Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Parting Thoughts

Zach looking at a misty, cloudy Hong Kong
I don’t really know what happened to me this week.
I know that I have been intensely affected by a site, a city, and most of all, an extraordinary group of people.
I’m baffled at how—in one short week—I met so many people who will now, unquestionably, be my life-long friends. People whom I didn’t know last Monday morning, but who I’ll now cross the globe again and again in order to spend time with.
Really. I don’t know what happened. I’ve got some guesses, though.
For starters, these people are brilliant. Those who we met through the workshop, as well as other friends who Tom and I met as a result are quite simply extraordinary.

Missing from this photo: Keene, Pat, Rebecca, Gabrielle, Odilia,and of course, everyone else who made Hong Kong extraordinary for us

I think there was something else at work as well. Through the intensive process of conducting these workshops and building this piece I came to know, understand, and love the people that I met and their city more deeply than I thought possible.
I’ve begun to understand something new about site-work. About the frame of mind that it puts one in. About how, by looking at the world through a different lens, a group of people can understand nuances of our shared environment and each other in a staggeringly fast, utterly profound way.
This visit, I came to understand some aspects of Hong Kong much more clearly. Last time, I barely scratched the surface. Which is no surprise.
Hong Kong reminds me of a beautiful and extraordinarily complicated knot. So many things are entwined and intermingled. The city’s geography is no exception. You can take nine lefts in a row and not go in a circle there.
And the nuances of its social and cultural dynamics are even more complicated. It is a city that is constantly in flux, constantly moving, constantly reinventing itself.
How then did I feel like I began to understand its complexity? How can one begin to comprehend something so vast, mercurial, and ever-shifting?
Perhaps it’s like the difference between standing on the ground trying to see what a cloud is made up of, versus focusing in much, much more closely.
Maybe it was like I was looking at a cloud through a microscope.
Bethanie served as a microcosm for us. Through our explorations and choreography, she became a mirror that reflected back profound insights about each other and ourselves. Our similarities came into sharp focus and our differing individual perceptions became illuminated and explicated.

Slamming against Bethanie’s walls and perching precariously on her balconies, we acknowledged our shared human frailty. Investigating notions of sickness, suffering, and healing we sidestepped cultural, linguistic, and social differences and came face to face with the deepest aspects of the human condition. In discussing the historical and political implications of the site, we gleaned sudden insight into each other’s cultural experience and viewpoints. I felt like we became a team of archeologists, discovering Bethanie’s multiple facets. In doing so, also uncovered our own. We collectively started perceiving the site and each other differently.
I do art because it’s one of the few ways we can address the ineffable. I sometimes like to think of art as some sort of multilayered, multifaceted metaphoric language by which we can attempt to translate and understand the deepest aspects of our experience. What I didn’t realize until this week was how profoundly and quickly that “translation” could occur between collaborators.
So what exactly changed? How did I form such fierce bond to these people and this city?
Was it because I was looking at everything in terms of the cultural/social/physical/cultural topography we talk about? Perhaps. But more likely, it was because this week I’d grown accustomed to really looking at things. Really listening. Something that I certainly neglect to do in the hustle and bustle of my daily life.
Maybe that’s what I’m getting at. Site-work requires you to take down all of your filters. You can’t make assumptions about anything when working on-site. Your preconceived notions about a place, or those that inhabit it will only get in your way. You have to look at everything as if you were seeing for the first time. You have to remove the filter in your head that says “that’s a staircase…you walk up and down it” and instead come to the staircase on its own terms. Utilizing both brain and body to discover what a staircase is, does, feels like, and can be used for.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe this way of working necessitates approaching environments and each other without preconceptions. And we all spent the whole week practicing that.
So, is it possible that making art - making site-work - enabled these understandings, these deep connections to people and place?
What a magnificent thought.
And how staggering are the implications of that thought? For me as an artist? For all of us as global community who clearly, desperately need to forge connections?
My bruises are already starting to fade, but Bethanie has left and indelible mark on me. This experience, and the connection to those who shared it with me will remain with me for the rest of my life.


Muriel and the wall of handsphoto by Raven Hanson

1 comment:

jac said...

I wish you guys would come to my country, Singapore. I'd love to get your perspective on it!