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This is the fifth in a series of posts leading up to Skewed Visions’ remaking of the performance EX from 2014 called EX(remade) in June 2016. In addition to maybe supplying some history and background from the initial production, this series might also provide some context for the current production, including how the current piece is being shaped out of what came before. This post is about what the framing device has turned into.

So last time I talked about how this version has to be “deeply different” from the 2014 production. Now I’m regretting my past self. (Not unusual.)

So rather than this production being a quotation of the earlier one, or a framing, I am thinking of it as a remembering. A remembering of the past performance, but also of the images that the last performance was made from. Also a remembering of my mother and my sister. But all of these rememberings are all indirect — or secondary, because not only are they are after the original events, but they are also after the original performance that is itself a sort of staging of memory images from the original events.

And as we know from our friends who read science articles, and the internet (who is also sometimes a friend, but one you can’t trust because they frequently have little psychotic episodes), when we remember something we don’t remember the original event but only the last recollection that our brain performed of the original event. So we know memory is mutable, and dependent on the present, and is not an accurate representation of the past so much as it is a accurate reflection of the circumstances in which the action of remembering takes place. EX(remade) is this kind of memory.

Another metaphor I have used in rehearsal is that we are pulling this show out of the compost heap where it has been left after it ended in October two years ago and showing it, complete with coffee grounds and banana peels still hanging off it.

A less moist image might be that of pulling an old scrapbook out of the attic full of pictures that have faded, are dusty, and some are missing. But that metaphor is a little dry and trite for my taste.

In any case, the phenomenon that has happened in rehearsals as we tried to recall the last performance was fascinating and pertinent and we will continue it into the performance. We each have different ideas of what is supposed to happen, of what had happened. We disagree, offer suggestions, maybe even argue. I am trying to incorporate repetitions and elisions, gaps and changes in perspective so that this performance is an accurate representation of different sort than EX: another kind of loss. It represents changing relationships to my memories, to the objects that stimulate these memories, and to the losses of my sister and my mother that are both irrevocable and immune to recovery.

tapies(Private thoughts after a conversation. Going back a long way, over old habits, re-digging old questions, trying to grasp the same old elusive thing, showing my ignorance and arrogance, trying to keep moving in spite of it. Making it public so I can step into it, and on to some other place — maybe less pompous and what-the-fuckeried.)

What does a critical question look like?

What is this I am looking at?
How does this thing work?

Where am I now?
Where does this put me?
What kind of a space is this?

How does it create this space? What is this space?
What does it take to move through this space?

Does looking at this make me think differently?
Not make me see something differently.
Not change my mind about something.
Not grow or change as a person.
But present me with a different world, put me in a different world.
Not show me, describe or define, a different world.
Not move me emotionally.
Not move me physically. Although these could happen, they’re irrelevant.
But require me to recognize that I do not belong to this world.
Not that I identify with it.
Not that I recognize myself in it. (At least, not as represented in it. Or as addressed in it.)
When I cannot identify myself in it, then I know there is something happening that may require more of me in this encounter.
When the encounter is more than a viewing or a reading or a watching or a listening to something.
When the encounter is something other than absorbing something, or learning something, or feeling something, or achieving an understanding.

How can I look at something, think about something, so that this can happen? If it can happen. Because it needs to be me working as well. Will it make me work?

When something is presented to me that I do not understand. When I recognize myself as an alien in this landscape, trespassing…

By the way, isn’t this purpose enough? Isn’t this act of alienation — not only the beginning of knowledge and of change — but also just itself a fundamental element of living? Of BEING ALIVE? Isn’t this how we keep from dying in this moment? By this recognition of a need to BE differently? A recognition of inadequacy? Of difference? Of our incompleteness?

Because living is dying. And/or vice versa. Because while we hold the possibility of being alive at every moment of our physical existence, it is equally true that we hold the possibility — the much easier to fall into, the DEFAULT reaction (because this defaulting is the essence of REACTIONARY) — of dying further within each moment. Dying as movement against CHANGE. Living as CHANGE. (Two sides of an equal sign, or two sides of a coin?) Which one, which one?

The moment is not ours, does not belong to us. The question of whether we are dying or NOT DYING in every moment is not a question of physical awareness, activity, or health. This choice (which is not a binary but a continuum of sorts) is not as much a choice as a kind of human TASK that we either struggle with or CAPITULATE to and be consumed, eaten, DECAY. (Not belonging begets the task.) Does this work present me with this moment, this task?

