I want to tell you something. This idea that I have been mulling over for the past few months. Maybe not mulling over so much as the idea has been mulling inside of me—in my every move finding a new way to seep out of an intellectual domain and into the skin, the flesh, the marrow of my being. I’m sounding melodramatic perhaps, but really, this is how it has happened.
Was it lost? Yes, perhaps. When I started this project, this practice, this quest (is it?). When I started. It was February 16th.
What was I starting? A six word novel, multiplied by an hour each day. An hour spent noticing, spent giving in, spent failing, faltering. An hour spent cultivating risk and signing the permission slip to be beyond what the world has made me. An hour spent experimenting with an unfixed identity and a temporary ethics: House unbuilt. Home broken. Evacuate. Escape.
On that Wednesday, February 16, 2011, I was in my studio advising with Ellen Rothenberg. We were discussing my inflexible schedule, surmising how I might actually find some time for making, much less eating, sleeping and breathing. In some ways, such a tight schedule gives me a rush, and every obligation was carefully selected in the hopes that it would infiltrate and bolster my practice. A practice that had stalled after a critique in December. At that point I was unsure of the next step, or of taking the wrong next step… so I stopped moving altogether, with the work and within the world in general.
After so many hours, weeks, nearly two months of turning my wheels deeper into the dirt (read: thinking fatalistically about whether I should really be pursuing “art” etc. etc.), I gave myself permission (with the help of some friends and advisors), to not have an answer, to not be productive, to not perform. I gave myself permission to do whatever it was that brought me some solace, some rest from my defeatist mind, some delight—even if that whatever was watching whole seasons of Grey’s Anatomy and the Tudor’s on Netflix or going to Vinyasa class as often as possible.
And as I was squeezing in the telling of this same conundrum to Ellen on my lunch break, it was then and there that she too gave me permission. She asked me, what amount of time could I find for myself each day, what was realistic? And how could I use that time to activate that permission, every day, and how could I document that time, what could stand as a record of it? She said that perhaps I could start there. Even more, that I should start today—that day.
And so, I did. I answered her questions: an hour, I think I could find an hour. And maybe I’d listen to music (because I never do that anymore for some reason), or I could paint (because I love to but had decided I wasn’t a painter so shouldn’t paint), or I could go to Dinkel’s Bakery and have a donut—actually EAT one (because I usually just go in and walk around smelling all the goodness and leave without tasting a thing). I could find images online, photograph, video, capture audio, or write in order to document it, I said. And maybe more things, but that I had permission to learn those things along the way, to add things, subtract things, exchange and so forth. This was about a living document, a process, a performance, a coming to know.
I felt good after the meeting, went back to teaching my class, and then set off to Dinkel’s at the end of the day on my way home. I wasn’t sure how to go about things. There was an awkwardness, a reluctance even, and yet I made myself take those steps, enter the bakery, choose a donut, and eat it—all of it, even though at first I told myself I would only eat half. I sat at a table in the little nook for doing such things, taking bite after bite, thinking how I didn’t want to spoil my dinner. And yet, I found I was less concerned about dinner and more ravenous for that delicious donut on the napkin in front of me. So, I drank my Dinkel’s coffee, ate my entire Dinkel’s donut, and sat for a while just floating on a high of sugar and fried goodness.
Dinkel’s was my start. Ellen helped me frame it, and I stepped up and made it. I was making something again, still too early to tell what, but I could feel the muscle back at work.
What am I telling you?
That I’m working toward a theory? —no, a methodology maybe? That I’m building a museum in my body and that it is the museum of the future? Or that I am teaching my body how to see the residue of lived experience as museum-quality stuff?
Here’s what I want to say. That the museum of the future is not about technology changing. It is not about virtual realities and science fiction fantasies. What it’s about is people. People needing time to adjust and adapt, people needing time to learn how to harness the power of the things we create. When we create things, we cannot know all that they will become, or even all that they do in that moment. And so these inventions pull us along. We race to keep pace, try to catch up, but we only get ahead when we’ve stopped trying, stopped looking… when we trip and fall into a chasm that opens a new dimension of thinking. If we already knew how to get there, we’d be there already. The internet is one such invention, a relatively new kind of archive, and blogs are an intervention within that landscape. Blogs, as personal and social archives, possess that latency of the chase—the latency that lives in us, the user, the budding archivist.
What does the archivist really know about the archive?
An archive of human experience will necessarily create…
Inherent contradictions and overlaps of different systems of ordering things.
Archive = Order of acquisition,
Act of affirmation: list all the things that have gotten me to the point to have this problem.
