Art Workouts Old-New Time Interview

by ArtWorkouts / October 16th, 2012 / Posted in: CounterPULSE.

Hello all, we are Art Workouts / Abby Crain + Margit Galanter.  Here is our most recent interview below, that came out of our Summer Intensive workshop, edited a few weeks ago. If you would like to learn more about our workshop coming up at CounterPULSE starting NOVEMBER 9, just click HERE. As more themes emerge for our upcoming workshop, we just might post them here, and maybe months later!  :)

Our Blog: Art Workouts Site

The Interview:


ABBY: Margit, in the time I have known you (19 years!), it seems as if you have experimented with various movements towards or away from the heart of the machinations of the art world. In your perception, how have these choices impacted the tone, aesthetic, scope and development of your work? Would you say that these choices sprang primarily from an aesthetic leaning, or rather from concerns and desires about quality of life, values, etc.?  How do your choices of mentors and teachers, i.e., the art making lineage you have placed yourself within, impact and influence these predilections? How have these choices prepared or not prepared you for the economic landscape of art making today?

Perhaps more importantly to the questions art workouts is currently engaged with, in light of all of this, can you speak a bit about the way that time as functioned as you have moved closer and further away from the center of the art machine?  How does this interface with body time, life rhythms, the art itself, etc?

MARGIT:  I love the questions you are asking, so I’m going to leave them there in full and see what they spark. There are so many aspects to time and performance, some quite obvious, and others subtler, yet what you ask me brings up the fact that performative constructs seem to somehow mix time, itself. One works with material in some fashion and it is as if it extrudes from the past in through an alchemized present. We are drawing from – either a response to an incredibly recent action (in improvisationally-based work), or from memory, from bodily-memory, from the distortions of memory. And in fact it is the unique ways we distort that make the work its own. In one way, what matters is to what extent does the material and the enactment mix time, what is the unique blend?

I have had many art mentors over the years who are undeniably dedicated to their craft – from fields that span realms like dance, somatic research, and movement meditation – what they all have in common is that through enacting a life of research, their perspectives are truly unique. In this way, art certainly feeds life and the converse as well. This says something about time, about the time it takes to practice in depth, about the span of a life, and also helps me to remind me of its importance; the larger modern society is not in support of these investigations in any obvious mainstream ways, so it requires commitment and fascination. And to practice, one has to very obviously make space and time, which are more easefully composed with support. So, the movement research in fact paves the way of a life.

My art-making life began a new chapter in 2003. This was the year my mom passed away. Through the experience of the intimacy of her dying, a series of artistic streams arose, some of which continue today. The first project, The Whole (W)hole, was an originary myth as well as a story of embodied research at that time. I started over somehow, in a commitment to art as a thing to be made in concordance with being followed, which indeed was a commitment to living in time yet not buying into linear time. In that era of my life, my art practice involved sometimes doing in front of audiences but I didn’t feel that it was “performance”- the word felt limiting.

The fact that my dance and somatic life prepared me to care for my mother which in turn offered me the seeds for my ongoing dance research, taught me that time is indeed tricking us and that dance’s functions extend well beyond the frame. Old images can become more alive through living. Time moved on its head. Ideas arose out of the intense cauldron of human interaction and then changed and changed and changed, like a kind of alchemy. And it was in no way linear. Projects emerged and embedded underground for years, ideas lay dormant and then intermixed with someone else’s. It’s like this — a total mess and arising out of it gleaming nuggets of composition, guided by the rich and unwieldy conditions of life.

Lineage: it is a line, and like a river, it flows in wildly varied territories, patterned through the conditions of living and motion. There is a deep connection to time here, but they are not the same thing. Forms change through the lived experience. Time as a stream of life.

For me, art needs to fulfill a coherency for it to matter – what that means is in my art practice needs to speak to my aesthetic sense, physical health, politics, spiritual inquiry, and my intellectual fascinations, all. I think this stems from my responses as a younger person to the reductionism of being “a dancer,” that being a dancer early on somehow precluded me from some very live discourse, and at an early age I recognized this and refused to participate in the limitation and in doing so needed to expand my definitions and practices, (and took on rebellion and punk attitudes that indeed have their own baggage!). I didn’t understand just dancing and not being involved with the making of the context, the ideas behind it all — the parts that form the whole. I felt that the good stuff happened in little enclaves, somehow like mystery schools, developing ideas and a unique language, but the depths of these kinds of understanding weren’t making it into the public, how people talked about art, wrote about art, and sometimes even what was and is seen in performance. I wanted there to be Access. I don’t think I was alone and I think that artistic cultures are in constant flux and response. As a younger adult, in love with moving and dance, I felt to be at some kind of deficit and I have been driven throughout my investigations to be a part of shifting whatever the complex of this box was to me. It is my own drive, and a part of my politics. Could dance free itself into art and life and language, so the mind could live through the whole being, its native inheritance? This view was inspired by realms such as hybrid performance, ritual, activism, intercultural dialogue, somatics, sensory-perceptual research, club dancing, and homespun philosophy. I made my own contexts in coalition with others, over and over.

