to be a body make a skeleton

Posted by Silver on November 16, 2011
Nov 162011


Our group project is a time-based event, a festival or collective ritual that stitches our individual ideas as one facet of a structure to be enacted, filled, and altered by people tied together by a traumatic event.


For me it was important to avoid engaging directly with relief-work in a traditional sense, and also to avoid engaging with conventional modes of explicitly socially valuable artistic production. In most cases this work maintains an air and ethical rationale of institutionalized social service or concrete financial or material benefits. I think it is clear that art projects can in some cases develop a tremendous amount of press for a particular struggle and through the public attention brought via the privelaged position of art and artists, address the needs of a specific population to some extent. Vik Muniz’s WASTELAND is one example, Survivor International’s work is another. But the regulatory policies on a broad scale are rarely impacted in a lasting, pervasive, contagious way.


This statement isn’t meant to undermine the value of impacting even a single human being with generosity and significance, but quite often it seems the temporary amelioration of symptomatic suffering is carried as a badge of courage over the long term, when the underlying cause for the suffering is out of reach. As artists, our identities are constructed through our work, and it’s quite simple to develop an identity that will substantiate your practice as humanitarian as a hedge against the pervasive impression that art and artists are concerned with frivolity. More on the advantages of embracing frivolity later.


For both relief work -shelter, food, transport, sanitation- and social services -psyhology, spirituality, nutrition- there are specialists who are often deployed in zones of emergency. These activities are underfunded, but it’s the responsibility of governments worldwide to address the effective functioning of relief work in a deep way. The NGO community is widely recognized and awareness of their presence and need for greater resources is not likely an issue resolved by artists. And as a general rule, it feels intensely arrogant to feign insight into the political and logistical processes that are required to pursue this type of work in a significant way.


Given this despairing position, what can artists do?


While it is usually the reason for complaint, art in 2011 has some unusual and distinct advantages. Many of them stem from art’s social status of being an entirely frivolous and politically neutralized enterprise. Let’s leave aside the political leverage of institutionalized art and artists or the collective wealth of museum Boards of Directors and the like. I’m talking about most artists, not art stars, not Bono, not Martin Scorsese, not even Thomas Kincaid..



Artists quite often have a unique perspective that engages the world from a more integrated perspective than politicians, doctors, architects, relief workers. Buckminster Fuller said “I love artists, because they are the ones who are trying to be whole”. For lack of a more nuanced way of description, artists often have a sense of possibility and visions into this sensation that are not present for other types of workers. These visions are what artists must practice and it’s why making art takes so much time. It’s a strange kind of work, but it’s an intensely human, vulnerable type of work. The outcomes are difficult to explain – and are more embodiments of feelings than embodiments of ideas.


In a site of such devastation both physical and emotional, it’s important that the humanity of the situation is placed at the center. Connect with both the place and the people feelings first rather than thinking first. We can’t presume to understand such a place adequately. To offer something from a vulnerable place to a stranger – for me this has come into focus as central to my social ethics of artistic response to crisis.



Skeleton for a Ritual in Minami Sanriku



Nature is not an algorithm. For all of the efforts humanity has placed into modeling tectonic shifts, remote sensing for the possibility of earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis – they happen constantly and without warning.


There was no hesitation on the part of nature for 3/11 – it was happening, that’s it. I’ve been interested in this kind of moment, it’s something I’ve addressed in my music with extremely rapid shifts, immediate contrast, no development. It’s a break with normality that is not a process, but an instant after which everything is new. One has to re-entrain quickly or misunderstand the present as the past. For Northeast Japan this moment has occurred several times with tsunamis, each time it seems the experience is forgotten until the next.


What if there was a similarly unpredictable event in the form of a festival? A skeleton for a ritual that could happen at any time and memorialize this type of moment as well as produce a day of fantasy and confrontation with the trauma of the recent past. This was my concept for the midterm proposal.


For the final group project we focused on how former residents of a landscape where all preceding human intervention has been decimated approach re-engaging the emotional landscape lost alongside the infrastructure?


Each of us approached this question with a shared intention but distinct ideas as to embody them. I was excited about the idea of a media recording blimp that could video capture re-enactments or miming of how someone used their now-destroyed space or how a friend or family member who was killed used their space. The idea was to offer a tool for capturing the emotional landscape that still remains.


This idea was inspired by the Lucy Walker film about 3/11 where an old couple was depicted returning to the site of their home to drink tea. It struck me as so incredible – that of course the connection to a very specific place remains even without the architecture or their belongings. The elevation, the relationship to the natural features, a remaining tree, the destroyed garage of a neighbor – all of these become cues for feeling home.


Each member of the group had a different idea but in the context of a time-based event could be combined to become a sequence. The blimp morphed into a balloon for the dance capturing, the blimp idea became the documentation vehicle for Daniela’s balloon parade idea. Adrian’s idea for a time-lapse photo of lights on the ground morphed into lights in the balloons and video documentation from the blimp. Kris’ idea of spreading a powder to demarcate the former architecture morphed with Janine’s idea to plant trees to be a pigment/fertilizer/seed mix that would be carried along with the balloon and became part of the miming I had been interested in as well.


So all of our components were able to transform into a single module, which is quite beautiful we think.


I restarted my idea to start the event with sound from the hills – and the idea of the balloon parade solved the beginning of how the ritual would take place. There would be a sound event, everyone would know that when this occurred they would converge on a single location – and then walk with these balloons to the site of their memory. From there, they would head to the beach and embark on the boat trip – > beacon and return trip concert from the hillside sound system.


We’ve not completed the cycle – defining what happens when everyone returns to shore, but I think in a way we’ve already provided the velocity that would make a wide variety of endings sensical. What we’ve proposed also has quite a bit of openness for discussion and for the details to be established with the local community – sticking with the idea of making a skeletal model.