Just Keep Sweeping

This article was originally published in The Visual Artists’ News Sheet, Issue Jan/Feb 2017. PDF: van17_justkeepsweeping_jfoley_2016

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Image by Frank Abruzzese, featuring Marjorie Potiron, Lisa Hoffman and Kate Strain.

At night the whole of Wexford seems to settle like an ocean in the dark beneath the mountain, dancing with the lights of fishers and anchored seafarers. The cattle breathe and stomp into the warm dark air of the corrugated sheds. In the grey-green light of a sleepless moonful night the rooster woke you twice. You came here to wake up after all. Here belongs to the side of the Blackstairs Mountains in County Wexford, home to the O’Gorman family farm for over 200 years and the Cow House Studios since 2007. Today is your final day on the residency called The Centre for Dying on Stage #3 and you are looking back through your notebooks where you have been making observations, like:

It is sunny. The leaves are autumnal. The wind wintery. Terracotta cows move over the green grasses in a complimentary trance.

[…]

 It is challenging to work together. It can be beautiful to agree not to do so. I am here in my studio, listening at a distance to these other voices finding the notes of an idea they can play together. It is all storytelling. And before storytelling it is experience and sleep and dreams.

You came here to wake yourself from a tyranny of analysis and critique. You came here to remember your intuition, to regain a creative process. Your notes say that the purpose of staging contemporary art must be to energise each other to think creatively and critically, to become more lively and to seek inter-inspiration with others, to tell stories and share experiences through words, objects, movements and stillness.

The late afternoon sun is shining and all the surfaces of the farmyard are awash with golden light. The inner spaces of the Cow House Studio playfully counterpoint those of the farmyard with a bursty kind of order. You have become fond of one of many boxes tucked high into the shelves of the main art room labeled “sentimental clothing”. This is the tidiest farm you have ever seen. Strangely, the place reminds you of the context of your own growing-up, though you were never a farming daughter. It’s a place where the agency of matter is perceived for what it is. An instance of this is the sloping field by the forest near the hay-shed, the one that kept flooding and was gradually acknowledged as a pond, duly excavated and kitted out with a small jetty, life-buoy, a kayak and some carp. Since your arrival on the farm you’ve watched their shadowed bodies rippling the surface tension many times, thinking how the tranquility here betrays a human preoccupation with prediction and control. One of the conversational slogans that emerged during the residency was ‘just keep sweeping’.

You recall the challenges of the previous five weeks, working to create rhythm within this community of strangers in order to bring something to the stage at Wexford Arts Centre[1]. Sudden rituals were established in the group, playfully yet with conviction. Three of five artists began to train together, going running every morning around the 4k loop, down and back along the hillside from the farm. At first, you didn’t quite relate. You were amused, yet somewhat anxious, at the fanaticism. You followed from a safe distance considering what was going on. Slowly, you began to get the levity of it. All this training was something wildly serious: a commitment to the process of art making as intuitive, spontaneous and systematic. Something quite trustable yet unpredictable. Training for the stage was training for life.

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Image by Frank Abruzzese.

 Ordinarily, you work in a context where engineering researchers devise telecommunications “networks for the future” between the worlds of industry, business and academia. The research center where you work is called CONNECT[2]. When a colleague emailed to ask how you were getting on at The Centre for Dying on Stage #3, you replied that it was ‘distracting’. This blunt assessment was not a complaint. It was the most relevant word you could think of, in that moment of correspondence, to describe the diffractive effect of different creative processes coming into relation and tension with each other, an effect troubled and intensified by flashes of cruelty and fear.

In CONNECT your creative and collaborative process has been described, sincerely and without malice, as a distraction. Quite directly, you have been named an ‘interruptor’, so called after an algorithm that interrupts electrical circuits when a fault occurs in the system. In that context the negative connotations of these words had become affirmatory, constituting a local vocabulary to describe healthy relations of difference. Now, on the final day of your residency, you see that all along you have been wondering what it means for you to describe the experience of The Centre for Dying on Stage #3 as distracting?

From the edge of your empty square white table, set at a diagonal to the white walls of your studio in the Cow House, you intuit this question. In every aspect of your experience on the residency, you intuit this question. You walk the loop walk daily and intuit this question. You go shopping, make and eat meals with the others, converse and share gestures and ideas with the others, and intuit this question. You pet Dolly, the farm cat, and intuit this question. You observe George, the farm peacock, and intuit this question. You sleep and dream and intuit this question.

You think, then, as the final day of your residency draws to a close under the orange light of a navy night, that The Centre for Dying on Stage #3 intends to distract. It institutes forms of distraction that seek to draw the minds of artists and audiences alike away into the tingly bodily presence of a mysteriously shared agency, with the will to fail and death acting as a decoy for a keener will to love and live. For that is what it means to distract: to draw the mind away… away from the obsessions, envy and fears mirrored endlessly in the narcissistic infrastructures of our time. So, after more than five weeks, wouldn’t you say that the interruptions there were rarely too intimate, that the jokes were cast in earnest, and that any distractions performed or provoked became, in the end, a rather ‘beautiful mess’[3]?

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Image by Frank Abruzzese, featuring Marjorie Potiron and Kate Strain.

Jessica Foley is an artist, post-doctoral researcher and writer-in-residence at CONNECT, Trinity College Dublin.

 

[1] One of the stipulations in the open call for The Centre for Dying on Stage #3 was that the selected artists would present some aspect of work developed during the residency through the public forum of Wexford Arts Centre, specifically by using the infrastructure and resources of its theatre. The invitation to engage with the discipline of theatre and to explore modes of performance and performativity was one of the things that made this particular iteration of The Centre for Dying on Stage so compelling. On the 12th of November at 3pm, two performances took place on the stage at Wexford Arts Centre. The first, How Soon Gone is Gone, was by Alex Mirutziu, and the second, First Glue/Stage Business, was by Jessica Foley, Lisa Hoffmann, Marjorie Potiron and Steven Randall.

[2] Visit www.connectcentre.ie for information on CONNECT’s research.

[3] This is how Marjorie Potiron and Lisa Hoffmann describe the purpose of their artistic process, to systematically generate a beautiful mess.