on me as a performance creator to know what I will do in a performance before I even know what the show is. Munoz suggests that the future relies on the queering of systems (very similar to offerings suggested by Afro-Futurism); an idea that is grounded in examining pluralistic, diverse and anti-fragile systems or ways of being that come when we open a system up to all future possibilities once the mainstream has dissolved. Halberstam, in The Queer Art of Failure, suggests that anyone born queer (or marginalized in any way) is destined to fail from the onset. This is best exemplified in the online videos that have been coming out around the game of privilege. Certain folks, based on their privileges (and this is always intersectional) have a head start in what society calls 'success in life'. However, those with less privilege start the race further back and, in many circumstances, are destined to fail or lose the race. Halberstam suggests that queer folks are destined to fail. It is in this failure that we can find resilience, opportunity and a difference we can offer the world. In this 'failing' we, queer humans of this Earth, can offer up different ways of knowing thus leading to a pluralistic future of possibilities.
Both of these texts grounded me in developing a show that never arrives at a complete finish. By 'finish', I mean that is never overly planned that the sense of liveness is removed from the performance. I am interested in the bits of the show that provide opportunities for failure. It's in this failure that the show breaths life and true liveness. And, when examining the role that queer performance makers have in this world, I am interested in examining this failure towards possibilities within my queer lived experience, exploring where I, the ensemble, and the show go when we remove the veil of planned cues and set choreography/blocking, and use the space of live performance to offer a laboratory to explore difference, failure and anti-fragility for the real world outside of the performance.
And so, I sit here, attempting to make decisions about my upcoming show that requires me to be courageous in not knowing what will happen, but also requires a certain level of planning when it comes to casting an ensemble, describing my ideas to the artistic programmer and providing material upfront for any marketing and promotion that is needed; it is a constant internal tug-of-war and often the mainstream can't see any other path then the planned path.
I offer up the question to any performance makers and programmers out there -- what is liveness if we don't allow for failure or unknowing?
It’s difficult to talk about any sub-genre of social art practice without referring to Joseph Beuys. Beuys was a German mid-century artist who was seen as radical in the contemporary art scene of the time because of his belief that “everybody is an artist.”
For Beuys, the spaces we live in are art; the work we do is art; the conversations we have are art; everything is art and everyone is an artist. In total, we as a whole build part of the "social sculpture".
Beuys created the term "social sculpture" to describe the way art can transform society. Art isn’t merely for institutionalized curated work, but rather, it is everywhere and everyone is making it. We are all constantly shaping society and the environment with our words, actions, thoughts and objects we create. He believed that society as a whole was one great big masterpiece that each person could contribute to individually.
In 1973, Beuys wrote:
"Only on condition of a radical widening of definitions will it be possible for art and activities related to art [to] provide evidence that art is now the only evolutionary-revolutionary power. Only art is capable of dismantling the repressive effects of a senile social system that continues to totter along the deathline: to dismantle in order to build ‘A SOCIAL ORGANISM AS A WORK OF ART’… EVERY HUMAN BEING IS AN ARTIST who – from his state of freedom – the position of freedom that he experiences at first-hand – learns to determine the other positions of the TOTAL ART WORK OF THE FUTURE SOCIAL ORDER."
I’ve been thinking a lot about how artists not only reflect society but also offer up solutions to the problems they refelct. Beuys went as far as taking this belief that everyone is contributing to the social sculpture we live in and forming the “Organization for direct democracy through plebiscite”. Mixing his work as an artist and politician he co-founded this organization out of Düsseldorf in 1971. Today, Johannes Stuttgen continues to spread this idea through the project “Omnibus”.
Read more about Johannes Stuttgen’s Omnibus project here: http://www.omnibus.org/fileadmin/omnibus.org/PDF/Sonstiges/4_Seiter_2008_engl_web.pdf
Beuys once said that “every sphere of human activity, even peeling a potato can be a work of art as long as it is a conscious act.” Every action you make should be in an attempt to better society and contribute to the work of art we call society.
What’s great about Beuys' perspective on art is that it humbles people into seeing that they are an important part of a larger whole, but, each individual has the creativity to contribute what they can to this larger whole.
It’s important to note that initial creativity in humans can be traced back to the Homo erectus phase of humanity, which occurred 1.8 to 0.3 million years ago. Signs of evolutionary cognitive and social abilities began to form such as the building of sophisticated, task specific stone hand axes, seasonal homes, long-distance hunting strategies and the migration out of Africa.
See more on the evolutionary history of humanity’s creativity here: http://computationalcreativity.net/iccc2012/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/203-Gabora.pdf
Beuys died in 1986 famous for his work as a German Fluxus, happenings, performance artist, sculptor, installation artist, graphic aritst, art theorist and pedagogue of art. And although he is not alive today to carry on his beliefs of social sculpture, he is highly regarded as one of the most influential artists of the second half of the 20th century. His work is synonymous with early social art practice and civic engagement. “Everyone is an artist” — a radical thought in the 1950s, and yet, still a radical view point today because it demysetifies our glorification of the art gallery or the theatre. It democratizes art for everyone and sees the useful/meaningful as something creative and for everyone.