Polyvinyl Records and Joyful Noise Records recently announced the release of Testimonium Songs, a studio album composed by the iconic Chicago band, Joan of Arc, and performed live in Every house has a door’s latest performative work — debuting this week in Chicago — Testimonium. Every house is iconic in its own right, tied directly as it is to Lin Hixson and Matthew Goulish’s prior collaborative project, Goat Island. While I was grateful for the opportunity to interview Hixson a little over a month ago, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the composition and collaboration present in the musical component of this project. What happens then when two organizations, drawing on two respective aesthetic discourses — rock and roll, and performance art in this case — meet to create something new? In this case, objectivist poet, Charles Reznikov stands at the center for both, creating a platform on which both musical composition and embodied choreography rely. In the following interview I asked Tim Kinsella — a member of Joan of Arc and author in his own right — to talk about his experience creating this record.
Caroline Picard: How did you start working with Every house has a door? Were you expecting to make a new album with them?
Tim Kinsella: Bobby and I used to play in another band together called Make Believe and that band toured non-stop for a few years. We acquired a pretty good collection in our van library – a cardboard box under the backseat. Matthew’s book, 39 Microlectures, somehow ended up in there and the nature of that book invites rereading. So by the time I went back to school for my MFA at SAIC he was the person in the program whose work I felt the greatest familiarity and kinship with. And we’re neighbors. So we ended up bumping into each other all the time and pretty quickly realized that not only did our sensibilities have some commonalities, but some practical eccentricities (is that a good way of saying ‘constant travel?’) also seemed compatible. The starting point for our collaboration was “falling between two chairs” and it’s the only way it could’ve been. Our band has always failed to be what anyone wants it to be and Every House, though maybe in a more sophisticated way, seemed invested in frustrating and confounding expectations. And the album is essentially a byproduct of the collaboration. I don’t know if I’m saying that exactly right, but what I mean is — and this is true of the entire Joan of Arc discography — the process is determined and the limitations and indulgences agreed upon, etc. The subsequent record just happens. At the risk of somehow sounding both overly analytical and hokey with earnestness, as far as I can tell, records exist only because the people making them somehow enjoy the process of making them together after agreeing on how to make them.
CP: What was your experience like composing new music for this particular project? Was it different from how Joan of Arc usually composes albums?
TK: It was the exact challenge that we were prepared for but didn’t know exactly how we would focus. We had been writing longer pieces — an 80-something minute score to Dreyer’s Joan of Arc that we had to pull of live; a series of records in which each piece was determined by how long one side of vinyl can be. One record was toured live before it was recorded and then recorded live in the studio with no overdubs and the one before that was made entirely in the studio, showing up the first day with no songs written and no instruments in hand, using only what we found at the studio. So writing in response to particular constraints was already our thing. A few years ago we had a giant and liberating break-through as a band — the realization that our own tastes had very little to do with what might be potentially expressive. Becoming comfortable writing against our own tastes simplified everything. I really just like Bad Brains and Lungfish. I guess I sometimes listen to Bauhaus and Can and Slayer. But I’m not interested in trying to sound like them. I guess people often write songs about their feelings or whatever, but I’m a grown man so I don’t really have a sense of what my feelings would be like and even if I could somehow locate them, they hardly seem like a relevant standard of value to me. So it’s good for us to have a standard by which we can determine success or
CP: On the one hand, the album feels like an autonomous project — something that one can sit down and listen to in a living room — however, in the live performance of Testimonium, the Joan of Arc portion is one piece of a longer performative event with Every house. How did that structure come together?
TK: Lin and Matthew are superlatively inspiring in many ways. The structural and formal balance that defines and sustains the tension of Testimonium is a demonstration that daringness and sensitivity are not contradictory impulses. It’s been such a privilege and joy to see how they operate and compose. They contradicted my every intuition and in doing so created this thing with some weird Life in it.
CP: What are you aware of when you’re on stage with Testimonium? Does playing live music in a performance context feel different from playing at a music show?
