A pensive shot for a pensive day thinking about how to guide an audience through a performative experience using Towson’s campus as a backdrop. What I’m wondering is how to give this seemingly boring, unsexy location new life by looking at its past lives and navigating the present. I have this bad habit of often overlooking my immediate surroundings in favor of the flashy, fresh, new thing (see Grass is Greener Syndrome). What is it like to stay put for a while and really take in what’s going on here?
The model on the table is a rough construction of one of the most intriguing sites on campus (to me) re-imagined as a battlefield processional complete with rope bridge. In the photo, I’m probably explaining one of the my many ideas for sectioning off space giving the audience a choice between different paths to take.
The business of mapping paths begins! I’ve already downloaded the Map My Run app and have brushed up on my navigational skills through Staying Found, the complete compass and map handbook by June Fleming.
Navigational tips? Leave them in the comments!
Two things: First one is news that I’m working with my fellow cohort member Lindsey Griffith to create videos, maintain, and update the unofficially official Instagram and YouTube channel for Towson’s MFA Theatre program. You will notice that not much information has been added to these places just yet, but a blank page is always a great place to start. Stay tuned for some really great updates from Brecht, Gertrude Stein, and the rest of the cohort!
Second thing is a video of site-specific choreography by Aline David. As I continue to think about site in my own work, I’ve noticed that many examples I’ve found have documented performances specifically for video. This one below is no exception as it utilizes jump cuts and helps situate the audience firmly in a viewing area. Although the intent to video tape is clear, it still feels as though I’ve walked in on something a bit more private, almost as though she’s not performing for the audience but for the space itself.
The “Grass is Greener” Syndrome is a very fitting way to describe the constant nagging feeling that there is always something better somewhere else. Rather than feeling safe and secure in the current space, a person experiencing the syndrome feels that there is more and better in every other space and place around, the anxiety of making the wrong choice to stay put, fears of compromise and commitment turning to oppressive sacrifice. When experiencing this, the perception is that another space, another place will provide everything wanted, needed, valued, and all the issues that currently plague will fade away.
What’s interesting to me in light of site-specific performance is the transformative power of fantasy and perception. The space itself doesn’t change . Perception can be rooted in perfectionism and idealizations that will never be met. The projection of fantasy image onto a space becomes more prevalent than reality. Never being able to live up to the standards set, the space always disheartens and disappoints. How do you view something you already think you know with fresh eyes, letting it be exactly what it is?
As a note “Grass is Greener” Syndrome is a close relative of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), which is a newer term added to the dictionary in 2013. It’s defined as “the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you’’. More specifically, it refers to people who obsessively check social media so they don’t feel out of the loop. “It drives you to keep running around the digital hamster wheel to feel okay with yourself.”
One way to combat both “Grass is Greener” and FOMO? Gratitude.
Photo credit and other ways to overcome both: The Balanced Life
Since I have been named Towson U’s unofficial “minimalist advisor”, I would be remiss not to at least briefly mention how the Minimalist movement of the 60s started to provide ground work for many future explorations in site-specificity. This can be most clearly seen in Robert Morris work “Untitled“, pictured below. The work consisted of four mirrored cubes that the audience walked around. In this piece Morris was drawing attention to the audience’s body in relation to the work and space, how each interacted with the objects and surroundings. He hoped to “…confuse the interior space of a work with the exterior circumstances of their presentation.” In other words, he wanted to create a sense of feeling both inside and outside of the geometric object being presented to bring into question how audience interaction and awareness of one’s own body influences interpretation and experience. Of this Morris states his goal as “…amplifying the viewers’ continually shifting position while redefining his perception of ‘real space’.”
I wonder if fun house carnival mirror rooms came before or after this.
Artist and bike enthusiast Stephen Lund uses GPS technology (Strava) to map his bike rides into “GPS drawings”. To decide on his route, he labors over maps of the city finding opportunities to create continuous line drawings in shapes that “pop out” at him. While Lund is not the only artist to use GPS to draw, his work has some parallels to Richard Long’s walks in that they both arrive at documentation of solitary pursuits within a specific place. In addition, they both “draw” over the landscape: Long with manipulation of physical space and Lund with manipulation of mapping space. They also each heavily use repetition with every new iteration resembling closely the one that came before in technique and concept. What fascinates me is seeing the space tell a story independent of its ancient history.
Watch the water dance. No, actually don’t watch it. Listen to the water dance. Imagine that the wind is not blowing the hardest it has been all week. Imagine each molecule has its own purpose explained as it hits the pavement with a slap. The kids, the visitors supply the background, the context, for the journey from river to stream to this stream. This stream. This stream of variation, variant energy, multiplicity of reason, action and reaction and release down the drain, down the tubes, down below, downtown where fear is there even as it is being remade into promise.
The Fountain at GM Plaza
A short study I filmed as part of research about site-specific performance and urban environments.
Scott Hocking is a visual artist from Detroit whose work focuses on site-specific installations using found objects and stunning photographic documentation of the city. He was recently commissioned by the Knight Foundation to create SIGNS, a site-specific work throughout the city of Detroit that makes use of old metal armatures of former business signage. Using the armatures as a base, he will install plastic advertisement signs inspired by the history of the building and community. I’m very excited to see this project go up later this year and hear more about the research behind it.
Photo via scotthocking.com
Seriously, check out his website. He has a wealth of information about his past projects, which gives a really insightful overview of how he has progressed and molded his thinking over the years. And on his contact page, he has links to all his friends!
I’ve started scouting locations for my next project, which uses Detroit’s landscape to inspire and provide structural basis for site-specific performance. During some of my theoretical research I came across a quote by Michel de Certeau, a French scholar who combined history, psychoanalysis, philosophy, and the social sciences.
“space is a practiced place. Thus the street geometrically defined by urban planning is transformed into a space by walkers. In the same way, an act of reading is the space produced by the practice of a particular place: a written text, i.e.: a place constituted by a system of signs. ” – Michel de Certeau
A place holds potential for activation by others but remains neutral until it is acted upon. At least, that’s what I’m gathering. It reminds me of what I find so exciting about a blank stage: anything can happen if you make it so. The walking space can be transformed into the jumping space. The waiting space can be transformed into the love space and so on forever.