THRESHOLD SESSIONS: ACTIONS IN THE VESTIBULE
Site-specific one-night performance residencies taking place behind the peephole at the gallery; an occupation of interstitial space.
SESSION 1: Self-Soothe/ Soothe City by Sarah-Dawn Albani
Self Soothe/Soothe City considers the in-between space that the lullaby occupies as a means to transform the fear and anxiety in our bodies into powerful sensations of connectedness. Savernack Street gallery is considered as incubation chamber- haven for transformation- sound as method- performance as parameter- the threshold to another state/way of being.
Artist bio: Sarah-Dawn Albani practices theory. Her recent work confronts the isolation and anxiety of our digital age and its effects within our bodies. This confrontation becomes poetry, objects, sound, athletic action, family, home.
10/17/15 7pm start time, durational. End time undetermined.
Curated by Carrie Katz & Natasha Matteson
Interview with Sarah-Dawn Albani about her piece:
NM: Why self-soothe?
SDA: Learning to self-soothe has become a marker of individuation in our highly individual culture. In contemporary parenting there is a real fear that not letting your child learn to self-soothe means they will become needy, dependent, or worse- as they grow older. Not knowing how to self-soothe is seen as a handicap in a culture that exalts the individual and demands that they be emotionally and materially self-contained in order to be realized or whole. I am fascinated by the impossibility of this effort and what it signals regarding our belief systems and values. The ideal person is everything for themselves– they are mother and father and lover to themselves– which of course is beautiful on one level– and on another is the continuation of a process of cultural atomization that the digital age and the internet is speeding up and making possible. Independence is not negative in and of itself, and my piece is surely about independence and self-care, but the concern that brings me to this work is: What are we losing in this process? What do we give up when we individuate and relinquish a sense of connectivity and dependency? What actions can we take to regain connection, especially as we endure the paradoxical experience of hyper-visibility in the virtual and a growing invisibility in the material world?
NM: How is this work a departure from your previous work?
SDA: Strangely, this is an effort to forget the audience, which I am not sure can be done, but the hope is that in doing so I can give something quite special to the witnesses. I think I always want to do that, but like most humans I have developed an acute awareness of the other. As an artist I have been taught to always consider the potential readings of my work, to be self-critical from the beginning in order to not be misunderstood. This has begun to feel really superficial and ultimately impossible. Instead I am more interested in using the history and structure of contemporary art to question my own potential and desire. To make for pleasure and out of curiosity– because I don’t know what will happen or the ways that you might misunderstand me and that is exciting and daunting.
I have always been interested in processes that transform the self- or get you outside yourself -even for a moment. It is deeply troubling to me to observe how stifled we find ourselves- the extent to which we are self policing and limiting our own possibilities. The extreme fear and anxiety that keeps us from daring to act on our desires and dreams is multiplied in the echo chamber of the virtual world and we are pathologized and medicated into submission. Getting older I feel really rebellious again and I want to make work that challenges me and what I have been taught “good” or “effective” work is. I just don’t care about what I am supposed to do anymore and I hope that this will come through more than anything. In this same vein I am much more interested in making work that uses my experiences as a mother explicitly- after spending a lot of energy removing such biographical markers from my work.
NM: The piece takes place in an enclosed space, which is simultaneously visible to the observer. Can you talk about the tension between the vulnerability of this action and the voyeurism inherent to the site?
SDA: I got really excited about how controlled this space is in terms of a set of parameters upon my body and my viewers. It illustrates a type of looking that is happening all the time these days- we produce a self online and then anyone, anywhere can look at it- we know they are looking, but we the producer, can not see them, and therefore are really vulnerable in that space. As a parent of teenagers I have been especially interested and concerned about the level of anxiety and paranoia that occurs with this type of gaze. Where does the power reside? Is there a way to reclaim it as the producer who is unable to see or know their consumers?
We expose ourselves online because we are in the safety of this womb like space- the glow of our screen warming us- but we are totally vulnerable and unlike the live performance- we are also captured by the structure forever- what we produce there never goes away. To make myself vulnerable in performance has always been about a revision of power dynamics inherent in ways of looking and consuming. I am showing you what I want you to see, I am setting a boundary and constructing the structure you will see me through. Yet the viewer’s interpretation of what is viewed will always confirm our vulnerability and dependency upon the other- an essential feature in our production of self. This tension can be seen as a central misunderstanding- the rupture that precedes the world-the impossibility of knowing the other. The anxiety that accompanies this relationship as it occurs in virtual spaces can not keep building up in our bodies and minds- it must be dealt with. Using the voice and sound as a means to release tension and anxiety has been profoundly constructive for me- but it also points to behaviors that are frequently misunderstood and pathologized. What does it mean to peep into this hole in a building and see a woman tending to her own psychology in a way that is perhaps sort of wild or frightening? Are people who don’t conform to behavioral norms in public always a bit vulnerable in a society with so many unspoken regulations of physical space?
NM: This is a very psychological piece. Can you talk more about this aspect of your practice?
SDA: I need the space that performance art makes for behaviors that have been socialized out of me through a process of shaming. I am really aware that the behaviors I find exciting and interesting as well as soothing and stabilizing for body and mind: types of movement, singing, humming, clicking, stroking are frequently discouraged early in our development and tend to mark pathologies that are historically cut or medicated away. This piece seems especially to point at a type of looking that is particularly tied to marginalized bodies and their objectification through a process of pathologizing, namely women and their inherent hysteria.
