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After the Conference of Works at University of the Streets this past weekend I feel the need to write some kind of “assessment,” so here it is.  During the Conference, Ben Spatz (Urban Research Theater) used this term, “assessment” in his discussion of technique and transmission/education, as did Dave Thrasher in his discussion of his situational, interactive project, and I think it’s a very interesting word/concept in terms of live performance. Yes, much has been made of performance’s “liveness,” its transient, temporary state and the impossibility of concrete or “scientific” assessment.  Having dissipated several days ago now, how can this Conference of Works, which included around 60 participants (most of us played multiple roles of participant/audience/performer/presenter) over the course of the two days and amassed a multiplicity of concepts and concerns, be assessed? How can its effect be charted or analyzed?

Many artists over the course of the weekend (especially those who hope for socio-political operation in some way) said that they can’t assess how their work is operating, how it’s taken by an audience, assess whether or not it’s been “effective,” and if their choices in terms of Mode, Method, and Medium have been the “right” ones.  Carrie Dashow expressed a desire for documentation and review after a participatory process, notarizing material forms as Yesiree The Notary for the Conference attendees that swore to their self-assigned artistic identities.  Towards additional permanence, Amapola Prada makes haunting videos of her staged actions, which allow the works to travel internationally and last beyond the sunny Lima days on which they are shot. Other artists participating in the Conference expressed a rejection of assessing their work and practices at all, choosing to “feel through” audiences and their reactions in order to determine if and how performance modes are effective. Chance and Melanie of The Nerve Tank said they sometimes measure the success of their work by “walk outs,” knowing that it’s literally affective when individuals can’t handle it in some way. The project Nate Hill shared often produces active responses of offense, as his website selling milk gargled by “pretty white girls” rubs salt into more than one exposed cultural wound.

But do reactions to our work control our practical experiments in the “scientific” sense, or assist any direct cause-and-effect assessment? “Science,” they say, relies on an index, something left behind where there was once the thing, while offense, or amusement, or trains of thought, quickly dissolve into life itself and can’t be indexed at all, other than by the individual to which they belong.   How can we follow through on the research aspects of our practices and put performance research towards the development of our modes and methods?  During the course of the Conference, we experienced Martín Lanz Landázuri, William Bilwa Costa, and dancers researching resonance, embodying the concept and examining  how resonance can be used in performance and performed as such.  We also experienced part 2 of Handan Ozbilgin’s 3-part Maids project,  which jumps off from the “research” text of Jean Genet’s Maids, Hyatt Michael’s  Syb’L Vane piece, drawn from The Picture of Dorian Gray, and  Hector Canonge‘s Immigrant 101, a performance-context lecture on immigration, incorporating found research images and statistics. The idea of “scientific” exploration, research, and “problems” (especially in Lindsey Drury’s intense, improvisational and site-specific dance work and Angela Washko‘s performance in which she attempted to disrupt two men building cardboard boxes), and the place where these intersect with participation and collaboration kept coming up, at times fusing into related concerns, and other times breaking apart into concrete statements about reasons for working in a certain way.

Several artists expressed during the conference that they consider the analysis and assessment of our work, and the choices we make during the process of creating work, a completely subjective task, which can’t be performed in a scientific or even articulable manner, as no unified or communicable, objective analysis or set of decision-making criteria can be constructed.  On this note but in a different key, J.J. Lind of Immediate Medium spoke during the Sunday round-table about how his collaborators, coming from varying mediums, backgrounds, and fields, working immediately and in the moment together, can build a stronger aesthetic and conduct powerful experiments. This idea perhaps suggests that collaboration is inherently a form of constant analysis that negates the need for formal assessment. Collaboration across disciplines seems to provide an anodyne in this way to the “problem” of subjective analysis, as multiple artists can walk away from a collaborative with something subjective learned or explored, or they can create a kind of “meme-plexic” index, that pools subjective responses outside of the individual selves involved. Jason Andrew, founder of NORTE MAAR for Collaborative Projects in the Arts has found that co-creation between artists from different disciplines produces new modes of expression and experiment, as have experimental music ensemble thingNY’s Paul Pinto and Gelsey Bell. With collaborative and participatory processes in mind, I believe that the inherent “subjectivity” of an analytic process does not make such a process of assessment or analysis less useful; “subjective” sometimes becomes a buzz-word that means we don’t have to talk about it in public, but perhaps it means that when something is seen as subjective, we simply must perceive it in a different way, through the convergence  of a wide range of subjective perspectives.  Perhaps we need to collaborate on experimenting with analysis itself.  In my mind, this was the task of the Conference, to get a multiplicity of subjectivities out of a private sphere and into an analytic public one.  In the organization of the conference, the attempt to combine a number of subjective perspectives and analyses wasn’t about getting closer to “objectivity” by finding the similarities/common denominators between subjective perceptions, rather it was about gathering and being able to see more than one perception at a time, gathering perceptions outside one’s own, and considering them as a range of assessments.  Perhaps one could also say that this goal (of seeing more than one subjective perspective) is one of the primary operations of performance arts, performance research, and the subsequent experimentation that these modes catalyze.

