A Radical Cut In The Texture Of Reality

September 22, 2017

First draft of the Authenticity is a Feeling short description

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Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART is a compelling hybrid of history, memoir and performance theory. It tells the story of the interdisciplinary performance group PME-ART and their ongoing endeavor to make a new kind of highly collaborative theatre dedicated to the fragile but essential act of “being yourself in a performance situation.” Written, among other things, to celebrate PME-ART’s twentieth anniversary, the book begins when Jacob Wren meets Sylvie Lachance and Richard Ducharme, moves from Toronto to Montreal to make just one project, but instead ends up spending the next twenty years creating an eccentric, often bilingual, art. It is a book about being unable to learn French yet nonetheless remaining co-artistic director of a French-speaking performance group, about the Spinal Tap-like adventures of being continuously on tour, about the rewards and difficulties of intensive collaborations, about making performances that break the mold and confronting the repercussions of doing so. A novel about PME-ART. A book that aims to change the rules for how interdisciplinary performance can be written about today.




[Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART is a new book I'm currently working on which will be published by BookThug in Spring 2018.]


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September 4, 2017

Excerpt from Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART

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The other aspect of my original idea was that artists had a lot to answer for in terms of our cultures over-emphasis on the individual. The idea of the solitary artist, pushing alone against the stagnant conventions of society, against the status quo, was in so many ways at the root of the problem. When I write this I am mainly criticizing myself. Even though I have dedicated the bulk of my artistic life towards collaboration, as I get older it becomes increasingly clear to me just how internally divided I am across the chasm of these questions and difficulties. This is probably the deepest, most pernicious contradiction in my ongoing work with PME-ART: that I want to be a famous (or at least semi-famous) individual artist and, at the same time, I also want to work collaboratively in a manner that often teeters on the brink of pure collectivity. This contradiction is very much present in the writing of this book.

Western narratives are so often about one lone hero, rather than about a group or collective. The improbable eighties Hollywood action hero, one man endlessly fighting off armies of opponents and in the end prevailing, is a pure cartoon of everything that is wrong with our thinking around how things change and how injustice might actually be defeated over the course of a long struggle. And artists are also so often at the centre of their own ridiculous cartoon, with (in the case of more successful artists) a lot of praise and encouragement to prop up this personal mythology. Knowing this does not automatically help me pull myself free of anything. So much of my life might be described as self-awareness without change. Earlier I wrote that the decision to reinvent myself as a novelist had something to do with mortality, with wanting to leave something behind after I die, but it also must have had something to do with the pleasures of working alone, with accepting the ways in which I’m an introvert. Of course, even as a novelist I don’t really work alone. I have an editor and a publisher. My books (this one included) would not exist without them.

There are no individual solutions to collective problems. Nonetheless, it is individuals who must come together and figure out what to do. In all of this, there is the unaddressed question of leadership. The anarchist in me genuinely believes rotating leadership is a solution, people take turns taking the lead in the areas of their greatest competence. Another similar collaborative idea might be: best idea wins. But art is so subjective, and for five different people five different ideas might each seem best. It has always been my thinking that if someone in the group feels strongly that we should do something, then we should do it, their strong desire shouldn’t be watered or sanded down by the democratic entropy of the group. I want the projects to be open enough to welcome the strongest impulses of each of the participants. This is my ideal, and like all ideals it is something I often fall short of achieving. Perhaps it is not even an ideal that is best for every collaborative situation. In a sense, it is just another way of saying that I want to work in ways that are deeply collaborative while at the same time keeping our most intense individual artistic differences more alive than alive.



[Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART is a new book I'm currently working on which will be published by BookThug in Spring 2018.]



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"And whose work has no impact on their lives or the lives of the people around them."

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This manual encourages us to find out what happens if we don't deliver. If we don't give students the standard slide show, but instead make them take off their socks and rub their feet with mustard.

We know that spicy feet will not be an instant salvation, but we believe in going outside, in using our bodies and not only our brains, in absurd interventions, in silly jokes, in creating atmospheres, in learning in the gap, in destabilizing our position, in talking about money. We believe in letting things go so wrong that thinking about them ten years later still makes our stomachs hurt.

Because this experimentation is more relevant to us than mindlessly repeating what doesn't work: breeding generations of artists, who religiously believe in self-expression and individualism but look the same, think the same, act the same. And whose work has no impact on their lives or the lives of the people around them.

