Notes toward performance methodology

In thinking about embodiment and my live art methodology, I’ve been trying to go beyond simplistic conceptualizations of actor, performer, character and toward a complex, unpredictable encounter between myself and my collaborator(s) as we embody spirits of the past with the participants who come to the project cold and must be situated in their presence and then moved beyond it. It would be naive to assume that people, however interesting they might find the project, could come into it with openness and readiness to experience an alien presence for in fact we will be aliens taking them to a different time. That’s why I’ve been reading about embodiment in different contexts, not just in relation to art and performance. Actually, in a way, I’ve been starting from the idea that all presence is a performance, therefore, in order for a performance to be a fresh experience it has to move the participant into a different space altogether, an alien space.

So far, the framework that seems most productive is Robert Bosnik’s dream framework because its intention is neither artistic nor scientific. It’s a travelogue of sort, recording his experiences with embodied imagination (dreams) as a therapeutic approach to psychological and somatic problems. He breaks away from Jungian dogma by incorporating pre-modern notions of the self not as a solid, identifiable and coherent singular entity but as a conglomeration of subjectivities, a network of selves. The dream framework, therefore, is not a methodology for analyzing and repairing a unique self. Rather, it can become a space where unanticipated images (selves?) reveal themselves. That’s what I’m interested in. I want to break through the habitual East-West conceptions in the present to create a different past and a different future.

The quotes below from Bosnak are related to a workshop he did with actors. But the methodology can be adapted for my live art performances and in relation to the participant/collaborator.

The actors rehearse a scene from a play until they are off-book, knowing their lines cold. Then we come in and ask them what about the scene was hard on them, or incomprehensible, in what scene they felt a strong thrust in the character, or where they could use a fresh alternative view. From this question we would fashion an embodied condition, the incubation-body, which the actor would reinhabit for about half a minute before going to sleep. pp 90-91

It is of great importance that the actor be fully embedded in the text, otherwise there would be only a tumbling waterfall of feeling states, without the carefully crafted embodies articulation which makes for the difference between expressive therapy and art, between self-expression and the articulate presentation of a character. The former feels self-centered, the latter fascinates. p 92, Embodiment

Here, I am the one who has to fully embedded in the text, not just by knowing its content but also by mapping its spaces, where lie the possibilities for alternative images. At the same time, I would need to remain open and alert to presences that are brought in by my collaborator(s) and participant/audience and their responses in inhabiting the text. The participant/audience has to be jolted into this alternative world somehow. Here the notions of intention enriched by ritual and location infused with a sense of place are key.

The ritual through which the participant/audience enters the dream world has to be carefully crafted and at the same time be flexible enough to allow different people with different dominant subjectivities to pass through it, to see themselves reflected in it such that it can become theirs and they can lower their shield. The ritual has to be directly related to the space/place so that in entering the space/place the participant/audience also performs the ritual. This cuts on the amount of time needed and alienates the person from the habitual physical world/self they carry.

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Posted in Project update, Reflections