I can only say for certain that the experience overall with this conference, for me, was consuming, overwhelming, at times confusing, and powerfully moving, and that the plethora of subjective goals, assessments, tasks, and conclusions took me closer to knowing how to research, through my own practice, the multi-dimensional reality that we all experience from such difference angles. I am incredibly grateful to all who participated, for their generosity, articulation, expression, communication, recognition, organization.  Thank you to those I mentioned here, and to the many others who came, participated, performed, perceived, and practiced (esp. Paul Pierog, who was the only person other than Brian and I who attended the entire conference, both days, first to last).  I hope we do it all again soon!

You are cordially invited!

May 21st and 22nd 2011 at University of the Streets.

This conference, MODE, METHOD, MEDIUM brings together artists and cultural organizers who work between disciplines both in terms of medium and in terms economic/field-based distinctions. We hope to take a step towards dialectic and artistic solidarity between the independent and ‘avant-garde’ communities in dance, performance art, theater, and music, and to share our vocabularies and methods.

Presentations will include performances, project presentations, artist talks, papers, and interactive workshops.

Inherently and formally political, often interactive and/or participatory,  always startling and deeply considerate, artists, curators, scholars, and cultural organizers will share their work, discuss their practices, and participate to two open round-tables about what “medium,” as a mode of transmission, means to us now.

Saturday, May 21, 2pm-6pm
Sunday, May 22, 2pm-10pm

Public round-tables at 4pm both days

University of the Streets
130 East 7th Street (between 1st Avenue and Avenue A)
New York, NY 10009-6164

Open to the Public
Free

Participating artists and companies include:

Handan Ozbilgin, showing part three of her MAIDS project, members of experimental music ensemble thingNY, Ben Spatz/Urban Research Theater, JJ Lind and Liz Vacco of Immediate Medium, Peruvian artist Amapola Prada and her Lima New York Project, participatory performance art-ist Carrie Dashow, cultural organizer/icon Jason Andrew, sound and movement researchers William Bilwa Costa and Martin Lanz Landazari, Ashley Kelly-Tata of Enthuse Theater, the pyromaniacs from Aztec Economy, Melanie Armer and Chance Mueleck of Nerve Tank, GoGoVertigoat’s Lindsey Drury, and interdisciplinary practitioners Sarah Maxfield, Angela Washko, Rebecca Patek, Nate Hill, Hyatt Michaels, Gelsey Bell, Dave Thrasher, and many others!

SCHEDULE:

Saturday, May 21

2-3:00
Handan Ozbilgin (MAIDS)
3:15pm-3:25
Dave Thrasher
3:25-4:00
Hyatt Michaels
Carrie Dashow
4:15pm-5pm: round-table 1
medium, mode, method (emphasis on participation)
5-5:30
Amapola Prada
5:30-6pm

thingNY

Sunday, May 22nd

2pm-3:15 pm
Hector Canonge
3:15 -4pm Nate Hill
4pm-5:00pm: round-table 2
medium, mode, method (emphasis on discipline)
5:00 performances
Angela Washko
5:30-7pm: presentations/artist talks

Jason Andrew
Gelsey Bell
Sarah Maxfield
The Nerve Tank
7:00
William Bilwa Costa, Rebecca Patek, Martin Lanz Landazari
8pm
Lindsey Drury
8:45-9pm (clean up and short break)
9:00pm

Ben Spatz/Urban Research Theater
10pm
Aztec Economy
STRIKE
11-end

This conference is organized by Esther Neff of the Panoply Performance Laboratory, with advice from The Nerve Tank! Thanks to all participants, who have created the form of this weekend.

Contact: panoplylab@gmail.com

We don’t have much time (haha) to make new posts here, as we near the opening of TIME: A Complete Explanation in Three Parts but it’s worth noting that tickets to the culmination of this gloriously strange music-theatre collaboration between PPL and thingNY are now available online! Click HERE to purchase them, HERE to download a Press Release and see both preview videos, photos, and HERE to read about the accompanying 300-page Performance Book!

