Hello! This is my process page. Here I will be leaving brief hints and lengthy descriptions about my before, during, and after experiences making art projects. Please feel free to send me any questions or thoughts via the contact page above. Thank you for reading!
April 10th, 2017
This time around I continue to write about how I came to make performance art, additionally I pick up the thread from my previous post addressing the difficulties an audience has with accessing performance art by sharing past writings connected to my 2015 work “River Passage”.
As always I welcome any thoughts or questions you might have about any of the work here on my site. I can be reached via the contact page, or if you prefer via my instagram account at: alexander.iv.
Falling is Flying
Somewhere around 2002-2003 I had a falling out with choreography. It wasn’t complete, I continued to be moved by others such as the ground breaking dance works of Jiří Kylián, William Forsyth, Pina Bausch, or even the stand out performances of La Bayadère or Don Quixote that inspired me through my early dance training. Physically it still felt amazing to refine and attempt to master a phrase of flying spinning arcing space defining movements. However somewhere amidst my late night improvised performances and forays into butoh-like work I stopped finding “truth” in rehearsal, repetition, and predetermined performance. By truth I mean honesty in a moment – I mean a clear sense of being present in, well, the present. This need to actually experience and be the absolute most distilled version of myself became the only thing that mattered, the only course of action that made sense to me as an artist. Of course writing that here and becoming that artist is the difference of a couple minutes and more than a decade of self inquiry.
In 2003 I was still a great jumper – managing triple tors (three revolutions in the air) and clearing a grand piano on occasion – however in my own work I could rarely find a reason – an emotion or circumstance – strong enough to warrant such a leap much less the other movements of classical and modern dance deeply codified in my body. This matter with my leaps was significant because I started to feel at the time that this skill, my greatest “creative asset”, was of almost no use to me as an artist. I remember trying to work a wild jump or two into my performances up until 2006 or 2007 but it felt more and more forced and disconnected from the stories I was telling with the rest of my movements (It didn’t help that after a dozen years of leaping high and landing hard my body was also shaking it’s proverbial head). I didn’t know it at the time but I was going through a rite of passage the author John Irving would call “The Decent” – I found recently a quick jot in my notebook from that time that read “Falling is Flying” – and so it was with the loss of my jump that I finally began to find my own direction as an artist.
Since that time my performance works have become fewer and far simpler. I attempt to use installation and context to amplify the passage of my mind but still the viewer gets only a sliver of my experience. In early 2015 I had a great opportunity to experiment with connecting to my audience while on residency in Ashwem, India through the Vaayu Vision Collective. I decided to focus my two month residency on one site specific performance work and ways to create lasting artifacts from these actions in a moment. For the central work in my residency I decided to accompany a 5 hour performance with written word. Below you will find first the letter I sent out to my email list just before performing “River Passage” and following that what I wrote whilst raw and recovering afterward.
The second writing along with a 9’0 print of the image below were included in a show of the seven works I created while in that residency. My hope is that reading on here you are, by extension, perpetuating the life of a work that would otherwise have gone out with the tide.
—March, 13th 2015—
As some of you know I have been in India for the past six weeks immersed in an artist residency centered around a small river mouth/tidal estuary. In this time I have made four of seven physical performances and two design/sculpture works (for the nearby Vasundhara festival of environmental arts). Collectively I am calling this body of work “Nadi’s Breath” – Nadi: Hindi for river, and this river she breathes dramatically with the changing tide, wind, and light. In a couple hours I will be engaged in the central work to this project: I will be laying in the river on a sandbar at low tide until the tide comes to cover me at which point I will breathe through a bamboo tube until the receding tide uncovers me again some 6-7 hours later. Usually I don’t talk about my performances before I do them (or after for that matter) but I thought it might be interesting to send a note now as my mind spirals in toward the moment I lay down in the river – especially given the great distance most of you are from me right now. Also I’m nervous. There are so many unknown variables – temperature, exposure, dehydration, bacteria, current, tidal depth etc. In truth I’m just not sure about this one – and I suppose that is how I know I am on the right track. I know that today I am going to face myself, my fears, and the nature of this river that I have been in and out of nearly every day for the past 45 days. It’s not fancy or pretty or exciting – there’s no grand metaphorical statement here. It’s almost as basic as I can imagine – just my breath, the tide, and my mind. It will all be over around 8pm tonight – roughly 10am tomorrow for those on the east coast of the US. If you get this before then maybe take a moment and slow down with me and see if you can feel the river of your life moving around you – see if you can fight the urge to jump back in it for a minute or two longer than you otherwise might have.
