August 28, 2013
The Abramović Method Practiced by Lady Gaga
Dear Ms Abramović
Get the fuck off of Kickstarter. Seriously.
It really wasn't intended for artists with major museum retrospectives and pop star fans. Your close "friends" Lady Gaga and James Franco have enough discretionary cash to fund whatever you're doing...or you could just sell another few nostalgic photos of your earlier work...please leave Kickstarter to those of us who actually need the money for our projects to live.
I'm so disappointed every time another artist of your generation strives to institutionalize your brand, name your method, pander to pop stars, or need to be a pop star. The Abramović Method Practiced by Lady Gaga is of course simultaneously the Lady Gaga Method Practiced by Marina Abramović. Roughly translated, while Gaga is studying your totally unique awareness practices, you are studying her star making machinery of hype religion and corporate entertainment. Gaga, instead of helping 1000 unfamous artists, lends her respect as well as her naked body to raising funds in support of the top .001% of performance artists.
Somehow Gaga comes off as humble and real from this encounter while you, Ms Abramović, appear increasingly like a plastic shaman: untouchable, wannabe, fake and claiming a collective history as your own.
Someone inspired by your earlier work and who once shared similar concerns
May 13, 2013
(This is a draft of an article for Dance & Theatre Journal (UK)...but it is way too long for them so I am also seeking other sites for distribution...your comments and suggestions are very welcome, especially via email. thanks.)
April 1, 2013
A performance poem based on a protest chant spontaneously created by 30 or 40 mostly anarchists and witches during a protest against the first Gulf war, in February 1991. When AWOL (Artists and Writers Out Loud) asked me to perform at a rally "after the war", I scribbled it down and yelled it from a megaphone in front of SF City Hall. Then it was integrated into my solo performance, The King Is Dead (Long Live The King) which was presented in San Francisco and Auckland. In collaboration with Essex Hemphill (RIP), the text was edited slightly and then performed as a duet to benefit The Bastard Review at New College of California, later in 1991.
Dedicated to the 200,000 Bay Areans who publicly protested the oil war.
I TRIED TO STOP THE WAR Oh yeah, I tried to stop the war I tried to stop the war BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried marching in the street BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried yelling my head off and beating a drum BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried blaming the war on George Bush BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried exposing the war at home BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried calling Saddam Hussein an evil wicked tyrant BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I wrote letters connecting George Bush to the corporate shadow government that hates its own people BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried saying Peace is Patriotic and War is not Peace BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried voting BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried not voting BUT THAT DIDN'T WORK EITHER! I tried to learn about Iraq BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried to learn from history BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried to blame the borders i tried supporting self-determination I tried hating imperialism and refusing to rape BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! NOTHING WORKED! I COULDN'T STOP THE WAR. I tried healing my inner child BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried healing Saddam Hussein's inner child BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried blaming the war on Saddam's mother BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried blaming the war on Bush's emotionally dysfunctional father BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I COULDN'T STOP THE WAR. I tried sharing my fears with friends I tried calling home and bonding with my family I tried late nite prayers in circles and ritual bathing BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried raising sexual energy BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried minding my own fucking business BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! cuz the war invaded my dreams and all my friends were talking about it and all the papers and air waves were full of it so I tried to blame the war on racism BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried to blame the war on male violence, homophobia, and gross warrior romanticism BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried to blame the war on penis size BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried to blame the war on sexism BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried to connect sexism with disasters in the environment I called the earth my mother I warned about oil spills and endless fires and dead dolphins and screaming birds BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried complaining about the costs BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried exposing the profits of oil and guns BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I chanted, Money for AIDS not for war Money for AIDS not for war Money for AIDS not for war BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I said think of the children, listen to the earth, think of the future, listen to veterans, listen to womyn, listen to queers, think of the future, look at the past, remember Hiroshima, Tienanmen Square, Bangladesh, Soweto I said think look listen feel BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I said think look listen feel BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I promised to think positively to focus on light to do good to respect all my relations BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! I tried to escape the war I tried to keep working not to get distracted by the war BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! Everywhere I could sense the war Every siren was a death I could feel Every flag was a child in flames Every headline was a community in prison, a family separated, a history forgotten a family separated, a history forgotten I expected the police at my doorstep I expected the church in my bed I predicted heroes and parades and speeches by serial murderers and it came true IT CAME TRUE! I COULDN'T ESCAPE THE WAR When I yelled no one heard me. When I walked on stilts only my friends saw me. I COULDN'T STOP THE WAR Nothing seemed to work We returned to the streets We blocked the federal building We took the bridge We exploded a cop car We made art We refused to make art We sat down We stood up We walked and walked and talked and talked BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! We hugged and healed and felt and witnessed and blessed and learned BUT IT DIDN'T WORK! WE COULDN'T STOP THE WAR. Not the war in iraq Not the war at home Not the war inside Not the war between womyn and men Between animals and people Between property and freedom We couldn't stop the war against sex We couldn't stop the war against art IT DIDN'T WORK IT DIDN'T WORK IT DIDN'T WORK WE COULDN'T STOP THE WAR! Keith Hennessy, 1991, The Mission, San Francisco In 2013 I added the word cop before car, surprised that it wasn't always there.