Performances are: Wednesday, May 4th, Thursday, May 5th, Friday, May 6th, Saturday, May 7th, Thursday, May 12th, Friday, May 13th, Saturday, May 14th all at 8pm

 The Brick Theater
575 Metropolitan Avenue
Williamsburg, Brooklyn

(L/G to Metropolitan-Lorimer)

The performers! clock-wise from top left: Matthew Stephen Smith, Erin Rogers, Brian McCorkle, Esther Neff, Jeffrey Young, Gelsey Bell, Dave Ruder, Paul Pinto. (not pictured: Jason Anastasoff)

(more on old Agrippa + Baron Münchhausen who pulled himself out of the mud by his own hair.)

thingNY and PPL have been stealing time (natch) with one another for the past few months now, arguing and experimenting and working intensely on two books for TIME: A Complete Explanation in Three Partsthe first book is for us to follow onstage, a “book” in the sense of opera, a script with text, music, and stage directions, as per usual performance-creation.

The second book we’re calling the Performance Book, which will  contain the program, the entire 60-page script, references, keys, diagrams, rules for participatory games, the musical score of the work, as well as instructions for durational experiments, photographs, visual pieces, footnotes and a complete bibliography. Each audience member will be loaned a copy during the performance, with the opportunity to take it home afterwards. (P.S. we’re seeking help to print these, check out our IndiGoGo campaign)

The expansion of this project into time, through the pieces in the printed Performance Book is one of the most critical ways in which the expertise, theoretical backgrounds, and experiences of collaborating artists, which in some cases are radically different from my own,  have been pushing me into new areas of pleasurable confusion. In terms of this Performance Book, there are several ideas that have had an epoché-like effect, during which I am forced to focus my conceptions and attitudes surrounding fundamental questions in theater practice, and then attempt to see where I am just being absurdly religious and should really change my mind…

The primary crux of this is the facilitation of audience experience.

Despite my affairs with Hans-Thies Lehmann, I have long been partial to the rather austere mindset that a study of the communication between audience and performance is, necessarily, the study of two engaged bodies of participants, each with the objective of understanding one another or, at least, having a entertaining experience together. This mindset is certainly a part of epic theater and is the pre-conception that underlies the possibility for any verfremdungseffekt (in order for the effect to work, the audience must be expecting -or even conditioned- to engage with characters empathetically, but no “audience” can be affected according to an authorial plan, which isn’t the exact audience considered in the creation of the plan, i.e. if the audience doesn’t have the expectations that the author wants to subvert, what does the V-effect do?). It also forms a baseline for the trajectory of most performance work whose primary mode is a “political” one, which perceives theater (in a sense most spiritual) as a public forum for ideological clarification and organization.

This “political” trajectory, in  many senses (so they say), split from classical Greek intentions regarding reinforcement of moral engagement (as Martin Luther from the Catholic Church) along the seam between theater as an analytic medium (mode of transmission) and theater as an expressive/descriptive medium, but, like Christianity and Catholicism, these trajectories maintain similar (and deeply rooted) core tenets regarding audience engagement: most generally, that audiences have the expectation and ABILITY to engage empathetically with live performance.

I am partial to this general religious pre-conception about audience engagement and expectation maintained by theories of theater as an analytic medium and expressive one alike because it reinforces, in some senses, another important Democratic (in the ancient sense) socio-political belief, that ‘the masses’ are intelligent, engagable, curious, and inherently able to make decisions for themselves and others, and thus, that if they are directly faced (often in work created with this assumption this idea manifests itself literally onstage) they will face forward, ready for engagement (whether or not they are subsequently “permitted” to engage emotionally with characters or subsequently otherwise manipulated). And I still believe this in the political sense, but this view is facing complications in practice now. And why now? well it’s an argument for multi-disciplinary collaboration because my experience has been that working purely in theater and performance theory from a theater perspective, young theater artists such as myself have to dig deeply into post-dramatic and extremely avant-garde (and mostly German and British) theater in order to find work functioning outside of the assumption that the audience (most childishly put) has expectations. Additionally, I have had ideological issues with much of such “post-expectation” work, often offering the two-cents of criticism that often such work is only a part of a politically-aligned trajectory insofar as it seeks to disrupt the constructed perceptions that the artists perceive their audiences to be holding. (The differences between this and what the “political” epic theater, Boal‘s theater, and so on, uses as its rhetoric of rupture are interesting to analyze in light of Zizek’s Interrogating the Real but that’s another post). It has been only through collaboration with the “music people” of thingNY,  that I am truly questioning the pre-conception that transmission will occur in performance, or even that if it does occur, that it is a controlled enough situation that it can be facilitated by the authors of the piece. Dina Keller tried to explain all of this to me already in 2007 at the Lincoln Center Theater’s Director Lab but I didn’t get it…Now however, it seems that limiting performance modes to those which pre-conceive audience engagement as one of empathy, sympathy, terror, awe, and so on (as theorized by theater’s institutional doxa) completely ignores critical performance tools, many of which have been (exhaustively in fact) explored by the performance theory of music in the 20 and 21st centuries, and more academics than at whom I can shake my stick…So now, with help and humility, I am exploring the range of audience-experience facilitation practices which:

