Returning to They’re Mending the Great Forest Highway

February 10, 2013 · Print This Article

Every house has a door,"They're Mending the Great Forest Highway," 2011. Performance. Photo: John W. Sisson, Jr.

Every house has a door,”They’re Mending the Great Forest Highway,” 2011. Performance. Photo: John W. Sisson, Jr.

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

Jeff
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

Jeff
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
William Forsythe
 

Solo – William Forsythe from Tom Balogh on Vimeo.

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
 

[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/75059086" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]
 

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.

 

 

 




Interview with Jose Muñoz, author of “Cruising Utopia” and SAIC Visiting Artist Lecturer

February 7, 2011 · Print This Article

The School of the Art Institute’s Visiting Artist Program kicks off its Spring 2011 series tonight with Jose Muñoz, chair of NYU’s Performance Studies department and the author of several books, including Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. (You can download a .pdf file of that book’s introduction here). The talk will take place at 6pm in the Columbus Auditorium, 280 S. Columbus Drive. In advance of Professor Munoz’ talk, I asked him a few questions about his work and the performance artists who inspired it. I’m very grateful to him for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer them!

*******

Claudine Ise: Tell us a bit about what you plan to discuss during your lecture at the School of the Art Institute.

Jose Muñoz: I plan to present work that bridges Cruising Utopia and my next book project The Sense of Brown. In Cruising Utopia I considered the work and life of figures from the historical queer avant-garde. I will discuss the life and work of Warhol superstar Mario Montez. Montez collaborated with Warhol, Jack Smith, Ronald Tavel and many other key figures from that scene. But Montez dropped out of the art and performance scene in the 1970s. He has recently reemerged and has great stories to tell. I look to him as a “Wise Latina” which was a phrase used by republicans who attacked Sonia Sotomayor when she was nominated to The Supreme Court. I describe Montez as a Wise Latina because she made a sort of “sense” that I think is worth considering today.

CI: The prose style of your 2009 book “Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity” is at once poetic and deeply rousing. In particular, I’m enamored of this statement from your book’s Introduction:

“We must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there. Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds. Queerness is that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing.”

I love the radical openness of that idea. Can you talk a bit about the ways in which you want to re/define the concepts of ‘hope’ and ‘utopia,’ particularly when it comes to queerness and what you describe as a ‘queer aesthetic’?

JM: I was advocating an idea of hope that refuses despair during desperate times. I reject naive hope and instead offer a version of hope that is counter measure to how straight culture defines our lives and the world. I was trying to describe an idea of utopia that is not just escapism. Queer art or queer aesthetics potentially offer us blueprints and designs for other ways of living in the world. In Cruising Utopia I look at performances and visual art that are both historical and contemporary. But what all the work has in common is the way it sketches different ways of being in the world.

CI: Which contemporary performance artists do you think best represent your idea that ‘hope’ can be more than just a critical affect, but can also present us with a viable methodology for mapping utopias?

JM: I am interested in so much work that happens under the rich sign of performance. For years I have been following the work of artists like Vaginal Davis whose performances always insists on another version of reality than the ones we are bombarded by. I could substitute Vag’s name in the previous sentence with that of artists like Nao Bustamente, Carmelita Tropicana, Dynasty Handbag, My Barbarian and so many other artists that I have encountered. I look forward to seeing more work that helps me glimpse something beyond the here and now.

Dynasty Handbag at Transmodern Festival, 2008.




Episode 267: James Elkins and the Stone Summer Theory Institute

October 10, 2010 · Print This Article

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James Elkins
This week: Duncan talks to Professor James Elkins about the Stone Summer Theory Institute and this years theme Beyond the Aesthetic and the Anti-Aesthetic.

The Stone Summer Theory Institute is week-long school in contemporary art theory. It is held in Chicago, in July, at the School of the Art Institute.

Each year brings together an unprecedented gathering of international scholars to discuss an unresolved question in contemporary art theory. This year’s subject is the aesthetic and one of its opposites, the anti-aesthetic. Some art practices aim at aesthetic value, while other art practices aim to do something in society, in politics, or to identity. The difference between those two conceptions of art is one of the deepest unresolved questions of current art practice.




UPDATED Walter Massey New School of Art Institute President…..?