And time can literally suspend itself. I experienced once a coherency of time after intense practice with one of my teachers, Suprapto Suryodarmo, in Java, Indonesia. There was one moment I could feel all of time live in a single space, and in that state I experienced myself both fully still and glistening with life- hard to describe it. Then I watched the state unfold over the next few months, and see how it lives with me today. Time suspended, time rushed. In this work, we experienced practices that opened up time, merged aspects of disciplines, and expanded scopes of art and life. Cross-cultural practice indeed offered me insight into how my sense of time and space was constructed, and the embodiment of this particular constellation of movement meditation broke through some of the ridiculous mental constructions in the definitions of ‘art’ and ‘dance’ that I had inherited and unconsciously held onto.  Through my studies with Prapto, I was able to feel the breadth of what movement art could do, how the material of movement was a bud for whole views on life and art, and could contain ones politics and beliefs and artistry to blossom and crumble simultaneously. How you do it matters.  Where you do it matters. All the pieces effect the whole.

Some arms of my art practice these days have been eeking more into the frame of Art World than previously. This is in part due to working with you, and also perhaps the nature of the times; this interest in theatrical contexts is connected to my being willing to watch high art and see the power of working within a context that honors rigor and artistic/aesthetic practice, and in seeing work that is so incredibly inspiring in this Art frame from time to time. I like to get lost in large theaters with a group of people when the work moves me. It seems to be that forces and limitations can help to form things, like how a pearl or diamond is made from conditions and pressure.  On some level I could care less about the Art World – I am interested in the work, in the people who make the work, in the ways we receive and it is received and integrated – and yet, whatever the heck it is is a function and product of our societal constructs and a statement on a cultural set of values – economic, cultural and structural, and this matters, so I have to give a damn, to critique, to engage, or I will disengage, and therefore deny my interaction, which is basically naïve. We choose how we respond. What interests me is the engagement as a full-body one, complete with desire, disgust, thickness, fullness, life. Engaging is a process, one to practice through living, through time. Disengagement with understanding is a composition, conscious or not.

MARGIT: What are the pressures that help you form and understand art? What are the underlying drives that are in your art-making processes these days? What are early facets of your dancing that still are present today? What has disappeared? What is it about TIME that is drawing you to work on it right now? 

ABBY: Wow I love your response.  There is so much to think about! Thanks for the great questions.  I think I will start with your last question about time. “What is it about time that is drawing you to work on it right now?”

 I am currently drawn to work that thinks about the category and experience of time because I have become increasingly aware of the ways in which my understanding of and relationship to time shapes the work that I make. This comes out of my own artistic practice, to be sure, but also through such books as Rebecca Schneider’s brilliantPerforming Remains, which has been somewhat of a paradigm–shifter for me.

Recently, in the process of making “What We Are Doing When We Remember What We Are Doing,” I have been experimenting with the relatively simple and straightforward  practice of naming a specific period of time a performance, at any given point during our rehearsal. These performances take many forms. Sometimes they are solo or duet performances which the other performers sit out and watch. Sometimes we move between being both the performers and our own audience.  Sometimes we name a sequence of events a performance only after the fact, to be watched only in the replay of our memories and discussions.  Sometimes we invite a handful of people to come watch a portion of our rehearsal which we have named as performance. The limit of time and a change in category — from rehearsal to performance — is my only re-direction.  We make no attempt to alter the content or tone of what we are doing to render it more viewer-worthy. We do not stage or rework material to “improve” the quality of these performances.  So far, each time we have done this, the performances have been as interesting to me as anything else we have worked to construct or orchestrate. They are unquestionably performances, and furthermore, they are performances that I want to see. I am thus intrigued by the repercussions instigated by such a simple negotiation of time.  It seems to affect both our experience within and our perception of the performance, without changing its specific content.  Through this process, the power of  this simple tool of time has surprised me, and entices me to experiment further.

We are documenting each of these performances with a written text– sometimes during the performance itself, sometimes immediately after,  and sometimes within the next one or two days.  My original intent was to fashion a performance completely out of this written material of documentation.  If art is a trace of its actions, then I wanted to present an artifact of the creative process that exposed the performances as only that—a trace. As we began to work in this way, my experience of time and its unwillingness to remain in the categories of present and past, almost immediately unraveled this plan.  While a documentary text, at the moment of writing seemed to function as a simple  documentation of past events, when we began to work with these texts in ensuing rehearsals–when we re-performed them within the real time process of rehearsal;  time began to loop and weave.

Whereas previously, the process of “making” a performance in rehearsal to me has often seemed like it happens in instantaneous, or “be here now” time—through a perhaps idealized process of “being in the moment”, in which actions are felt and experienced in the perceived lucidity of presence, I am now beginning to see this process instead as an inconsistent yet noticeable weaving of past and present time.  When we remember what happened in rehearsal and attempt to recreate it in order to “ pick up where we left off”, when we look at a video of an improvisation and re-enact it in order to fashion it into something repeatable and tangible, or when we engage in any other of a myriad of tools central to the process of constructing a dance that we will hold in our memories until the and during the act of performance—are we not diligently engaged in bringing the past into the present and also the future?

