A Response To The Art of Seeing

I woke up with a problem to solve yesterday morning: how to understand performance (in the giving and the receiving of it) in a society which privileges connection to communication and commodity consumption to gift exchange.

This question came to my mind after listening to a talk on TED the night before.

I was suggested an answer by Ansuman Biswas, performance artist who together with Sanjoy Roy, art critic, presented a workshop entitled “The Art of Seeing” which I attended as an blogger for the Alchemy Festival.

I turned on when I heard this quotation: “Performance is currency in the deep world’s gift economy.” During the workshop, which aimed to put the audience at the heart of the experience, Ansuman quoted Gary Snyder from the article Writers and the War Against Nature. This quote was part of an answer what do animals get back from our good use of them. They “like our music and are fascinated by our languages” we “speak words to them, say grace. We do ceremonies and rituals.” In my head I made this connection: animals do not use money as a currency and therefore what is this deep world of gift economy today? Is it something that belongs only to the animal world who senses and responds with awareness to circumstances?

During the talk great value was given to the engagement with one’s own self.

Personally, when I “think” work (that’s before I “make” work) I believe that it might have three functions when it is out there:

  • To help some question/ problematic/ issue to be available for consideration, to be talked about, and as Sanjoy said, to “encourage becoming aware of one’s own embodiment” (it being with the body or with the mind):
  • To help myself to understand people I am surrounded by and our relationship:
  • To suggest my way of looking at the world (my own personal Art of Seeing) hoping to find a meeting point with that of others.

But in order to have a “conversation” with others, I require their engagement: – I need you to come with me and give too. Giving seems to be something we fear.

We are afraid of investing energy into making our own sense of what we are seeing.

During the workshop it has been said that there is a barrier between the “self” and the “other”, the other being the Artist. This barrier is the obstacle to a freer “understanding” of performance. Perhaps the problem lays in the word “understanding”, which immediately implies there is a right and a wrong way of understanding what we are seeing.

The fact that performances do not necessarily have a reading key, a code by which to build the sense of one, a right interpretation is sometimes somewhat scary for a viewer.

Audiences need to be reassured that they are “doing it right”.

Instead, the “risky bit” is taking responsibility for one’s own experience with the work. And this should be relaxing! Freedom!

But no. Still, we look for reassurance in some “expert”, as said by Ansuman, who knows better that us.

Hey! who, better than us, can be in touch with our own self and understand our experience? Has it become so difficult to listen (to ourselves, to others, to circumstances) because we are all the time in control of our connections? We can choose (through social networks and such) what and when to be where, and to “go offline” avoiding external factors to affect us. Have we untrained ourselves to react?

Maybe this is the reason for yesterday’s workshop to have happened: we need to re-learn to see, embody, elaborate and process information which is being delivered in front of our eyes.

When we fill ourselves with sensation, as Sanjoy expressed in the first half of the talk, this transforms into voice, or movement. We are moved by emotion (which is also the name of a dance work by Morten Spangberg!) and that is our response to the experience, our spontaneous reaction. Can we be aware of that? can we “be” the performance in that moment?

During the workshop he argued that there are three approaches to looking at performance: we look at form, at intention, or for representation. Funny. Immediately in my mind I thought of a subject I had at University called Ways of Seeing, by the name of the book by Berger and I though to myself: -it is definitely a practice we CAN learn, but should we not naturally know how WE want to look? If there is no right or wrong, why can we not allow ourselves to live it and raise our own questions for ourselves, and create opportunities for being different from the person standing beside us?

I myself lived the workshop as a performance which successfully made me part of it even without conventionally interacting with anything. This is how I engaged with it. I am responding to it now, after a good night’s sleep, writing my thoughts down.

If one wants to call it critic, well it is hoped to encourage readers to have a critical approach..

My hope is that by allowing space and by taking time to receive and appreciate what one is experiencing, in that very moment it is happening, (by using one’s own tools of perception) can lead to a more active engagement with the work of the Artist, who is not always that venerable and unreachable being of some higher lever of knowledge (?)

Things can be discovered together!

I am now questioning: -What’s the audience’s chance to respond? perhaps by giving back (as we give to our animals) in a currency which is not money but communication of impressions.

by Irina Baldini, Alchemists


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