–March 14th, 2015
laying – before me stillness like the Himalayas of nothingness
maybe this will be easy
maybe I have no idea what will come
the sun incrementally pours its weight into me
and the water comes with relief to my slowly quieting mind
I can feel it clearly – a cool line encircling my body – creeping higher
slow like the blood pulsing from the far reaches of my body.
reaching out for my ears gently at first, then with maddening percussion
there’s nothing to do but wait for the roar of transition to subside
and then wait for the water to rise past my eyes, my mouth
clicking sounds travel through the water from around me – hours later I would learn their source as crabs pinched at my toes, fingers and right ear
in time water laps over my parched lips,
a brief struggle to calm my breath as it comes and goes through the length of bamboo
for a while
slowly my nose plugs fail
vaguely salty water starts to slide down my throat and my fingers can’t seem to pinch my nose in any way to prevent it
a decision to make
do I stop now and try again another day? Have I failed?
commitment – at the end of the day I know the work here is the commitment and not the image
I buried the bamboo in the sand and arched my back to bring my mouth and nose just above the water
water played over my eyes like the patterns of an Arabic partition
breath large in my skull like a a ragged horn through fog
and then that familiar space of clarity
that old friend: a quiet mind
a deep dull pain
and then spasms
the right hip first and later the left as well
was I shaking from the cold or from the fatigue in my hips from arching my back to breathe?
can’t stop shaking
why do I do this? Does it mean anything to anyone? Does it mean anything to me?
Who is this man struggling for his life in knee deep water?
time passes – time must pass – the tide must pass
can I do any more?
it’s just a body
and a new peace – not the peace that occasionally calmed the spasms and found warmth in tightly held arms but a peace that rolled right on through the clenched teeth – burning legs – shaking body reality
but without fail
again and again
and with it came support
the edges of my body lost definition
the edges of my mind lost definition
I knew I was right where I was supposed to be – I ceased to feel like an alien in the river
like fingers on my scalp the water seemed to hold, almost push, my head up
tension left my neck, shoulders, back
and then the calm of high tide – I could feel the sun warming up the still water – just enough for me to continue on
that must have been just past half way
… peace of mind or no my body was pushing it’s limits with each moment
I opened my eyes for the first time since laying down
and saw over head in a royal blue sky a circling sea eagle
the sun will set eventually – an hour, two? Some unit of time
it’s just time
it’s just a body
the tide had been on it’s way out but had a way to go
I knew – my body knew – that it was time
I sat up feeling the world fall away from me – the hard edges of everything disorienting and strange
like a new born baby I wept – uncontrollably – without thought or understanding
and slowly I walked away from the river.
February 15th, 2017
I’ve been asked a number of times over the last couple years how performing in Marina Abramović’s “The Artist is Present” has influenced my work. Below I have tried to describe, to the best of my abilities,some of the influences, including the MoMA show, I had going into my performance “The Intermediate States”. I hope you find it interesting and that it helps in the effort to bridge the yawning chasm between what a performer and what the audience experiences in a performance.
Time, space – times, spaces
The Intermediate States came about in 2011 as a result of two in-depth explorations into my relationship with the time and space of my life. The first was my work as a “re-performer” in Marina Abramović’s Retrospective at the MoMA: The Artist Is Present. Specifically in the 140 hours of stillness I spent in the work “Point of Contact”. For this piece a performing partner (often Elana Katz) and I were standing a couple feet apart, millimeters from touching, in a 5 sided box isolated from the public by just a few feet. Physically my experience of this performance is best described in layers of separation and layers of connection. Layers of separation from the outside world, the greater museum space, the public, the smaller box, the partner opposite me, from my increasingly indefinite body, from patterned thoughts, from personality associations, from the passage of time. Conversely there were the heightened layers of connection – the thin lines to reality: the beating of my heart, the movement of blood and air in my body, consciousness, the finest gradations of temperature, the weight of my body hanging on my bones, the presence of my partner opposite me – their energy, their breath (speed, depth, rhythm), their present-ness, the energies of those passing and those stopping, the feeling of the whole room. Sometimes I felt and experienced these things singularly but after a month or so I began to exist in one of two states: being in all of it or out of all of it, and finally towards the end of the exhibition a feeling of both extremes at once. I had a similar feeling of separation in my life outside of the museum at that time – being close to a broad river of humanity yet separate from it. While Marina was downstairs in the atrium drawing the waking hours of her life into a chosen single purpose I too found life outside the box looking more and more like life in the box. Piece by piece I peeled away the influences of caffeine, alcohol, sex, and much of my social life. As I became quieter in my mind and stiller in my body these influences would bubble up dragging my mind into a jumble of circular thoughts and causing my body to shake uncontrollably (I only blacked out once – on opening night!). I have performed more challenging work (see River Passage) but nothing to date equals the long-term commitment of that exhibition.
