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these are some dots

So the idea came out of a bunch of dots. Back in February of 2020, pre-pandemic, I had watched American Psycho in preparation for an upcoming Screen event (I like to watch the movies first so I can present them with some kind of fore-knowledge, if possible). There is a murder scene in the movie where you don’t see the act, but just the splattering of blood. It was a case of the representation of violence without direct imitation of an act. I wanted to explore the possibilities of this in a live performance. I had been reading about the history of concentration camps and was interested in how decisions of violence get made, how they play out, and if there was a way to explore that violence in a visceral way without either actual violence or imitative representation. Not the first, because I didn’t want anyone to get hurt. And not the second because this is one of the misunderstandings of theater/live performance: it can look like a cheaper version of tv or a movie, and often functions that way because audiences have been trained to pretend they are going along with the amateurism of what they are being presented with on a stage, but that is theater in an identity crisis. Audiences do not need to have their ability to pretend-something-is real-when-it is-not reinforced. This version of “using your imagination” is deeply limited and fundamentally destructive to engaging in the political, social, economic, and cultural realities of life.

So anyway, I started throwing red paint against a large white paper on the wall. I was interested in whether and how watching someone throw this paint in a way that resembled a “blood splatter” might be read by an audience and what effect different contexts and circumstances might have on that live image. It may have developed into something, but we had to cancel rehearsals shortly after and I haven’t tried again.

But I did throw some game pieces on the wooden floor of my living room. It was interesting how the round black randomly arranged pieces lay against the straight lines of the maple floorboards. I started looking at representations of data online, especially scatter-plot graphs, with their juxtapositions of chaos and order, rationality and the irrational. How the multiplicity of dots were meant to represent a multiplicity of data. How the lines both embodied the dots and simultaneously demonstrated the distance between what the line represented and what the dots represented.

Then in the depth of the pandemic here, out of frustration and depression, I began to write imaginary scores for performances. Since I felt they would never get made, I felt I could describe things that would be impossible to realize. I wrote down “Impossible Performances” at the top of the page and started making things up. At first this impossibility was an aspect of my frustration and depression, but it quickly became a challenge — was this thing truly impossible to realize? Could I think of something more impossible? Looking back at them when Emily Gastineau at MNartists.org agreed to publish them, I saw that they were also explorations of the positions of audience/spectator and performer/performance. (Of course I was not the only one to have this idea.) Emily suggested that I include some images with this piece and I turned to what I had been playing with — data graphs, inverted night sky images, spills and splatters of different kinds, and photos of fallen petals.

Then the story takes over that I have been laying out occasionally on the ol’ Instagram feed. I think it was always going to have something to do with the pandemic, but after seeing the February 21 front page of the New York Times, I think I started to think of it as a kind of memorial. A memorial in motion, over time, in layers, incomplete, and ongoing.

So there’s some background. Do let me know if you have questions, comments, or suggestions. I’m out of a job and have a lot of time….

Don’t tell anyone, but despite what has been said or written in other places, Skewed Visions is not a company. Or a mission, or a set of values, or even a community. Skewed Visions is not even the people who founded it. Much less is it a Position, a Place, or Goal. But Skewed Visions is born out of the work we have done, are doing, and will do. (But what is that?)

Many artists have difficulty with grants, applications, and artist’s statements because this question requires an answer. Who are you as an artist? What is your work? It can be useful to come up with language that satisfies these questions, if only to slot yourself into a structure that can lend order to a messy and complex human range of processes, behaviors, and relationships (and get you some of that long green).

But when we tell ourselves the truth — which, I will be the first to admit, I had thought was only just my ignorance and inexperience rather than a real true thing that ought to be protected and nourished — we know that the tighter we hold to these predetermined structures, the looser is our grip on the deeper reality of what we are doing, thinking, believing, and how we engage all the messy and complex human range of processes, behaviors, and relationships.

So while thinking about this over the last couple days (usually in the shower or on the toilet, when, you know, I’ve got some “free time”) I threw away all the work produced in response to outside demand and let this question sit and bubble a little in the way that I do with what have been called “artistic” or “aesthetic” questions.