TK: Oh yeah. All the rituals of live music performance are undermined and we love it. The whole catharsis-spectacle is frustrated and maybe we’re grizzled old cynics to find that liberating, but I promise that Testimonium will equally frustrate those expecting a rock show as it will irritate those expecting a performance piece. We’ve done 5 weeks of Joan of Arc regular rock club shows this fall. I just got home yesterday. And I am aware that I internalize certain shortcuts or tricks to keep count. Muscle memory is subconscious and essential — my weight is on my left foot for the 2 and 4 of this song and my hip knocks out on this accent. But the potential promise of a rock show is that everything can blow apart to smithereens at any second. It remains almost constantly on the verge of falling into chaos. Testimonium on the other hand is so controlled. The quiets so drawn out. The blocking so precise. It removes that essential sense of tension and by simply reframing how a band is set up on stage, the entire experience gets broken down to its core components. It’s thrilling and perverse while also so simple. And its greatest threat, it might bore you. Nothing in the fucking universe is more boring than watching the rituals of mediocre rock clichés constantly begging to be paid attention to. It’s embarrassing for the performers and the audience. But people not interested in seeing their live music stripped of those kind of cliches will find this difficult and maybe even painful. So of course we’re taking on a certain kind of associative baggage. But if that’s what it takes to draw attention to the usual baggage a rock band brings to performing, we’re fine with it. Thrilled in fact!
You can also visit this site to pick up your copy of the Every house/Joan of Arc record, Testimonium Songs, Magenta vinyl limited to 550 hand-numbered copies. “In a departure for the band, these highly structured compositions, developed over a two-year rehearsal period, emulate Reznikoff’s poetics by shaping themselves according to a mosaic method – rotating a fixed set of musical units in warping permutations. The lyrics re-invent the strategies of Objectivist poetry, by turns surreal, ordinary, testimonial, and explosive, releasing the undercurrent of emotion in the poems while (almost) never quoting them directly. Beyond collecting the Testimonium Songs, the record has a life of its own, with the contributions of stellar musicians David Grubbs, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Michael Zerang, and Jim Baker, additional vocals by Melina Ausikaitis, and musical material not included in the performance. The cover art was made by renowned Chicago artist Jason Lazurus.”
February 10, 2013 · Print This Article
This weekend, Every house has a door will be performing their original work, Mending the Great Forest Highway, on February 15 and 16 at 8pm, and then again on February 17 at 7 pm as part of the IN>TIME festival at Links Hall (3435 N. Sheffield Avenue) $15 general/$10 students. For information on this and other upcoming events, please visit IN>TIME’s website. You will find an interview between myself and Matthew about this same piece on the Art21 blog here. More recently, Matthew submitted the following piece of writing about MTGFH’s latest iteration. – B@S
Returning to They’re Mending the Great Forest Highway
by Matthew Goulish
When people ask about the name Every house has a door, I say it has to do with aesthetic hospitality. In a sense the name stands as an invitation, and the invitation takes two parallel courses. First, each performance as a project assembles a team of specialists in response to the specific demands of that performance’s set of ideas. In this way, the company remains open like a house, and collaborators come and go like visitors. Second, each finished performance demonstrates our ongoing interest in separating the elements of performance and weaving them in some configuration particular to that work. Different aspects of the work may appeal to different audience members. In this inflection, each mode offers a different door, standing open for a different audience member as an invitation into the house of the performance.
We made a performance called They’re Mending the Great Forest Highway. The Chicago Dancemakers’ Forum supported the original version, because choreography lent this work its core. We borrowed the title from a song by the twentieth-century composer Béla Bartók, but the choreography derived from his trio for clarinet, violin, and piano, Contrasts, composed in 1938 in response to a commission by Benny Goodman. We had the idea that three men would dance the parts of the three instruments, transposed from music to movement, adhering to the composition’s precise timing. Brian Torrey Scott danced the part of Benny Goodman’s clarinet, and John Rich that of Joseph Szigeti’s violin. We listened to the original recording by those great musicians, with Bartók himself on the piano. I claimed that part for myself. It was only fair. I had worn out the record through repeated listening in my undergraduate years, and already had it nearly memorized.
