Just be Yourself.
Just be Truly yourself.
Just be truly yourself now
Just be truly yourself now in the Moment.
Still filtering the ooze of unrecognised body/mind/spirit knowledge, feelings, still hunting the words to explain to myself, still troubled in how to explain to the “other me” or even the world out there.
Sometimes one goes through a sort of monumental sea change in ones owns attitude, ways of thinking, even moving…
Like Shakespeare in Julius Caesar talking about Brutus “some elements moved, something changed to bring about this man…” Haven’t got the lines right but in this last Workshop there was a shift, a seismic change in my way of working, thinking even moving as a performance artist.
This started the first day of a workshop in the Fire Station Studios, Dublin on Friday 24th June, given by Alistair MacLennan and Sandra Johnston, two Artists/Performance art mentors who I have enormous respect and compelling attraction too. I have been at several of their workshops, at different venues and times, from 2005 to the present.
Alastair has this serene Zen like calmness around him when he is making art. He is always within a space doing the apparently simplest actions but with such force that no matter what, it leaves a strange profound after image and thoughts with the viewer.
This is the MASTER, yet the man comes towards me and gives me a wonderful hug and his soft Scottish burr welcomes me and I feel I have come home to my own place.
Sandra Johnston has that same qualities but obviously elementally female.
Once, I watched her slowly circumnavigate an old building beside the sea in Rathlin Island. There was only wild sea birds and myself watching her.
She was moving so slowly around the perimeter of this building, each hand grip, each body change of weight, each transfer so unconsciously beautiful, maybe purposeless to the outsider, but after observing her for about one hour I realised how purposeful each gesture was, how considered and focused each miniscule muscular movement meant. Each had its moment of importance.
It did not matter why she did it nor what others saw when they appeared, but for me it was a moment of clarity.
This is what Performance Art is.
These two people also have a wealth of teaching experience in this art form (although I still believe one does not learn, cannot be taught, a sort of self quest is needed and you might pick up a gist of things, but it won’t be good until you really dig deep and find your own way to wherever thaty is, am I still on the quest? probably so).
For this work shop we were asked to bring three items.
One object/material that we had a relationship too,
one that we have no relationship too
and one an object we have overused in our practice.
I brought a piece of white cord, my fathers old watch and white overalls.
We proceeded with a warm up; lovely and calm just walking about easing ourselves and our bodies into the day.
There were ten of us and we each presented a five minute solo work. I will refer to works but only by initials.
I wore the white boiler suit and was last to go so perhaps had too much time to sort of rehearse in my head what I aimed to do.
I have used this before as a sort of body mask, fast running until I am out of breath, then filling bags with air and stabbing them or giving my life breath away.
This time I did fast jogging till I could almost not continue due to exhaustion and breathlessness. But this time I felt a need to get out of this suit and seek a new way of working. I did not think I could manage it but literally forced fingers through the material till I slowly tore holes and pulled it into shreds till eventually it hung in bits around me.
We each did a piece and later got feedback – all given with a gentle consideration – no one felt anything but good, yet could learn from these considered observations. I needed another suit for the next day…
Later we did some exercises working towards a partner, responding to their work in return. Slowly I found a sort of courage to just Be. I was moved by HG who was almost, but not quite, sobbing. I moved slowly towards her a few steps at a time, giving back to her, there was nothing but a wetness coming from my eyes. Just tears, just a material. But given just the same.
There was a real level playing field in the room a trust that all was good, a freedom to really Be not to act, not to perform, not to think even.
On being asked the five most important things that happened to me that day were;
The understanding of using the body with focus,
Feeling the relaxed state or a tension,
The use of the body as an ally for work
The reward of observing others that fed into my own work
Feeling, thinking, moving but considering the inside and outside of self simultaneously
The power of breath, the controlling and using it as part of the action
Surprised and exited I managed to rip and exit the suit and extend its use.
Surprised at the intensity of emotions and feelings with real tears used as a material. Sharing and giving but in control of my work, better focus and strength.
This post is written from scrappy notes and therefore it’s difficult to explain the move and learning curve in these two days.
Each day both mentors gave us individual feedback and discussions on our work.
At times on the first day I found myself being a bit playful and during the improvisation bit was being too vocal. Now I am more aware that it’s not necessary, even though our playfulness was appreciated in an odd way by some.
The second day was equally intensive, very concentrated but so full of fascination I did not notice the time pass, the limbs stiffening, the brain almost bursting.