1.) are designed to formally seize (Lyotard?) the audience’s attention and construct (live) their expectations. Obviously, the presentation of shininess, violence, bare breasts, and so on (spectacle) abets this, but where does the grotesquery of Public Relations a la Bernays and psychological marketing meet a conscientious and empathetic invitation to publicly engage with an experience (that has already been paid for at the door, we presume)?

2.) are designed to create a mise en abyme (placement into repetition), unfortunately flying in the face of many of Derrida’s opinions, as well as into those of many dear Situationalists and Fluxers and Psychogeographers, like so many tiny moss-covered airplanes. Mimetic formal devices which are tools for analysis, synthesis, and actualization that can be performed and then used again in “real life.” A pathetically naive example of this would be a musical phrase that is “catchy” that is designed to help individuals cope in daily life. … I looked for the TED Talk about a guy who did this (his results are…eh) but I couldn’t find it again, but here’s a TED Talk by Mallika Sarabhai that puts a dose of application into all this trash-talking of mine. Mantras, and much “traditional” movement, dance, storytelling, etc can be considered, as well at Meyerhold‘s meme/mimetic/abymic efforts…this is all an interesting knot of terms and contradictions…

Moreover, it still makes nothing but sense (and thingNY’s practice agrees with this) that formal devices that function on a public, political level must begin in the smallest of in-performance details, and that the construction of a theory (way of seeing) onstage, in the theater, can be (if possible, should be) consciously and methodologically facilitated.

What one (passive voice) finds in this idea of a Performance Book creation, is inclusion of a whole range of tools in terms of the above 2 conceptions:

1.) direct invitations and rules for audience participation, aleatoric modes of performance as stemming from music theory.

2.) explanations of artist thought-processes that allow the audience to travel “deeper” into an idea being presented more quickly and with greater ease

3.) visual aids, diagrams, and equations to underly expressive modes of performance and link them into overall concepts

4.) citations so that audiences can continue explorations of the ideas contained in a performance, and if the sources are already known, better understand the performance’s historical, cultural, and dialectic context

5.) provide literary “punchlines” and mimetic phrases (of various kinds, as so masterfully done by Kafka, Galway Kinnel, and Anne Carson, links to works which do this), a tone and effect that I love so much…so exciting…I’ve been trying to create this effect with projected text for a few years.

and more, I am sure. But here’s the baron in the mud:

Do these tools give too much authority to the authors of a performance piece? Does the work become less Democratic?  Does it cease to be a public action? Is the audience’s path to engagement meant to remain subjective, and private inside each audience member, not controlled by the authors of the piece? How does this kind of work consider its individual audiences and individual audience members? How can it create these “aids” without being plain old condescending, seeming pretentious, underestimating the audience, or limiting the audience’s experience to that pre-conceived by the creators (who have their own specific, limited worldviews and experiences)? Is this not a colonial mindset? What exactly does aleatoricism do in theater performance?

I hope to better understand the implications of such things in “time” and through the performance of TIME…and I look forward to the endless cycles of proofs, skepticism, analysis, proofs, cycles which are infinite, but the infinite of course, is the opposite of time…AGRIPPA WILL NEVER DIE!

