Documenting Change @ RE-aRT

performance

My First Intentional Hybrid Art Performance

In the spring semester of  2000, I was enrolled at Hampshire College in the first class that REALLY got me excited– It was “Inter-Arts 101: Working Across the Arts” team-taught by Paul Jenkins (poetry), Thom Haxo (sculpture), and Ellen Donkin (theater).

It was the first time that this experimental class was taught, and the professors were all charged up and giddy, bubbling over with anticipation of the creative cross-fertilization that was to occur.

The structure of the class was one week all together just discussing this concept of inter-arts, and then the class split into 3 groups.  In our smaller groups, we spent 3 weeks with each different professor in the team, and in the final weeks, we worked on and presented a final project, which could be done individually or in groups.

Our final projects had to try to create a new art form that was a hybrid of the different forms we had used during the semester.   The challenge was motivating, and the result was a lot of amazing work.

The piece I produced for my final project has been returning to my mind a lot lately.  The only evidence I have is some water-damaged photos.

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My inspirations at that time were:

  1. Working in the school cafeteria on weekends, I got to prepare the brunch buffet, which included fresh fruit.  I was pleasantly astonished to discover that the pears came individually wrapped each in a piece of colored tissue paper!  Who knew!  I saved a bunch of the green and purple wraps.
  2. The rest of my academic attention was mainly focused around social issues spanning from the local (unionizing work study students, fighting standardized tests in the schools, getting our school to divest from companies that supported private prisons) to global (IMF and World Bank policies, the history of imperialism, etc.).  It was getting really heavy, trying to work with various groups who were doing different things for social change, yet inevitably getting tangled and divided by various personal, socio-economic, or ideological differences.  A certain phrase that my dad used to say, that I think my mom reminded me of, was:  “We’re all looking at the same ballgame through different holes in the fence.”  I wanted there to be more understanding between people, and compassion.  I thought a literal interpretation of (part of) this adage would make a very interesting structure for a sculpture-poetry-theater hybrid…
So I made a roundish fence, with peepholes in it, all at different heights.

So I made a roundish fence, with peepholes in it, all at different heights.  (Materials: some dry, thin, wood slats, hot glue, black garbage bags, cardboard, and white spray paint.)

I entered at the beginning and closed the fence up again; my unsuspecting classmates remained seated.

I entered at the beginning and closed the fence up again; my unsuspecting classmates remained seated.

Then some music sounded and the audience started getting up to see what else was going on.

Then some music sounded and the audience started getting up to see what else was going on.

They saw me on the floor, rolling under a web of strings that had these little "fruits" (the crumpled paper) hanging from them, and stopping from time to time to un-crumple them.

They saw me on the floor, rolling under a web of strings that had these little “fruits” (the crumpled paper) hanging from them, and stopping from time to time to un-crumple them.

To fulfill the poetry requirement, I filled 6 different cards with words and hung them in different parts of the web.  Thus, if one wanted to read the whole thing they would have to move around to different points-of-view...

To fulfill the poetry requirement, I filled 5 cards with pieces of a thought, and hung them in different parts of the web. Thus, if one wanted to read the whole thing they would have to move around to different points-of-view.

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After all the balls were fully "bloomed" and the text pieces present, I rolled to repose in the middle of the room.

After all the tissue papers had “bloomed” and the text pieces hung, I rolled to stillness in the middle of the room.

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Thom Haxo is leaning over and talking to Ellen Donkin.  Paul Jenkins is the silver hair looking through a hole in the fence.

Thom Haxo is leaning over and talking to Ellen Donkin. Paul Jenkins is the silver hair looking through a hole in the fence.

[Photos by Ernest Chapman, 2000.]

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So, why am I posting about a class project from more than 9 years ago?

Partly, it’s just as I said: it has crossed my mind lately.
And the piece still excites me to think about, in the way that a lot of things excite me now. Excite=inspire.  I had a vision, after I finished the performance, of improving it, making a “road” version, and taking it to some traffic median in New York– or Hartford.  Just for the hell of it!  Boy, that was a romantic idea.

Anyway, I didn’t; I “struck the set” that day, and saved but a single pear wrapper as a memento.

Beyond that, now I’m finding that writing and thinking about that class really gives me some good clues about what kind of teacher I want to be, and what kind of education is alive and vivid.

  • The “mini-session” format – 3 weeks per subject (with assignments every day!) in rotation – was wild.  And by wild, I mean memorable! Interesting, almost frightening, like a fast horse.  (See, I learned that in my 3 weeks of poetry. haha.)
    Maybe it worked better for the teachers, too, because they seemed very much more alert and engaged than any of my other teachers!  Perhaps because they were experimenting, collaborating, enjoying a challenge?
  • Something I’ve been enjoying looking at lately is a textbook from 1978, called Television Studio [written by Judy Lever and published by Macdonald Educational Ltd.].   It details the entire process of making a TV show, featuring “close-up” looks at all the careers that exist in the field, and what their work is like.  Set designer!  Make-up artist!  Producer, director, writer, researcher!  The production team. I like this book because even while the process is explained, it still seems magical.  It’s like that moment when a quiet looking lump of earth gets disturbed, revealing a massive city of ants who are all working desperately fast.
    There was this similar quality in that class that I took, only we were the ants, and there was no hierarchy but the unspoken Edict – -> Create Great Art.

I’m out of words.  What do you think?

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