MOEBIUS : SELF
PRESENTATION ON MY ART PROCESS 2016
I spend a lot of time thinking about moebius strips.
I also spend a lot of time thinking about bodies.
Moebius strips are a lot like bodies.
A moebius strip is a three-dimensional figure eight. It appears to have two sides but is really only one surface, with one side and one continuous boundary (or edge). In this way, it has no particular orientation—its surface is infinitely traceable without interruption.
If you imagine walking along the strip, you would return to your starting point having traversed the entire length on both “sides” but without ever crossing an edge. You’re on the outside, then suddenly you’re on the inside, but then the inside becomes the outside again, but actually the outside IS the inside…
This torsion of inside and outside is much like a body’s reflexive surfaces, where the boundaries between interiority and exteriority, oneself and the world, are in constant reciprocity with one another. Bodies exist in space, and it’s as much the space that defines a body, in contrast, as the body itself does. They are mutually constituted, defined by this moving and malleable line between them.
I’m interested in these planes of contact, these permeable membranes, like skin, that simultaneously contain and demarcate, and allow for connection and flow.
Bodies are our means and our medium in the world, and the very substance of us as subjects. So we are both object and subject, enfolded. Moebius strips are a great physical manifestation of this relationship which is otherwise so hard to define.
And this where my work primarily probes. For me, corporeality is the most accessible framework for understanding the complexities of being a subject. This view of subjectivity assumes that bodily knowing is knowing—that a body has its own functional intelligence not lesser than the mind’s. This is a pretty classically feminist understanding of subjectivity and embodiment.
My entree to the world of performance art was born from a natural inclination to combine visual art with dance and was fueled by my own fierce feminism. I found a rhythm in thinking choreographically, thinking through my body, to actualize my ideas, and I haven’t strayed much from this rhythm in the last ten or twelve years.
It’s almost like I’m making maps of myself for myself, using my body as the primary thinking tool to better understand what it means to be a subject among subjects. I wrote about this in grad school, employing the term corpography to talk about new corporeal practices where one’s body image and one’s sense of self could be “mapped” within the actual territory of the body. This is where performance art can either be so amazingly strong or be so terribly bad.
I’m compelled by things and shapes that reference a body or evoke bodilyness. I understand myself more deeply through the process of engaging bodily forms or materials, sometimes externalizing what feels interior and transposing my sense of bodilyness into/onto an object, or sometimes the reverse—finding resonance in an object or material that I encounter that suddenly makes me understand (in a visceral, not verbal, way) something about the experience of being embodied.
In this way, I’m particularly drawn to making and using various containers—jars and sacks and womb-like things which contain just like a body contains.
In some ways, bodies are vibrant containers for visceral mass—assemblages of many multiple containers brought together, smushed together, and held more or less in place by our skin. And our skin, if you think about it, does not straightforwardly have separate sides—it opens to our insides, and vice versa.
Containment and accessibility are really two sides of the same.
The act of cutting paper into a moebius strip feels like making one of those corpo-graphical maps. Simultaneously tracing / creating the topography of the moebius is a reminder of simple presence. The act is not separate from me. What’s left is physical evidence of that presence—objects lingering in place of a body no longer there. So is the value in the act of doing, or in the vitality of this residue?
Part of my job at MoMA in New York, performing other artist’s work, was to help curators think through what it means to do so in a repetitive, durational way and how this affects the artwork itself. How does a piece change when it’s performed again and again and again, rather than just once, as perhaps initially intended? Or for a piece to be performed for an audience at all when it was originally created solely for the experience of the one actually doing it? And how do we even value art that is about that kind of process, that kind of direct experience, and not about any particular object or final product?
Privileging process and direct experience over product gives space for questioning as more than just means. There’s a lot more room for thinking about, and valuing, the subjective charge of physical presence.
So this is not necessarily about a preferred aesthetic, but about an ephemeral shared moment—the way that I am changed, any viewer or participant is changed, even if just fleetingly, by putting aside passive looking and engaging in a more fully relational experience.
Part of what I loved about performing Lygia Clark’s piece Anthropofagic Slobber at MoMA was that it so explicitly plays with the relationships between interior, exterior, and surface. By drawing thread out of one’s mouth onto the skin of another, what’s internal is literally made external, and a second skin of accumulated thread forms.
Again, this residue, the thing that seems peripheral, like an afterthought, is actually quite beautiful on its own. There are bodies mixed in there, individuals captured and intertwined. This wad of thread is our connective tissue. The boundaries between what was me and what was you are blurred and jumbled and preserved in this thing that becomes the tangible archive of that passing experience. It’s a very messy map leading from one to another to another.
Sometimes a simple device, like Yoko Ono’s black cloth bag for Bag Piece, is the most profoundly effective. Getting inside the bag and spending hours in it, every day, for four months, changes you. From outside it looks very opaque. Sometimes the person inside moves around in interesting or beautiful ways, but often it’s kind of boring to watch.
But from inside, a whole world is available to you. You can see out to the the people looking at you. You can stare at them and check them out and they won’t know you’re doing it. And with a mirror across the way, you can see yourself looking at yourself, but you only really see your silhouette. The body is a self and just an image. For me, this is a perfectly mapped self-reproducing chain, just like the moebius.