Luther Burbank is a man. He is a picture of a man. He is a picture of a potato that is a man that is Luther Burbank.

I’ve been working on a project for the past semester with two amazing collaborators, Willie Filkowski and Nola Smith. Willie is a redhead and an interarts major. Nola’s hair is black and she is a dance major. Both are incredible thinkers, performers, collaborators, but most importantly, they are incredible people. They have made the weird/frustrating/impossible process of making-a-thing both engaging and very, very fun.

We’ve been working on a show for the past several months that will finally be presented in studio one (in the Walgreen Drama Center) next thursday through friday – April 18th, 19th, and 20th – with support from Basement Arts and arts@Michigan. It’s called WHO IS LUTHER BURBANK? and promises to be something very, very interesting.

WHO IS LUTHER BURBANK? is a piece (a work of dance-theatre? multi-media performance? a play? I’m not quite sure!) that starts with a found text. Nola brought to the group a book, Our Wonder World Vol. X: The Quiz Book, a children’s encyclopedia of sorts that was originally published in 1914. It is a compendium of facts, answers, tricks, riddles, games, histories, conundrums and questions. Questions like, What does a sailor do in his play time? What is tree surgery? What sort of cat is allowed in a library? and, most importantly, Who is Luther Burbank?

This non-sequitorial inquisitive barrage of a book set us on a path that led back to Mr. Burbank himself. We found him to be an inspiration, a mythic figure of history that meant both everything and nothing to us. And that is where our show begins. From there, we expanded to potatoes, to home vocations for girls, to dances, to games, into ourselves, and into the world of Luther B. I hope that you find this interesting, and that you might consider coming out to see it! I promise that it will be a great time.

Just over a week away from the performance, things are looking good. We’ve got some great stuff happening. Plenty of stuff to do, but it’s coming together really nicely! I’ll check back in a week: just a few days before our performance to document some of the tech-week process. Hope to see you there!

Manifesto on the Rain Part III: Populism

I’m not very fond of the word esoteric. It tastes like old coffee and roundtable discussions with art professors who were painters when they were 22 but decided against art-making and turned to purist academia. I don’t think there are many things that are truly esoteric – that is, something intended to only be understood by a select group of people. James Joyce’s Ulysses comes to mind as being a very, very difficult to comprehend and difficult to approach novel. But I still think it is approachable. It demands a lot of time and energy, but to call it truly esoteric is denying the universality of the written word. Contexts are unavoidable, of course. A paper written by a botanist for other botanists might not be inherently comprehendible. But (if written correctly) it is approachable in the right way. But this is with regards to papers.

Art making, I believe, is a populist thing. Art is informed by human experience. And no human experience is invalid. And therein lies a central philosophy of mine with regards to art-making: it should be accessible, it should be simple, it should exist at a human level.

My definition of accessibility might not be a universal one. I come from a contemporary music background, where accessibility is seen (in some small circles) as a swearword. It may be the optimist and romantic in me, but I think art is (and should be) universally accessible. Open-mindedness is perhaps the biggest individual factor here.

My medium – performance – can often be seen as esoteric and uninviting, as pretentious and hierarchical. You have to be in on the joke, or otherwise you are stupid and uncultured. And certainly, some performance is conceived of in this way. And such is the public antagonism toward performance art, modern dance, modern art, and mediums that delve into abstraction. But it seems like an awful negative way of looking at something as beautiful and important as art.

But to focus my argument a bit more: I think performance is the most universal medium. I believe that nothing is more human, more accessible, than one person perfuming for another. All pretenses are abandoned, all ideas of virtuosity left at the door (although virtuosity certainly has a place).

While I can understand why some may view performance as pretentious, I think it may well just be the universal art form. I believe in the power of connection through the body – the “irreducible medium” of performance, to borrow from Martha Wilson. I believe in the power of the shared experience of the body. I am drawn to situations where anyone can be an art maker, where talent or predisposition or age or ability does not inhibit one’s inclusion in the age-old tradition of making stuff that has meaning. I believe in the power of simplicity and collaboration, the power of openness and realness.

I do not believe that anyone needs any context before experiencing a work of art. I believe that simply the context of being human is enough.

Manifesto on the Rain Part II: Non-Artifice

Art is fake. It is people and objects pretending to have a significance that they don’t actually have. Paint means nothing and a painting means nothing. This is the place where I start as an artist, the endpoint, the place where nothing has significance anymore. Of course, this means everything has significance. But such is post-modernism.

If nothing is significant, we must make something that actually contains meaning to make the truest and most honest art. That, I think, is my goal in art-making. I want to honestly show someone something that is true. And for now, all I know to be true is that of my own experiences and my own self.

When I was young I loved having friends spend the night. We’d stay up late playing video games and finally decide that we were too tired to continue and retire to sleeping bags. But at this point, a curious thing happened. We stayed up. And we began to talk. And at these points, I was the most vulnerable and the most honest. And so were my friends. We were sharing things together – things about our oddslot lives and our psyche and our experiences. It was affecting. It was beautiful. But, of course, I know this to be not a unique experience, it’s a near universal scenario. We’ve all been in situations where honesty takes over and the pure humanity of existence comes into focus. I want to create art in that moment. The moment where the young boy tells his friend his nightmares, something he would never share in the light. The moment where everything is broken and only ourselves remain.

