Artist Project: Lunar Performance by Barbara Rose Haum
Barbara Rose Haum's Disrupting Pharoah's Dream: Devouring Mother,
Lunar Performance: Creating an Architecture of Text in Time, #6.
December 6th, 2002.
On December 6th, 2002, Barbara Rose Haum's ongoing project Lunar Performances celebrated the new moon, and the arrival of the new lunar month of TEVET. This event was sponsored by New York University's Department of Arts Technologies and took place at the NYU Television Center. It was a first Internet2 exploration for Torn Textbooks, in collaboration with artists Janet Davidson-Hues and Maria Velasco of the University of Kansas.
Lunar Performances are based on 6,000-year-old biblical narratives. They are then fragmented and re-structured under an umbrella of contemporary stories, such as fairy-tales, newspaper-clippings and biographic writings. For this performance, we wanted to explore new possibilities for language suspended in virtual space. What kind of narratives might be possible through the absence and displacement of the body?
Biblical text as a starting point for linguistic interventions
Interrupting biblical text, a 3000-year-old linguistic tradition, is Haum's primary vehicle for exploring paternal law and order. The Internet2 event made new "adventures of the plural" possible. The performance brought apparently unconnected narratives such as biblical excerpts, newspaper clippings and theoretical texts together, within multiple geographic locations, with an intent on looking for ways to burst open new possibilities and exchanges. Torn Textbooks celebrates impermanence through interweaving personal memories, while interrupting the cultural fabric of the present and the past. The goal is to create an opening for pluralistic narration, and multiple memories within different sites for naming and re-naming.
This Internet2 event represented a new dimension in the purposeful shifting of boundaries. According to the theorist Donna Haraway, new technologies can be tools of liberation: "organisms and bodies can no longer be regarded as unities with clear boundaries and a specific, unchangeable identity; new concepts like code, network, fragmentation, and dispersion have replaced old hierarchical models."
The effects of these technologies are an extension of Haum's former investigations and the linguistic interventions of the Torn Textbooks performances. These are based on trespassing, culturally imposed boundaries and the relationship between text and time, through destabilizing the language of the father.
Structural dispositions of Lunar Performances
The linguistic method behind Lunar Performances is that the current month's biblical text portion becomes the starting point of all accompanying narratives. This month's text focuses on the Israelites in Egypt. It documents a beginning of the culturally imbedded linguistic memory of otherness. Contemporary newspaper clippings that address current tensions in the Middle East mirror the extension of old traditions and their influences on today's vocabulary and thinking.
For this event, both the biblical portions as well as the New York Times text were interwoven with theoretical linings that speak of two different developmental stages in our relationship to text. These are: 1) Abjection (an internalization of otherness) as a way of remembering separation; 2) Desire for the lost mother.
Language and violence
Haum's intention is to consider language and its memory as a re-inforcing tool for potential violence, as well as how we can look to language for moments of transformation. Barbara Becker argues that in the multiply located structure of an Internet2 exchange, "the other, who is apparent only as a symbolically represented body or as a controllable artifact, no longer appears in his or her irritating alienness. Thus the avoidance of contact with the real world and with concrete persons enforces the subject's dominant position in his or her own world of imagination."
Filling hunger and re-placing voids
At the beginning of the performance Haum passed out engraved silver spoons that had passages from the text of the performance inscribed on to them. She asked the audience to take a minute to respond with a short sentence, a free association to the text. The silver spoons represented nourishment through text. They also represented an extension of the silver cutlery boxes, situated in the middle of the overall installation. The silver cutlery boxes symbolized the repetition and transference of text from one generation to the next.
One of the intents of Torn Textbooks is to encourage audience participation. The audience was therefore invited to take part in the creation of a spoken/written text-sculpture. By locating themselves within the performance, through inscribing themselves within a moment of reflexive memory we witness a "theater of becoming." As Internet2 performativity gives new meaning to traditional boundaries it interrupts and heightens "the oppositions that structure its presence/absence, originality/derivativeness, authenticity/inauthenticity, etc."
Throughout the recitation, a male actor in New York City (Joe Wachs) exchanged and repeated the text with an "invisible other," a female reader in Kansas, pointing to the "absence" of the invisible. The invisibility of the second reader allowed us to explore different forms of theatrical interruptions, utterances and poetic interventions. Both readers worked and explored the time delay of 1.5 seconds, and used this as a tool of negative space, that allowed for extended breaks and/or ruptures in the text.
For this performance, the artists attempted to create a poetic language that points to "the recovery of the maternal body within the terms of language, one that has the potential to disrupt, subvert, and displace the paternal law."
At the end of the multi-layered text and image exchanges, we collected the short writings of the audience, and intertwined them through yet another reading, with the non-visible female voice and absent body in Kansas. A close-up camera showed the hand of Haum's seven year old daughter copying the biblical text with an ink feather. The loud ripping of pages and empty book spines exposed the vast, open void and the potential for its replacement. Speech is represented here as the "symbolic dissatisfied," pointing to the roots of an absence that can never be filled: the devouring of pleasures.
This project was presented at the Tokyo International Forum on Performance Studies: Resistance, Mutation and Cultural Hybridities December 14-15, 2002, Tokyo, Japan.
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