September 16, 2009

WHY I READ MY TEXTS IN PERFORMANCE



WHY I READ MY TEXTS IN PERFORMANCE:

THE ROLE, MEANINGS, AND PRESENCE OF THE TEXT



1. Because they’re fresh, reworked until the last minute, just written and I don’t have time to memorize while dealing with production, promotion, choreography, costumes, lights, volunteers, ticket sales, press, documentation, props and rigging, shopping for necessary stuff, and practicing the action, the dancing, and/or some crazy stunt.

2. Because I saw Karen Finley read, mixing trance ritual performance with alienated Brechtian interruptions... a schizoid presentation of emotional release and the commentary on the release, refusing to let herself, or the audience, get lost in the trance, provoking us, often with humor, to recognize the absurdity and artificialness of the theatre, of our relationship to the art and artist, and from there to recognize the absurdity of the violence or trauma that she is communicating. After seeing Karen Finley read in performance I not only gave myself permission to read text without memorizing but I gave myself permission to put my whole body-voice into performance. Within six weeks of being a chorus dancer in Finley’s performance* I was performing Saliva under a freeway in SOMA/downtown San Francisco. This was my birth as an artist. (*1988, Life on the Water, me dancing in Jennifer Monson’s line dances, naked for one dance and then in Finley’s personally chosen drag, getting to watch her five nights in a row.)

3. Because Jeanette Winterson wrote Written on the Body among a generation of feminist performers, writers, artists and thinkers that articulated the ways that language is inscribed on the body, the ways that culture and politics and society and history and tradition get written into our gestures and behavior, influencing all the texts and performances that we (co)produce in daily life.

4. Because Carolee Schneeman pulled a scroll from her pussy and suggested that the text comes from the body as well as from a cultural inscription upon the body (Interior Scroll, 1975). I have pulled text from my ass while hanging suspended above an audience, asking what would the ass – the other mouth, lips, orifice – say? (Highways, 1993, Rites of Ecstacy & Transformation, curated by Doug Sadownick). This led me to write a series of body texts about racism after the LA riots, poetically imagining what the white male queer body might say if it could bypass mind/media/society. Of course this was a utopian imagining, not a ‘realistic’ trip. I pulled texts from my ear, nose, mouth, and then had a naked male assistant come on stage, put on rubber gloves and pull a text ensconced in a condom in my butt. (Heat, Hennessy, 1993).

5. Because Guillermo Gomez Peña defended the practice for all the above reasons and more in his essay, “In Defense of Performance.” (LiP Magazine, 2004).

In drama theatre the actors are not usually also the authors. On the other hand, in performance art the performers are almost always the authors. In most theater practice based on text, once the script is finished, it gets memorized and obsessively rehearsed by the actors, and it will be performed almost identically every night. Not one performance art piece is ever the same In performance, whether text-based or not, the script is just a blueprint for action, a hypertext contemplating multiple contingencies and options, and it is never "finished." Every time I publish a script, I must warn the reader: "This is just one version of the text. Next week it will be different."

(Maybe a later or earlier version of the essay actually mentioned reading text..., k)

6. Sometimes I have the text in hand so that I can improvise in relation to it, using the text as the stable language and my body/voice/performance in live interaction with an audience as the instable, flexible, available for insight and response language. (Box, 1996 – speed reading cue cards with as many additional ‘fucks’ and other interventions as possible in a staged telephone conversation about prison and race in the US, the OJ trial, and more. Chosen, 2003 – riffing off cue cards that held the keys points for an analysis/deconstruction of the idea of being chosen – to live in Israel, to be an artist, to be queer. Heat, 1993, in the closing section I had several pages of text, all of the source writing, and would read only selections from it... different stuff in each performance... although the document was a living document with notations and circled text and moved towards a finished text (without ever arriving) as the work was repeatedly performed.