Theatre is lying. Acting is lying. It is pretending and being as convincing as possible but still not true. There is no honesty in art. The work I make is also lying, but I’m trying to push it to something further. To a place of honesty and realness and non-artifice. I want to make work in those moments.

Part 1

Manifesto on the Rain: Part I Impermanence

I’m articulating these things because I don’t know if they are entirely clear to me, yet. I hope my personal exploration will be, at the very least, interesting, and at the very best, encouraging. I gladly invite anyone to disagree with me, call me out on poor ideas (or writing), or stare confused.

A while ago, I found some graffiti in a bathroom stall that read “Art is Nothing Permanent.” A few weeks later, the graffiti had reproduced and included such gems as “Art is Permanent Nothing,” “Nothing is Permanent Art,” “Is Art Nothing Permanent?” “Nothing is Permanent Art” and, in a dangerous act of defiance and self-righteousness, “Get your heads out of your asses and add something beautiful to the world!” There is a lot to say about this, it was rather a remarkable find. And in a beautifully cosmic moment, all of that conversation has now been painted over, with only my fond memories and a few pictures I took on my cell phone as proof of it’s existence.

But first I think I’ll address that last bit of writing on the wall – a call to add beauty to the world. While I can’t really argue with the sentiment of that gentle bathroom-goer, I am going to defend the courageous philosophers willing to engaging in a discourse of dangerous thoughts – the thoughts about why art is the way it is and what is permanent about it.

While I do think it’s good to add beautiful things to the world, I’d hate for anyone to do it without thinking first. (Beauty is not why I make art, but if beauty is why you make art, make sure you are thinking about what you are doing.) Art is dangerous and you need to have some understanding of it and your relation to it before you go off and create something as remarkable and potentially destructive as beauty.

But the nonsensical conversation on permanence in art really did get me thinking. It poses an interesting solution to a question I’ve asked myself for a long time – why am I making work that is made for performance? (Originally this was explicitly musical performance, but as of late has expanded to include theatre, performance art and all its variances).

Recorded media makes a lot more sense to create than performance, when you think about it. It can be played back and replicated infinitely – every listen is another authentic and exact experience of the art. Recorded music, at least, has become so ubiquitous that live shows are praised for sounding “just like the record.” (Which is an interesting predicament, because the record was intended to sound like live performance?) Recorded media is the medium by which our generation engages with music, recorded media is the way our generation engages with theatricality, recorded media is portable and hip and new and personal and ever-expanding and something that should appeal to me a lot more than what it does.

So why doesn’t it appeal to me? I think the bathroom graffiti gets close to an answer. The experience of “live” art (whether this means a live performance or the experience of standing in front of a “live” painting) is inherently an impermanent one – an experience that will end. And that makes the moment all the more special. In time based-mediums (like music, performance, theatre, etc…) the element of impermanence is compounded by the reality that time is passing and the moment that existed 3 seconds ago will never be again. It is a constant race of mortality and the passing of time that makes the experience unique and uniquely engaging (no two performance will ever be the same to any of the performers and no two performances will ever be the same to the audience members, even if the material is the same. There are variances in personal, emotional, and temporal states that create literally infinite possibilities for experiencing art). You can stretch this into an idea about mortality – that the impermanence of art reminds us of our own impermanence and thus creates a human connection with something that is not human – but I don’t know how comfortable I am making that bold of a leap. But that truth of impermanence is brutal and fascinating, that truth that art doesn’t exist anymore once we stop engaging with it.

I think this is why digital and recorded mediums don’t interest me as much. They exist in duplicate, they exist in ones and zeros and magnetic forms that I can’t see and I can’t see deteriorate in front of me. This is why (I think) the live art experience (whether it be music, visual art, poetry, etc) is much more engaging. I might change my mind in the future. I have a great love of pop music (a medium which exists very strongly in a recorded form) and want to produce a pop album someday.

This all being said, I must note that recorded media is, in fact, just as impermanent as live performance. The difference is perhaps decay rate. Live experience evaporates before your eyes and recorded media takes much longer before it is consumed by the ether.

But I think that right now my heart lies with performance, with impermanent objects and the constant reminder that the event you are experiencing is entirely unique and undefinable. I think that this is an element of my work that is vital: awareness of its own impermanence.

Which then leads me back to the graffiti on the bathroom stall. Is nothing permanent art? Is the idea of nothing permanent art? Is permanent nothing? Is art simply the awareness of impermanence?

More questions.

