Early on, I had decided I wanted to try to integrate some ideas about mass media, and specifically text and image in a performance piece. I met with a performer, Leah Herman, and we developed this thesis:
We are simultaneously seduced and undermined by the text and visuals we see around us. What makes us feel not powerless lulls us back into the process, thus it is circular.
I was interested in examining some of the frustrations I had seen during the anti-war demonstrations in San Francisco, and how the media is very adept at constructing and resolving conflicts. I saw many activists who felt constantly under siege, by not just a mainstream media, but also by an alternative press which seemed intent on inspiring activism through kindling fears. Ultimately, I felt wary of utilizing this method of intimidation as a means of movement building, and began to think of ways that we’re complicit in giving media around us authority to orient our belief systems.
The text for this piece comes almost entirely from news headlines, and Citibank ads (as I type this in Microsoft Word, I discover that Citibank is automatically capitalized). This piece had been conceived for the San Francisco Performance Cinema Symposium, and I wanted to use text that was easily visible in San Francisco. I culled headlines from online non-subscription journals, such as msn.com, and time.com. Much of the text is interrogative, and creates the questions which are then later answered by other headlines. I found that many times, journals would ask a question (“Are we safer?”) in one headline, and then answer it in the next (“Why we are safer”). I wanted to use these pieces of text to initially lull the spectator (the Citibank ads asked or presented especially existential questions – “Where did the wonder go?”, or “Sometimes waking up and smelling the roses has nothing to do with waking up. Or smelling. Or roses”), and then intimidate (“Why We Are All Getting a Little Crazy”, “You could be the next victim”), and eventually lull back (“You are safe”). I bookended the performance with the phrase, “You are Safe,” which is the first piece of text the performer encounters and which flashes on after the performer exists at the end.
The sound for this piece was created by Reba Hasko, and is haunting, sometimes childlike, and sometimes like a heartbeat. It’s organized in a set of loops that are triggered during the performance. The sound refers to a childlike capacity of the performer, and at the same time intimates some visceral connection between the dancer and the projected text. Through out the performance I wanted to assert the idea of being physically affected by the text that was projected – its content, quality, and quantity. The sound travels through different phrases, from childlike to rhythmic and pulsing, until it climaxes and cuts out.
Here is part of the lulling I had hoped to achieve – creating a state of some distress for the performer and spectator, both aurally and visually, so that the cutting out both creates a moment of relative “safety,” and brings a spectator back into their status as merely a watcher, rather than participant. The performer walks off stage, and the piece begins again (as the sound cuts in for one last delayed loop, foreshadowing the beginning of another cycle).
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