Since i am writing about The Artist Is Present I would like to add my two cents to the controversy concerning “reperformance” in performance art. I agree with many parts of the argument against the recreation of works that originally existed as authentic actions in a moment. But the lines become blurry when you compare Marina’s original 12 minute “Point of Contact” with the 140 hours / three months of my life going deeper and deeper into that one work. This touches on what I see as the central challenge durational performance work has in connecting with audiences: long durations. I could be wrong but it seems to me that the wide three month arc of the “re-performers” experience in that, or other shows, would mostly be overlooked by the general public as the scope of the performances if I did not write about it here. It hardly goes unnoticed that modern man is marked by a diminishing attention span. Most of our media sources are shifting into shorter and shorter formats and our brains are not prepared to experience the longer evening length arcs of say opera or classical Indian music much less consider how a moment relates to weeks, months, or years of work. To be fair there was a defining moment in my realization of this; in 2004 I was in India for the first time, homesick for the US and the friends, students, and potential life I had just left in Sri Lanka, I spent a week sleeping all day and listening to classical Indian concerts that went until dawn. Somewhere in the midst of this I lost track of time and began to hear (almost see in my mind) how parts, shapes, in the music related and connected to moments hours before or asked questions of the unspecified open space before them. I experienced time in a way that was entirely new to my mind (I sometimes wonder what the psychologists who diagnosed me and half my generation with ADD think about all of this). Those long nights permanently changed my relationship with time. I think that experience was part of what made me able to approach Marina’s work the way I did. But this is a digression – modern society’s attention span in relation to long duration art is perhaps a topic for another day.
At the same time as I was having this acute third person experience of my life laid out in layers of connectivity at the MoMA I also started reading the Bardo. Better known as the Tibetan Book of The Dead, the Bardo is a book that prepares ones “soul” for the transitions between one life and whatever comes next. It seemed immediately obvious to me that many of these LAYERS OF ATTACHMENTS the Tibetan Buddhists allege that we pass through AFTER life are present here in life and in many ways make up our passage through the trials of life. It was out of considering how these layers, these “seven realms” relate to me personally that the idea for The Intermediate States came about. In The Intermediate States I constructed six archways to represent all but the last of the seven layers or realms discussed in the “dangerous pathway of the Bardo”. I hung in each archway a mirror and a large stone. Attached on the back of each mirror were 20-30 wires all connected to a light trellis-work which joined the arches in a semi circle intended to form the visible “half” of this hypothetical cycle of life. The final elements of the physical installation were bare light bulbs above the semi-circle and a nearly subsonic soundtrack courtesy of Mitch Van Dusen.
For each of the six arches I prepared a meditation informed by a corresponding layer in the Bardo. Beginning at the first arch I pulled back the stone in front of the mirror and held it out in front of me with my arms extended. In this position I looked into my own eyes in the mirror and endeavored to immerse myself in the prepared meditation. I remained in that posture until I reached the limits of my physical body and the rock tumbled from my hands swinging free to shatter the mirror. With no rehearsal I had not predicted that the rebounding shards of glass would swing back narrowly missing my face and neck (propelling one audience member to leave the performance rather than be witness to my own dismemberment). Dangerous indeed – first, and most obvious, lesson learned. I removed suit coat and proceeded on. I continued this way for the total of an hour and forty eight minutes slowly peeling back the layers of my life very much as I had in “Point of Contact” but amplified by the context. This is explains in great part the underlying mission of my art – to pull this intensely complex private and formless inner process out of the indescribable lands of my mind in a way that I can share it with others without it losing its truth and… I would like to hope, its beauty.
The Intermediate States, Alexander Lyle 2011
photo: Danielle Bernstein
Point of Contact, Elana Katz and Alexander G. Lyle IV
The Artist is Present, Marina Abramovic, MoMA, NY 2010
Photo: Joshua Bright for The New York Times