Repetition is central to pleasure and nurturing practices and yet we are supposed to outgrow these practices or transform them into appropriate adult behaviors. It is embarrassing to be caught singing to oneself, it is childish. To show myself in this way is embarrassing- it’s also absurd, and sometimes after I perform these types of work people tell me that they could not stop themselves from laughing, it seemed silly or funny. I would never be surprised or upset to elicit this sort of response- I know that I am on this fine line where affect is read as affectation and it seems that I am playing at a sort of craziness. The uneasiness we have at seeing someone in a kind of altered state is really understandable and we use laughter to protect ourselves from seeing emotional and psychological vulnerability up close.
NM: What is your interest in long-duration performance work? How do you anticipate the interior and exterior experiences of the piece developing as time passes?
SDA: I don’t know if I have a specific interest in durational work. I am interested in extreme states, especially the stuff that gets to some of the fundamental aspects of how we function. I have always been curious about disrupting our expectations of ourselves with experiences we don’t know the outcome of. I want to see what happens so duration becomes an element.
Also I am lazy and easily distracted. I have a longstanding desire to test myself and engage in practices that are meant as thresholds to other states or levels of skill- but I guess I need a witness. Maybe in this piece I am more curious about isolation as a type of extreme state and the implications of seeking isolation in order to tend the self. Living in a city I know I am being witnessed and there is nothing I can do about it- this awareness becomes background noise and is integrated into how we experience ourselves. I hope that the duration of this piece allows me to sit with this awareness quite literally. I have a deep curiosity about how this will feel as the piece goes on. I know that I am in control of how much influence I let the relationship I have with other people’s ideas or consciousness have over my behavior and experience of myself. I feel so much more satisfied when I am conscious of that influence and limiting its power. Generally I am trying not to anticipate what will be happening outside of the gallery- but am excited to see how people respond- if they stay or come back or are totally confused- I have never really tested these ideas over a long period of time and I don’t really have a sense of how an audience engages this stuff.
NM: Can you talk about your background in sound and describe your concurrent project, Angels? What draws you to that medium?
SDA: I come from theater and learned to sing on stage, learned to sing to my kids, had a band, had a solo project. I wrote music- but I loved and needed total improvised sound. Maybe one time I was a little too high and discovered that my voice was this tether to my body that was really helpful and maybe even got me through something frightening. Eventually I had a project where I would create this visual score- drawings and symbols that would help me open up an improvised narrative in song- strange ideas would come forth, interesting insights into feelings or physical sensations in my body- it was really pleasurable and gave me energy and confidence as well as place to cry and release shit. Angels grew out of that and is amazing because it is a collaboration- so it’s this whole process of letting go in front of someone else- the kind of space usually reserved for lovers or intimates. I met John Honey (my collaborator) at an event I hosted with Kiki Hunt at SFAI- where he sang- and he had this way of singing that I felt really drawn to. So we started doing these timed sound sessions- 10 or 15 minutes all over the city just sitting down together and singing however we wanted to- but also listening to each other and communicating with the sound we make. It feels like a light goes on in your head or something expands inside you and there just isn’t room to think about stupid stuff or let the chatter of to-do lists and anxieties fill your mind. Sound has this possibility and I get really excited and energized by it- it’s a kind of reclamation of your own will and interior space.
NM: Performance work inhabits a spectrum between abrupt, aggressive, public gestures and quiet, concealed, vulnerable actions. How has your work moved around on this scale? Where do aggression and softness belong in performance art?
SDA: I used to feel really afraid of being vulnerable in front of an audience. I came from this theater of taking up a lot of space and demanding the audience pay attention- this vaudeville, punk rock, busking, make-an-entrance diva, sort of style. I felt totally exhausted after performing and I burnt out. So when I started studying performance art and saw this incredible range of possibility- performance art as this radical space of transformation- of psychic and physiological transformation- a place of exposure and reflection- I just kept going back to it. I have made gestures that are really hard to ignore- really physical stuff with a clear component of pain or endurance- right now I am interested in a type of work that is almost impossible to see or hear as an audience- something to challenge the spectacle of now- something hard to document and hard to post on instagram. I am interested in live performance because it doesn’t translate into video or photo documentation- those things can be beautiful and function independently- but I want to consider the smell, the temperature, the humidity of the thing- like really what is the haptic experience? When I think of my contribution to the art of my time I get nauseated at the obscene volume of images in the world and the impossibility of reaching anyone except as another contribution to this fascinating process of fragmentation. To reach ten people at a performance- or like the five people who witnessed me being tattooed by headlamp in a dark shed in a backyard in the mission- this has far greater appeal to me. To me this is why performance art continues to be the edge of what happens out here- the contemporary art world’s bastard child or something. In my rebelliousness that still has a great deal of power- to be where everyone is not- to persist in an underground practice. I don’t want to be instagram famous- I would rather my work disappear except for the telling of the tale- that is the scale I am interested in right now- bodily scale, mnemonic scale.
For more information about her work, visit Sarah-Dawn Albani’s website.