- Teaching for people who prefer not to teach



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August 20, 2017

Three Montreal Events in September

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I will be doing three events in Montreal in September as follows: 



Tuesday, September 5th at 8:30pm:
Resonance Reading Series: September
with Stephanie Bolster, Kelly Norah Drukker, Dean Garlick, Christine McNair & Jacob Wren
Resonance Café - 5175A Ave du Parc
Facebook Event
 


Saturday, September 9th at 8pm:
The Desire that Crosses You / Le Désir qui Te Traverse
Presented by the QUIMERAS collective
with Sophia Dacy-Cole, Camille Käse, Csenge Kolozsvari, Mayra Morales, Mariana Marcassa, Eugene Park, Claire Skahan, Ludmila Steckelberg de Santana, Anique Vered & Jacob Wren
Eastern Bloc - 7240 Clark St
Facebook Event



Saturday, Sept 16th at 2pm:
Hard to Read: Process/processus
A bilingual event presented by Art Pop/POP Montreal Symposium
with Michele Nox, Alix Ferrand, Jacob Wren, Monique Palma Whittaker, Durga Chew-Bose, Trevor Gould / curated by Fiona Duncan
Ancienne École des beaux-arts - 3450, rue Saint-Urbain
Facebook Event




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August 17, 2017

Stuart Hall Quote

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Contrary to common-sense understanding, the transformations of self-identity are not just a personal matter. Historical shifts out there provide the social conditions of existence of personal and psychic change in here. What mattered was how I positioned myself on the other side - or positioned myself to catch the other side: how I was, involuntarily, hailed by and interpellated into a broader social discourse. Only by discovering this did I begin to understand that what black identity involved was a social, political, historical and symbolic event, not just a personal, and certainly not simply a genetic, one.

From this I came to understand that identity is not a set of fixed attributes, the unchanging essence of the inner self, but a constantly shifting process of positioning. We tend to think of identity as taking us back to our roots, the part of us which remains essentially the same across time. In fact identity is always a never-completed process of becoming - a process of shifting identifications, rather than a singular, complete, finished state of being.

- Stuart Hall, Familiar Stranger 



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August 13, 2017

“If the Soviet Union could dissolve, why not the United States?”

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In this spirit Cherríe Moraga remains “passionately committed to an art of resistance to domination by Anglo-America.” And what is her vision for the future? She says the words few people utter aloud: “If the Soviet Union could dissolve, why not the United States?” Why not, indeed? And why not a new confederacy of equal, mutually respectful cultures and peoples? “The road to our future is the road from our past.”

- Elizabeth Martínez, The Third Eye of Cherríe Moraga



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August 12, 2017

The music of Jenifa Mayanja




I just discovered the music of Jenifa Mayanja who is playing tonight in Montreal. Above are a few of my favourite tracks. Better yet, check out all her albums on Bandcamp.



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August 11, 2017

“It might be nice to be a girl, ‘cause then I wouldn’t have to be emotionless.”

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"One avenue into understanding men’s loneliness is to consider how children are socialized. In an interview, Niobe Way, a lecturer at New York University who has worked with adolescent boys for over two decades, talked about how we are failing boys. “The social and emotional skills necessary for boys to thrive are just not being fostered,” she said in an interview. Indeed, when you look at the research, men do not start life as the stereotypes we become. Six-month-old boys are likely to “cry more than girls,” more likely to express joy at the sight of our mother’s faces, and more likely to match our expressions to theirs. In general, before the age of four or five, research shows that boys are more emotive than girls.

The change begins around the time we start school: at that age—about five—boys become worse than girls at “changing our facial expressions to foster social relationships.” This is the beginning of a socialization process in “a culture that supports emotional development for girls and discourages it for boys,” according to Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson. This begins to affect our friendships early—in a study in New Haven, Connecticut, boys aged 10-18 were significantly worse than girls at knowing who their friends were: “over a two-week period, the boys changed their nomination of who their best friend was more frequently than girls, and their nomination was less likely to be reciprocated.”

Still, there’ll never be better soil than school in which to grow friendships, and most boys do find good friends as children. Way, who summarized her findings in her book Deep Secrets, found that, up until early adolescence, boys are not shy about how much they love their friends. Way quotes one boy named Justin in his first year of high school: “[My best friend and I] love each other… That’s it… you have this thing that is deep, so deep, it’s within you, you can’t explain it. … I guess in life, sometimes two people can really, really understand each other and really have a trust, respect, and love for each other.” Another high school freshman, Jason, told Way friendships were important because then “you are not lonely … you need someone to turn to when things are bad.”