The second day I seemed to be able to work on the elements I needed from discussion with Sandra at dinner the previous evening.
How can I, as an aging artist, use my body effectively when it’s not going to get any nimbler flexible of stronger?
I envied some who have an ability to use the body with wonderful language, I had that once and it’s hard to let go the dancer, the gymnast, the rider and face up to the creeping age and slowing down and inabilities of life.
So I found a place within me, on my own, that just resounded to the material and the instincts. I’m not sure what they looked like but I found a sort of weird strength out of weakness.
If I had, for example, a piece of broken rope, I put it on the window sash and pulled hard until it slipped slowly through my hand and then slipped, fell, to the ground. This letting go and allowing gravity and the action dictate was interesting.
This softening continued, If I had no materials the room became material, I might move toward a wall, move along it but again feel the hands slide slowly till my body reached the floor and my feet would start a slow climb up the wall, a sort of half twist would have me unable to go on but a stubbornness took over, at times pain would hit in, I would have, in the past, managed to roll right over but now half way would need to negotiate a different body path, part crawl, slide, push, drop slowly moving body weight around.
When we all worked together I used to sometimes intervene with another but not this time. I was aware of them but felt part of them in my own space. I think we all changed, “a terrible beauty was born?”
Sandra mentioned that we, as a group, looked like “ghosts slipping past each other.” Lovely that.
This day we did a lot of interactive group work and I found we all really slowed down, the movements were dream – like not, so out of control emotionally, some beautiful things were going on, not that we could see as we were in the midst.
Sandra and Alistair spoke of our work with such beauty one felt something magical or really profound had happened in that space.
We were given an exercise involving quotes and a memory of work done the previous day. I found this wonderful. The sentence and the memory forged the work. There was no need to over think just respond.
One sentence from Zang Yu (si) “Oppression/exhaustion, acquiesce but remain true” found me back to the room arms up against the wall, face in close but again tears flowing, not sobbing just a sadness of mortality, but those tears were only material so I drew with the wetness a face on the wall invisible to all. I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder, “stay with it, the feelings are real” I knew it was Sandra, I did and it was another pivotal moment.
I did a last performance, a solo piece this time in the white suit but tied myself to a door handle with a scissors just out of reach. I managed to get the scissors and cut large pieces of the suit and my tee-shirt off.
This was not really what I wanted, again maybe over doing it.
The others finished with some beautiful simple strong work. KC just rotated slowly twice around on hand and knees just giving each person a gaze without losing eye contact one by one as he slowly revolved that room.
There was such a lot in my head from the two days but these are the essentials that I think I got from both the group and the two mentors.
Small things can be important, being thoughtful, private and silent,
Observe things, look at your foot as if you’ve never seen it before,
Things fall away, opening, softening, gentleness breath and gravity allowed to take hold.
Life moves through you, accept it.
Dispel awareness, let objects go, simple pare a gesture. A gesture is a possession too.
Survival, breath, be at peace with ourselves,
A fragment of a performance can be a performance itself.
Ok to battle with yourself, struggle against yourself but minimise it for the world,
Trust what is right.
Believe in what you’re doing, be committed to that moment,
The body finds itself in that moment, ugly or awkward, the consequences are rich, as the intention that got you there.
Almost invisible movements have a potency, words feed you, give you permission to find new momentum, Ritual can become a stability, a brittle framework.
We give ourselves a license to be truly who we are, not to be who we think we ought to be.
Allow yourself to trust the small gesture.
There is no right or wrong way.
Allow an ambience to guide you, don’t force or flap.
Allow strength to come through,
A grace in simplicity.
Allowing it to be.
Just two days, ten bodies, two mentors, a grey concrete floor and time to move, think and be so simple??
If you, the reader, can make sense of this please let me know.
It’s a mystery is life. Performance art is a sort of shot in the dark at switching a light onto life, even a glance can tell a lot.
It might be dark again or I get a sort of myopia and all is hazy but am happy for these glimpses.
We as a group intend to carry on regardless of opportunities or space.
We will meet up in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, at the bandstand “the Hollow” near the zoo entrance on Sunday 24th July at 2pm.
Anyone who is interested might like to come.
We will work separately or interactively in this space for about two hours.
Ok enough for now.
Radar, that’s what performance artists use, other artists might use a magnifying glass on life…me? Some sort of childish, awkward, inane, instinctive curiosity, to find out what it is to BE, JUST BE…
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