We presented the piece at the Holstein Park field house gymnasium in June 2011. Lin Hixson had guided the three of us in the first months of rehearsals, giving us directives for generating movement to retrofit to the score. The directives suggested a second degree of translation from the music; for the first movement: a dance in daylight, movements of labor, social/club movements, army recruiting song; for the second: sounds of a summer night in the country; the flitterings of nocturnal frogs, automatic insect chirping, a bird taps its beak on a hollow wooden tree trunk … concentric circles … restful … volcanic … human singing rises from far away in the darkness; for the third: the fast dance, furious, interrupted, side-slipping tri-tones reminiscent of the end of Berg’s Wozzek.
We invited Charissa Tolentino to compose a score that combined found sounds and samples with original sonic inventions, and to present this live, sharing the stage like a DJ with us dancers. This music, twice removed from Bartók’s composition, responded to the movement, largely free from the score’s constraints, but retaining its broad structure.
Finally, Lin and I collaborated on the writing of an extensive prose introduction. For this part, she, the director, would speak directly to the audience, detailing our intentions and processes, as well relating relevant, if somewhat fictional, autobiographical background from her director’s notes and journals. Lin would not deliver this herself, however. Instead we invited Hannah Geil-Neufeld, a young performer whom we had known since she was a child, to perform the part of the director Lin Hixson. We had in mind a contemplation of youth and aging, with which the introduction concerns itself, as well as that strange area in which the familiar becomes just unstable enough to appear unfamiliar. Hannah returned to conclude the piece, after the roughly 21-minute dance, with an epilogue that included all the performers in the staging of the last moment’s of Büchner’s Woyzeck, taking those liner notes literally. Guided by the tone of Hannah-as-Lin’s semi-autobiographical monologues, a tone lifted from the dual inspiration of J. M. Coetzee and Robert Bresson, the piece somewhat unexpectedly became an indirect meditation on the fraught and sometimes brutal relations between generations, the anxieties of production and reproduction.
We finished the dance today.
It’s called They’re Mending the Great Forest Highway.
I didn’t think it was about mending when we started. I just liked the title.
Now think that thinking that – that the dance was in fact about mending after all – was what stopped me there on the sidewalk in the rain.
So says Hannah-as-Lin near the end. Each element – words, dance, music – had their own life, their own independence on the stage, no one of them as accompaniment to another, and often not even happening at the same time. Each performer, or set of performers, had been delegated to one of these modes. I hope the house/door metaphor is clear now. To divide the finished performance from the process of its creation is largely an artificial exercise, but one that helps clarify our intentions and the work’s meanings and energy. The introductory speech makes some audience members impatient for the dance to begin. Others concentrate on the music as central, and still others need the words as their anchor. The piece asks everybody to assemble the parts into a coherent whole after the 65-minute structured sequence of their presentation.
Now we return to the piece for three performances at Link’s Hall on February 15, 16, and 17, as part of the IN>TIME Festival, and with the support of an Illinois Arts Council fellowship. Brian Torrey Scott has moved to Providence, Rhode Island. Jeff Harms has taken over the violin part. Charissa Tolentino has also departed the piece. Now Liz Payne performs the DJ role, with her own original sound composition. In this series of rehearsals, Lin has asked us to revisit the third movement’s choreography. She put it this way in an email from January 2nd:
Dear Jeff, John, and Matthew,
At our next rehearsals, I would like to work on new choreography. Below are YouTube sources for these new movements, divided between Lower Body and Upper Body. I used the Mending video from Holstein as a reference to locate the choreography I’d like you to change, embellish, or hybridize. Many, many thanks, Lin
30:57 – 31:35
Embellish the repetition of this movement using the Lower Body sources.
John and Jeff
31:56 – 32:24
This is after the shaving bowl move and around 28 seconds of material. Keep all your timings and positions in the space but consider using a different vocabulary from the Upper Body sources. So, for example, if you are doing something together this would remain. What you are doing would change.
32:24 – 32:35
Matthew – replace somersault
Jeff – replace head movement
Both using Upper Body sources
32:36 – 32:49
Embellish leg slapping using Lower Body sources
Matthew, Jeff, and John
37:43 to end
Keep positions in space and timings but change the vocabulary using Lower Body/Upper Body sources
Lower Body Sources
Hungarian Folk Dance
Arms/Upper Body Sources
See a longer version of Forsythe’s Solo here.
