Social isolation beach vacation

Social Isolation Beach Vacation (2020) combines my main research of participation and co-authorship with the memories of anthropomorphized objects in order to stimulate the imagination and dreams of participants. In an effort to reach deeper than a flat and choppy video conference call, this performance relies on three actions, related through an aural score, that access a collective consciousness beach dimension. The first action is kinesthetic; this helps to create a multi-sensorial environment. The participant is asked to gather a container of salt and a container of water, as well as any items (e.g. sunscreen, beach towels, shells) that remind them of going to the beach. Next, they are asked to watch a video while interacting with these materials—pinching the salt, running fingers through the water, combining the two ingredients, if they like. They may watch the video or close their eyes as they listen. This is presented as “contact with the beach entity”, the first step towards traveling to the beach dimension. Participants are instructed to leave the video playing after the entity departs, listening to the sound of the waves and awaiting further instructions.

Lastly, after being guided to lay in a comfortable position and breathe deeply, participants are asked to picture themselves at the beach. They are given verbal prompts, during which they allow their minds to wander and dream. This process is loosely based on a tactile gaze exercise presented by Gallier for ArtEZ students in September 2019. The prompts are presented in a slow and non-linear manner, but instead of being derived from literature, they are distilled from the dream of the previous participant. I cut each dream text back to what I interpreted as its essential elements, using present tense and emphasizing actions and descriptive words. This resulted in vivid poetry, and even after only six iterations, began to create the feeling of a co-authored landscape. Below are the resulting descriptions of the beach:

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Finally, the participant replays their dream with eyes closed, narrating out loud. I record (with consent) each dream narration, and tell them it will be used “to help others access the beach dimension”.

The resulting characters and images yield infinite artistic material with which to work. Unlike Gallier’s piece, the imagination of the participants is explicit, and has been immediately incorporated into the landscape of the beach itself. This work could easily become self-automated—a series of audio instructions and prompts during which the participant could record and post the next set of prompts. The characters, plants, and animals on the beach also implicate small dramas or vignettes, and could be turned into poetry, stories, songs, or drawings. The life of such a piece could extend beyond a single performance, discipline, or artist, and I, as the original author, would need to update the documentation to reflect the current state of the work. Documentation, more than any performer, is key to activating this performance.

Wallace Stevens writes “The true poem is not the work of the individual artist, it is the universe itself, the one work of art which is forever perfecting itself” (1951, 133). Using co-authorship as the generator of an ever-evolving performance is, for the spectator, somewhat like viewing a landscape painting or a poem, in that it is possible to interpret the images and words based on lived experience, undiluted by the interpretation of a live performer. The experience differs from these things, however, because in any particular form, it is ephemeral like a live performance. Each participant will alter the work forever. This effect could be a way to create the togetherness so many of us miss now that we have shut off our day-to-day interactions because of COVID-19. If one person’s imagination is fuel for the next person’s dream, and dream upon dream creates a beautiful landscape, accessible to all, we have come closer to understanding what we mean to each other as we act individually to create something beautiful for everyone. This will benefit us even after we can resume our “normal” lives.

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References

Calvino, I., 2016. Six memos for the next millennium. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Gallier, E., 2018. Dramaturgy of attention. From absorption to distance, being implicated in the events of other people’s imagination. In A World of Muscle, Bone & Organs: Research and Scholarship in Dance (pp. 15-29). C-DaRE at Coventry University.

Manuel, P.A.C.R., 2017. Theatre Without Actors: Rehearsing New Modes of Co-presence (Doctoral dissertation, Utrecht University).

Rancière, J., 2014. The Emancipated Spectator. Verso Books.

Stevens, W., 1951. Imagination as Value. The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination, pp.133-56.