I am curious what any of the other theater artists, for example Witness Relocation, who did that aleatoric piece, I‘M GOING TO MAKE A SMALL INCISION BEHIND YOUR EAR TO CHECK AND SEE IF YOU’RE ACTUALLY HUMAN at the Bushwick Starr think about this…

PPL met thingNY Artistic Director Paul Pinto back in 2008, when we were looking for new collaborators. Since that fateful day in a recording studio beneath a motorcycle garage owned by alt-pop band Collective Soul, his ensemble thingNY has been a big part of our immediate influences; although the things approach work from a classically-trained music background, and PPL approaches work from a mish-mash of music, theater, performance art and other backgrounds, we all occasionally arrive on what we (at least semantically) call “opera,” and have overlapping aesthetics in interesting and often surprising areas.

experimental music ensemble thingNY


PPL in 2008, including thingNY's Paul Pinto


Now, we are excited to be in the beginning stages of a collaborative project. We’re devising a work together about time called TIME: a complete explanation in three parts. So far the individuals involved are Paul Pinto, Gelsey Bell, Jeffrey Young, Alejandro Acierto, Katie Johnston, Michael Hanf, Matthew Stephen Smith, Brian McCorkle, and myself (Esther Neff). We may gather more people as we roll, snowball-like, into the realm of concrete production, but so far this diverse group of collaborators, after only two meetings, is moving forward with enthusiasm and ease: we’ve arrived on a project concept, title, exercises for trans-disciplinary materials generation, and a sketch of the form for the piece.

Expect to see the fruits of this collaboration in April, 2011!

Although PPL’s current project (through August 1 at Surreal Estate) is about Feminism and is largely features women, three male collaborators provide the instrumental interpretation of the score. This is the result of the abrubt departure of previous female musical collaborators from New York City. We are, however, VERY pleased to have three male musicians who are experimental artists working across many mediums, genres, and types of work.

Paul Pinto is a composer, conductor, and performed who was in last year’s opera as a vocalist and in the PERFORMANCY FORUM (video of his second performance along with Gelsey Bell and Andrew Livingston) twice. Paul is better known as the curator of the Comformer Perposers series at University of the Streets, and the artistic director of experimental music ensemble ThingNY. PPL especially enjoyed ThingNY’s theatrical chamber opera this year, ADDDDDDDDD, which toured as a hybrid work accompanied by a comic book libretto available to audiences. In spring of 2011, ThingNY and PPL will present a collaborativelly created piece, the nature of which is still under much discussion, and soon will require “experimenting” to deduce.

Michael Hanf has been playing with Panoply for 2 years, starting with our last opera, On the Cranial Nerves of Barbarians. He is a composer and accomplished jazz vibraphonist as a soloist and with Lindsay Holler and the Dirty Kids, this guy mentions the joy of finding an old Lindsay Holler and the Dirty Kids album in the public library (you can buy some tracks here). He continues to astound people with his vibraphone playing in Hess is More, most recently seen at Celebrate Brooklyn with Kid Koala and touring Denmark this August (article on Mikkel Hess here). He is releasing his solo music and is currently playing in pseudo-No Wave band Parasite Singles with composer Brian McCorkle and Manzana Carnal with Brian, Katie Johnston of Panoply and Puppetbox, and Jason Anastastoff.

Jason Anastasoff is a composer, bassist and tuba player who studied Jazz Performance at SUNY Purchase. He has gigged in and around New York City and attends shows regularly, he has performed with the Mona Dahls, Djangos and Tangos, and several avant-classical and downtown jazz ensembles. He is currently working on an experimental drum and bass project, the Giglioramonamocon: A Drum & Bass Extravaganza, and graphic scores based on the idea of labryinths. He is also a graduate of the Swedish Institute in massage therapy. Some of his music can be heard here. Below is Panoply’s favorite picture of Jason.

Thank you to Live Arts Collaboration and The Performance Project @ University Settlement for hosting us Monday night!

PPL got to break the ice with an audience on Monday night during a Salon evening where we performed the first 15 minutes of ‘The Last Dreams of Helene Weigel or How to Get Rid of The Feminism Once and For All’ alongside performances by ThingNY Artistic Director (and PPL Collaborator!) Paul Pinto and Latasha N. Nevada Diggs among others.

Afterwards, Matthew Lyons (the Kitchen) led us in a talkback session.

This salon, done in the beautiful wood-floored room at University Settlement on 184 Eldridge in the East Village, had a decidedly Modern, formal flavor, while the PERFORMANCY FORUM we held on Friday, May 7, was punctuated by Dr. Motorcycle, the black and white cat, pawing at moving images on the projector screen, and included a lot of informal conversation and laughter.
PPL is especially delighted to get to know the PERFORMANCY FORUM participants:

The SK Orchestra
John Mellilo
Gratuitous Art Films
Genevieve White
Audrey Blackburn
Tom Swirly
Orly Bendavid and Ari Swan

Hector Canonge
and films by Marguerite Chandler (one of which was banned at the Archive)

THANK YOU TO ALL FROM BOTH SALONS!