ALEX CRUSE ON SARA SHELTON MANN'S 7 EXCAVATIONS
alex cruse On Sara Shelton Mann's 7 Excavations
These entries were composed from writing done at Fort Mason Center For Arts & Culture (FMCAC) while observing Sara Shelton Mann (SSM) and company’s workshops, rehearsals, and performance of 7 EXCAVATIONS / at the edge of the shore and the edge of the world, between June 6 and 21, 2022.
Excerpts of my writing over these days were then interpolated with SSM’s observations and directions from this same period (here in bold) -- their resonances were at times surprising.
-- alex cruseI: Monday, June 6, 2022
SEPARATE EACH ACTION
… where is the voice of the page? where is the ear of the floor? ...
FIND A REPEATABLE WAY
… the novel breed of nostalgia that has been induced by algorithms and technologies of memory lead us to desire re-inhabiting (rehabilitating?) specific compositions of social time -- dance torques and reexamines this desire …
… how to delimit the dead space, where energy refuses to circulate? how long can a single idea support one’s weight? ...
PULL THE SKY DOWN -- PUT IT ON THE GROUND
… the sun has only ever existed on film; as energy must always be sublated to the surface of its appearance, to reinforce collective faith in the currency of the image ...
STAY IN YOUR BODY
… and what kinds of knowingness are withheld, compensated for, or transformed when we are in new relation with our senses -- specifically, touch? if timbre is described as sound's haecceity - or a quality that evades categorization under (e.g.) duration or pitch - then what singular quality may we assign TOUCH to name and evoke its ‘thisness’? ...
MAKE SOMETHING DIFFICULT; GIVE THEM A JOB
… “Give up your abstraction and you will also give up your question” (Marx) ...
DO IT AGAIN UNTIL IT’S PERFECT
… as if there existed an unbounded signifying outside which could grant a political valence to the work outside its specific demands and concrete forms …
SET UP A PICTURE AND BREAK IT DOWN
… was it wrong of me to remove all units of currency from the shrine (asking 4 a god) ...
YOU’VE GOT TO START TO READ THE FUTURE
… collective failures to maintain productive inattention … no art criticism practices without meditation practices: only those who intimately understand the process of withholding vision can then productively observe their object …
AT ONE SPEED AND ONE IDEA, FASTER AND FASTER
… the dance is both residue and manifestation of a habit’s failure to form.
II: Wednesday, June 9, 2022
MAKE IT PERSONAL, NOT PRECIOUS
… the imagination archives as much as it generates, like how human babies only begin to understand three-dimensional space by ages 5-8 months …
… is power just whatever remains impervious to debt? ...
I NEED LIMITATION -- THEN EVERYTHING IS ALLOWABLE
… [SSM instructs dancers to "be in relation with the line"] this offers opportunities to revolt against a geometrically imperial format, while remaining present with it … abstract white chalk marks on asphalt call to mind optical calibration targets for the State’s aircraft; FMCAC’s militaristic context amplifies this association ...
THIS IS A BEGINNING I WOULD ACCEPT
… "the miraculous" can operate DISCURSIVELY and DRAMATURGICALLY as a way of marking time. the size of the question is the size of the room: the set begins to instruct us …
ARE YOU FOLLOWING YOU?
… swinging our arms forward and back, inverted flagging of some invisible ensign, and these were our TRANCE ARMS, as though rationality could be accorded to other parts of our body other than the body-mind, and thus suspended …
HOW TO HOLD THE WHOLE ROOM
… what version of the sublime could stun the operational image into silence? ...
CREATE AN ACTION
… so little membrane conducting so much vibration ...
CLARITY! TIME! PRECISION! LOCATION!
… all SOLOS all NEUTRALS all FOLLOWERS -- echokinetic mirroring rotates chiasm’s massless shadow to meet "the" eye …
I HAVE VERY SPECIFIC IDEAS AND DESIRES
… poems can be anything but mirages always look like water. …
RECTANGULAR, CUBE, LINE, ADD AN ELEMENT
… G. brings the ocean into the space and -- like Robert Smithson’s Mirror Displacements (1969) -- dissimulates the world. ... the gallery becomes a scrim whereupon this negative vision may form ...
Image Credit: Photo Of Gabriele by alex cruse
III: Tuesday, June 21, 2022
Kenneth Patchen, The Journal of Albion Moonlight (New York: New Directions, 1941), 35YOUR VERY FIRST WAR
Summer solstice, 7 Excavations / at the edge of the shore and the edge of the world.
From the onset we sit on the precipice of double-signification, unsure of the gallery’s architectural attitudes, the field of action. We are a periphery. SSM instructs us to resist audience conditioning: move about the space, inside and outside. Do not get “stuck in a chair.” I flash on the title of an earlier workshop by Sara and Abby: drop your city armor.
THE RECORDING TAKES OVER
Voice-overs float asymptotically along the dancers’ bodies, describing memories of being born. In so doing, we co-create the memory. This recalls what Michel Chion has termed acousmetre, a faceless, disembodied voice suggesting a voice of God, or the acousmatic sounds we hear as we gestate. In my notes i first miswrite this phrase as accoustrement – an arcane term for equipment used in warfare.