Manifesto on the Rain: Prelude

I think writing is good for an artist. I think language is a great way to communicate ideas about a piece, make difficult work more accessible, and is vital in a relationship between art and the world. It seems rather simple, but it might not be as apparent to people actually involved in artistic work. For instance, to me, time spent writing words is time I could spend doing any number of other things that would relate more explicitly to the craft I’m going to school for. But I’m going through a bit of an artistic crisis where I know neither my medium nor my method, so all of these ideas are getting a bit more jumbled that I had intended. And now I am here writing. And I think I’ve come to one of the best benefits of writing-clarifying ideas for both the world and myself. In a way, I think I need to write a manifesto for myself, as my way of introducing my artistic self to the world and to myself. Its something that numerous people have told me to do, so I think I’m gonna do it. And I think I’m going to use this public forum to do so, and hopefully the results are interesting! But first, I feel like I should share a bit of myself and explain this artistic ‘crisis’ of sorts.

When I was a senior in high school, I went to have a lesson with the wonderful Evan Chambers, the professor I’m studying under now. At the start of the lesson (which was filled with such an enormous amount of incredible advice that I was overwhelmed and have now forgotten most of it) he paused for a minute or two. He was looking over my scores and he turned to me, looked me in the eye, and said “Yes. I think you should be a composer.” I was…well I was very surprised. I had no idea that such a decision was weighing on those few glances at my poorly written music. I was flattered, of course. But I was also very, very surprised. But then I knew that I could be a composer, I knew that I could call myself that.

But now I don’t know what that word means anymore. Or if it applies to me anymore.

I am a composer, yes. I spend time every week writing music. I spend time in rehearsals with musicians that are playing my music and I spend time working with my colleagues in the creation of new music. But more and more I’m writing music that doesn’t fit in with what ‘music’ is. More and more I’m drawn to alternative forms of musical expression or maybe artistic expression.

Recently I’ve been drawn to music that doesn’t follow a linear structure, that finds new ways of thinking about time or architecture, that incorporates spoken word or written word, that explores visualization, or that explores the highly personal and the entirely specific. My work has shifted in a new direction that is not putting notes on a page, but instead working with text, movement, and the oddslot visual. It might not even be music anymore. And so I’ve been drawn to performance. You could call it performance art, alternative theatre, or maybe even dance, but I still like to think of it as music.

Art has exploded in terms of definition and scope in the last century, and I consider myself a proud follower of the avant-garde, the radical, and the new. And it is within that that I am creating my work. But there is so much to define when nothing is definable, so I’d like to take some time on this blog to explore this and explore my own personal ideas when it comes to art. Dear reader, you may not agree with me, and that is okay. I don’t want you to. I want you to push me and I want you to push yourself.

I’m excited to see where this leads me. I hope you are too.

In response to the obituary published on January 22nd, 2013 12:06pm

I do believe that we have stumbled upon a corpse.

Poetry is dead.

We are the damned now.

What is there left to say? But

poetry has been dead since the first words were written. We’ve been defiling the poor broken body ever since.

As artists, I think it’s important for us to believe in a microcosm. We need to believe that it is not one bang that makes the world end, but instead merely a whisper. An avalanche being born of straw and camels. That is, we are poets merely because we believe that our medium is loud, but not just loud-louder, louder than ever could be imagined. We believe that all power is derived from the written word and that power is the microcosm of individual lives. That the power of the word is derived from use between disparate individuals and communication between them. What a wonder that anyone ever understands anything anyone says in the first place.

I went to see Angela Davis speak on MLK day. Afterward I was speaking to my best-buddy and awesome creative person, Nola, and her breath told me how antsy she was. How can I go back to doing laundry now that we have heard this woman speak, she told me, how can we keep going having realized how wrong the world is and how much work needs to be done. It’s an impossible question, but it stares like the face of clock across the room and clicks every second. It’s a question that I have to face and we all have to face. Is the art that Nola and I make actually changing anything? Are we screaming in the forest with no one to hear us? Do we actually make sounds?

It’s a terrible predicament. A socially conscious person turns to art as a way of making change but doubts the ability of art to be socially conscious. Or, at the very least, socially relevant. Which brings us to our recently deceased poetry. Alexandra Petri says that “it used to be that if you were young and you wanted to Change Things with your Words, you darted off and wrote poetry somewhere. You got together with friends at cafes and you wrote verses and talked revolution. Now that is the last thing you do.”

I beg her to look closer at those cafes:

I believe that our laundry needs to be done. Our laundry needs to be done because the poems need to be written. And the poems need to be written because they are poems and to hell if they are read or not. Poetry is dead. But we are not. And I can’t think of any better life to live than one that screams violently and perversely loud and does it through any means necessary. There needs to be someone screaming in the world. And that might as well be me. And it might as well be through poetry because it screams loud enough for me in the microcosm.

I believe in the microcosm. I think that that’s enough. If I’m lucky, someone else might scream along with me. Maybe we scream at the same isolated corner of the forest. But maybe someone oddslot else hears and they can do the laundry for someone else and suddenly we are a lot closer to there being no more laundry to do for anyone in the world. Prisons will be converted into mass laundry facilities and we will all bring our clothes to be washed there and we will all scream. Or some of us will. I don’t care if poetry is dead. Let it rot in its grave. I’m much more concerned with the fate of the living.