In the process of this piece,  through our continual documentation, and the use of these documentary texts as material,  the specificities of the way that the subjective nature of memory interfaces with past time and thus impacts the process of making,  is becoming legible to me.  Without exception, the documents of our “performances” seem to vary widely from account to account.  Content that is central to one document is often completely omitted in another document.  Sentences that were in quotations as if they had been remembered perfectly, are also remembered perfectly and recounted in quotations,  with a completely different sequence of words and content, by another person. Perhaps I shouldn’t be been surprised by this, but I am.

Further, as the process continues, and I begin to ready the documentary texts for use in performance, I have found myself not only subconsciously,  but also intentionally editing what I choose to document.  I seem to eager to sacrifice accuracy in order to make the document flow better as a piece of text itself, or even at times to highlight one event and erase another.  As I have realized I am doing this, I have also begun to notice the extent to which the subjective and personal nature of each of our documentary practices are as much documentary of the perceptive and expressive predilections of each of us as authors, as they are of the events that have transpired. I read this realization as a proposal that, if past time is indeed woven into the process of making work, the action of this weaving is necessarily reflective  of the subjective filter of each of the participants who are engaged in the processes of remembering and reenactment.  In this way, the material of the work itself is rendered incredibly unstable and mutable. This realization is to me both obvious and surprising.

The piece has this begun to emerge as a looping of events, recollection, re-enactment, and even reenactment of the re-enactments.  As we work with the material, it continually transforms and shifts. In response to this instability, and as a way to exaggerate and thus perhaps understand it,  I have begun to fictionalize.  I choose to remember and document fictional conversations and events, which I then work with as text for the piece.  In this way, I am able to graphically reveal to myself the way that the happenings of our process are interwoven with my own projections, biases,  insecurities,  and aesthetic choices as I spin the materials in my consciousness during the process of “making the piece.” As I have thus abandoned the pursuit of “true” documenting, in favor of this move to exaggerate the subjective and prescriptive nature of the documentation process, the piece has came into focus for me.  The fictionalized document feels somehow more “true” to my experience of making the work, with its looping of time,  memory and subjectivity  than an attempt to render a “non-fiction” account.

Through this process, my relationship to time has begun to shift.  Previously, my experience of time was often couched in terms of “ body time” versus real time,  or the time I wanted to take with something as opposed to how much time I had to do it in—I was constanly in struggle with it.  Now, as I see the way that time can be used as a tool and  employed as a construct and have a tangible relationship to the subjective nature of its interaction with memory and perception, time is becoming for me something to work and experiment with rather than something to struggle against. It’s plasticity invites   creative interaction. I am fascinated by the possibility of the suggestion  that we cannot actually count on the interpersonal connection gained through memory of a shared experience  even though an experience was shared,  because the filters of our different  perceptions and memory process have the possibility of so graphically shaping exactly what the content of that memory is.  The way that this interfaces with my experience of reality, and that this then impacts  the process of making work,  is incredibly interesting to me.

Margit, I will answer the rest of the questions succinctly because my first answer was so long…

What are the pressures that help you form and understand art? What are the underlying drives that are in your art-making processes these days?

A desire to make and see things that are in opposition to a culture of poorly made products, easy satisfaction,  and quick fixes is a driving artistic pressure for me. I am interested in material that the audience must work with and engage with.

A desire to make and see things that truck in the intractable, messy, slow, and often sublime material of the body and embodied experience is a driving artistic pressure for me.

A desire to understand, expose, and then perhaps dismantle in order to present the possibility of reconfiguring the implicit structures of performance is an underlying drive.  I am interested in unearthing the embedded assumptions and forms of performance, and then reworking them as a means to expand the form.  I like it when I see this happen in other peoples work, and find myself aiming to do this as well.

“What are early facets of your dancing that still are present today? What has disappeared?”

I seem to have a drive since childhood towards disorientation and dizziness that persists.  The first dance I made, at age 14 ended with ten minutes of spinning in a circle, and much of my early movement practice consisted of hours spinning on a swing.  I still find myself wanting to disorient myself through movement because my body seems to get smarter when I do that. I am continually reckoning with the nausea and dizziness of people that I work with in almost all of my performance work.

I also had an early love of repetitive movement that, after a long period of abandonment because a college composition teacher had drummed it out of me, has resurfaced in my work in the past few years.  However even more recently, I can sense that I am beginning to move away from this a bit.

I would say that a desire to present something other than myself, or other than the performers I am working with has disappeared. This is not to say I am not interested in artifice, or that I believe in “authentic” performance,  but that I have no desire to disguise the embodied subjectivity of the performers as they play with modes of performance in order to make them or myself appear “ good “ or skilled at what we do.

I am also completely bored by a pursuit of virtuosity and movement invention, which are things I was very invested in as a younger dancer.  Sometimes a foray into these things emerges as a part of a process and can be fun, but to me they are no longer anywhere near a driving reason to make or pursue artistic work.

Margit, thanks for your questions!


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