One Month | Don Simmons | February 18 to March 19, 2005

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31 Sentences For One Month

I approach One Month thinking through bodies and institutions.

A few months ago I showed the students in my sculpture class Miranda July’s performance/video The Amateurist. I thought the way she manifested split or mediated subjectivity might be interesting to those engaged in the study of space. Through choice use of wigs, costumes, language and editing July doubles as two characters. They inhabit separate rooms. One observes and instructs the other. The other receives instructions and is observed. Through the use of surveillance technology and a specialized language of management jargon, the watcher appears to be framing the watched. Sometimes, however, the observed propels obscene body language towards the observer. It becomes unclear whose language is framing whom.

About half way through viewing the 14-minute work with the students, I became increasingly conscious of their body language. I read it as alternating between boredom, uneasiness, agitation and incredulousness. It was as if what was going on in the classroom was a doubling or re-enactment of July’s surveillance scene. When the video was over, we tried discussing different ways of reading it. I continued to wonder how one might present or perform the fluctuating architecture of power relationships without consequently implicating viewers.

July’s work articulates the ways individual women internalize and act out power structures. But it is the performances themselves that delight, horrify and otherwise captivate me. The ‘bad’ acting gets under my skin. I recognize these women. They play out their alleged roles within institutional frameworks, using cunning (or busywork) to carve out more, better living space. I receive them through a mix of empathies and accessories. They know how to use style as intelligence. Hysteria as agency.

Clowns and drag artists are also busy agents, almost always up to something. It is rare to see a clown or a drag artist not performing. It is difficult to imagine them not conscious of being looked at or interpreted, which makes me conscious of my own process of looking, of performing. I can’t decide if One Month is full of sadness, ecstasy, identity politics, play, incarceration, decoration, alienation, social catalysis, public or private space, surface or depth, art or life. It holds me long enough to change my mind. As Judith Butler writes, “Perhaps only by risking the incoherence of identity is connection possible.”[1]

[1]. Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power: Theories of Subjection. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1997, p. 149.

 - Joanne Bristol (Banff, Alberta)