Articulating my grappling as: “I’m not doing this right” or “I’m not doing enough.”
But no, I am doing a lot, that’s why I’m grappling.
Not a crisis of understanding, a crisis of grappling with—
A conversation with life and the outside world,
A bunch of conversation starters…
Don’t be afraid of your input.
The nature of embodiment,
The way I am treating a document,
The repeated action, how it is transforming itself…
The crutch… propping the figure up,
as broom… what is being cleaned and what is being kept… image of caretaker, preparing, rehearsal beginning, cleaner, choreography,
Prodding as well,
Serving and servitude…
Code of manners…
Is there a passiveness or is it control? — the work about blurring this, a tension in this…
What role do we play in our own predicament? Who is in control? When is being passive a form of control? Is this an answerable question? If not, why ask it? Is it worth asking even if we can’t answer it? Asking the questions that have no answers—there is a reason for this… It’s not about an answer. It’s about where the questioning leads us.
Options about how to enter…
(Sometimes artifacts are inhabited and sometimes they are not….)
Leave the site available for the viewer to inhabit…
Cultivating the space between what’s unconscious behavior and what’s conscious inhabiting.
Today, the landscape of viewers or users is yet to be normalized. The range of people now nearly compelled to interact online is generationally vast, with some born over iphone “FaceTime” calls and others born before the military-industrial complex ever took shape. This generation gap creates stutters in our progress toward usability and acceptance of the blog as a source of meaning. Users today are not quite ready to hand over the reigns of cultural authority to the blogosphere, and yet the intervention is subtly occurring. As the generational landscape shifts, what some of us might think of as on-line behavior is now becoming just behavior. A new default.
Now, how do we get from people, “users” even, to a museum?
Museums as we know them today are these physical buildings that display tangible objects of art and culture. They are houses for storing, maintaining and entertaining. They are sites for gathering meaning and making an experience out of the residue of human existence. At their core, museums are collections that engage our natural curiosity. Today’s museums, however institutional and public as we know them to be, are the ancestors of the much more personal, private collecting that resided in Renaissance Europe’s Wunderkammer, or Cabinets of Curiosity.
I see a striking similarity between those Wunderkammer and the contemporary collecting behavior that is situated online, especially in blogs. Despite our common knowledge of these digital archives, we must remember how young they really are. It took nearly 200 years for private curiosity cabinets to evolve into the true public museum. And while the blog as personal journal took off around 1994, it’s use as a site for gathering and sharing discoveries as such (images, ideas, advice, prophecies, quotes, rants, videos, sounds), didn’t pick up until the early 2000’s. Over the past five years, new micro-blogging platforms have enhanced the efficiency of blogging and through their own interfaces, imposed a certain mode of curation on the individual user.
But still, we are less than 20 years into the evolution of this new, digital site for collecting—compared to the 200 years Wunderkammer took to evolve to the Louvre. I imagine a similar refining of blogs won’t take 200 years, of course, as something about digital space—perhaps its immediacy, interaction, and allowance for imperfection and exposure—spurs activity and innovation at an exponential pace. Perhaps this something is one of the key differences between Wunderkammer and blogs—that elastic, social stratosphere that instantaneously connects and propels what is personal into what is public. In this, the blog seems to have landed on the end and the beginning of the museum evolution, and yet it’s everything between the here and now that I propose is yet to develop.
While blogs still exist in the realm of the “personal” collection, you can imagine our trajectory with them over the next 50 years. This trajectory will harnesses the paradox of personal and yet shared, where there are no either/or’s only and/but’s. As blogs develop, we will see the rise of the museum of excessive subjectivity—a subjectivity that guarantees a certain objectivity. Here, “the realist imagination [will be] refused in favor of an impossibly sincere record of the real: perceptions, moods, facts.”
Here, individuals will curate private curiosities in a way that inscribes them as true, as authorized, as the meaning we seek out of a shared existence.
So, what I’m interested in telling you about, showing you even, is how people will come to see these blogs differently come the year 2060. How users will no longer be accidental curators, but active ones, and the museum won’t need to be couched in the binary opposition of physical vs. digital space. Rather, what is lived—whether in ones and zeros or skin and bones—will be real, will be worth investing in, will be a site for shared knowledge.
“The fundamental emotion,” of the blog, to compare it to another form of collecting behavior (the Merz or collage work of Kurt Schwitters) is “one of sweet frustration, the yearning for the out-of-reach, for what fingertips can graze yet never grip—the touchable/unclutchable. In this sense, [these] non-fictive micronarratives may in fact be shrouded in the dust of a nostalgic illusionism, any pleasure they give us being a function of poetic suggestion rather than historical authenticity.”
