A Radical Cut In The Texture Of Reality

September 26, 2015

Introduction: Can’t leave interdisciplinary performance alone the game needs me


[This is the tentative opening for a book I'm planning to write to celebrate PME-ART's twentieth anniversary which will take place in 2018. The working title for the book is Perfection Made Easy: 20 years of PME-ART.]

This is my version of some of the things we made and some of the things that happened in and around the things we’ve made and performed together. The work of PME-ART has always been highly collaborative. Therefore, there are many different versions of these stories, many different ways of telling them. Some of these stories could also be told by Sylvie, Richard, Mathieu, Martin, Tracy, Julie-Andrée, Alexandra, Benoit, Simone, Samuel, Gaetan, Laure, Caroline, Claudia, Adam, Marie Claire, Nadège, Ashlea, etc. Each would have their own ways of describing events, placing emphasis on aspects of the work and process that are perhaps completely different from what I have chosen to describe in the pages that follow. The work of PME-ART has been highly collaborative – we sometimes describe it as pseudo-collective – but I now find myself, it seems I now choose, to write this book alone. It is a book to mark our twentieth anniversary and only three of us have lasted the full twenty years (Sylvie, Richard and myself.) I will try my best not to do the pleasures and difficulties of the past twenty years a disservice, but with every sentence I can’t help but think that there are also so many other ways of telling these stories.

+ + + +

When people ask me about PME-ART I always do my best to describe it accurately and, at the same time, I often find myself describing it in wildly differing ways. It is a bilingual French/English interdisciplinary performance company based in Montreal. However, I am the Co-Artistic Director and I basically don’t speak or understand a word of French. The work is always based on the paradox and vulnerability of being yourself in a performance situation. Already here my perspective most likely differs (slightly or greatly) from many of our co-conspirators, since I am certainly the one who first set us on this course. I have always been interested in what it means to stand in front of a room full of people, often strangers, who are watching you, and to do so with as little armouring as possible, not hiding the fact that the situation is potentially unnerving or even nerve-racking, being as vulnerable as possible without turning vulnerability into any kind of drama or crutch. I often say that I personally find performing to be humiliating, and do my best, while performing, not to conceal this particular aspect of my experience. I often wonder why I have spent the past twenty-eight years of my life obsessively working on this particular question and practice. Perhaps it is only because it is a kind of impossible undertaking, always leaving me artistically destabilized and therefore always leaving me wanting more.

Destabilizing is another word we often use to describe the work of PME-ART. Vulnerable, intimate, destabilizing, direct. Unafraid to speak directly to the themes and questions we find ourselves exploring. These are all words and phrases I have used over and over again in artist talks and grant applications. They are the sentences I repeat to give those who have never seen our work some sense of what it might be like and, more importantly, of some of the impulses that lie behind it. I often worry these explanations have supplanted the work itself, especially in my own intimate understanding of it, that there is some feeling, perhaps the most important one, regarding how and why I am doing it that these explanations don’t even begin to touch. If explanations could suffice there would of course be no need to perform.

+ + + +

What exactly did we want so badly to destabilize? And is it still the same thing or things I might want to see destabilized today? In the late eighties, when I was starting out, I would watch theatre in Toronto. I was a teenager interested in art. I also felt extremely alienated (this unfortunately hasn’t changed much.) I had the feeling, the hope, that live theatre might be a place to partly break this sense of alienation. That the communal experience of being in a room with others, of watching something all together, might be a way of being together with others that was also art and also somehow more live, immediate, intimate and collaborative than anything one could experience on television or in the movies. I didn’t exactly see this as a reality but more as a possibility or desire. I also didn’t have many, or any, friends.