Lin sent three links for each source, but I have only included one of each type here. I asked the performers about their thoughts on returning to They’re Mending the Great Forest Highway. John responded with this paragraph:
I counted my jumps one day. There are several hundred – not big jumps, mostly hops. I did not realize this in making the piece, did not realize it even until well after we finished and someone pointed it out. The dance acts as an accumulation that way. It is a complex field, but it is built by simple acts.
Jeff Harms wrote this:
The way in which I am finding the meaning of the piece is a physical process, born of patience and repetition. It seems that the art world often replaces meaning with “intention”, as if we were all in art school, or as if we all agreed on the path or even method art should use. The methods of Every house seem to be humble in this regard, and I think it’s for that reason, if we do succeed here, it will be a rich and meaningful experience for the audience.
In the years since we began working on this piece until our February performances, Hannah will have nearly earned her entire undergraduate degree from Macalester College. She answered this way:
What is exciting to me about They’re Mending the Great Forest Highway is the realization that one can mend something without being entirely sure of what one is mending.
We have been working for almost three years now to mend something that was not one thing to begin with. This is like darning a sock that does not exist before one begins to darn.
Bodies engaged in speaking the thoughts and dancing the labors of other bodies is, I think, necessarily an act of mending, regardless of the thing being mended.
We prepare for February by rehearsing, I imagine the way musicians would, our collected movements, playing and replaying them alongside Liz’s composition, to fix in the mind and body these odd new aggregates. In his book Music and the Ineffable, the philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch wrote of how a musical work does not exist except in the time of its playing. Can one say the same about a work of performance? He further distinguished that one does not think about music as much as according to music. With that in mind, please click the link below to hear a sample of Liz’s composition, from the second movement of They’re Mending the Great Forest Highway.
Thanks, and see you soon.
Matthew Goulish, dramaturg
Matthew Goulish co-founded Every house has a door with Lin Hixson in 2008. His books include 39 Microlectures – in proximity of performance (Routledge, 2000), The Brightest Thing in the World – 3 lectures from The Institute of Failure (Green Lantern Press, 2012), and Work from Memory: in response to In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, a collaboration with the poet Dan Beachy-Quick (Ahsahta, 2012). He teaches writing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
We are in the midst of a winter festival. Its occasions take place at a variety of locations across the city, featuring a variety of performance artists from all over the world. In each case, the art work at hand is dynamic and ephemeral; the culmination of hours/months/years of work fit into a small, public window of time. Audiences come to experience that time-concentrate and in so doing are transported. Born in the UK, Chicago-based performance artist, Mark Jeffery, is similarly invested in temporal, aesthetic exercises. Over the course of his career, he has a regularly incorporated collaboration and experimentation into his work. It seems fitting that he would address curation as well, opening the field of performance into an administrative capacity. The result is a bi-annual festival, IN>TIME. There have been two other iterations of this festival, in 2008 and 2010 — both of which were co-curated by Sara Schnadt and took place at the Cultural Center. This year Jeffery has expanded the scope of the project, curating roughly 26 different events at 15 different venues from January 11th – March 2nd, 2013. I wanted to ask Jeffery about the origins of this bi-annual festival, as well as how it fit in with his overall practice as an artist.
Caroline Picard: Can you talk a little bit about how IN>TIME 13 came together?
Mark Jeffery: There have been two previous editions of IN>TIME in 2008 and 2010 at the Chicago Cultural Center that I co-curated with artist and Chicago Artist Resource webmaster, Sara Schnadt. Sara has since now moved to Los Angeles, but during the summer and fall of 2011, before Sara left, we discovered that our contact at the Cultural Center, lost her job. At the time there was no support for this program to continue. As a result, we considered how we could expand this festival from a one-night event at the Cultural Center to a multi-venue festival throughout the city of Chicago. We were both excited to contact and connect with local venues and spaces that we already respected for their public programming of performance, symposia, exhibition, talks, and/or readings — spaces that already had an affinity towards IN>TIME’s desire to showcase performance practices in the broadest terms. We met with curators, directors and programmers of spaces in their venues, at the Palmer House, on rooftops of hotels, in phone conversations, in meeting rooms to discuss the possibility to program work in the winter of 2013. What we didn’t expect when we cast this net was that the community would be equally excited to focus their programming on performance, giving an extended platform to this experimental form.
