On Witnessing Nonlinear Creation

You enter the industrial space with your hands still shoved in your pockets, desperately trying to keep your fingers warm against the chill of waiting in line outside, wondering where you’re about to be.

As your hands adjust to the indoor warmth, your eyes adjust to the near-darkness. In the center of the room, a glowing half-sphere is filled with some gel – glue, Jell-o, opaque alien ooze? The light from the orb diffuses around the room, illuminating the audience – a well-packed group of about 100 viewers – as well as the three performers, all masked, all dressed almost fully in black. On one side of the orb, a woman lies on the ground, feet up on a mirrored chrome cube. On the other, another figure is seated, Buddha-like, with a circle cape encompassing their body. Attending the vat of goo is a lanky man. He reaches in, smoothing and testing, dipping his hand in and out.

Slowly, he reaches in and pulls out a submerged net, he shakes the goo off, and walks away, between the crowd, which fully encircles the performance. The two dancers stay behind, their bodies cranking and bending mechanically, twisting and writhing in unnatural ways. You are enthralled and confused.

Upon return, the man moves between the goo and an iPad – bee-like in his attention. Slowly, a device is lowered into the gel, a syringe pumps out blue-back something, trekking around and in the half-circle.

Around you, a mechanical soundtrack, loud and rhythmic, is punctuated by the hiss of an air compressor, determined to be acknowledged.

You are braver now. You have adjusted to the strangeness and are moving – skirting the perimeter, watching the dancers, whispering to those around you as you all wonder what is going on. The artist statement clutched in your now-warm hands is useless in the dark, more of a security blanket than a sword to fight whatever masked-monster may separate itself from the shadows, or whatever alien may be birthed from the centerpiece of the performance.

As you move you discover a fourth performer inside a large black fabric cylinder, which has been slowly creeping its way around. A tall body is visible, back lit by the gel depository. It moves deliberately, winding something up and slapping it to the ground, moving in a circle like a trapped animal in a cage.

In a heartbeat, the lights go off. The music stops. The air compressor is silent. The dancers stop moving and the vat-attendant has dematerialized. There is a collective pause. Do you clap, or wait? Is this a pause, an accident, or the end of the performance?

In the back of the room, the lights come on. A slow, careful curiosity draws people toward strange objects, hanging like fabric on a clothesline, and a shallow pool of water on the floor. The walls feel too white to have been so dark the moment before.

There is some kind of collective relaxing as people decide to touch – feel those blue-black umbilical cords and stick their hand gingerly in the slime.

What you have just witnessed was a birth, of sorts, printing in three dimensions; not layer by layer, but as a line pulled through space, in reverse.

Terre Mécanique, a performance by Kelly Nipper in association with the MIT Self Assembly Lab, was presented as a commission at Performa 17 Biennial (November 1 – 19, 2017) in New York City on November 9th, 10th, and 11th (this performance on the 11th). More information on the event can be found here. More information on Performa can be found here. Note: “line pulled through space” is a phrase used by Nipper at her artist talk on November 12, 2017.

 

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Not-Glass

Once I broke a plate

and glass shattered everywhere.

And by that I mean

that it broke into two pieces –

one large, and one smaller

(a crescent moon and its other). But

 

tiny little particles,

atoms of not-glass that, when combined with other atoms of not-glass, make glass-glass,

took this chance to escape.

They shook themselves off of the

surprisingly clean

edges

and vibrated away into corners and up walls, bouncing against floorboards.

 

 

Once I broke a plate and it cried when it hit the floor.

And by that I mean

that it sounded like lightning posing as thunder,

sharp and loud and booming all at once

and then over.

 

Once

I broke a plate and caused a sand storm.

And by that

I mean that brown rice spilled across the floor,

grain by grain on the grain of the wood

in lost heaps.

 

When you’re little

and you brake a plate

someone comes and tells you to

Stand Still.

while they clean up all of the little landmines

waiting to go off in your foot.

When you grow up

and you brake a plate

(like I did)

you have to clean it up yourself,

so it’s nice when it only brakes into a moon and an other.

(In any case,

all of the not-glass is probably still around

somewhere.)

