Resonance: Reflections on “Conduit” and Residency at #GatewayArts Center
This blog post is also online at JustinFair.com:
In reflecting upon my residency at Gateway Arts Center, I am deeply honored and thankful to have received such constructive feedback. Open feedback is a gift given my work’s focus on dark themes, to receive positive and negative responses. Simone at Busboys and Poets says visual artists aren’t used to getting immediate feedback and applause like performing artists do. As such, please be vocal and encouraging! I work in both mediums, and have had to both wait and immediately hear my audience’s responses. Since I seek feedback, the most rewarding is to hear reflections days after and be asked questions. I have to read between critics’ words and lines to guide my work so that I can find a stimulating place that bridges both mediums as well as connects with the audience.
Since I have performed Conduit, I have been asked if I would perform it again. I am happy to say I am not interested in revising anytime soon. The work evolved from an initial purpose, to an interpretive dance chronicling a process of purging and regaining stength, to two separate adaptions created to flesh out two movement styles.
At Hillyer, I first sought to be a medium in my performance with the audience, where I moved with an earth-to-sky interpretation in order to absorb the audience’s unsure nature as they watched. I then transformed that nature into an involved understanding of what the ritual meant. Hillyer Art Space was an alive, warm venue with young twenty-somethings being most of the audience. Feedback I received immediately at the event and from responses days after from both the live audience as well as the online taping, was positive. I heard responses that my gestures were mesmerizing and dramatically strong, “alarming,” “breath-strong,” and “relieving.” As a whole, several folks felt the piece would be better longer, and better with a clearer start and finish where I would direct the participants with a less jarring effect. These responses, as well as others, showed me my work was magnetizing and intriguing. I took it to mean ‘simple enough to understand, but also touching on an innate vulnerability that is discomforting.’ As such, I questioned: rather than remedy issues and brainstorm ways to simply improve, could I refocus the work to be reflective via sympathy in order to empathize, instead of involving the audience directly to sympathize?
The result was its adaption at Gateway Arts Center, where the space was a concrete, white room filled with natural sunlight and an audience of thirty-to-sixty-somethings. I designed the piece to be less rigid, and to reference the earth through angular bird-like gestures, crouched rodent-esque gestures, and a focus on how the ground channeled through my body. My breath was loud but kept to myself; as such, I did not command the audience like at Hillyer. At Hillyer, participants felt that as I moved my wide gestures were sweeping and pulling. At Gateway, the audience and I were a touch away, and being that everyone felt the intimacy, and that I moved in an circlular, rhythmic manner, the audience reacted with empathy or, in opposite, were forced to observe without connecting, because they could not avoid me. The purpose of the work had changed, to rather than say “If I can do it, I will show you that you have the ability to become transformed as well” to “If I can do it, see how I transform, and interpret how this makes you feel.”
With this adaption, where most of the audience knew me, and some had seen the Hillyer performance live or online, the response was dramatically different. I am fortunate I could encourage reflection after the performance at the Artist’s Talk, as it allowed reflection to become public words; however, I am aware that some in the audience felt reserved and in speaking to me privately, felt they had a better time interpreting because they had more time to process. This was not the studio at undergrad, with eager to critique personas. The general response was mixed on the performance, but favorable in my process. I believe that because many of the audience knew me, seeing me move in ways that are harmful and other-worldly was distressing, and conflicted with my normal personality. Depending on the person, that was intriguing and “good,” or intriguing and “bad.” In addition, because the piece was designed to emphasize my body’s transforming energy from within my body, instead of emphasizing energy through my body, into my hands, and into the air, this audience’s sympathy and stand-off-ish nature distanced empathy instead of pulling empathy towards the piece. Those who did empathize did so out of understanding ‘he’s hurting himself in front of me,’ and ‘he has reached a point where he has found relief in front of me.’ Perhaps the proximity to the audience made an impact, perhaps their standing instead of sitting, and/or perhaps the verbal text provided too different a tactic… In reflection, I am pleased several audience members did feel a maniacal attitude at play, and did recognize that in conjuring demons, that does involve possession, violence, conquering force, and resolution. It is not safe nor is it comfortable.
At the time of this written reflection, I am glad that while some felt Conduit‘s purpose was either simple enough, too simple to be needed, or too simple and needed further examination, that it was the driving motivation I recognized to become so vulnerably able to carefully slam into the concrete, yell and breath with vigor, and play with a movement piece versus a dance piece. I created it because I felt an active artist’s duty is to share his/her work to invigorate, to empower against dormancy or hopelessness, and to (in my case), utilize an opportunity created to work in solitude or with others. The performances allowed me to exercise a style I hadn’t before, and in doing so, has allowed me to find confidence in learning and in receiving positive and negative constructive (and non-constructive) feedback. I thank sounding boards such as my co-workers and friends who have spoken with me on the topic, and a big thank you to my Alexander Technique teacher, Marcia Freeman, who aided me in encouraging multiple interpretations with proper use. I am thankful that while I created the work in a tunnel at times, I did show it to others, and as it has grown, I have come out of the tunnel. Dance as movement in performance is still new to me, and as I seek to create performance art that is indeed, abstract, while also creating works that are naturalistic, the Artist In Residence studio at Gateway provided the inspiration and space to explore. For these learnings, I will likely use Conduit as reference for a future work, but care not to revisit it.
As I prepare for RAW:DC’S STIMULUS on Thursday the 8th, a night where I will shift from performing short monologues, songs and movement works, to speaking about my artwork, I continue to check the effective nature of my performance works. I interpret my performance works as autobiographical reflections that speak to others, yet because some are created to make the viewer uncomfortable, with each work I play with that dynamic. It can be upsetting. I have become comfortable in my skin, and sharing my work, whether it is in-progress or finalized, is invaluable. But as such, with works like Conduit as I think is my first, is a specific response necessary? Since my works range from performance art (abstract) to folk songs (naturalistic), RAW’s Stimulus is an opportunity to perform live and receive feedback at an eclectic, exciting venue. I don’t believe there will be video, which adds to my drive. Lastly, in addition to my performance pieces, I feel I should note that creating my mixed-media drawings and paintings has been and is still a godsend. If I had not been given the opportunity to have a space to call my own, my Catharsis and Crucial Steps works never would have happened, and neither would their connecting exhibitions. As I work on my Rejuvenation drawings/paintings, and continue my performing studies, I cannot thank God enough.
I look forward to exhibiting my work next Thursday. I look forward to seeing many friends and supporters at the event.