October 24, 2018

Miguel Gutierrez Quote

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A few years ago I started to feel that I needed take a break from making performances. I was beginning to feel trapped in a cycle of making and presenting, touring and teaching. My friend mickey introduced me to Walter Benjamin’s quote “the eternal hellish return of the same,” and while Benjamin said this in relationship to the merry go-round of fashion shows and making new designs every year, it felt like a pretty accurate description for the cycle I felt trapped in. One jet lagged night in Hamburg I busied myself by counting all of the nights over the course of the past five years I had spent home and all of the nights I had spent away for work and it came out to 50/50. I was surprised because it felt like I’d been away from home even more than that, but I realized that that was because a lot of the time I spent at home I was either recovering from jet lag or gearing up for another trip. I felt like I could never settle into thinking of New York as my real home and pretty much, over time, most of my friends began to assume that I was gone even when I was home, as I lost the will to keep them up to date with my schedule.

At first I thought I would just stop making art altogether, but I quickly realized that that was ridiculous. It wasn’t about not making stuff per se it was about not leaving all of the time. I began to say no to every offer I got to teach out of town, as this is the kind of travel that usually feels the most isolating, because I’m by myself rather than with my fellow performers. I decided I would only leave New York to tour work that I’d already made. My manager, who, like me, is prone to drama, started calling this whole idea of mine THE SHUTDOWN. I found out he was portraying it as such to other professionals in the field, and this made me nervous. I know how quickly you can fall off the radar of relevance in this field. I started to say, no, I am taking a sabbatical. Seemed like a softer word. It’s conceptual of course because I don’t have a university job or a fellowship or any savings for that matter. I still have to figure out how to make money.

But I have to do it. I have become suspicious of this cycle of production because I feel like it keeps me from truly imagining other modes of artmaking or other notions of audience. I’ve made things that end up in mostly white spaces for mostly white people. I’ve made things that cost a certain amount of money that some people can afford and a lot of people can’t. I’ve made things that mean a lot to certain people in this particular city and that have no impact on most people in other places. The first two concerns are big – like, really, truly how does that change? The last concern feels like it’s about ego, or my persistent wish to become even bigger and more famous somehow. This itinerant lifestyle is also partly to blame for the fact that I haven’t had a boyfriend for over four years. Although, at the same time, this lifestyle has helped me to appreciate and value the sweet intimacies available in other temporal modes of romantic or sexual relation. In Jack Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure there is a cogent and beautiful critique of monogamous hetero-patriarchal family as the dominant and dominating form of kinship, and a real celebration of other, queer forms. I think of this critique often whenever I feel like I’m being too slutty. “I’m experimenting with other forms of queer kinship!” I tell myself and sometimes it’s true and sometimes it isn’t. The point is that the nature of constant production has rendered it impossible for me to know HOW I really feel or WHAT I really want from relationship.

So I’m in it now. 2016 – the year of the sabbatical. I’m not sure what to say about it yet. It’s early days. I CAN report that it’s incredible what a shift of intention or language to describe what you’re doing does to your psyche and to your interactions with others. Right now, quite simply, there’s nothing that I want from anyone. No show that I’m trying to get, no project funding, no good review that I’m hoping for. I’ve gone to a couple of performances this year and the process of sitting and watching something in the theater already feels a little alien and slightly purposeless. Not in a huge existential crisis way, I’m just feeling it out. I’m still comparing myself and my work to this person’s work – does that ever end? – but it feels… softer. I run into people, professionals, peer artists, who don’t know anything of my mythical “sabbatical” and they ask me “So what’s next?” And it’s satisfying to me and them puzzling to them (and to me) when I say, nothing. Nothing’s next. I’m not making a piece right now. And they look at me and I look at them. And they look at me and I look at them. I can’t really be sure what is happening in that moment but I can say that something else happens in that moment.

- Miguel Gutierrez, Notes on Idleness and Labor



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