CP: Does IN>TIME reflect on your own orientation/aesthetic agenda as a performance arts practitioner?
MJ: I was a member of the performance group Goat Island for 13 years and have collaborated with Judd Morrissey for the past 10 years. I take collaboration and working with fellow artists very seriously. I learn so much from working with others and during my time of making performance work I have had multiple opportunities to be in many diverse and interesting contexts to present my work since 1994. For me, I grow from conversation. I learn from working with others and I see that permission, openings and discovery happen when doors are opened. I think I discovered this as a student at Dartington College of Arts from my teachers Sally Morgan, Sally Tallent, Nancy Reilly, Rona Lee, Gillian Dyson, Roger Bourke and Tim Brennan. My teachers gave me access to being curious, to being open, to allowing my voice to grow, to not be isolated, but to discover other artists and other ways of working through connecting with others.
In Goat Island I leant from my fellow collaborators and performers and director Lin Hixson to open up a space, even if this was an uncomfortable risk. In coming to America, and in the ending of Goat Island in 2009, I suddenly had to be on my own feet, here in this Midwestern city, as an Assistant Professor in Performance Art. I had to be engaged. I had to become an adult. I had to share my knowledge of the spaces, networks and connections I had made now over the past 20 years.
Chicago is my home, it is a place where I can engage through teaching, through making, through performance and exhibitions — and now also through curation, as another way to open up spaces for? collaboration. I am grateful to be here and I am grateful that 14 venues are willing and interested in working with each other to make this dream come true. For the 2008 edition of IN>TIME Sara gathered a group of makers, curators into the Chicago Cultural Center in the summer of 2006. At that time I remember saying that I would love to see how we as a city could have a multi-venue performance art festival, similar to the one where I was first curated into in 1994 as a 21-year-old in Glasgow by Performance Art Curator, Nikki Milican and her National Review of Live Art Festival. Now, seven years later we have arrived.
CP: I am always suspicious of generalizations about localized styles or approaches to a given medium, but specific environments seem to facilitate peculiar dialogues. I have heard, for instance, that New York art performance is more integrated with dance, or that Europe is more open to experimental works. I don’t know if those comments are true or not, (they certainly came out of casual and speculative conversations) but I’m interested in whether or not you feel like Chicago has a particular conversation of its own. Does IN>TIME 13 respond to that at all?
MJ: Good question. I remember being in the library as a 19 year-old at Dartington College of Arts studying Visual Performance in the UK, (Dartington was a similar place / space to Black Mountain College). In the library I would read the High Performance and P-Form journals and read reviews about performance in Chicago. In 1996 I came to Chicago for the first time to join Goat Island Performance group. For me the roots of performance came from reading those articles, from being part of Goat Island and seeing the trail end of Randolph Street Gallery — a non-profit performance/gallery space here that ended I believe in 1998. In the past 15 years that I’ve been here, I have seen some extraordinary work from performance makers in their studio performance spaces and venues here with Lucky Pierre, Dolores Wilber and her collective, Julie Laffin, Joe Silovsky, Cupola Bobber,Joan Dickinson, Larry Steger, and more recently Erica Mott, Justin Cabrillos, Joseph Ravens and Peter Carpenter. More recently I think of Chicago as a place for experimentation, a place for artists to really explore and test rigorous ideas. It is a place for research to take place, and for non-traditional, informative intersections and overlaps that to spring up unexpectedly via collectives and collaborations. That is what I get excited about. My training at Dartington and also in Goat Island taught me to be open, to be curious, to not be hierarchical, to give permission, to open up new spaces. I am about to hit 40 in 4 months and to have known this practice now for over 20 years and still be working: that’s is what I am grateful for. Performance is a medium that is forever shifting, one of the things for me about coming to Chicago and living and working in America is that things can happen. I am ambitious and a workaholic and in a funny way I am thinking of this festival as my mid-life crisis! (this is my sense of humour btw). Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to ask and see what is out there. I am lucky now to be here two decades into this practice and that when I ask certain things, like a 14 venue performance festival where hybridity, where venues that wouldn’t normally work with each other have an opportunity for exchange, for dialogue and conversation. Where doors open and the container of performance can be a storefront gallery, a video installation, a reading, a movement art endurance work, a reenactment, a meeting between museum spaces, schools, galleries, DIY spaces.
