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Ghana ThinkTank at the Queens Museum of Art, May 2011. Photo courtesy of Christopher Robbins.



Toothbrush from Ghana ThinkTank’s collaboration with Aaron Krach at Outpost Artists Resources (2012). Photo courtesy of Christopher Robbins.

Editor’s note: Conceived of in collaboration with Obie award-winning playwright and former Center visiting artist Ain Gordon, An Experiment in Five Acts is aimed at artists and cultural producers working in the Philadelphia region who are negotiating mid-career challenges—be they purely aesthetic or more practical. The primary goal is to stimulate refractive dialogue that may under-gird each participant’s ongoing process and address its quandaries. In an effort to share the project as it unfolds with the field, we have enlisted the services of nonfiction writer and 2005 Pew Fellow Jay Kirk, as “creative documentarian” for each of the five sessions.

During Act III, our moderator, Ain Gordon, casually proposed that we write a manifesto, and this inspired our resident Documentary Artist, Jay Kirk—an avid reader of manifestos, believer in none—to single-handedly take up the gauntlet. The author submits here the first draft to his fellow Experimentalists and welcomes modification and/or feedback. While in no way intended as anything as actually rigid or absolute as the word “manifesto” might imply, the thoughts put down here could be seen as a confession of the sort of internal encouragements, goads, and creative permission slips the writer sometimes uses to carve out his own niche each morning. While he trusts a number of his points will resonate with the others, the author also recognizes that these ideas were recorded with a bias toward his own field, or orientation, aka nonfiction, aka reality-based literature. This manifesto is, of course, open to discussion and revision during Act IV.

  • Mind is our only subject

  • The mind is objective reality

  • Perception is character

  • Meaning is only fleeting context

  • Art generates awareness, and that’s enough

  • Reject everything you revere

  • Reframe your rejection as content

  • Liberate your practice by rejecting less

  • Embrace the demands of “narrative”

  • Trade your platinum shackles for a golden straight jacket

  • Own it

  • Reality is the material to which we orient ourselves: our style indicates how willing or unwilling we are to accept this truth

  • The experience of experience itself

  • If we must prefer: we prefer discovery to invention

  • Nothing is ever consciously invented

  • Cf. Wallace Stevens: “In the presence of extraordinary actuality, consciousness takes the place of imagination.”

  • The imagination is the gangplank to actuality

  • It’s not about fiction vs. nonfiction. It’s about the deep blur between the subjective & objective

  • It’s about gaining ground by erasing boundaries between perception and the known

  • Paranoia is useful in moderation

  • Do not worry about separating character from action (this was always a bad idea)

  • Throw yourself away
  • We are all ventriloquists

  • Do not fetishize the ordinary but yet: the ordinary is extraordinary and vice versa

  • Atonality does not exist

  • Consider the remake as a subgenre worthy of further development (Casablanca as directed by David Lynch/Don Quixote as rewritten by Pierre Menard)

  • Is a string quartet fiction or nonfiction?

  • The transliteration of the mind: easier said than done.

  • If you must believe in something, believe in un-grasping

  • Aspire to seize fewer ideas

  • Subvert your personal mythologies

  • Defuse the archetypes

  • The rational and irrational/absurd are not incompatible—they are logically interdependent

  • Spare us your aphorisms

  • The fully executed and nothing less

  • Performance art infiltrates all fields

  • Any effect that brings about greater actuality

  • Depend more on the autodiegetic (self as character as narrator)

  • Use as many personae as possible to penetrate the actual self

  • Never settle on the question of the self

  • Who was it that said music is the bridge to the insentient world? I say that too
  • Blurt out the introverted perversions

  • Be abrupt

  • There is more power in a well-crafted transition (stanza break, white space) than any metaphor

  • Go for the rude juxtaposition

  • Find joy in mutation

  • Revel in discovered error

  • Error and correction are dynamic, cheerful companions

  • Getting it wrong in no way negates getting it right (compatible values)

  • There is an explanation for everything, but you are under no obligation to explain anything

  • Make violent (aesthetic) choices

  • Any attempt to organize the “other” is a recipe for the absurd (see Camus)

  • We are not for anything. We are is

  • It’s about not being “viewy” (in the words of Ezra Pound)

  • It’s about simultaneously immersing and then yanking oneself (in and) out

  • Kill your pieties

  • Seek new alliances

  • Make the layers perceptible (reveal the archeology of yr own mind)

  • Embrace both particle (particular) and beam (universal)

  • Seek out the point of divergence between experience and memory

  • Perception alone is a worthy subject

Go to Act I >

Go to Act II >

Go to Act IV >