During the opening of the exhibition “Grow” in De Nieuwe Kolk in Assen I performed a very new, unfinished work-in-progress: “To Become a Child, No More”. This exhibition is part of the ‘Work in Progress II: The Sequel’, in which groups of students from the Frank Mohr Institute work in shifts in the exhibition space and build up on the works of the other student groups.
I worked in a group with Nokukhanya Langa, Šarūnė Paulauskaitė, Lisa Smithson, Desta Matla, and Anna Trapenciere. Besides Anna and Lisa, everyone was working quite individually. But in the end we saw an overarching theme in our works: “Grow”, which I will explain later.
We had two weeks time to prepare for the exhibition and opening. Since I learned from my last performance at the event The World We Live In that visuals can add such a strength to my performance, I wanted to experiment more with that, and decided that I wanted to do an audiovisual performance at the opening. Resulting from an earlier experiment, I also wanted to perform with my new self-made musical instrument: a phone cello.
Since I had been busy with my earlier performance, I started working in the exhibition space one week before the opening. The first thing I did was going there with a camera, open to anything that could happen and trying to stay close to the theme ‘Work in Progress’. Without any plans I started filming things in the exhibition space. There were still quite some works from previous groups and Lisa and Anna were working there everyday. I found paintings, projections, abstract lines, plants, and a lot of white.
So I started filming things, without knowing what I would make with it in the end. I played with shadows, projections, the position of plants, and so on. Later I also started filming myself. Mostly my hair.
I am not used to working like this and not knowing what the result will be like. In a way I really enjoyed it, but at times it also gave me an uneasy and restless feeling.
After filming, I haven’t spent much time in the exhibition space. I took the footage to my studio and started experimenting with it. I began trying to make simple visuals with effects that react to music. I started using Max (and Vizzie) for this. But technically I stumbled upon many setbacks. I was struggling with the video codec for the computer to handle my high-resolution videos. And after settling that, Max still couldn’t handle the simplest effects or changes that I made interactive to my music.
The weekend before the week of the opening (which was on Wednesday), I had a bit of a breakdown. Even though I had tried to stay close to the concept of ‘Work in Progress’ and ‘doing something without a plan’, apparently I still had a plan in mind, but it didn’t seem to work out. Interactive video was still quite new to me and I didn’t seem to get it working the way I envisioned it. I wanted way too much in way too little time. So I thought about cancelling my performance, because I would never be able to finish a performance in just a few days.
But then I realised that this attitude wasn’t like a ‘Work in Progress’ attitude at all. I realised that even though my technical plan wasn’t working out, I still had something to show. I had a work-in-progress to show. Which, of course, suits perfectly to the ‘Work in Progress’ exhibition and opening! 😉
Even though it was hard, I had to let go of perfectionism, and show what I had. I wanted to focus more on the concept of my work. What is it all about? I realised that the concept of the performance was very related to the very process of making it. I realised it had to do with in one way trying to become a child, and in one way, that this is not possible anymore. I was trying to set myself free in the world of experimentation and play, but at the same time I was scared for the adult world that expects serious things from me.
I wanted to merge this theme into the cello music that I had previously composed. The (maybe still unfinished) lyrics of the music became:
To become a child no more
is making it harder
To become a child no more
scaring the heart for
it could go wrong
When I started focusing more on the concept and engaging in my music, the process became more natural. I started feeling it again, and the bad energy of the technical frustrations disappeared. Of course there were still some nerves about showing something unfinished, but at least now I believed in my work-in-progress.
I also started seeing connections between the concept of the performance and some videos and visuals that I made. For example, in the video of the performance you can see this long loop of me putting my hair up and down on the ground. When seeing it, it felt like a breath, or as if I was nurturing something, as if I was growing.
I decided to show these videos during my performance. And to give room for improvisation, yet keeping the interaction with the music and the visuals very simple, I controlled the playback of the loops with the VLC media player. For next time, I think it could be very nice if the visuals could react more directly to the music, so that you cannot only feel and hear the music, but also see it, which might strengthen the feeling of the music even more.
I received valuable reactions on this performance.
- Some said that I was getting more mature in my performances. And I think I agree with that. I am starting to figure out more and more what feels right for me, and because of the practice I get more and more comfortable during the performances.
- One woman was very moved by the performance and even had a lump in her throat. That was special to hear, and I’m happy that my performance could have such an impact on people. But what I am thinking now, is that I want to ask a bit further next time. I would like to figure out what thoughts and feelings this evoked in people and see whether this is close to my own.
- A lot of people where very fascinated by my self-made musical instrument (phone cello). They didn’t understand what I did and how it worked, but they thought it was beautiful how I played it. Also Lisa had the feeling as if I was almost ‘celebrating the mobile phone’ the way I was using it.
I was really satisfied with the performance, because I learnt a lot during the process. I learnt about my perfectionism, letting go, wanting too much, showing something unfinished etc. But even though it was unfinished, after the performance it didn’t quite feel like that. I still managed to create something that I believed in. I wrote a short text about my work and my process which was shown during the opening of the exhibition:
Producing, just because we have to
Being overloaded with possibilities
Working with something new and unknown
Believing to be capable of anything
Wanting too much
Letting go of perfectionism
Feeling restless for not knowing the outcome
Keeping calm in an unknown environment
Staying close to the well-known practice
Holding on to the fun, desperately
Going too fast, or too slow
Wishing to make impact
Scaring the heart with the possibility of failure
Thinking about not showing anything at all
Glowing when the unexpected turns out beautiful
Trying to have peace with “unfinished”