CP: How did you go about organizing the programming?
MJ: The programming of the festival came firstly from Sara and I meeting with all the venues in the summer and fall of 2011 and then slowly from there having conversations to see about what would be the best fit for each of their spaces. Some venues suggested if a particular artist would be a good fit for the festival in regards what they were already considering, venues like the Dance Center of Columbia College with Zoe I Juniper or Museum of Contemporary Art with Miguel Gutierrez and Threewalls with Mary Patten and Mathew Paul Jinks. All the venues have really exciting work that will enter their spaces and showcasing incredible talent. I am excited about the three venues I have just mentioned in the openings these spaces can present these artists. I am also excited to see how these artists present their work here in Chicago. These are highlights, other highlights for me are being able to go back to the Cultural Center and have the US premier of Spanish, Swiss based artist Maria La Ribot perform her 5 hour work Laughing Hole. I have never seen her work live but have followed her work closely with a video work of hers I show in the classroom, a documentary called La Ribot Distinguida filmed at the Tate Modern in London and the Pompidou in Paris. Through the new director of Performing Arts, Shoni Currier at the Chicago Cultural Center we are able to showcase her work. Also at Joseph Ravens Defrillator performance gallery we are able to bring Singaporean artist Lynn Lu, she will share an evening with British visual art poet cris cheek from Ohio and two emerging local artists Kitty Huffman and Hope Esser. Croatian Movement Art Group OOURR, local dance artist Peter Carpenter will be on the same bill and have been excited to follow him these past two years. at Links Hall local Chicago Artists Every House as a Door, Erica Mott and Trevor Martin, Hyde Park Art Center and having artists in residents Minouk Lim from Korea and Croatian born London-based Vlatka Horvat. The challenge to me is to keep curious and to put things together that normally wouldn’t be together in a program. I like group exhibits where experimental forms of performance, movement. Language, actions, durations, emerging, established can come together. Again, to me this comes from my training and also wanting to connect people. The curator / caretaker is first to open up a space and the last to leave.
CP: Maybe because the title of your festival is IN>TIME, I’m reminded of the ephemerality of performance, and various conversations I’ve picked up on peripherally about how to document performance, how the documentation can eclipse the performance itself as an art object, or what happens to a piece when it is recreated in a different time and context, by different performers. I realize those conversations are vast and intricate, but it occurred to me that you might be negotiating some of those as an organizer, putting together a multi-faceted, multi-venue festival. How you have been dealing with documentation?
MJ: Last week eight students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago worked with London Based artist Kira O’Reilly with the three-week visiting artist class called FROZEN IN>TENSITIES that is a course driven exhibit at SAIC. Each week there is a presentation at SAIC of the work they have been doing with the artists. With Kira the students found an old filing cabinet that has been in the green room this past semester. The filing cabinet was full of files that is an archive of the performance department when it was being chaired by the departments founder Tom Jaremba and former chair and now Graduate Division Chair, Werner Herterich. I site this filing cabinet as it became both a rich treasure trove of correspondence and a source of material for students to respond to. There were files from Linda Montano for example, and Alistair MacLennan when they visited the department. This cabinet has been making me think about how do we document our lives now in 2013. What are our filing cabinets? How do we store and retain this information, this memory of being here, especially with performance? For the class we also have 3 rooms in the Sullivan Galleries, and so we are also having this conversation about the document, of how to archive what remains. It becomes an exciting challenge. Yesterday I helped Sabri Reed, the teaching assistant for the class, take the filing cabinet on a cart from the Columbus Drive building to the Sullivan Galleries. It was quite unwieldy and heavy, but became this opportunity to walk and mark those moments of exchange spanning the past 30 years across Monroe Street. The students are also going to insert a record of their work in the class into a file and put it back into the filing cabinet for the exhibit and this will remain.
