Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Too much theory, confusion, and Abramovic (thank god)

Apparently I've been steeped far enough in theatre not to know certain things in other fields, such as the fact that the universe is expanding, there's a country out there called Iran, and Marina Abramovic's performance House with the Ocean View, in which she lived and fasted for twelve (!) days in an art gallery, living on top of three platforms, where there was a shower, toilet, platform for a bed, table and chair. She did not speak or write or read, and spent most of her (rather meditative) time looking at the audience, who would look at her. I mean to say she would give her gaze to one person at a time, and that person would gaze back, and anybody else in the room would be witnessing this exchange. Apparently it was even featured in an episode of Sex in the City, but I'm TV-less so I can't really be blamed for that. Here's something on it for more: the amazing Laurie Anderson interviewing (read: chitchatting with) Marina Abramovic.

What's really lovely about this piece is its spirituality. I have been feeling for a long time now that the general push in the artistic world, or my world in general, has been towards a spiritual direction. I grew up mostly atheist or at least agnostic; I went to church because I had to but didn't put any energy into it. I thought when I was a teenager that essentially religion, at least in the West, was pretty much dead. I don't know when the turnaround happened, but I'd wager not too long ago. Somehow it's even started to feel less cliche to mention it as a post-9/11 phenomenon. And I guess if I'm going to mention my own experience, I have to frame everything from the point of view of a white, middle-class, North American, politically left-leaning girl. The politically left-leaning is important: religion (Christianity at least, now often Islam as well) was always for the right-wing crowd, and the lefties were saddled with crystal-toting spiritual fanatics who, for all their wonderful intentions and energy, have not always been the most credible lot. When I was in high school, the vast majority of my friends were both intellectual and at least agnostic, if not atheist. I still do not have many friends who attend organized religious services, but more and more I find out that they're closet meditators, or pray, or are interested in Zen, or what have you.

Here's something wonderful I read tonight. Peggy Phelan's essay Marina Abramovic: Witnessing Shadows got me right at the end:

The condition of witnessing what one did not (and perhaps cannot) see is the condition of whatever age we are now entering. Whether we call this period "the post-postmodern age" or "the age of terrorism," it is characterized boy by an intimate reawakening to the fragility of life and a more general sense of connection to one another that exceeds simple geophysical, ideological, or other cultural proximity.


[Communicating under these conditions] will require practice, patience, humility, and the recognition that the social body, like our own all-too-human body, is both stronger than we guessed and unbearably tender.

This is the kind of thing I really want to work on.

Aside from all that loveliness, I just have too freaking much theory in my head. All of the E-opiskelijät (Performance students) were literally having to force ourselves awake in class today, not because of the subject matter, but because, as I discussed with most of us afterwards, our heads are so full of an overdose of -isms and -alities and yadda yadda that we suddenly feel like we really can't take in any more. I was trying to find sensitive yet sturdy parts of my hands to bite in class, hoping that the pain would force my eyelids to their upright and locked position, but to no avail.

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