At a number of points during the gathering our impresario-slash-organizer, an award-winning playwright, expressed a wish to abdicate control of the direction the experiment will ultimately take to the other Artists. He was testing our boundaries, our capacity for open-endedness. If the Artists did not care for his original, proposed direction of “structured chaos,” then, no hard feelings; he suggested they propose their own structure for the next time we convene, for Act II.
One artist, in a vulnerable moment, said she sometimes wondered if her time might be better spent planting trees. A few confessed to an “unabashed spirituality.” There was a near unanimous abhorrence of dramaturgy. We spoke of archival anxiety—that is, the phobia of archives. We discussed the grandiosity of the artist, the sustainability of collaboration, making the world “as it is,” the illusion of ownership, activation of the space, the commissioned vs. the uncommissioned piece vs. the transcendent piece, the role of “time signature,” even if, at times, the tempo of Act I approached larghissimo.
We spoke of the distraction of funding, the role of the institution. We spoke of the moment of practice. One of us was brave enough to comment on the compelling negative spaces left behind after the Taliban dynamiting of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. We spoke of the freedom of “not capitalism.” At one point the Artists were handed out petty cash to take cabs across the city to board a night train through the Bozeman Pass, where images of Eadweard Muybridge’s buffaloes were projected against a dark and stuttery landscape.
“Do people feel electrified by this experiment yet?” said the impresario-slash-organizer.
“I like words,” somebody said.
“No TEDTalk bulls**t,” said one performance artist.
Then, before we all gathered around YouTube to watch a quartet of attorneys perform a choreographed dance with their shoes glued to the floor, a few murmured in unison: “Context. Context. Context.”
That’s when the esteemed performance artist we had invited as a guest advised real-world experience. For instance, she said, we might consider attending auctioneering school, as she had done. Then, seemingly disappointed by the lack of response to her idea, she sang an Allen Ginsberg poem to us.
Lay down yr camera Lay down yr image right/Lay down your image Lay down light/Lay down your ignorance Roll yr wheel once more/Lay down yr suffering Lay down yr Lion’s Roar!
One of the Artists proposed designing the next session, Act II, on the model of philosophical speed dating. The theater director volunteered to conduct acting workshops for the rest of us, though in general it was accepted that next time it might be more ideal to atomize into smaller groups and meet at a café, or a tapas bar, or perhaps an undesignated neutral space. When the Writer wondered aloud how he might document the day’s proceedings it was suggested he make a collage or perhaps present it as a graphic novel or a video game. Some were in favor of retaining the structured chaos of Act I, where others favored something resembling “order,” though the latter minority seemed embarrassed to suggest anything so blatantly teleological.
We are, today, reluctant narratologists.
But we have yet to arrive at Act II. We must first shed the ego, perhaps, work out our inchoate fragments, thorns, and noise that invariably accompany the first day of serious creation.
On the TV screen in the cab, on the way back from the Bozeman Pass, was an actor sitting at an important looking desk, wearing an important looking suit (an attorney?), but he was doing something strange with his feet, which were naked. He was at his desk, his legs up in the air, playing an elaborate game of footsie with himself, and this went on for some duration, a drawn-out choreographed routine. Because the volume of the cab’s TV was muted, the meaning was not clear, but somehow this uncertainty was quite enjoyable.
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