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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.

Why does this occur to me late at night when I’m sitting at last alone on the toilet?

Who am I?

The start of the school year for the boys means once again I am reminded of the process of setting goals, determining guideposts, articulating your mission, etc. Because that’s part of what happens at school. All that empowerment and development stuff. School. Teachers. Mentors. Leaders. Bosses. Elders. Consultants. The Man.

You know me, Al. It’s a short step from school to life, a question of degree not type. And my sensors are going crazy, Captain. Part of what I’ve got against using narrative: it’s a means of constructing order where there is none — or none that lasts as long as a story does. But don’t nail me to that cross either, Joe.

My brother told me once, “You always have to be different, don’t you.” I was surprised by that because I sort of thought everybody did. Isn’t that the point? (Wait, how many chances do I get? I’ll try being the same next time around.)

So it comes as no surprise that I keep putting off that moment when I sit down with a pencil and paper (can’t be done on a laptop for some reason) and make a list of my goals and the steps that will lead me there. Not that I’ve ever really wanted to do that, but I do keep thinking about why it so so hard for me to articulate an over-arching goal — particularly with regard to my work. Whenever this comes up when asking for money — hello, artist statement — I tend to write historical fiction. If I were an artist who got this grant, what would I have written for my artist statement? For example. Say. Hypothetically.

(O of course, honesty is always the best policy. That’s why honest artists are rich.)

And sitting on the toilet tonight I realized that the question “Who am I?” is too close to the question “Just who the hell do you think you are?”

Although one is polite and introspective and the other rude and defensive, the truth is that they’re both after the same thing. And there is a philosophical error at work in the concept of self-reflection, self-analysis, all that Sophoclean knowledge. At least as it manifests itself in contemporary psychological practice and my own raging insecurities. But regardless of whether you can actually see yourself well-enough to make an accurate assessment (and leaving aside the question of what happens next), the danger of analysis of one’s self is, of course, that one comes up with an answer.

Unless you happen to have multiple personalities in which case  the danger is that two (or more) come up with an answer.

It’ a problem. Even if this answer is accurate. Identity is death. Once you’re in the sites, all anyone’s got to do is pull the trigger.

This, of course, has personal relevance to me as a direct correlation to making a performance piece. (If I said, “writing a play” instead, would anyone pay me as a playwright? Or “directing a play,” would I get directing jobs?)

Before I’m making it I have no idea what it is, despite having something that might be called a very clear desire. As I’m making it I have little idea of what it is I’m making, despite being certain of what I am doing. In performance I have no idea what it is, despite having a very clear perspective on what works and doesn’t. And afterward — only much later afterward (whether I’ve watched the footage or not) — it becomes very easy to say “Ah yes, that piece was about this that and the other, and was an exploration of some ideas of I’ve been working through since puberty.” Or whatever. And the thing is encased in amber. Even though I know it’s bullshit amber.

Um.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But it is worthless to me. Because although I often feel that I am making the same work over and over again with different materials, it is probably more true that I am always moving. That what I know one minute is different than before. That what I’m thinking today is tomorrow’s old news. You know the drill.

My goal? To keep moving until I stop.

Who the hell do I think I am? Not telling. Not because I’m secretive, but because I do always want to be different. Not from other people, but from myself.

And it is that movement that is my goal. Jeez, I know that without even looking in the mirror. And it doesn’t take planning; it just takes a lot of exercise.

Keep moving.

And yes I know (just for the record) that this leaves me out in the cold more often than not. If they don’t know who I am, how can they give me a fellowship? If the don’t know what my work is, why should they come to it? I’m not that naïve.

O well. Still got my feet.

That’s the internal one, not the weather…despite my damp pits.

I don’t know how the construction guys do it: these floating deadlines make it impossible me to imagine what or where this work is going to be. MARRGH!

I’m at the limit of what I can do in my head and on paper. I need my materials and my materials are bodies, objects and spaces. Stuff, the physical stuff you can sense with your nose and your fingers. Not this ridiculously self-reflective moronic scribbling I’ve been doing. It serves a purpose, but a small one.

I’ve laid the groundwork and I’m ready to make music with it, but I’ve got no voice. Urp.

So I’m moving on. I haven’t entirely left behind the historic Union Depot in St Paul — because that’s what I want — but I’m changing my focus, looking for alternatives. Again.

So if any one out there knows a big honcho who can tell those in charge not to worry about plaster falling on my head (I’ll make everyone wear a hardhat, I don’t care!) please tell them I will respect them in the morning and wish I could show everyone what a cool thing we live in. Let me in. Now. Time is running out. Some deadlines merely sink like stone.

I’m making the calls, writing the letters, but there comes a point when the bureaucracy amounts to a death sentence and I have no desire to stick around for that.

Just so you know:
the project is meant as an exploration of time and presence:

  • how we archive history in our bodies,
  • how we live with the presence of history in our lives, and
  • how our relationship to this history (replete with violence and unconscionable deeds) disturbs the conditions of our daily lives.
  • How these disturbing presences condition our movements: the old cliche: our world is what we make it.

But the fun part was to be the three stage aspect:

1. The creation of this site-specific performance in a vast space of transition, replete with decades of history: St Paul’s Union Depot as it now stands, plaster falling (“spalling”), dust, heat, pigeons and everything. Tinged with stories and images, it is a literal movement through time. Someone walks into a room and is overwhelmed. “Angels in the architecture.” A conversation that can’t be started, can’t be finished, is always happening half inside itself, passing hand to hand.

(If I had more time in the space I’d have more concrete details for you.)

2. Then to re-imagine this same performance again one year later in the same space as it is in the midst of construction. The space is being restored. The old waiting room and concourse of the Union Depot is in the middle of its own journey, being “brought back” to its position as hub for transit — a completely different kind of transit in a completely different world from that of the time of its construction. History and its opposite simultaneously in the same place: this is the process by which we know ourselves. This is what it means to make your world.

3. Finally, when the construction is complete and the Depot has been “restored,” the same piece a third time. What happens to our sense of ourselves (our presence, our lives, the spaces we inhabit, our sense of history) when the presence of the past is only present through its representation? How do we know ourselves — but even more — how do we think about knowing ourselves?

What is this?
Where are we now? This place.
This thing…this.

This is my question and it is what I do. Because it changes, everything changes. I will do it somewhere else if I have to, but as you can see at this point it is made for this Depot.

Any help you can offer is greatly appreciated.