There is something lost in the way we contain ourselves day in and day out, adjusting to the world around us as is appropriate to do and indeed expected of us. I’ve been brought up to take this task on as an art—a skill to be perfected. Some call it composure. Others perhaps reserve. I would say that it’s a certain politeness of disposition.
A friend recently described my particular mode of containment in terms of my accent—taking the opportunity to extend the reach of my vocal intonation to a general manner of being. He called it “debutantation.”
|’debyoô tän tã sh en; ‘debye-|
a type of southern accent that involves hyper-enunciated, very slow speaking—genteel, and not longing for breath. One might say long-winded, but that’s not quite right. Rather, long pauses are thought of as trinkets that should not be adorned in polite conversation.
…clever, and somewhat adoring in its mockery. And yet somewhere in all of that something is lost, and something more can be forgotten if we travel along that slippery slope of composure. In an effort to resist this, I turned my affinity for composing myself into a conversation with life and the outside world. A conversation so rich, so savory. A conversation moving beyond intellectual stimulation and nearing the likes of desire. A conversation that sustains moments so full of ideas and imagery. A conversation that shouts—”hold me close!”—this emergence of voice, this capacity to connect.
In a way, each post or HUB on ahouseunbuilt.com (my blog as museum experiment) is a conversation with composure. A House Unbuilt has become my way to compose both a performance and an archive that explore the role of my own voice in a world that keeps telling me an individual’s voice is not enough. Not enough to keep its attention, not enough to cultivate meaning, not enough be a primary source of knowledge. As the artist Meg Stuart says, “I use dance and performance work to understand what I need to understand,”
and I think it is the aftermath, the residue of all this performative composing, that becomes my truth.
More importantly, though, I am creating the artifact. I am placing it in a role where it represents something that is happening currently in our lives, rather than something out of the authorized version of the past. While it is not always a direct relation between the thing and what is happening, I am cultivating multiple connections that retain the tangible essence of specificity that abstraction lets escape. They are spaces, artifacts, encounters — and it is ok if they are temporal and even fleeting. Their significance is not that they are permanent but that they really are reflective of what is currently happening to a real human being in this world.
Everything is an artifact—FOUND, MANUFACTURED, RESIDUAL.
Found artifacts can take the shape of an unusual photo found by searching Google Images, Image Spark, or Spezify.com using words from my retelling of the encounter. For example, on HUB 14, I am archiving my experience at a Baptiste Vinyasa Yoga class, focusing in on the Dandayamana-Dhanurasana, Standing Bow Pulling Pose for my documentation. However, rather than post a photo of someone else doing the pose, or just log my textual thoughts, I executed an image search and came up with an old photograph of a man casting a net, mid air, off a small dinghy. Something about the still action in this image and the personal connection I have to water, boats and fisherman, made this image the right one to document my thought that I had “found my center here today, expanded, and sustained balance through release… more of this please.”
Manufactured artifacts are most often the photographs that I take while in the middle of an encounter, or directly following it. In HUB 63.4, I was fighting the cold and wind and wet as I stood on the platform waiting for a train that would never come. I began to look, at the blurring light from the steady mist. I began to shake and struggle to stay still in waiting. My hands starting to burn, I chose to put them to work. As I snapped iPhone photos with an unsteady hand, I seemed to be warming the space between these views in my eyes and this shudder in my skin. “All aglow, I choreographed the street-lit night.”
Residual artifacts are more rare at this point in the process. They result from either making or receiving something within the encounter, such as the video residue in HUBs 27, 45, 67.1 and 67.3. By pre-cursorily setting up a camera, I am just marking the time of these performance labs with my collaborators Maya and Ben. Somehow our bodies, our sounds, our emotions and ideas resonate in the frame and create a certain residue in the ones and zeros of the digital storage device. While I find myself recomposing this residue, reframing and reperforming their movement, it stands alone as the most generative raw material in the archive.
The blog, as on-line venue, is like a tool box that I pull from. I translate fragments into image and movement with other collaborators in my lab, and this work of course returns to the screen. And from there…? on a wall? a stage? in a storefront? a book? where else? The screen does not preclude a multiplicity of venues. Instead, it generates the potential for them, and the magnetic pull, the addictive feedback loop of an audience with access and an accessible audience, cultivates new worlds and new ways of knowing ourselves.
This is why I’m doing this.
To build the audience for a museum of the future that is already present, latent within us.