I went to the theatre and what I saw hinted at my desires but mainly felt like their frustrating opposite. If in conventional theatre you had costumes, characters, acting, scripted narrative, piped in music and artifice; instead I wanted people dressed in their normal clothing, being themselves, walking a tight-wire between structure and spontaneity, music we loved that we played on vinyl, CDs or with instruments, anything and everything that might bring us just a little bit closer to authenticity or reality. There was a kind of theatre that already existed and a kind of theatre that didn’t yet exist, might never exist, and I knew which side I was on.

+ + + +

This is the way I most often tell the story of my formative years, but there is another side to the story that I somehow talk about less often. The reason I, at times, conceal this other side is nothing for me to be proud of. Like many artists, I prefer the mythology of the figure who invents himself. But once again, there were many, many other players directly and indirectly involved in my so-called self-invention. There were shows I saw by international artists like Robert Wilson, The Wooster Group and Needcompany. There was a small theatre community I was quickly becoming a part of with groups like DNA Theatre, The Augusta Company, Da Da Kamera, Mammalian Diving Reflex, Sto Union and so many others. An entire book could easily be written about this period, Toronto in the nineties, and the community of artists who were all searching for new ways of using the stage, for confronting the audience more directly, trying to update theatre and bring it into dialog with our contemporary world. So many artists who influenced how and why I was asking myself these questions. An entire book could be written about this period but this is not that book and I don’t think I could be the one to write it. I’ve erased so much of that time in my memory of it. Over and over again I have wanted to start again, clearing away the past as much as possible in an attempt to find out what may or may not be possible now and in the future.

+ + + +

The title of this introduction is Can’t leave interdisciplinary performance alone the game needs me and, though it is often a terrible idea to explain a joke, this particular joke might have a kind of explanation. It is of course a play on the well-known Jay-Z line: “can’t leave rap alone the game needs me.” But while millions of people love and follow Hip Hop, and it is possible to imagine a fan base who might be disappointed if Jay-Z stopped making music, it is difficult for me to imagine anything similar pertaining to the more marginal field of interdisciplinary performance. Hip Hop is a living popular art form, with a well-documented, well-loved history and millions of artists competing to bring this vital history into the present. Interdisciplinary performance is something else.

My performance work began as a kind of anti-theatre, as a desire to change theatre and see theatre change. But theatre didn’t change, the struggle of always working against an unchanging status quo became exhausting and counter-productive, and therefore gradually my work transformed into something else, a game that also doesn’t need me but not the game I was previously pushing so ineffectually against.

+ + + +

What does it mean to be vulnerable in a performance situation? What does it mean to be generous? Critical? Self-critical? Confused? I am writing this book for our twentieth anniversary and literally cannot believe we have been doing it this long. I often say I don’t necessarily relate to people who make art, performance or literature, but I do relate to people who make art, performance and literature that think of quitting every fifteen seconds. Those are really my people. I call us the boy-who-cried-wolf-set, since we always announce we’re quitting but never do, and therefore no one believes us anymore. It seems to me that anyone who works in the arts today and doesn’t have serious, ongoing doubts as to the validity or efficacy of the situation is not facing all of the current, inherent problems and questions with open eyes.

I have been making performances and literature for almost thirty years and – despite or perhaps because of my incessant doubts – I apparently have not quit. I constantly wonder what keeps me going. In one sense I feel that when you’re an artist the only way to keep going is to believe you have no choice. Believing one has no choice is also a form of privilege. I also receive more than my fair share of praise for my work and this encouragement must certainly be a factor in how and why I continue. But if I look back over the last twenty years it becomes clear to me that the most significant factor keeping me in the game are Sylvie and Richard.

Something else I often say: that all the artists I admire are such a strange combination of completely open and completely stubborn. I cannot think of two people I have met who are more stubborn and more open, more sincere and more baffling, more consequent and more playful than Sylvie and Richard. Sylvie Lachance and Richard Ducharme. Lachance meaning chance and Ducharme meaning charm. Chance and charm. This book is obviously dedicated to them.