And here is a first rough draft…

Skewed Visions is rushing into the wrong restaurant by mistake, realizing you’re not where you should be but sticking around, so that before long every diner, every server, every plate, fork and crumb, every chair and every conversation, is a unique piece of evidence pieced together to forensically construct a perfect model of an irreplaceable slice of the world at this precise moment.

Skewed Visions is when you are searching through the dusty boxes in the attic of your childhood home and you come across a ribbon that is all that remains of your sister’s favorite security blanket you had completely forgotten about, but which suddenly takes your body back to when you could both sit side by side in one chair, listening to the radio.

Skewed Visions is when you meet someone you’ve never seen before but you feel like you’ve known them forever and you realize you’re already in love and that every future moment you spend with them will do nothing to augment this experience of intimacy and openness you feel right here and now.

I’m just here to take part in this as much as possible.

I was so excited to get my vaccine.

Last February I was meeting with several other artists, a group of people I deeply respect and admire, and we were beginning to work on developing a new piece.

In applications (and often in real life) I talk about “my work” and “my process” as if they were some kind of Law of Nature. The “way I work” and “the type of work I make” in these cases are like Enlightenment scientific designations. Abstractions meant to organize thinking around something in the world (i.e. “facilitate understanding”). Not only do I so suck at TALKING, and in particular, TALKING ABOUT MY WORK, that people usually leave with more questions than they came with, but also I think this whole system is misleading and inaccurate — and worse: WRONG. As anyone who ever made a finger painting as a kid knows (or even played in the mud — or with Legos or blocks or sticks or has even just spent a single unauthorized moment DAYDREAMING forgodsake), you can try to talk about this human thing that happens, but its like trying to tape the wind to the wall.

I feel pretty confident that the gap between my talk and my work is not just a linear distance that can be bridged by me growing increasingly articulate or the listener becoming more receptive. Instead, this gap is of a difference that is fundamentally different in kind. A gap between the word “earbud” and the actual force gravity, for example. I resist the call (and the temptation) to make good-faith efforts to bridge this gap — particularly when my “work” “results” in actual people having ongoing experiences in real space over time. Do I not have the language, or is language here only beside the point?

Which is all to say: grain of salt, grain of salt. (If I coulda said it, it wouldn’t be a performance.)

Aaaanyway, in February last year, as we were beginning to get together there was a lot of conversation — which is work — and a lot of trying things out and playing with string and sheets (all work, but you know that), I felt the usual feelings of embarrassment and shame, inadequacy and guilt, ignorance and ineptitude that come with making anything “new.” You know: this is stupid, what have I done, all these people are better than me, I’m wasting their time, I’m so stupid I don’t know anything, I can’t do anything, I should just stop this before someone gets really hurt… But, last February, I also had been beginning to feel like I could evade some of the worst of those diseases and allow what was happening to happen — to clear the air of these things and open the space where little things might happen. Fragile, ephemeral, glimpses of a distant brightness that if we were very careful and deeply encouraging, might coalesce into an actual light we could share.

And I’m sure I’m not alone here, because this happens even when there’s not a pandemic, but the moment when I realized this wasn’t possible — not today, not tomorrow, not for oh man…maybe we’d be unable to work all SUMMER! That was a very familiar crushing defeat that, in the past, was just another daily blow to the face with a sledgehammer.

But I held out what might be called hope. If only because CHANGE is inevitable.

So I was excited to get the vaccine. In the minutes after the injection, sitting in the makeshift Waiting Room, waiting and hoping no one there was contagious, I wept messily into my triple layer homemade tightly-fitting mask (taking it off in the car later was Alien levels of slime) with what I felt as a relief that comes after aching worry about my health, about the health of loved ones, about the health of millions of others, and with horror for the number who died. A different future seemed like an option to begin to think about considering.

Recently I’ve come across articles and studies of immunosuppressed/immunocompromised people who get the vaccine but don’t get much protection from it.

Which is only to say, I’m still holding onto last February’s moment of possibility. And I’ve come back here to work out some kinks.