June 21, 2010 · Print This Article

Walter MasseyIt has been announced today that Dr. Walter Massey has been named the new President of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This is a really hard article to write since it’s difficult to find much about Walter Massey in any kind of Art context and his business context is pretty basic as well.

Walter Massey, who currently sits on the board of McDonald’s (which is headquartered in Chicago lets remember), recently retired from the Bank of America board, president emeritus of Morehouse College in Atlanta, has worked in the Unviersity of California system and at Brown University, former board member of BP, National Commission on Smoking and Public Policy & ran Argonne National Laboratory is more like a madlibs result for the executive level of Chicago Business/General Science Education world. It’s a little of this and a lot of that.

The resume reads like a interim president who was a Chicago culture buff and said “yea, I’ll do it” when no one else would?

I know I am not the only one that realizes there is 15% unemployment (even for executives) but there is no one else eligible for this position? Someone who is a tad more focused in areas of use to the SAIC? Someone other then a 72+ year old scientist whose college administration background is “leading” his Alma mater (the self described “only all male historically black institution of higher learning in the United States”) for 12 years after he had retired from a career of  Science advocacy?

How is this even close to the needs of the SAIC and Art community in the 21st century other then he is a warm body that I am sure has a Rolodex (a literal Rolodex I mean) full of moneyed contacts.

I know the Art world lives on nepotism and dresses it up as “vetting someone” but could you at least try to hide it more in the future cause it really reads poorly to a lot of people right now?

*******UPDATE********

More information has come out from, SAIC Chairman of the Board, Cary D. McMillanhas (who is also on the McDonald’s board) who by telephone from vacation in Italy told the Chicago Tribune that Walter Massey is a interim President brought on to release pressure from Elissa Tenny, who has been appointed to the newly created position of SAIC provost and senior vice president of academic affairs.

By end of the first semester, we’ll probably have a good idea of what direction we want to go, and probably begin a search some time after that. We didn’t want to be feeling that we were rushed to hire someone, and Walter is just such a great guy

Nowhere in the press release that the School issued is the term Interim even mentioned or hinted at. I am sure Dr. Massey is a great person, wonderful guy and might via his connections or mere presence help others feel more free to make the changes or growth they need but no one thought to mention that in the press release? That the Chairman needs to clarify while on vacation in Italy 7 hours ahead of Chicago for the Tribune’s late night post; the fact this in actuality an interim position?

More can be read at the Tribune’s Article here




Bad at Sports on the Social Media Strategy Panel at Art Chicago

May 2, 2010 · Print This Article

Thanks to everyone for coming out to the “Social Media Strategies in Chicago’s Art Community” panel hosted by Art Critic Alicia Eler and Chicago Gallery News’ Ginny Berg at Art Chicago today. I loved talking with Karla Loring, Museum of Contemporary Art; Crystal Pernell, Hyde Park Art Center; and Carrie Heinonen, Art Institute of Chicago about all things tech & strategy and hope that it was useful or atleast entertaining for those of you in attendance. Every group on that dais has my upmost respect for the work they do in the Arts day in and out and it is an honor to have Bad at Sports counted among them.

As promised in the talk there is a program that is quite useful in Twitter to let you know who starts following you and more importantly who drops your account. At the time I was trying to think of Chirpstats and couldn’t get the word out but the great Crystal Pernell was kind enough to remind me of Qwitter which does more then Chirpstats by working to tie the drop to a specific tweet. This can be extremely useful if at times a bit misleading but a great alternative to Chirpstats which is only a weekly update but less taxing on an email account.

The net is a wonderful place to meet, share, promote and wallow in all the things you love or cherish and social media for me is a great tool to help accomplish & magnify those desires. I still say though the most important thing is to service the end users like they are your boss, anything less is putting the cart before the horse. Feed them data, facts, images & yes even sugar and rumors some days but remember that twitter, facebook, digg, stumbleupon, and whatever is next are only a means to that end. It’s something that even we have to be vigilant to keep in perspective and doesn’t come easy for anyone especially when you have to answer to a comittee; I have deep sympathy there. I look forward to the next time we can get everyone together and have honest and open talks about how we go about trying to promote and grow this thing we love called Art.

Thanks again for coming out!