+ + + +

My performance work has been a search for authenticity but I don’t think authenticity is something that exists. A work of art cannot be authentic, it can only feel authentic for certain people at certain times. Which is to say that, for me, authenticity is a feeling and about what we feel. In much the same way one might feel sad or feel joy, one can feel something to be authentic. It is a word that suggests engagement and connection. If you feel that Beyoncé is authentic and I don’t, this simply means that for you Beyoncé is authentic and for me less so. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything about Beyoncé. However, what works of art we feel to be authentic can also tell us a great deal about how we see the world, what we value, and can at times also potentially change how we see and feel about the world that surrounds us.

A good conversation is a conversation in which one might change ones mind. I am a ridiculously stubborn person and in fact change my mind rarely. Yet, at the same time, I am constantly searching for ways to push myself towards openness, for situations and conditions in which some shift as to how I see the world might become possible. This is my dream for art, a dream that so often feels like empty idealism, since the vast majority of my art viewing experiences do little more than make me feel empty. My greatest fear as an artist is making empty work while not knowing I am doing so. When something it is rare I suppose that also makes it precious. (I don’t like this way of thinking because it reminds me too much of capitalism. I prefer a worldview based on plenitude as opposed to one based on scarcity.) The most intense experiences I’ve had making and viewing art continue to resonate and return to me. Why do I continuously focus on the anxiety that they are so few and far between?

+ + + +

The work of PME-ART is highly collaborative and is also very much about collaboration, about people working together, trying to negotiate what is meaningful to them, where and how they disagree, and how such agreements and disagreements might be evocatively conveyed. Collaboration is definitely not easy. As a teenager in Toronto I would see many one person shows and think the reason there is only one person on stage has little to do with art and much to do with economics. I would see many shows where the people on stage felt like employees primarily doing what they had been told. Instead I wanted to see people on stage doing what they wanted to do, and felt that this wanting should include active, alive ways of working together.

However, looking back over the past twenty years, I also have to admit that I’m not completely sure collaboration is the place for me. It seems I am somehow temperamentally ill-suited for it. Twenty years of doing something I’m ill-suited for and justifying it to myself through compelling artistic results. (This book is in many ways the story of this struggle.) Because even though collaboration has never felt good, I still believe in it. Perhaps I believe in it even more because I find it so difficult. Perhaps I even believe in it too much. We are all here on this planet, in our various societies and communities, and like it or not we must find ways to work together. The fact that it is often not easy makes it all that much more necessary.

I sometimes wonder if over the years I have over-relied on the metaphor of the collaborative process as microcosm for various global-political realities. It must be a way for me to feel that what I’m doing is more important than it actually is. I think this might be true of all art. Art is a place where the artist feels what they are doing is more important than it actually is. I sincerely wonder if we’ll make it another twenty years.


September 12, 2015

Forty-two Sentences


Either you're with us or you're with someone or something else that might be equally worthwhile.

Freedom of speech is most often the freedom to be celebrated for saying things that support the status quo and to be ignored for saying things that challenge it.

Instead of freedom of speech, freedom to establish a more egalitarian alternative to capitalism.

In my two year attempt to write a kind of strange, fictional-autobiography I now realize the block is very simple: I don't want people to know about my life.

Jealousy of other artists is perhaps the most natural part of being an artist.

Artists should have honest discussions about ambition.

Having the courage to be very briefly arrested for your artistic convictions.

If there was no capitalism I would still have desires. But what would they be?

The feeling that I'm trying my best mixed with the feeling that my best isn't actually very good.

Time before clocks.

Christmas is proof that the dominant culture is in fact dominant.

Vulnerable paradoxes.

Mohammad Mosaddegh, Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, Patrice Lumumba, Salvador Allende.

It is completely possible for an argument to be both brilliant and wrong.

It’s going to get worse before it gets even worse.

Remembering that neoliberalism began not with Thatcher but with Pinochet, and suspecting it will return to its roots.

The best thing to do is apologize, but one should perhaps not already be planning one's apology before one does the bad thing.

