The Hermit Poet

September 30, 2007

Many Things Converging Into Wonder

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 5:34 am

I’m grateful for many things. These past few weeks have been very rewarding. I’m now well underway in my PhD courses (first major assignments are due this coming week) and have been enjoying the readings and discussions.

But not all education and learning happens in class of course. Part of the joy of living in Los Angeles is having access to a wide variety of cultural events. Yesterday afternoon for example I attended an art lecture at the Hammer Museum given by Francis Alys. Rather than discuss the actual exhibit which opens officially tomorrow, he chose to discuss the new project still underway — an attempt to construct a floating bridge of boats to span the Strait of Gibraltar. Listening to him speak and go through his images, sketches, calculations, and the account of the actual legal red tape, was quite illuminating. Much of Alys’ work is collaborative and performative — it’s as much about the action of the creating as it is about the end result — in fact, sometimes all that is possible is the attempted action and the evidence of the attempt(s).

A particularly intriguing complexity which arises from these types of large scale performative pieces is the project’s reliance on humans as medium. Instead of working with clay or paint, Alys chooses to “compose” using non-standard, non-uniform, potentially emotionally or politically unstable elements — human beings. Doing so though makes the “success” of such action the more admirable to me. Why? Because this is not paint, but real individuals and real time converging for the sake of one exercise toward beauty. A medium with agency and infinite opportunity to deviate — and yet somehow a form is maintained and emerges out of what might otherwise appear to lead to chaos and disorder. From the man pushing an ice block through a maze of streets of Mexico until it eventually becomes nothing, to the 500 people in Lima using shovels to move a sand dune. The individual participants behave uniquely and yet the larger project possesses a shape and something ultimately emerges from the action, even if it seemingly has produced (or been reduced to) nothing.

I also started to think of teaching a poetry class as something of a performative art action as well — one that both instructor and students participate in to create a unique performance of texts through the interweaving of reading, physical action and behavior, and dialogue. Each class/performance becomes a unique instant of understanding and yet is also a “rehearsal” (to borrow a term from Alys’ exhibit) — which provides an alternative entrance or perspective on the work which continues to evolve with each “performance”

In some respects I’m just blathering at this point — but I really did enjoy the event quite a bit.

Part of the wonder for this whole evening was really rooted in the delight of human conversation. The friend I went with is currently studying studio art at UCLA and is an accomplished artist with many interesting projects underway. We ran into a friend of hers who was at the event with another friend and ended up in a lengthy discussion on art, literature, the artist’s life, Los Angeles, languages, film, media, and world outside academia. The richness of the discussion and its strange and eccentric turns were endlessly fascinating.

Our own discussion after we left the two of them and headed to Pinkberry continued to turn and explore. Sometimes it seems to me that a good conversation is something of an unplanned dance, a spontaneity of form, even a bit like the movement of a flock of sparrows or gulls whose movements coincide without deliberate plan evolving constantly a pattern which leans into beauty.

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