March 28, 2013
April 26, 2011
(excerpts… imperfectly recalled by Keith Hennessy, Lisa Ruth Elliott, Hilary Bryan, Jenny Schaffer, compiled by KH.)
Peter Sellars: Merce & Pina are dead. People ask, Who will replace them? He’s standing right here next to me.
Describing the work of Ponifasio’s company MAU, Sellars says it’s dance-slash-theater-slash-what? The categories fade away; deeply rooted in tradition but also very contemporary. Lemi is a citizen of the world.
Then Sellars asks a really big question about the role of culture in globalization, and much more. Ponifasio does not answer the question and this is only the beginning of a relationship where two colleagues speak about the same project from two very different positions. Ponifasio’s refusal to answer questions, or to directly address Seller’s framing of the issues, becomes a kind of game among colleagues with mutual respect. It’s as if Sellars agrees to ‘play’ the white man so that Ponifasio can speak from a position of difference and resistance. He reminded me of several Native or indigenous teachers I have experienced, who resist the (white, liberal framing of the) interview process almost as a matter of principle.
Lemi Ponifasio: Why am I here? Obviously there are many good dancers in San Francisco. I don’t need to bring my song and dance here. I am here for the dialogue. The work is a place of “meeting.”
To dance, I must have a reason.
Don’t let anyone control your image.
Life is inevitable. Reality is a given.
Progress is the quality of our relationships.
We are not a company on tour. We are a delegation. We want to make a face in the world that prefers us not to have a face. If you don’t show your face in the community, you don’t belong.
Sellars: This work (Tempest: Without a body) is the best piece I’ve seen since 9/11. Can you talk about 9/11 and the clash of civilizations.
Ponifasio: To make art or theater is a way to live intensely.
I spend a lot of time in jails, prisons, courts, immigration. It’s a way to better understand where we live. Also, the people I work with are often caught up in these places.
I want to bring marginalized people to the stage – to show their face – because they belong to the community.
Sellars: Anti-terrorist legislation in New Zealand has been used against Muslims and Maori/indigenous activists.
Sellars tells the tale of an Algerian politician, a refugee in NZ, who was arrested and jailed for 4 years in NZ for no reason. His absence – from the community – became integral to the making of this work (without a body). He was eventually released. Then Tame Iti, a noted Maori activist and performer in the work, was arrested and jailed on similar anti-terrorism charges. Iti was released and was scheduled to perform in San Francisco but decided to boycott the tour to protest the US actions in Libya.
Can you talk about absence and presence in this work and with regards to a Pacific Island cultural context?
Ponifasio: There is no presence. There is no absence. The ancestors are always with us. Intertwined. In performance we weave our genealogy back to source.
Oratory is not speaking. It is creating an opening where you can go… and then speaking something aloud. Orators create culture. They are the best liars. Orators are very good at weaving genealogies – even people who don’t belong together. They stand in the space of history, culture, … they decide on the kind of space. They activate the space, what space we are going to be in. Artists are similar. (He says something more critical about orators also, as tricksters, as if they need to be watched closely because they can manipulate situations to their own ends…)
To be human there must be a bigger cause. To be an activist is to work beyond your self. What is human is the urgency for a better life, this is progress. Progress is not a technological idea, it is a human idea. I search for the ways we activate beauty. Being human is presenting your life, being present.
(Hilary Bryan recalled this section as:
Humans have this urge within us. Dance originates in the community. There is an [we feel an?] urgent need for something -- justice, a better life. Making theater is a way to improve the quality of life. A way to see the world more beautifully. A form of activism. This is their (artists’) expression of hope.)
