Process Notes: An Introduction

September 17, 2013 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Hannah Verrill

I’d like to use this bit of time-space to introduce a series of posts that will use process as a way of looking at and unpacking a handful of contemporary performance practices.

Each segment exists first as an encounter between an artist and myself. In the space between maker and observer, together we excavate a process, a series of actions that the artist is currently using to create performance material. Each exchange is specific to the work at hand, necessarily time-based, and unfixed in form.

The writing, produced in response to each exchange, seeks to mirror the kind of thinking that happens for a viewer after a performance has ended. The faulty and exuberant process of sifting through, assembling, and organizing the experience of such an ephemeral form.

Why focus on process? I’ll take my cue from Gertrude Stein: in order to know we always have to go back. 

I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and it was through my mother and her involvement as a performer with Elise Long’s amorphous dance-theater company Spoke The Hub that I began performing at the age of four. Long’s performance projects were interdisciplinary, using movement as their main component but regularly incorporating visual art and spoken text.

In one of my earliest performance memories I am six years old on a large stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I am hiding behind a set piece waiting for a cue and watching Elise Long, dressed in a magnificent red lobster-gown costume, deliver a monologue to an audience of hundreds.

Two years later I was cast in Meredith Monk’s work The Politics of Quiet; an ensemble piece addressing the Bosnian war for independence and Sarajevo in the 1990’s. I recall the intensity of the audition for this piece: my eight-year old body crossing a room slowly, picking up a vessel, feeling its weight and carrying it with me through space, and later being asked to sit as still as possible, my legs folded in front, focusing my attention on the air surrounding me.

In contrast to these kinds of engagements, my experience with performance as a kid was just as often marked by amateur experiments: strange dance-theater pieces thrown together in collaboration with cousins and staged for the family after thanksgiving dinner; solo dance numbers set to Fleetwood Mac and performed for my brothers, my dad, and a video camera; improvised movement by myself and for myself in the attic space of my home.

Three months ago I completed an MFA degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago focusing in performance. From where I stand now in relation to these childhood memories, I am aware not only of the performances themselves—events characterized by the work meeting an audience—but also of a much larger and more complex sea of experiences surrounding and generating the work. Time does its thing and I am still standing inside of the processes of those past works: the scaffolding comprised of auditions, rehearsals, trials, notes, periods of waiting, of watching, of thinking, of doing.

Performance theorists assert that in the instant of performance, the work experiences a kind of disappearance. With twenty-two years as a performer, I have felt time and time again the loss that comes with a performance’s end. My experience of my body as a learning-thinking-moving-performing thing, never fully knowing or comprehending the work that I was just then putting forth towards an audience—a you. This repeated rehearsal of loss drives my desire to spend time with and examine rigorously the nature of a process that works towards a disappearance.

What remains and what comes next? In a disappearing present, the past and the future takes on considerable weight. Process asserts a present. If we can agree that as a form performance undercuts the value of a static or fixed product—an end result—the questions of what remains and what comes next persist. How can the weight of the past and future be leveraged, made light and moveable? I can commit to the present just like I can feel the weight of my feet on the floor, just like I can feel my breath as it rises and sinks through the space of my torso—through a focus of attention. I will practice that attention to the present by way of this series called Process Notes.

Hannah Verrill is an artist living and making work in Chicago, Illinois.

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