Last week I also renewed the Goat Island website as it was going to run out, the domain name in five days or something. This position between the physical and the virtual, the mixed reality of archive and document is a really interesting question for me. If we don’t maintain the upkeep of our websites what does remain. What are our filing cabinets of 2013?
CP: This image of time keeps coming back…
MJ: To me this is an experiment. Since 2006 I have also been curating and have developed series of OPENPORT A performance, sound and language festival (2007) co – curated with Nathan Butler, Judd Morrissey and Lori Talley at Links Hall, Intimate and Epic (2006) co – curated with Sara Schnadt in Millennium Park and The Simulationists (2011) co – curated with Claudia Hart and Judd Morrissey at SAIC as well as the IN>TIME series. Time becomes an important thing and I often think about how to stamp time now as it moves so quickly (the 40 thing again ;)) – yet, if you take time to make something, I think something can come through and with Sara and I meeting all the venues 18 months ago, the results of this time has come through. I come from a father who was a herdsman who milked 200 Friesian cows each day, woke at 5 and worked till 8, seven days a week. A life’s work, working for over 30 years on the same farm. There is something in building a life through projects, through ritual, through time that you can get a lot done and through the creative make a place and space for opportunity to enter. Again for this I am grateful and I always thank my teachers for giving me the space, time and attention. You work towards something to thank them.
Further Information: http://www.in-time-performance.org/
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Matthew Goulish on the Art21 blog. Much of that conversation centered around a performance by Every house has a door that took place this last June. I wanted to reenact some aspects of that performance through writing. Memory is like a muscle, in a way, and what follows is an exercise of memory.
“The body (its matter) is eternal; the soul (the form of the body) is transitory” - Bela Bartók (1881-1945)
We met at the poolhouse in Holstein Park. It was a humid summer day—due to the heat we were asked to stay outside before the show. There was concern the room might get too hot from our cumulative body heat; the longer we could avoid its accumulation, the better. So we gathered around a bench, following incomplete conversational paths, subjects pursued to pass the time and, if necessary, abandon altogether should the doors open unexpectedly. In these preceding moments I realized, for the first time this year, that it was summer: a time for slow and amicable drifting.
Imagine you sit on this bench with us. You look at your watch; people have started to filter indoors. You follow them. You purchase a bottle of water from a vending machine and climb a set of stairs. I am just in front of you. The banister is wrapped with caution tape but you use it anyway. At the top of the stairs we enter a small, half-court gymnasium. Windows surround the upper third of the room. They are old fashioned, connected by a single metal bar; if you turned a specific rod, all the windows would open at the same time. Through the open windows, you hear the sound of children playing in the swimming pool outside. Sometimes you hear a car from the street. The room stills in anticipation of a beginning. You notice the sweat in your palms. It is very hot. Sun brightens the room and when you follow my gaze look through the windows, the sky is a Midwestern blue.
Hannah Geil-Neufeld approaches the microphone. The performance is beginning. It has begun. She begins to read from a rehearsal journal. Like the rest of the audience, we listen to her voice and thus enter the process that created the performance we have come to see. Her voice admits us back stage. She quotes Wallace Stevens. ”The poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully,” she says.
The rehearsal journal ushers an experience of intimacy. It welcomes the audience. It calms us with stable, descriptive footing. But of course this is a performance and we are in a theater watching people who have rehearsed the ensuing movement multiple times. This diary is also a practiced devise. It is a grounding point, coherent and personal and common. It opens the door providing a lens through which to see the rest.
Three men come to the stage. They wear coats and ties. Brian Torrey Scott is not among them. He has been struck from the rehearsal journal as well. Scott was one of the original dancers; he was in the preview of this same performance put on a year ago at the Cultural Center. He moved away, I heard, and Jeff Harms took his place beside Goulish and John Rich in this performance. Harms appears in the rehearsal journal as though he had been there from the beginning. His dance movements are the same–you remember for instance, the comic flop Scott enacted periodically. At the Cultural Center the arms out, face down semi-dive made people laugh. In the gymnasium we laugh at different moment.