7. The text as book as fetish object, invested with repeated touch and performance energy (the symbiosis of audience and artist and ancestors)... hand-made books with images or painting (Saliva, 1988/9 and Palpitations, 1997). Text boards (Sacred Boy, 1990/92) with updated versions taped over previous, adding notes from the previous to the typed version of the 2nd and then beginning the process of notes again... Not unlike a favorite or family bible. An old manuscript. A palimpsest. Revealing the ritual of process: Where did this come from? I wrote it and printed it and glued/taped/bound it into a book.

8. In Sol niger I am working, after the alchemists, with language as a material to be transformed through play, study and manipulation.

Projected text – recalls CNN news bar (“The CNN news bar is a bar to news” Terrance McNally, Crucifixion 2005), and other sites of constantly streaming headlines, stock markets, and military-capitalist propaganda.

I want to speak and write in multiple layers, a polyvocal voice, multiple personality dis/order:

Exploring the ways that my language is not my own (and neither is yours)... through cultural inscription, adopting of certain ideological or political positions. Dancers know that the shapes you make influence feelings and thoughts, not only that you communicate, but that you feel or think.

Revealing a voice that has experienced relentless interference from excessive unnecessary information and promotion, including an obsessive repetition of brand names - commodity fetishism and corporate infiltration into daily life – and ‘spectacular’ news that, as Chomsky has articulated, manufacture consent.

Dancing the collaboration between analytical and emotional voices.

An attempt to poetically synthesize a large amount of focused reading, theory, & analysis, revealing the process of filtering language and ideas through my body/consciousness the way I process food... transforming it into energy or shit or...

A complicated/multiple voice includes found text and plagiarism (more like samples than thefts, almost all citations are credited). I am sparked by conversations and art. While at MacDowell Colony working on the Sol niger text I saw Dust a film by Eric Saks in which the word Islam was rhymed with lip balm. I was sparked. That’s the kind of interference I want. These two words opened a portal into a kind of language play that gave my writing a style I hadn’t used before... but that I’d been looking for (my own version of) since reading about Pollesch.

3 comments:

Raphael said...

The hard thing for me is that you are answering a question I didn't ask ("why I read my texts in performance"), and so I feel like I'm in a dialogue I didn't start. This must have come up as an issue your (re)viewers have voiced? I can understand that- viewers like to know when a performer is in character, and when they are not. It keeps the boundaries clear and they know when and what they are looking at. I was at your performance at POW POW and loved the movement from performer performing to performer negotiating (Derrida's "communication"?), from the cognitive to the meta-cognitive, from the physical to (drum roll) the meta-physical. This action lets the viewer (participant? witness? etc.?, thinking of Boal's "spect-actors") be a part of the history of the action and not just witness to the action. For example, my thought/idea that you peck bird seed off the cymbal in the window contributed to your action of banging your head against the cymbal for like five minutes. As people came into the space mid-action, I thought of how this must have fit their expectation of what a "performance artist" would be engaged in: a seemingly ridiculous, insane, inane action, by someone in some sort of costume, that the viewer is supposed to go along with as art, solemnly, or at least respectfully. Come have a look, stay for a while because that's what you came for, leave as soon as you get bored or as is convenient. Your action allowed that possible reading - didn't fight it, but was so much more! Maybe this is a core issue with performance/live art- its main strength is the present, right? It's live. I think when you add verbal communication you open the whole thing up to include the past and future as well. Perhaps bringing the past and future to the present is an alternate definition of the meta-physical. I don't know. I've never been able to understand Derrida until you talked about his writing on Saturday night. Thanks for including me in the Derrida Club. I can't wait to get my fan club materials in the mail.

Kelley said...

Thank you for writing this, collecting all of these beautiful reasons, and making a terrific case for this. It feels serendipitous that I read this today, as I have been struggling with figuring out how to deal with text in my own upcoming show. I had this idea that I should memorize it or have my chorus/company memorize theirs, but 1) I'm sure I'll be working on the text to the very last minute 2) I'm working with a group of incredible mostly non-actors and 3) it bothered me that this question of memorization came up in terms of "should" anyway. So, thank you for the reminder that some of my favorite preceding performance artists and feminists have encountered this same question, and come up with compelling answers/work. You included! I hope you don't mind that I reposted your post (full text and attribution/URL included, of course) on my blog. All the best to you!

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