However, for many boys—Way calls it “near-universal”—a shift occurs in late adolescence, roughly from the ages of 15-20. In a phase of life we often think of in optimistic terms—self-discovery, coming of age—boys’ trust in each other shatters like glass. Three years after his first interview, Jason, asked if he had any close friends, said no, “and immediately adds that while he has nothing against gay people, he himself is not gay.” Another boy interviewed by Way in the eleventh grade who up until the year before had maintained a best friendship for ten years said he now had no friends because “you can’t trust nobody these days.” In interviews with thousands of boys, Way saw a tight correlation between confiding in close friends and mental health, and she observed that, across all ethnic groups and income brackets, three quarters of the boys she spoke to “grow fearful of betrayal by and distrustful of their male peers” in late adolescence, and “begin to speak increasingly of feeling lonely and depressed.”

Making matters worse, in the middle of this estrangement from other boys, as we’re becoming young men, we’re governed more than ever by a new set of rules about what behaviour we’re allowed to show. Psychologists call them display rules. “Expressions of hurt and worry and of care and concern for others,” according to white high schools boys, are “gay” or “girly.” Black and Hispanic boys, according to Way’s interviews, feel pressure to conform to even stricter rules. Men who break the rules, and express “sadness, depression, fear, and dysphoric self-conscious emotions such as shame and embarrassment” are viewed as “unmanly” and are comforted less than women. Way told me when she speaks in public, she often quotes a 16-year-old boy who said, “It might be nice to be a girl, ‘cause then I wouldn’t have to be emotionless.”

- Stephen Thomas, from The Legion Lonely



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August 10, 2017

Excerpt from a Tori Kudo interview

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Keith Connolly: What then, would you say, is the state of Maher Shalal Hash Baz today?

Tori Kudo: That’s a difficult question. It’s very difficult to run, though I am trying. In a way it could be said that Maher does not exist anymore. All the original members are gone, so now I accept whoever comes to Maher, and they are more like participants. I can continue that way, and I can create songs, so if you want to call that Maher, it’s okay. In some ways it is becoming more of a theatrical undertaking, akin maybe to Pasolini with all his actors being like a theater group, or the same actors playing in different films. I have worked with the Montreal-based playwright Jacob Wren in creating the play “No Double Life for the Wicked,” about the members of Maher and their daily lives. For example, in the play I am making pottery. It’s an attempt to show how Maher has become Maher, a kind of meta-Maher.




[You can read the full interview here.]


[And you can read a Moone Records Exclusive Interview with Tori Kudo here.]




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August 5, 2017

Excerpt from Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART / First Epilogue: Emotional Politics

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"The artists I work with turn to emotion because this is where ideology does its most devastating work." – Jennifer Doyle, Hold It Against Me


Now we are at the very beginning of a new project. It hasn’t quite started yet and I still very much don’t know what it will be. Somehow I still have the feeling that it could be absolutely anything. It is this moment of complete possibility, the moment before anything has actually started, that I’ve always found most energizing. I am not sure this is anything to be proud of. As we often do, we’re starting with a title: Emotional Politics. And, as the title suggests, I am thinking the project will have something to do with the relationship between politics and emotion.


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As I’ve moved forward through the years, in some ways I’ve always attempted to erase and undo my past. In some sense this book is a counter-attempt to not erase the past twenty years. I’ve always liked the idea of artists having “periods”: Picasso with his rose period, his blue period, his cubist period, etc. I once again have the feeling I need to put recent work behind me, to enter into a new period, with little idea what this new period might actually become. I once tried to cordon my work into four decade long periods (also including the next ten years):

1988-1998: Theatre & Anti-theatre
1998-2008: Translation & Polemic
2008-2018: Books, Music & Hospitality
2018-2028: Emotion & Decolonization

Because along with emotion and politics, all of the questions I find myself asking these days are around decolonization, around whiteness, white supremacy, white fragility, white saviorism, white guilt, structural inequality, anti-racism, intersectionality and how all of these realities factor into the ways I live and work. My collaboration with PME-ART started by bringing Anglophone and Francophone artists to work together with En français comme en anglais, it’s easy to criticize, a bringing together that wasn’t happening so often and still doesn’t happen nearly enough. This was a certain kind of bringing together that felt important to me at the time. But these days I’m definitely feeling that art is simply too white and that it has to change.


