What was the performance »Exercises in Dying«?
– A tentative of freeing from the known through the washing away of the old (unacknowledged feelings, unprocessed experiences, accustomed approaches and techniques) that had anchored and limited me. The aim was to create the circumstances that stimulate the bringing forth of the New.
– A research about the limbic state of consciousness and its manifestation in physical, vocal and thought actions (performative actions determined by clear intentions) and their development during a lengthy performance.
What happened during the performance?
– THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN VOICE AND MOVEMENTS
Contrary to the performative modus operandi I am familiar to (Inter-esse, where a meditative state of mind is transferred into movements, which affect the breathing and stimulate spontaneous vocalizations; the thinking body operates in unison), I decided to try a new approach and do what I don’t know how to do. After all this was the purpose of the research.
I chose to base my actions on the Watching exercise of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards in which the performer minimizes the sounds of breathing and the noise of movements during a harsh physical workout. This approach differs profoundly from the previously described Inter-esse technique that uses breathing and vocalizations as energy supplies and stimuli for movements. As a consequence, the first hour of each of the four cycles, which was devoted to physical actions, was executed with an attention for sound reduction. The experiment didn’t work as the artificially imposed separation between the movements and the sounds of the body didn’t prepare and hit up my voice properly.
The voice is at the moment my weakest medium of expression and needs special care in order to operate well as I haven’t been cultivating it until very recently. I am training my body daily since April 2015 and I’ve achieved fabulous results in a short time thanks to a regular practice of Grotowski’s Physical Training. I introduced a regular voicework in my training schedule only in December 2016 and have already achieved the first notable improvements. In the last vocal training before the performance I easily reached the state in which my voice resonated fully and achieved a vibration that was able to touch things. My training warm-up consisted of a 20 min singing session while running in a Watching-like manner (the arms are dropped and the steps are light) in a hall that was twice as big as the performance space.
– SKELETONS FROM THE CLOSET TOOK OVER
My skeletons from the closet (past selfs with nasty baggage) have appeared during the performance and took control over myself, which was exactly what my aims were. My intention was to offer them a space for expression after which I will be able to transform the ghosts, who were once hunting me, into creative companions, which I am able to embody consciously and structure on will. In the next weeks and months I will find out if this was actually achieved.
There was a phase in the performance in which I was clearly aware of being carried into a territory of fears, lamenting and impotence, which I had used to inhabit in teenage periods of despair and depression. This acknowledging was followed by a state of detachment as I got annoyed by the sameness and powerlessness of what was going on. I clearly remember my thoughts and how it felt: “Is that everything myself contains, the same, old terrain of tears, lamenting and smallness? Get over this dumbness…”
– PHYSICAL ACTIONS ON THE BORDER OF THE KNOWN
On one hand I researched slow movements that emanate sensefulness and presence and on the other, the deconstruction of the known through a conscious embodiment of counter-impulses. For example, if I felt the impulse to turn my chest on the right, I turned it on the left or up/down. This approach is similar to Etienne Decroux’s “Contradictions” in the technique of Corporeal mime.
The deconstruction was more present in the first two cycles as later I suffered a decrease in energy and focus that prevented me to carry on the research with the same level of quality, at least in my perception.
– THE LABOR WITH THE GLASS TUBES
In the first round I was extremely slow in the handling of the tubes and I managed to put ash in a third of them only. I hadn’t been familiar with glass test tubes before and had first to learn, how to move them with precision without the risk of cracking or breaking them. In the third or second round I felt confident enough to decide to complicate my tube managing task. I began to perform the work with a focused intention. Only in this way my per se uninteresting activity could gain presence and become interesting.
I applied an extra-daily state of awareness to my actions and my filling of the tubes with ash and earth was transformed into a job of vital importance. I imagined that every filled test tube became a magic bullet that would restore the health to one or more people with the diagnose of multiple sclerosis. In this way I gained a concrete and valid reason to perform my tube-filling task fast and well. It was a success!
– ENERGY ARCH IN LENGTHY PERFORMANCE
My expectancy was that the levels of presence and limbic “possession” would continue to rise with time. I was wrong and the best parts of the performance with the major moments of enchantment were achieved in the first two cycles of the performance. The flow of energy was following a decrescendo rhythm that I later connected with my voluntary segmentation of breathing, vocalization and movements, which prevented me to go deeper in the limbic state of embodiment and ecstatic trance consciousness (see Felicitas D. Goodman & Nana Nauwald: Ecstatic Trance. New Ritual Body Postures, 2003).
I am still tempted to sustain the idea that a crescendo of energy is achievable with a genuine Inter-esse performance where the whole body functions in unison, but the hypothesis needs to be put on test. However, moments of “second wind” manifested also in the last two parts of the performance, but the general level of the actions suffered a decrease in quality.
– THERE IS NO PRIVATENESS IN THE COMMON
A few witnesses of the performance ‘Exercises in dying’ commented their experience as being very unusual to the performative events they normally attend. They felt as they were witnessing something very authentic and intimate, something private which they shouldn’t have been given access to. This sensation was increased by the fact that the performer (myself) seldomly turned attention to the people present.
I was consciously giving minimum attention to the spectators in order to maintain maximum focus on what was happening inside and in-between me as the endurance and research format of the performance required some safety, energy-saving precautions. However, I immediately noticed the arrival of a cat in the space and started a vocal interaction with it. The animal was catwalking on the borders of the pool in which the performance was taking place. I was hoping it would join me inside the earth-covered area, but the cat stopped on the last two stairs.
For sure I wasn’t giving attention to the visitors seating or standing backward in semi-darkness, but I clearly acknowledged and recognized (in case I knew them from before) the visitors, who were placed in the vicinity of the pool. My attention was a little more oriented to the spectators at the begging of each of the four cycles when I repeatedly announced an invocation that had the following structure: “Remember human that (… sth sth) and (… a subtle contradiction to the just affirmed).”
There was one moment in the performance in which I directly addressed the spectators. It was during my only urination in 12 hrs, when I said “Saj te vidim… Jaz tudi!” (I am seeing you… So do I!). I could clearly feel the disturbance my words generated in the present witnesses. The phrase contained a clairvoyance. Even without directly addressing or facing the Other, you cannot avoid “seeing it”, meaning that you are inevitably affected by its presence.
My work in general (as it is based on the Inter-esse performative approach) and the project ‘MRI MS’ in particular, in even more complex and evident terms, are conducted around the issues of property and common space. In fact, my art praxis suggests that neither intimacy nor individual development can exist alone. They occur within a certain defined spacio-social context (geographic, social, politic, economic, linguistic, archetypic, etc.) and are therefore never private.
What have I learned from the experience?
– DON’T SEGMENT VOCALIZATION AND BREATHING FROM PHYSICAL ACTIONS as it brings a decrescendo rhythm and doesn’t prepare the voice for singing.
– ADOPERATE THOUGHT-ACTIONS in your performance, always! The clearer they are, the better.
– MY GUT LANGUAGE IS ITALIAN. Therefore work with Italian vocal actions first and then move to native Slovene and English.
– WHAT COUNTS MOST IS A CERTAIN LEVEL OF QUALITY: the quality of “persuasion” (see Carlo Michelstaedter: Persuasion and Rhetoric, 1910). Once there, it doesn’t really matter what you do as everything is valuable and valid. You can direct this state of being or energy into art, performance, writing, talking, research or anything else. The form can take different shapes, but what really counts – the invisible, subtle matter or the quality – remains the same, no coming no going.
This evaluation is an example of self-reflection.
Photo: Hana Jošić
Production: Rampa / Kersnikova