Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Now, by "good time" I mean that this is a bunch of (mostly) college students on a mountain doing the work/play of performance by day and socializing by night, with the occasional hike to a waterfall thrown in for good measure. And all of it somehow related. It's a bit of a struggle to remind party-hearty students that this isn't a university-paid vacation but an educational experience and an opportunity to be ambassadors for the university. But so far, we've kept our focus on the learning objectives all while making space for what should be a good time.
This year's theme was "Experimental Adaptations," and the workshop was facilitated by long-time festival attendee, Jason Hedrick of Sauk Valley Community College. Jason is an alum of the SIUC Performance Studies graduate program, so seeing him run an excellent workshop was an extra joy. He asked that we consider "distortion" a productive tool of interpretation. He also asked that we not only consider traditional "literature" as an artifact for such distorted interpretation but also other media. So, for example, he brought a show that involved live performance distortion of classic experimental short films that occurred in various relationships (in front of, behind, around, over, etc.) a screening of those films. The result was something recognizable as performance art but arrived at by some pretty classic traditions of oral interpretation. In the process, I thought he showed clear directions for the future even as he embraced traditions that many like to consider "retro" and without relevance today.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Petit Jean Performance Festival is that, in addition to prepared solo and group performances that the schools bring, the workshop generates its own group performance. Students (graduate and undergraduate) mingle in multi-school small groups and follow a prompt given by the festival facilitator. This year there was even a faculty group. At the end of the two day (!!) festival, we present the group work. Jason did a great job creating a frame for these performances such that they hung together as a cohesive festival project. Imagine a performance event where the audience and performer roles are constantly shifting, as do the aesthetics. We move through a space with purpose and structure, audiencing and performing as we go.
It's hard to leave that space and its energy to return to the world of classes and end-of-term grading. It's hard to let it go. But we do as we must. And I plan, against all odds and the ever decreasing university budget for such "luxuries," to return with a fresh contingent next year. Or well, luckily for us, this is a strange calendar where the festival will move from spring to fall and so 2010 will have two Petit Jean Performance Festivals -- one in April and one in October. Who can say what influence such a confluence of ritual energy will have on the universe?
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
So, I am recently back from the Southern States Communication Association conference in Memphis where I presented a paper on my recent involvements with various art projects on social networking sites. Principally, these include involvement with @Platea and Inter.Sect. In the last year, I have participated in several "crowdsourced" happenings sponsored by these organizations.
My paper was on a panel about how folks are using iPhones and other smart phones in performance work. My paper was mostly about my recent social networking performance work with a nod to how the iPhone makes that more possible, particularly because of its portability and the ways that it allows me to check in on and contribute to projects even when I am away from my desktop.
The presentation was generally well-received, although there was some skepticism from members of the audience less hospitable to virtual performance and social networking. In one case, an audience member had been pretty harsh about Twitter in a previous presentation, and I admit I took the opportunity to speak back to his suspicions. I am hardly a Twitter-holic. I think of myself as a "migratory Tweeter," flitting in and out of Twitter as projects, interests, or world events attract me to micro-blog. But I don't think any of this work with new technology should be met only with disdain. Moreovr, I grow weary of criticism made from the margins of experience; don't judge something if you haven't spent sufficient time trying and exploring it.
Mostly, the techno-suspicious asked two related questions: (1) how do you find the time to do this work, and (2) isn't it somehow less authentic for not involving actual human contact?
In answer to the first, I responded that time is always a finite resource, and that all of our interests and activities take time. We make choices about how to spend our time. Work demands may limit our availability, but even work involves a certain amount of choice. How we spend our time -- from reading to watching TV to making a family to participating in on-line communities -- is always a choice. I find time to do this work (which is also play) because I choose to make time for it. It engages me enough that I want to spend time at it. I don't judge others for not making a similar choice; and I welcome those that do.
The second question is a little more difficult to respond to. I am interested in the intersection of face-to-face encounters with computer mediated encounters. I am interested in the sustainability issues addressed (and not addressed) by working in a digital, virtual medium rather than a material one. So, for example, not having canvasses and photo prints cluttering up my studio has freed me to be more experimental in my art; much of my artwork now conveniently is made and stored in digital form.
But given that we were presenting this work to Performance Studies scholars, this embodied authenticity question takes on additional heft. Much of Performance Studies inquiry celebrates the body as an epistemological tool, performance as a mode of inquiry, etc. How, some might ask, is all this social networking stuff an actual performance. Sure, digital graphics and textual expression, but where is the body?
It's a good point, but I have never been comfortable making the body the ontological essence of performance. Or, more accurately, making the body clearly on display the center of performance. Is not this virtual performance an extension of puppetry or the clever mechanism, clear performance traditions predating the computer? Does a performance stop if a performer works in a mediated environment and leaves the stage while some digital media "takes over"? Moreover, just because you cannot see me working with these digital interfaces doesn't man that I am not here, making my gestures and leaving traces in a virtual world. In some ways, doesn't the seemingly absent body of virtual performance more honestly point to the body as a social construct? Perhaps the anxiety over presence in digital performance does more to reveal absence in so-called "real" physical performance.
By and large, though, my presentation (and others on the panel) were well received by most, in part because what we had to share made the case for us. That, in the end, is the best test for the value of something. When you show folks what you are doing, do they at least find it interesting? The work of performance is not a zero-sum game. We need not force a choice between forms when a choice is not necessary. There is room (some might even say need) for multiple forms of performance on multiple platforms of display.
For me, I think social networking and the Internet in general would be a dry and boring place if it didn't include and invite opportunities for performance.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
year's big blow.
I think they were protecting something.
In a shelter cave, something hissed and I backed slowly away.
Some signs we heed; others we take on advisement.
In this way, the world remains colorful.
Anyway, as Spring's flowers cast their invitations, the blocking signs
Saturday, April 3, 2010
up over time. Call it palimpsests of perception. Call it habits of
mind. Past these rocky shores are only flow, the grace of creation
becoming. Not truth. Not the noemic realm of ideal and pure forms.
Leave your Plato at the door, please. But merely that time before we
convinced ourselves we know what it all means -- or most of it, anyway.
Fool's errand, for sure. An impossible quest. Maybe it's more about
energy and finding a different current, remaking the now. Maybe it's
about confronting the whiplike sting of limitations. Oooh, and it
hurts so good!
Well, maybe it's just the weekend. How it calls for rest even as it
promises time to catch up. How it always feels like a little
vacation, an opportunity for re-creation. I dunno. Maybe snorkeling?
And yes, this weekend I could call that a euphemism -- one I enjoyed
thoroughly, me and the jellies.