In the gymnasium, these men enact a dance. The gestures comprise a vocabulary because they are specific and repeating and sometimes traded off. Each dancer opens and closes his body differently, as a kind of breath. A delicate syncopation, they execute repeated patterns of movement, weaving in and out of one another. Harm’s flops down and up. Goulish wraps his arms inward and twists. Rich rotates, turning back and forth on an ankle. While the movements themselves are coherent and descriptive, it is impossible to translate their meaning into words. The letters of this language are limbs. The body almost resists the intelligence. Someone coughs at your shoulder. There are people sitting on gymnasium mats and I feel fortunate to have a chair. By watching the dancing men, you feel cooler. Because they must be very hot.
Charissa Tolentino sits in the center of the room with an economical table. She plays music from her computer, blending organic, forest sounds with varied samples. The samples weave in and out of one another. You catch a phrase from Iggy Pop and catch my eye. I drink some water. The bottle is perspiring also. The various beats of Tolentino’s music mix with the dancers’ claps and stomps, making the room’s noise greater than that of the children outside. And after a built-in rest (the men stand on the side lines breathing noticeably while Tolentino’s soundscape fills the center of the room), the dancers bring scores and music stands to the middle of the gymnasium. John Rich is the only one who keeps his coat on. He gathers with the others, resuming the focal point of the stage to read and perform the notes inscribed. Here we see the body as an instrument and movement becomes its muscular folk music.
The body is also a diary in which memories are embedded, bound by tissue and variously noticeable tensions. It can be inspired, unexpectedly. The tri-tone stirs the body even when it’s listeners resist (John Rich jumping up and down with a red plastic devil’s fork. His feet make stamping sounds when they land on the otherwise squealing wood).
The tri-tone, Bartok and Barry Goodman are all characters in this performance. They linger in the air, as spirited figments, swooping down to possess the dancers periodically. Bartok was a pioneer of ethno-musicology. He collected folk songs like the Grimms collected fairy tales, traveling through the countryside with an Edison phonograph. The ease of his travel was impeded by the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but he continued to visit what became Romania, trapping voices in an historical box. Folk singers regularly used the tritone without any evil associations and Bartok used it in his own compositions, smuggling the diminished fifth symphony halls. His violins were retuned to play dissonant notes on open strings and his audience was curiously moved in ways they didn’t understand. Americans were similarly afraid of Jazz (it made the young people dance) but in 1938 the Goodman Band played at Carnegie Hall, what had otherwise been a site for classical performance. By drawing you into this gymnasium, I am trying to conjure the ghost of experience. Now we have these figments between us, as they were in the gymnasium.
And so we come to the final act. Goulish approaches the microphone and begins to read from the rehearsal diary again. He describes the movements of an opera. He returns to the idea of mothers while describing an after-rehearsal walk. We have left the center of the performance. In leaving the center, we approach the bounds of its circumference and crossing that line will mark the end. Goulish conjures a looming maternal presence–a presence that seems to have always been in the room, lurking in the shadows of each and every one of us, ill-defined until it was named. Mothers are the beginning of material experience. Her multiple facets standing like a grove of aspens with one single root system. This is the forest we have been walking through inside of this bare-bright gymnasium. The wooden floors, rife with patterns to measure court games, collecting sweat like a forest floor. The performance is a delapidated road and by its enactment it wants to mend itself.
But first, there will be a death scene. In the first month of summer, in the middle of a very warm day, you watch three dancers die while thinking of an opera you have never seen. Goulish describes the opera as I am here describing their performance. Their bodies jerk differently as they imagine themselves drowning in this dry heat and when they leave they exit out the gymnasium door. Goulish drowns last.
We cannot tell if it is really over, which is what happens with death. Material bodies are stupefied when they can no longer move themselves. The room begins to applaud. Performers come out from their backstage retreat to bow. The Director, Lin Hixson, is called out from where she has been watching in the audience with a smile. The room applauds with a bigger noise.
Back down the stairs you realize the banister you’d been using for support is only partially screwed into the wall. Thus the cautionary tape. In addition to the memory of the performance, you also remember (perhaps by accident) the faces of those sitting around you. The same faces you walk down stairs with. Strangers watching a partially silent music.