On the subject of death and this task: There is no soul here against (or within) some body. There is only MATTER. But this matter is not limited to the skin and bones of bodies or the wood and plastic of tools. This matter exists in a multidimensional spacetime, the complexity of which is (only) as infinite as the limits of our potential (not actual) understanding (an argument for education, experimentation, exploration, maybe; for expanding the range of the possible). This NOT DYING or this DECAY happens here, in the matter, not only in a merely physical or merely abstract plane. (And this matter absorbs and archives our history, making time inhabit these bodies, while also playing out its accumulated presence repeatedly in silence, maybe in hopes of reaching an audience who can read it. At the moment of death it is filed away, incompletely, into the memories of others who deform it with their touch.)

So there is a great deal at stake in these questions.

And why shouldn’t there be?

To make a piece of thoughtful entertainment for the community who will appreciate it, while maybe acceptable by those who request rationalizations, is a miserable betrayal of the actual VALUE of ART.

Saving the world? Leave that attempt to the Saviors. Changing minds? Leave that to the Proselytizers.  Educating the ignorant? Leave that to the Teachers.  I am not that big, not that strong, not that brave, and not that arrogant.

To fail at making work that will allow us to, for a moment, NOT DIE is both daring enough and humble enough. Daring enough because it is impossible. This is finally something worth doing in the face of all that we face. For this I will put up with the daily sledgehammer in the face. And humble enough because it is impossible. It is a useless task little recognized, less valued, and I can go about it without fear. Because it will inevitably fail.

In the face of inevitable failure, why settle for anything less than the impossible?

Is the first question, Is this impossibility attempted?

On the advice of a friend I am re-reading this essay and here munching on a couple of the ideas in public, hoping that it’ll spur more productive thinking about what I’m working on.

The extension of our reality beyond its boundaries so that we can better cope with it in our lives.

Sounds like as good a purpose as any other for this increasingly difficult profession. (Profession? That idea needs revisiting.) Not: the reflection of our reality, the better to understand ourselves. Not the old mirror up to nature, whether cracked or not. Of which version of reflection, TK says:

I want to restore to the word reflection its essential meaning and
implications which are tragic, dangerous, much deeper than those which
we were taught to believe in by the false con-missionaries of the truth-to-nature dogma.

Tragic because it is like looking closely at a photo of a dead loved one. Is it? Dangerous because to take this idea seriously, you’ve got to shift how you think about how you live your life. Clearly it has some complex and murky depths that extend beyond my brains current ability to worry them through fully.

So “the extension of our reality beyond its boundaries” has got to be a tricky thing to achieve. Where does it go, this reality of ours?

…reality which is as if split in two, moved away from itself, caught and locked away
as if in a prison
or a if lowered into the grave and thus no longer belongs to this world.

It is in the world but not of the world. Inaccessible through the machinery of everyday living, but paralyzingly close through art (“Of course this can only happen in the world of illusion and at play”).

This is a familiar place: There is a world that exists, as real as your hand, as vital as your heart, but that we can only access through the spaces of art. And here, I read, it is not an imaginary place: it is our reality — the part of it that reaches us from “beyond its boundaries.” Like being dead. That familiar reflection.

All right, you say, but what does that mean in terms of this sillyass show you’ve been trying to make for so long.

(It’s all the same struggle. The titles change and the ideas shift, but it’s always the same damn day, man.)

For me, things get distorted. Maybe this reflection is not done through a mirror. Why is there so much emphasis (in my head) on the mirror — the means of achieving this reflection? The way Kantor’s essay starts, there is no mirror:

Against the background of a dark and dirty earth, I saw a bright spot the size of a saucer.
It was shining too brightly to be a part of that earthly matter out of which everything else has been created.

It’s a phenomenon “abused by art” that “defies naturalism.” And this defiance, I take it, is why my ideas are not “real” despite my insistence that their material presence is fundamental to the experience of meaning: that I am not making symbols and elaborate metaphors, but presenting my little images of this reality.

Here’s where you can place your favorite rant against the constricting ideologies of art as imitation. (Hey there, Aristotle, you dead yet?)

So forget the means (for now). It’s better not to rationalize too far. How about this one, so far as it relates to the subject matter:

Art, the noblest of man’s ideals, turns into a despicable chamber of torture,
out of which the artist’s appeal to the world is tapped in a prison code.

I remember seeing the video of this piece. This is, in a way, a very straightforward and pretty literal description of the piece. That’s what it was.

If this reflection causes art to appear as a torture chamber, wouldn’t it suggest that a torture chamber becomes art? How revolting, but how pointed. This could go somewhere. Unfortunately, I am called by offspring to make a jam on toast snack.