It seems everyone needs an other against which to compare, but some of us find this other within.

Markets will self-regulate themselves into ever increasing, more volatile speculative bubbles that sporadically crash.

If there really was a free market it would collapse of its own accord.

When working on a new project, for me the hardest question is always when to fight and when to compromise.

All the artists I admire are such a strange combination of completely open and completely stubborn.

There are already so many books and movies and songs and wars: why make more.

The importance of writing books that are compelling in such a way that they will never be nominated for any awards.

I feel like other writers are trying to write the perfect book while I’m trying to write brilliantly imperfect ones.

I'm hopeless but not without hope.

Reinventing the reinvention of the wheel.

Emotions, one might suggest, are always left unfinished.

During the final game of the world cup, the star player decides to score on his own team's goal as an act of treason.

Solitude versus loneliness.

Desire without expectation.

The assumptions that are in a discipline's blind spot are in fact the same assumptions holding the discipline together.

Money is the lie that makes things possible, so possible we could weep.

Feeling desire is beautiful. But acting on it requires a certain degree of ethical reflection.

If there wasn't a heaven why would anyone bother dying?

Men emotionally recounting how when they were younger they were repeatedly told not to cry.

Posting the same thing over and over again seems, to me, the more I consider the matter, to be the true essence of the internet.

A feeling that the things I'm most interested in generally don't exist.

Keeping art boring in the name of artistic excellence.

Letting things not work.

This feeling that I’ve never been in more intense despair, a feeling I’ve certainly had before.

Racism and sexism are the gasoline of capitalism.


September 7, 2015

Eight quotations on loneliness


The drama of being a loser in the sex selection sweepstakes reveals a confounding irony that is at the center of Houellebecq’s work. You might have been abandoned by your mother (as most of his characters are), indifferently raised, humiliated by your peers; you might be temperamentally aggressive and hostile and feel very little kinship with or interest in most people you meet; you might find true contentment only when you’re alone. In short, you might be thoroughly unsuited for human society. But this will in no way relieve you of the need for other people. You will suffer unbearably from your loneliness, and you will not have any way to fix it.
- Elaine Blair

God knows most of us Americans hate being alone. This may explain why our popular culture is the best in the universe. We keep pouring the cream of our genius and love into producing the antiloneliness serums that our movies, pop songs, and television shows. We take nothing more seriously than our fun. Well, all of this has been said many times before, often by pundits displaying that other familiar compulsion, to make people feel bad about what makes them human and sociable in whatever way their world allows. Loneliness is no sin. It is “an infinitely gentle, infinitely suffering thing” in need of infinite consolation.
– Peter Schjeldahl

Learn to love solitude, to be more alone with yourselves. The tragedy of today’s young people is that they try to unite on the basis of carrying out noisy and aggressive actions so as not to feel lonely, and this is a sad thing. The individual must learn from childhood to be on his own, for this doesn’t mean to be lonely: it means to not get bored with oneself, because a person who finds himself bored when he is alone, it seems to me, is a person in danger.
- Andrei Tarkovsky on being asked, ‘What would you like to tell young people?’

Loneliness, which is really lack of love, is the pain of being unable to be present, makes us inhabit our bodies differently. At its most radical, loneliness’ pain relates to a missing presence beyond any comprehension or memory, as the speech of what feels the unspeakable. Where it does not, or rather cannot, remain trapped in the self-soothing, heterosexual loops intended for it, it may become a question of political engagement.
- C.E., Undoing Sex: Against Sexual Optimism

Loneliness is the deal. Loneliness is the last great taboo. If we don’t accept loneliness, then capitalism wins hands down. Because capitalism is all about trying to convince people that you can distract yourself, that you can make it better. And it ain’t true.
-Tilda Swinton

So often loneliness comes from being out of touch with parts of oneself. We go searching for those parts in other people, but there’s a difference between feeling separate from others and separate from oneself.
- Diane Ackerman

Suicide is a crime of loneliness, and adulated people can be frighteningly alone. Intelligence does not help in these circumstances; brilliance is almost always profoundly isolating.
- Andrew Solomon

I have been trying, for some time now, to find dignity in my loneliness. I have been finding this hard to do. It is easier, of course, to find dignity in one’s solitude. Loneliness is solitude with a problem.
- Maggie Nelson


September 6, 2015

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha Quote


This border is rotten meat, a hallucination, a wavering line
a stupid idea. Can't we blink and it'll be gone?

- Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Bodymap


September 2, 2015

Waiting Poem (First Draft)


I’m trying to figure things out but I’m not figuring things out, unable to separate my thoughts from my feelings from the things I have utterly and totally wrong. It all folds together in one long unfigured mush. After I die they can dissect this mush and find the tumor. Someone will decide if this tumor is a thought, idea or feeling and someone else can decide that they’re wrong. They might decide to argue about it or decide it’s simply not worth the bother. But for now I am still alive, trying to figure things out, searching for where to start, or what might be the beginning and what might be the end. Having a beginning or an end might be a start. A crime scene needs a clue, a culprit, a verdict, but more than any of these things it needs a judge. When I get sad I want to blame someone and I want that someone to blame myself. I don’t know what the point is of publishing books after you die but I know there is often an increase in demand. When posthumous demand decreases we might think of it as a different kind of success. And then there is this chronic hacking cough, the most literal thing I am currently trying to figure out. Everyone thinks they are my friend but I am forced to admit I don’t think of them in quite the same way. Let’s let differences remain different! Or let’s not and say we did! Last summer I was sad and this summer is similar but different. How are we to understand a pain that won’t let us ever quite escape? How many pages have I written or will I write before I die? Too many and, what’s more, too few. A sinking feeling that is almost criminal? I am trying to figure things out but in the grip of a terrible unfiguring. Before I had no readership but now I have only the readership that will hate these words. There are so many of us who all agree, who want to replace literature with telepathy. And if we can agree on that I am certain we can agree on so many wonderful things. Do you want to read the first three pages of a possible new book and let me know what you think? Past page fifteen I have the terrible, awful, horrible feeling that there is no turning back. I am trying to turn back, figure things out, learn where I went wrong. Each fork in the road is a devastating lie regarding the nature of choice. Things come too easy to me and it is all unbearably hard. But keep going, we keep going, as each step demands and falls in love with yet another step. This is the true nature of time. Different shades of waiting and different calamities of time. When you turn against things they turn towards you, and again, turn into step after delicate step. One of the words I have been using far too often in my writing is the word tears. This word is like so many words, an appointment I probably should have cancelled. This word is like a secret that is also the exact opposite of a secret, a secret place. A secret that needs editing and will always remain unedited. Crying as you write the word tears.


September 1, 2015

Ten books I plan to read in the nearish future


Pamela: A Novel - Pamela Lu
The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman - Davi Kopenawa
In The Break: The Aesthetics Of The Black Radical Tradition - Fred Moten
Toward a Global Idea of Race - Denise Ferreira da Silva
Black, Brown, & Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora - Franklin Rosemont & Robin D.G. Kelley (Editors)
Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States - Audra Simpson
Hello, the Roses - Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment - Patricia Hill Collins
Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination - Robin D.G. Kelley
They Were Counted - Miklós Bánffy

(I think I'm posting this mainly so I can look back in a year or two and see how many of these I've actually manged to read.)


August 31, 2015

Health Problems


This isn't fiction.  I am writing about this here and now because it is something not everyone knows about me and I often wonder if this is a mistake. I always feel that I'm an open book, but I also think I constantly find ways of being an open book that are actually quite secretive. As an artist, this might even be said to be on of my virtues. But that's not what I'll be writing about today.

I have had more or less the same health problems for the past thirty years, and at times it seems to me they have been getting incrementally worse for that entire time. These days I am in so much pain I am barely able to function, but for the most part I manage to function anyways.

