Sunday, January 18, 2009

Links Hall: Memory as Innovation

I've been a little off the blogging grid of late, primarily because of work-related duties, but also because I've been preparing for a performance (as opposed to the usual reading) that I participated in, with Chris Stackhouse, at Links Hall this weekend. We were one of a number of people that Links Hall Associates Amina Cain and Jen Karmin invited as part of the second week of a four-week festival devoted to the idea of memory.

The first week included readings and performances by Judith Goldman with (my new colleague) John Beer; Nicole LeGette, Jenny Roberts, Timothy Yu; video by Abigail Child; and Lee Ann Brown, with Jeff Harms/A D Jameson/Toni Asante Lightfoot/Sarah Merchlewitz/Anni Rossi/Auroar Tabar/Rachel Tredon, and Roberto Harrison.

The lineup for this weekend was:

Friday, January 16
Patrick Durgin with Jen Hofer, the Seismosis Duo, Laurie Jo Reynolds with Amy Partridge, and video by Temporary Services

Saturday, January 17
Tradeshow, Jen Hofer with Dolores Dorantes, Seismosis Duo otra vez, and Jennifer Karmin with Mars Caulton/Joel Craig/Lisa Fishman/Krista Franklin/Chris Glomski/Daniel Godston/Lily Robert-Foley

Sunday, January 18
Tradeshow, Jen Hofer with Dolores Dorantes, Jennifer Karmin with Kathleen Duffy/Brandi Homan/A D Jameson/Lisa Janssen/Erika Mikkalo/Ira S. Murfin/Timothy Rey, and video by Laurie Jo Reynolds.
Originally Chris and I were going to present a new project, RAM (Revolutionary Access Memory), which we've been talking about and working on for several months, but because he's in NYC and I'm in Chicago, and I didn't have much free time this past fall, we decided to try out a new performative version of Seismosis. While we have co-read and delivered talks (to artists only) on the project, we'd never created a multimedia performance of it, though we'd spoken about this all the way back to the time we began collaborating, so we figured out how we would feature the images and texts, and then created two sets, which we performed on Friday and Saturday.

I'm usually wracked by anxiety over such things, but I have to say that a few years of teaching has done wonders for my shyness, and we were able to sync our readings, the images and projected texts, and stage entrances and exits properly after only a few rehearsals such that things went off without a hitch. (And we stayed pretty much within the requisite 20 minute framework!) The images, which we took from the pdf galleys as opposed to new scans, appeared immense and crisp on the rear white wall, while the texts pixillated a bit, and were probably harder for audience members to read.

We led off the first night, whose highlight I thought was the direct testimony in Lauri Jo's playlet, involving members of the TAMMS YEAR TEN project, by three men who'd served extended solitary confinement--TORTURE--in the horrific TAMMS CMAX "supermax" prison, in southern Illinois. Writer Terri Kapsalis led a talkback after the performance, and by common assent, the three ex-prisoners took the floor and spoke about how their experiences, and those of more than 200 others at TAMMS and countless others across the country, continued to pass under our society's radar. Mustafa Afrika, one of the men testifying as part of the playlet and talkback, eloquently related the experience to Abu Ghraib, and noted that while that international horror shocked the world, similar forms of torture, of US prisoners (one of the men spoke about having been in prison for 29 years, only to be released when the prosecutor and courts realized that they had no case against him), merits almost no commentary, protest or outrage. It was an emotional evening, to put it mildly, but I was glad that we were able to present in conjunction with the other artists and to have a little dialogue with them afterwards.

On the second night, we followed Jen Hofer and Dolores Dorantes, and Jen Karmin's polyphonic performance followed us, with the dancing duo of Tradeshow coming last, so the balance was different, but equally provocative, and got me thinking even more deeply about ideas around and the practice of collaboration, as well as future work to pursue.

As I was preparing for the event, I realized that you can easily movies with the newest version of PowerPoint (who knew?), so below is a short movie featuring images from Friday and Saturday. (There are none of us because I wasn't able to film us, but poet and composer Daniel Godston told me that he has both audio files and still photos, so when I get those I'll post or link to them.)

One of the coolest aspects of the event was the opportunity to experience collaboration in the moment, as we improvised at certain points with some of the texts--like "Geodesy"--while following a stricter set of directions with others ("Analysis I"). I told Chris that all my years of observing other poets freestyle on their own work had taught me some pointers about writing improvisatory possibilities into a work, and it's something I'm aiming to do in at least one new project.

Many thanks to Amina and Jen for inviting us, and thanks to all the wonderful artists we performed with!

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