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I’ve always felt so strongly that there is something very political about being yourself in a performance situation. But now, after twenty years, I say this with somewhat less confidence than I once did. I think it is political because it undoes some of the hierarchy between those on stage and those watching, and if those on and off stage are more equal, then everyone can of course be on stage, can be involved, can be on the performance stage or the political one, can find a stage to speak out against injustice or get involved in whatever ways feel most vital. I still believe all of this is artistically true. However, saying a work of art is political is very different from saying that it’s politically effective. Like many artists, or perhaps more precisely like a specific kind of artist who intensely desires the political, I’m always wondering if I’m doing enough. And of course I always know that I’m not.


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People might think they’re making rational decisions but often, perhaps without even knowing it, they’re essentially making emotional decisions. But where does emotion stop and thinking begin? Even to put it in these terms feels obnoxious and misguided. Such distinctions are artificial. Thinking and emotion are completely intertwined. To believe otherwise is to block so many genuine possibilities. In Western democratic politics the rational decision is supposed to rule the day. What could democracy possibly mean if people are unable to make rational decisions as to what is best for the society they are a part of? However, as we know, current electoral politics, much like advertising, often plays directly to the emotions of the voter. I’m certainly not saying this is only a bad thing. What I’m getting at is how we all need to understand this process so much more. And how in further understanding it we might begin to change the ways it does and doesn’t work on us.

But, then again, I’m not only, or even mainly, thinking about electoral politics. I’m thinking of politics as a question of how we treat each other, of caring and cruelty and how they relate to emotions such as love and anger. I’m also wondering if there’s room for more emotion in PME-ART shows. In performance I associate emotion with acting, with being fake. With the opposite of what I’m searching for. However, if rejecting emotion in terms of how we are supposed to make political decisions is limiting and misguided, it might be even more so in relation to making art. I have absolutely no problem writing with great emotion, but in performance I generally find it to be more of a conundrum.

In PME-ART we perform as ourselves. In life, I rarely display much emotion. Like the good male child I was raised to be I most often – without even realizing I am doing so – repress it. I often think my depression substantially consists of repressed anger and sadness. And, because I suspect I often set the tone for our work, I also wonder if there might be something emotionally repressed about how we create and perform. Or at the very least something straight and male (which others continuously undercut with their own contributions.) In the past I didn’t see it this way. I would have probably attributed this lack of expressed emotion to the fact of repetition. If I give a performance once, and some emotion arises in me as I am doing so, I am completely open to going with it. But how to do so over and over again without it feeling completely fake? How to do so in front of an audience without feeling I must deliver the emotions on cue? In Emotional Politics I mainly imagine us talking about emotions rather than embodying them. Yet I also find myself wondering what are the ways I haven’t thought of yet that might allow us to go further (or explore in different registers from our previous work.) At the moment I simply have no idea. It feels impossible to me. But that’s also the feeling that makes me want to do it. Maybe it will be really bad but is there a way to turn it inside out and make it good again. Is this the road we’re really going to pursue or is it only a footpath to take us out onto the actual road we will eventually end up pursuing? At this early stage I still have no idea.

And then I wonder if perhaps some of our performances have contained far more emotion than I know or realize. And how the emotion comes from the encounter between us and the audience in ways that are extremely difficult to pin down or describe, and in fact are very difficult to be certain of because they happen in the moment and then, just as quickly, are gone.


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A few weeks ago I found myself thinking about The Wooster Group again. I believe I haven’t seen a show by them in over fifteen years, but seeing their show L.S.D. (Just the High Points) at Harbourfront Centre in 1989, and reading a great deal about them during the same period, was probably the single most significant event in leading me to want to make the kind of performances I’ve more or less dedicated my life to. And then when I started touring, about ten years later, I met or heard about many other groups and companies that were also catalyzed by their first experiences with The Wooster Group, and also next generation companies who were later inspired by the companies that were first inspired by The Wooster Group. It reminds me of a story I once heard about The Ramones. The first time The Ramones toured the U.S. there were basically no punk bands to open for them. But the second time they toured, there was an opening band in every town, all consisting of young people who had seen The Ramones on their previous tour and then decided to form punk bands of their own.