Concert for Yoko Ono, Washington, and The World

(The first thing that you need to know is that performance art is a social event. The success of the experience depends not only on the strength of the piece and of the artist, but of the willingness of the audience – the experiencers  – to commit…)

“IMAGINE PEACE” Yoko Ono’s voice rings out over the crowd, recorded but potent. “Imagine peace. Imagine peace…” A command. Are you ready to commit?

Imagine Peace (or perhaps: Imagine Piece) is an invitation to collaborate. Imagine, listen, feel. Cast yourself out into this audience and to the stage and to the space. Go.

Arising sets the stage with a haunting. Carnal and guttural and rhythmic, Ono’s voice screeches; viewers are uncomfortable with the contract they have signed by staying put. Now you are a bystander – no longer imagining, but witnessing.

Behind the screen you see one bright red dot (an orphan of the flames on the screen) pulsing as an inhale-exhale teases the cigarette in the dark.

This ember turns into a heartbeat. Next to you in the crowd near the stage someone puts two fingers to their wrist, searching for a pulse as their ears ring with one. Or: people hold their hands against their ears – against the sound of the too-loud life forcing itself through their chests. People hold each other in the dark. It is synthy and vibey and it passes over you like the sound of waves coming out of the speakers. Sound-gulls swoop in, coming to pluck the relaxed yawn from your mouth. Poetry echoes into a time machine – back to 1866 or 1953 or now elsewhere. Words fade, pause. Feedback turns musical.

Are you still there? Still committed to this art?

Break – a silent film plays. A match slowly burns itself out of existence. Who knew that your ears breathe when they aren’t clogged up with sound? Slowly the noise and the fire and the video burn out among the other silver screen stars.

Then frantic, uncontrolled, hair-whipping energy. “Why?!” over and over – whywhywhywhywhywhywhywhy – until it not a word but a noise. Her voice on stage oscillates between orgasmic and painful. Behind walls of cymbal-symbols and a cart of incantations she is possessed with the spirit of the music noise light atmosphere of here and now and the crowd watches and nods – signs the dotted line.

Pause. Blink the confusion out of your eyes. No, slowly. Let your eye-lid-windshield-wipers restore the glimmer of eager amazement you have at experiencing this Happening. Do it even more slowly. This blink will take you five minutes to complete – think of it as a staring contest.

Now your nose fills with the smell of cigarette smoke as words swirl in your ears, over and over – “What about the dreamers?/ I got dropped off at the wrong fashion show./ What’s he gonna do next?/ The world’s turning, I hope I don’t turn away./ I got dropped off at the wrong fashion show./ What’s he gonna do next?/ What about the dreamers?…” It is a dropped and cracked music box, though it retains it’s hypnotic powers: watch the dancer spin, listen to the words chase each other in the microphone…

Then scream against the sky! PROJECT without thought. Ears open, eyes open, hearts open, minds open, ears blown, minds blown. Again and once more – break this atmosphere with the force of your human lungs.

Lean in to this. Further and further until you are on the edge – about to fall into the guitar noise and be cradled in the bend of her knee supporting the sound waves. You have entered a rippling, breathy, dissonant Nirvana – marked by the circles her finger makes in the air between strums on the always vibrating strings.

In the middle of this circle you will find the concept of gravity. Excitement draws everyone tighter – still stitched together by the commitment to this night. This text-turned-voice is a promise of what comes next, a promise of a man and a guitar and a blanket carrying shards of glass or memory or future or everything at once.

Pressing bodies are fast and harsh and unwavering. Imagine Peace! Bend into the crowd, hold your place but be flexible. Reach and touch and feel the cool vase that has become hundreds of little promises. Feel its rough edges and how small it is. One in hundreds but each totally unique. Imagine peace. This crowd is a jigsaw puzzle marked by shards of glass in pockets.

Commit to returning. This is a social event, after all, and now it is shattered and will be spread. Commit to returning ten years from now with your peace/ piece and rebuild and build better because now this piece of glass is not just white and blue and ceramic and broken: it is a story.

This is exactly what you signed up for.

 

Concert for Yoko Ono, Washington, and The World took place on Sunday September 17, 2017 from 7 to 10 pm at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. It featured some of Ono’s video art, as well as performers Camae Ayewa (Moor Mother), Lizzi Bougatsos, and Kim Gordon, who performed selected Yoko Ono works from Grapefruit (including Collecting Piece and Overtones), as well as their own work inspired by Yoko Ono.