At the same time, even though I have been in this pain for so long, I still don't really know what it is, what causes it, or what the best treatments might be. I would say starting at some point, maybe about ten years ago, I have simply tried to ignore my health problems to the best of my ability. Unsurprisingly, over this period the pain has steadily worsened.

I've never been able to get a diagnoses to prove it, but I feel my health problems are somewhere in the realm of chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. But, then again, maybe not. Maybe my understanding of what ails me is way off base and therefore hindering my ability to seek improvement. But the more general description chronic pain would be difficult to undermine.

The right side of my body hurts much more than the left side. The pain in the right side of my body seems to emanate out from my right hip. But I also wonder if the pain in my hip comes from some sort of slight twist in my lower small intestine. Or if there is a relationship between the hip and the intestine that prevents either one from fully releasing. It is also possible that the problem originates with my gait, that my right foot doesn't land correctly and therefore keeps the right side of my body twisted. At any rate, these are all either symptoms or origins of the pain I've been in for the past thirty years. I also have regular headaches. And lately there has been a fair bit of nausea.

A more recent problem, that's maybe started around five years ago, is a chronic cough along with difficulty breathing. This cough has gotten much worse in the past six weeks and perhaps has inspired me to write this post. My understanding is that my rib cage pushes forward and presses into my lungs. I'm also not sure if this is a correct diagnoses.

About ten years ago, when I was more often seeking treatment, I found I couldn't actually get myself to do anything the doctors or health practitioners suggested. I would go for the appointments, listen carefully to everything they said I should do, and then do none of it. After awhile of this it was only a short step to no longer seeking help. At the forefront of my mind throughout this pathetic comedy was that if I did their suggestions I might live longer, and mainly what I wanted was to die as soon as possible. Obviously, there is a very intense and intimate relationship between my health problems and my considerable depression. Maybe my more severe depression started around the same time as my health problems, but I have always has a melancholy temperament.

However, I do still do a few things to take the edge off the pain: acupuncture, osteopathy and I also wear orthotics to partially correctly my walk. All of these things help a little, but as the years roll on they seem to be helping less and less.

I often write about my depression but I rarely write about my health problems. I think the reason for this is I do suspect there are things I could do to at least slightly improve my health but for the most part I don't do them. I am ashamed of my continued inaction. Sometimes I feel it reflects a deeper truth about me, that I don't really want to live, that I am living my life as if it were an extremely slow and aggravating suicide. (For example, I eat poorly and get no exercise.) At other times I feel there is no real truth in it. That I simply didn't manage to figure out the root of the problem and after awhile gave up trying. This is the opposite of what one should do in activism, and I am obviously an extremely poor activist for my own health.

But, when I write about how awful the world is, I often feel that perhaps I wouldn't find it as awful if I wasn't in constant, almost unbearable pain, and hadn't been for the last thirty years. And I worry that this skews my outlook as an artist, and of course also my more general outlook on life. There is so much defeatism in my work and thinking, and it seems a bit too obvious that this outlook is related to my defeat in the face ongoing physical pain. I so often wonder what life is like for other people.


August 28, 2015

Yes and No


For the past six weeks I've been saying no to all work offers, saying that I can't take on anything new until I've finished my next book. Every time I say no to anything I almost feel like I've committed a crime. Makes me realize the degree to which I've programmed myself over the past twenty-five years to say yes to everything.


August 23, 2015

Two Kristin Ross Quotes


"The logic of emancipation concerned concrete relations between individuals. The logic of the institution, on the other hand, is always nothing more than the indefinite reproduction of itself. Emancipation is not the result but the condition for instruction."

"Time or temporality is a human, social construction, and as such is tainted by the contemporary biases and dominant prejudices of the moment - such as the idea that dominates our own time that one should accumulate the most capital one can, hoard it to oneself, and then die."

- Both quotes from Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune by Kristin Ross