Both The Ramones and The Wooster Group came out of a kind of New York City lower east side zeitgeist (which for me also has some relation to U.S cultural imperialism.) As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve always worried that we had no zeitgeist, though I suppose in many ways I’ve spent my life searching for one, all the while trying to tell myself that it’s never too late. In a sense, zeitgeist is always also a collective feeling of protest, and it has been argued that the past ten years plus have been a golden age of protest: the alter-globalization movement, the battle in Seattle, Occupy Wall Street, the Rolling Jubilee, Tahrir Square, Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, mass protests against Trump, etc. None of these protests have done as much they originally hoped but they all did something. I also realize I’m still romanticizing zeitgeists. If I were to actually experience one I probably wouldn’t like it.


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The Ramones were white and The Wooster Group are white (as are many of the other artists and writers I’ve referenced in this book.) Despite much work currently being done to change things, Western art and culture remain primarily white spaces (which is not to excuse myself, I really should have done better. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to rewrite the past to make it sound like I was more woke than I actually was at the time. Instead, I want to rewrite the future.) Much of my internet reading over the past five or so years has been about feminism and anti-racism. For as long as I can remember I’ve felt myself to be pro-feminist and anti-racist – which certainly doesn’t mean I’ve always lived up to my ideals – but more recently I’ve encountered concepts I didn’t previously know about such as white fragility and white saviourism. These concepts have a lot to do with why white spaces remain so white, with how white people react when these spaces are challenged, and how such defensive reactions work to reinforce the status quo.

My internet reading about feminism and anti-racism (alongside many important conversations) has had an enormous impact on my recent thinking and yet I’m still trying to figure out how to incorporate this thinking into my life and work. Many others I know are also currently trying to do the same. I think: PME-ART is about collaboration and therefore this collaborative spirit represents and opening through which to do something. I think: our work is about being yourself in a performance situation, so when the selves change, when new creator/performers are invited to join, then the work then changes as well. And I want the work to change. But how much am I able to let it change, how much am I willing to let go? With each new collaborative project this is always a primary question.

I can feel my reticence. How reluctant I am to write about these questions. The main thing is that it is all still in the future. We haven’t actually tried anything yet and don’t even know exactly what we plan to try. But also, in writing this, I can feel myself treading carefully, feel that I don’t want to misstep. I have noticed that when white artists attempt to make anti-racist art they sometimes miss the mark and end up making racist art by mistake. They are too deeply entrenched within their own limited perspective, within their: ‘I’m an artist and therefore I can do whatever I want.’ (I think the artist has an ethical responsibility but, then again, I don’t think there’s any fixed way of understanding exactly what that responsibility is.) I hope collaboration and co-authorship is a way through and past this dilemma but I know from twenty years of experience that real collaboration is never easy. I feel the slogan ‘nothing about us without us’ speaks to the matter most concisely. But still, it is always possible to get it wrong. And walking on eggshells has never produced the best art.


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All of this is very much about me, and yet it is my hope that Emotional Politics is the PME-ART show we make that will be the most not about me. Is it possible to decenter myself within our work? What might this look or feel like? Some recent projects have been more about me, and now it’s time to turn around, head in the opposite direction. To find ways for PME-ART to be more about others. I’m nervous to write this, worried that after Emotional Politics has been made and toured, I’ll look back on these words and see how far away what we actually did was from my original hopes. And yet that is also the nature of our work. It starts somewhere, goes through an extensive, if rather imperfect, collaborative process, and ends up somewhere else, somewhere completely different, somewhere no one could predict.

The very beginning of a new project. Before the beginning. The pre-beginning. When everything is still possible. I want to hang onto this feeling for as long as I can, not to fix anything before it’s absolutely necessary, still be open to artistic possibilities that, as of yet, I am still completely unable to conceive. Is it really true that these things happen, that our work spins out in directions I am unable to imagine before they begin? Is this only a fantasy I have about the work, about the possibilities of art, or about the possibilities of collaborative art? I can see it both ways. And perhaps both ways can come together: such things might actually happen because they begin as fantasies, as searching, as curiosity, as openness. When something appears that you think you’ve never seen before, within your own work or the work of others, you can’t let it slip by unnoticed, you need to be paying attention, follow it, see where it leads.






[Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART is a new book I'm currently working on which will be published by BookThug in Spring 2018.]


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