WE TALK ABOUT BIRDS AND DOGS AND WATER – START ADDING THEM
This week, OpenAI’s DALL-E 2 diffusion model is generating countless surreal grids across social media via users’ variously improbable image-commands. Its novelty mostly derives from watching a system parse these prompts and reverse Gaussian noise into bizarre visual approximations, and noting where the image uncannily aligns with the real.
Through assemblages of other-than-human intelligences, could humans discern a categorically non-representational phrase – one that could return a matrix of blank squares? Place your flowers inside the box.
In digital contexts, we obviate crises of representation by exporting vision to an alien eye-mind. What does this augur for human archives to come?
We lack the language to evince this void / the future pushes against epistemological limits; this overturn is what makes dance even thinkable
FEEL YOUR SIGNATURE
Attendees watch many years of many performances on the gallery’s walls and screens. A precipice indeed.
THIS IS A BOX. IT IS NOT YOUR GIRLFRIEND OR YOUR DOG OR YOUR YACHT. IT IS A BOX.
7 Excavations … chiastically unfolds as continuous exercise in ontological priming. There is a political subjectivity assumed by the work which meaningfully prepares us to receive a subjectivity in the world. Is this the movement which dance a priori requires?
Writes Marina Vishmidt: “art both mediates and is mediated by the forces of speculative capital, and that its capacity to be speculative is both mimetic of and excessive to these forces.” (1)
We may also route this logic through Raymond Federman’s claim that mimetic realism is “in silent agreement with the discourse of the state” (2) to better appreciate the performative and political exigencies at stake in SSM (et al)’s kinetic abstractions; their insistence on presentness dialectically enfolding collective and personal sense-memory.
TOO MUCH MOVEMENT
energy becomes chalk. chalk becomes concrete. flower becomes cone. concrete does not become flower. paper becomes C4 vertebrae. neutral becomes follow. follow becomes "it" – "no, THIS is it." so many ways to girl our atavism: soft, clean, or feral. signatures refresh; the icon slips, updates its priors, enters password containing over 7.7-billion characters.
EVERY ACTION HAS AN ENDPOINT -- A RELATIONSHIP
Walking along the waterfront leaving FMCAC, i notice a discarded cardboard box which once contained a ring light. On the box’s face was a stock image of friends within the white, circular glow, their smiles overcrowding a socialized halo. Does our faith produce angels only for history?
At the bus stop, a stranger asks if i am meeting someone.
Yes, everyone …
(1) Marina Vishmidt, Speculation as a Mode of Production (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2018), 5.
(2) Raymond Federman, Critifiction: Postmodern Essays (New York: SUNY, 1993), 28-29.
alex cruse is a writer and interdisciplinary artist. With Kevin CK Lo, cruse performs as the audio-visual experiment and research platform DROUGHT SPA. They have exhibited and performed across the US and internationally. With Rick Prelinger, cruse convenes the Lost Landscapes of Oakland archival film project. Since 2020 cruse has served as Board President of Artists' Television Access, a volunteer-run screening venue and gallery in San Francisco.
cruse is author of CONTRAVERSE (Timeless, Infinite Light, 2017) and ZERO ENERGY EXPERIMENTAL PILE (Compline, 2020). Writing can also be found in SFMOMA Open Space; Tripwire: a journal of poetics; baest: a journal of queer forms & affects; CLOG Journal; Terrain: Art & Crisis in Downtown Oakland (2021); The Los Angeles Times; and is forthcoming in Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience (2022).
Sara Shelton Mann’s residency at Fort Mason Center For Arts & Culture (FMCAC) finds the artist placing decades of her performance scores in dialogue with a new landscape (San Francisco’s northern waterfront); new architecture (FMCAC’s historic military buildings); and new artists (including dancers jose e abad, Gabriele Christian, Abby Crain, Clarissa Dyas, Ellie Goudie-Averill, Gizeh Muniz-Vengel, Ainsley Tharp, Jesse Zaritt; filmmaker Tori Lawrence; and musicians Miles Lassi and Ira Echo).
In the spirit of these new dialogues, and with a nod to Mann’s own practice of writing, we’ve invited the Oakland, CA-based interdisciplinary artist alex cruse to compose short reflections on Mann’s work here at FMCAC. Neither a formal “review” nor a social media quick take, cruse joins the conversations launched from Mann’s 7 Excavations residency and makes visible for us those threads that catch their eye and ear.
These commissioned reflections also draw inspiration from the recently sun-setted Open Space writing platform and its 2018 Limited Edition project, where editor Claudia La Rocco embedded writers in a city-wide series of performances at CounterPulse, The Lab, ODC Theater, Performance at SFMOMA, and Z Space. The Limited Edition series can be found here: OpenSpace.SFMOMA.org/series/limited_edition. La Rocco’s new writing platform, The Back Room, launches in Fall 2022 and is a publishing project of Small Press Traffic. More details are here: www.SmallPressTraffic.org/the-back-room.
As we at FMCAC imagine ways we might contribute to new art writing, check out our colleagues at The Lab’s Commissioned Essays series, starting with Sam Lefebvre’s “A Generous Grift:” www.TheLab.org/research.