How one looks to oneself, how one is perceived by others, how one looks at a viewpoint either physical or metaphysical can all be a myriad of differences, like a crystal bouncing colours off a reflection in a puddle.
I like to seek out the abnormal. The crystal might show a prettier reflection but what’s seen in the muddy puddle maybe a vastly different experience.
Having vowed I was done with Performance Art workshops I found myself attending two more recently, so in this column I will be sort of reflecting on those experiences while in the present moment but, at times, might swing back to moments in my personal past which came to me whilst in those moments that are hidden from the viewers. But both belong together in a hotchpotch manner.
I believe one cannot be taught Performance art, but, by observing others, one gains another dimensional tool, not possible to glean by a mere page or a photo or film.
In the same manner one cannot know this art unless present in the presence of the artists in the live space.
To those that have this canny awareness its valuable, those that don’t simply feel or look uncomfortable in the space. I flit in and out of these two.
I am in an old hall in Dublin, there is a Mass being sung in the space below us, there are 16 individuals who are here with the one common interest, Performance Art. So, we head into a day with varying exercises in breathing, yoga and movement.
We all had to have some piece pre prepared to show our work. This was done in spurts of relays of a few minutes.
My few pieces were around losing ones breath, the value of breathing and what loss of energy does to the body.
I skip with a colourful childs rope rapping out loud about my life, I keep up with the speed of the rope but as I lose wind and energy, I become slower and slower till I stop almost completely breathless.
As its spontaneous I have to almost begin again.
“Was born in 1945.
A big bomb blew lots away. Hiroshima,
Went to school just down the road,
Rode ponies here and there.”
And so it went on, I did not intend it to be funny but a line that went somewhat like this;
“Went to college to study art.
No one knew what I was doing.
Neither did I, so what to do??
Kept on slapping and slipping on paint,
kept on falling over,
That’s another art they said.” (loud laughter)
So each line is about four beats/skips. Try it! unless you’re a boxer, you will be winded.
The other piece was one I used several times before in film, action and events.
I take one very large intake of breath and then say on the out breath only.
“Imagine if you only had one breath, one last breath, what would you say.
It is the only breath left to say something really important, profound, unforgettable. But you run out of air and it’s too late, the air is gone, There is no more air noo mooree aairee…”
I can only last about 50 seconds, there was a time I could swim underwater from a dive in Blackrock baths to the other side of the pool, ok, widthways but not bad for a 15 year old girl.
Later we were all walking backwards with our eyes closed finding and feeling the space, around, the sounds, I usually find any durational work difficult, time seems to cheat me of concentration and I have little trust in my environment and fellow humans, I am nervous.
So I set to really concentrate.
My eyes closed I entered another area in my head, an awareness of smell becomes heightened, moving slowly backwards, using very controlled slow steps, lifting each part of ones foot as if it was newly invented, how to put one heel very softly on the floor and ever so slowly transfer the other section by section, the heel drops down as the other heel reaches for its unseen space to land, I became almost entranced as I moved into a darker space. As I moved on and on I felt I was entering a cave and could smell a sooty blackness encircle me.
Someone tapped me, exercise over. I had walked into the space that was an old fire place…
The culmination of this day was where we all provided items and scattered them all over the floor. We all just worked spontaneously and at times one might act and interact with another. This was ok for a start but I did feel it was somewhat haphazard and a little silly really.
I had brought some white gauze material and it did provide a sort of covering within which a body could be chrysalis like.
I was moving around simply reacting to the many items, a pair of little kids shoes found their way into my lap.
I felt sad, so started a sort of quiet keening to myself. I carried them around like an ape will carry a dead infant until she realises it is dead and puts it down. What was that all about?
Our own empty nest? Three kids up and gone but maybe it’s the tiny child they once were and who needed me then that I keened for.
Or maybe the lost child in myself?
These workshops can be cathartic but I believe as an artist when producing work it maybe about oneself but when doing it, it should not be cathartic for the self only for the viewer.
There lies the debate about the shamanistic elements in this art form.
I am happy to allow this to happen and if I learn to accept, deal with and understand issues which I then can relay back in a Performance.
The next Workshop was in Galway given by an interesting artist Paola Paz Yee.
This was part of Tulka festival of Visual arts November 14th.
I came for the day from Dublin on the train. I don’t get out of the city enough so love a mini adventure where I never am sure what will be the outcomes. But good or bad they don’t get wasted.
It all becomes a sort of inner fuel to set fire to in some form at a later stage.
This was a strange day, The starting exercise was odd but interesting. We were to sit beside a stranger, take on their persona and introduce ourselves as the person next to us without knowing a thing except to READ the outer shell…
The young woman beside me seemed; clever, trendy, articulate. She had a tattoo on her head where part of her skull was shaven and other interesting body adornments.
I think I faired well in BEING her for the time. I was asked what my music of choice was. That stumped me a bit and so I said I really liked the cool retro music of the 60s and named a few.
On being asked where I got my tattoo, I spun an imaginary story of hanging out with a friend in Soho and getting a bit high on a bit of hash and went for the dare
Then when she was me, I was a bit astonished as I was a lesbian from Uruguay with a few children now grown up and around the world (the only correct bit) and the story got more elaborate. So that’s how we all were introduced. Really an exercise in storytelling.
Later we did some physical work which entailed using vocals, sounds responding to one another then later alone. Moving into the back space I found the “hummm” I was using seemed to go into my brain maybe transferred to another.
I found myself sitting opposite a man also making this “hummm” I never talked to him but somehow seemed to know him by that action only.
Later we were asked to do a very difficult continuous fast breathing exercise breathing strongly out ones nose only for a full 15 minutes.
Paola coached, forced and encouraged this like a sports mentor egging on a team.
I realised this would cause hyperventilation. I did my best but began to feel dizzy, I knew if I continued as fast and hard as she wanted I would literally keel over, part of me was tempted to do that and it would be “real” performance but the other me said NO its too risky and I can’t take a fall anymore. I did not want to go to see my new grandchild with either a bust nose or similar…this Christmas.
At the end of this there was a room full of interesting if disturbing results, most were really exhausted, some needing dehydrating, some still almost catatonic on the floor. One man was roaring as if to some unseen friend/enemy? We all eventually returned to ourselves.
I have seen similar psychotic episodes on TV where after drugs natives go into another state – part hysteria – also at faith healing where the influence of a leader forces a hypnotic state.
I stood to recover my breath, just observing the unnerving results. I then got an image of visiting my father in a psychiatric ward at aged 16.
I saw the long corridor, I saw the face of a young boy my age walk towards me, I saw the troubled gaze in his eyes, I saw my fathers eyes with that same look, I see it in my own eyes, I saw it in eyes near me, my eyes just let tears fall, it was not crying, more releasing, I let the tears fall. Not wiping or hiding them. On the tenth drop I stopped. This was a performance given only for you the reader now. It was not observed in that moment then…
I have learnt a lot in the 65 years on this planet.
I came out and watched the flowing Corrib river surge dramatically under the nearby Bridge at Nuns Island.
If it was to go about two more feet higher it would enter the city and be so fast it would take lives.
I had a bite to eat with some of the group and then headed back for my train.
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