To dance is to have a second chance. Like making a sculpture from metal found in the trash. It has a new life. It implies hope. To dance is to have new life -- to present life and to be present.
Sellars: Lemi is always challenging tourism, it’s aesthetics and ideology. This piece does not take place in a South Pacific paradise but in the dark, with loud metallic sound.
Ponifasio: My work is black and white because I’m colorblind. No other reason. It's not bleak, not hopeless. I don’t trust color.
Sellars: You heard what he said about artists, orators…
Ponifasio: Black and white is a more refined way to intensify focus in the theater.
I’m trying to fight your thoughts. To fight the images you have in your head. To fight the image of the world you have, to get to your pre-thoughts. Your thoughts are from ego. I’m trying to make you absent from your image of yourself. I want to appear in your pictures, not have you put your pictures on me, not have pictures dictate…
The drama is not onstage or in your head, but in the middle where we meet. Hope.
The second word in that name is the most important -- human being. Only when we are tiny little babies are we really human beings. After that we become human doings.
Sellars: …talks about the dark, about the night, about how indigenous people don’t turn on the light at night because it would prevent spirits from coming, that one must learn to see in the dark because if you turn a light on it means you are afraid of spirits that come in the darkness…
(He tried this morphing question several times):
Can you talk about morphing? What is at stake in how people move? And how they move into mythic space?
Ponifasio: The performers are not there to represent, but to present, themselves. It’s important. The performers are there to activate the space. When we are activating space, we are working with expanding and contracting the feeling.
Sellars: …talks about cast members from an island (Kiribati?) disappearing due to global warming and rising seas. They have no drinking water. Nothing will grow and they no longer have any work. So they wait for monthly food shipments. Otherwise they move to NZ and often work for the same aluminum factory that was formerly based on their home island.
Ponifasio: I’m not here to promote a particular culture. Whenever Kiribati’s dance and sing I think to myself, 'That is the last song they'll ever sing.' This is the reality of how what you do here (in the US) affects the reality over there. So I'm here to intervene in your actions.
Sellars: Can you speak to solitary confinement, Guantanamo, CIA, anti-terrorism…? The new torture leaves no marks on the body. It is designed to prevent the tortured from functioning as human beings in the future. Using sensory deprivation to destabilize the human. It’s the ‘refinement’ of torture.
Ponifasio: Guantanamo (and other post 9/11 actions) are a result of emotional impoverishment. In our society we have no empathy. We don’t know how to relate. So the work is about being human. When we understand how to be human, how to relate, we'll all rise up to the clouds.
Today power is at the expense of someone else’s power. That’s also true about safety, one person’s safety is at the expense of another’s. We lose the protection of reverence.
But our relationships are intertwined together.
The country with the biggest military is the most insecure.
We are not politicians in the theater, but we don't want to be outside of politics.
People sometimes tell me, "oh. Lemi, but your work is so political" [silence -- as if to say. of course. the world is political. all art is political. all being is political. showing up is political.]
[Somewhere in here was Lemi's description of Paul Klee's angel (referenced in the program, and quoted below) and how during the creation process the angel sort of morphed into a shag, a bird, an ugly seabird that wanders without a home. This bird is an important image in one of the cultures his collaborators bring.]
Sellars: Can you talk about the meaning of Mau? And the role of standing up and walking forward in your work?
Ponifasio: Who we are is in front of ourselves, not in the past. You shouldn’t hide behind your tattoos or history of pain and colonization. In the piece the dancers stand up to their full height, and walk forward. From here they present who they are, it is not a performance.
Mau is presence, identity, vision, what does it mean to be who I am? Mau means strong opinion, even revolution. What is my mau to the world? What is it to be Samoan, to show my face? Mau means to present your truth.
(When Ponifasio speaks of indigenous, he says it “in quotations”.)
I am suspicious of people who label themselves as indigenous. Indigenous is often an excuse to be lazy. What does it mean to be what you claim to be? Does it mean you have a special relationship to the land and sea? Or are you just claiming resources?
What does it mean to be Maori? I challenge the people I’m supposed to represent.
The Pacific Islands as a place of firsts: to be hit by "globalization", to experience the devastation of global warming.
MAU is constant looking at things that are forbidden, useless, or meant to be forgotten: language, ceremony, relationship…
Your friend Margaret Meade created this creature that is always making love on the beach. Or dancing. Samoans don’t dance except in ceremony. Or for tourists.
And here’s the Benjamin quote about the angel of progress (also quoted in Angels in America):
"A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress," - Walter Benjamin.