Meredith Monk

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<table cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0"> <tr> <td valign="top" style="padding-right: 20px;"> INVITATION

27th April 2009 University of Notre Dame, 1 Suffolk Street, London SW1Y 4HG

Talk in Main Auditorium: 14:00 – 16:15 Reception Event in Senior Common Room: 17:00

We would like to invite you to a talk by the American artist and composer Meredith Monk and a reception for Leverhulme Professor Bonnie Marranca.

The event forms part of the spring ‘09 Leverhulme event series at University Arts London, curated by Bonnie Marranca and Claire MacDobald and hosted by ICFAR, the International Centre for Fine Art Research and we are very pleased to be able to host this event at the University of Notre Dame’s London Centre (1 Suffolk Street, Trafalgar Square).

The event also marks the publication of two journal issues which relate to Monk’s work and her interest in art, music and spirituality – ‘Congregation’ a special issue of Performance Research, and PAJ 31:1, which includes an interview between Meredith Monk and Bonnie Marranca.

Meredith Monk’s talk will be at 2 p.m., and will be followed by a panel discussion chaired by Professor Alan Read of Kings College, University of London, and will be followed at 5.00 by a drinks reception with music by Jocelyn Pook and friends.


In this talk, MM discussed her art practice as a spiritual practice with specific reference to creating sacred spaces. She referenced her residency at Dartington and showed examples of work produced during her stay. She also discussed method at length – both how she makes the work and how she performs it. Her conversation with Bonnie Marranca and Clair MacDonald concluded with questions about the politics of her work: MM argued that the work was political insofar as it was about being totally honest.

Bonnie Marranca: Frame’s MM’s practice in terms of “art and the spiritual” (In what other ways is MM framed in art lit?)<br>

Question 1: What’s the difference between working with an audience and working with a congregation? Develops art as a spiritual practice (but didn't really address the question of congregation)

  • Art is a ritual and offers a gift to a group that’s more like a congregation
  • MM is concerned with the importance of breathing and Buddhist practice <br>

“Songs of Ascension” began with a conversation she had a while ago – Paul Salon – Talked about “Songs of Ascent” – tradition: harvest time – people would bring offering of their best crops and they would climb and sing at different levels…tradition of worshiping by walking…example, Buddhist circumambulation <br>

MM's work with Anne Hamilton

  • She’s developing a tower…in California <br>

MM weaves together disparate elements in her practice – seem very different but she weaves them together into a perceptive whole - this is part of her process<br>

She’s interested in dimensionWhy is ascension about going up? Aren’t there other ways to get to God? <br> Staircases and double helix..3D (in Hamilton’s tower)

Darlington Residency: <br> Nice metaphor: Taking the liquid (the work) and then each space becomes a different bottle – moving the same work between different spaces…each time she gets to a new space, she dials up the space <br>

Shroody Box (musical instrument) – like a breath

  • We as singers use breath…thinking about equivalences…string players can keep going – circular breathing – though it could be argued that their arms are like breathing

In Dartington - room, no lights…working on the music…responsive to the space

  • Variations of that same pattern
  • Starting to think about it like seasons
  • Summer – MM – trying to get that heat
  • Reality shifting dimension
  • How to you keep shifting visual relationships, up and down<br>

Question 2: BM - In terms of creating a piece that has a particular kind of luminosity and transcendence, what’s the nature of the performance energies needed?

  • Need an incredible sense of honesty – there’s not projection/desire to seduce in many ways…pure with presence/on axis—not about pushing people out or in
  • Need a sense of transparency – we are one with our material, we allow our material to flow through
  • She talks a lot about “Volcano Song”
  • Desire to be so empty that only the primal impulses come through engagement
  • How do you create sacred space? It’s not about everything being great…it more the attitude – We all know we’re part of a whole <br>

Question 3: BM - John Cage focused on self-observation for the artist…so how did this work for you in this piece?

  • There are many different kinds of space
  • Anne Hamilton
  • Challenge of creating an immersive space in the theatre
  • Gnashing teeth
  • Audience and performer being part of one room
  • Various kinds of space
  • Projections around the space
  • Using sound
  • Guggenheim = huge space
  • Relationship between the technical and the experiential
  • Because the building was singing, the building was a giant throat

Question 4: BM - You talked about not being able to see depth…could you say something about this?

  • Each eye operates independently…compensated a lot and work very spatial, layering aspects…<br>

Question 5: From the Audience - I’ve always been struck but how you get the musicians to move and get out of their anonymous space…and I wonder if you could talk about what it means to you for the musicians to move around…

  • Wonderful question: She’s particularly interested in seeing how different aspects move around the space and produce in relationship. The primordial ideal of music making. When people are imprisoned by the page, there isn’t that sense of passing energy between them…
  • There’s also a sense of multiperception…When doing a concert…It’s not like people turn off their eyes…need to be attentive to the visual aspects of music…I’m still very attentive to the visual aspects…All that we do as artists is armature for passing our radiance on…it’s about passing along our humanness…Really it’s the communication<br>

Question 6: BM: What’s the nature of presence?

  • Live performance is an acknowledgment that we have at the same time. I feel the tactile presence of the audience…the word is the top of our hierarchy…the word becomes a way of experience…cutting away the discursive mind…because when we’re present, there’s an immediacy and vulnerability<br>

Question 7: BM - We don’t see a lot of works that are emotional; they tend to be journalistic (about specific issues in the world) rather than magical?

  • I think you can’t work with a human voice without coming across feeling; it has the capacity to uncover shades of feeling…energies for which we don’t have words for…always trust nonverbal communication based on background in body movementvoice as an instrument…various ways of dealing with the breath…family of singers…fourth generation singer…Movement is a diversionary tactic…
  • Because of her limitations, she was able to come up with new movements…(positive constraint) and found method through body and could put it…voice is very powerful…basic human utterance is like digging down and getting into being…It’s hard to get away from emotions
  • There’s a time when she was working on “the problem” – doing very apocalyptic work…
  • Being a nonverbal artist rather than an analytical artist…example: Brecht…he makes you think. This is not were MM’s creative impulse comes from…Thinks that art has to be useful in a particular way – antidote to overload that we’re all suffering from…sacred space…To create desire…So when you leave you take away a sense that you…”Want imagination and richness in my life”<br>

Question 8: - Is there an identifiable politics in your work?

  • Making work in a very honest way is political <br>

Question 9: CM: - Relationship between art and spiritual and sacred space…Why has this become such a topical and hot issue…previously there was a different poetics…MM trying to create an idea of spirituality…distinction between political work and belief

  • Peter Sellers – the way one enters different spaces…Jewish artists doing work related to Buddhism…a lot of iconography with saints…In Europe, attachment to religion, it has association with Fascism and right-wing politics…Polish artists engaged with a particular kind of space…religion and avant-garde
  • Movement of transcendence and socially/politically engaged work world wide
  • Work is more like an offering…relationship between the form and content of the practice? You can never make a piece about impermanence…so you need to contemplate it…The discipline of making work is a spiritual practice…
  • Discussion of process and method: She starts from scratch every time. Starts with no assumptions; beginners mind. Spiritual practice: I’m going to stay here…stay in this place of discomfort…but little by little, the work makes itself known…and then I start getting interested and get curious and them I’m not afraid anymore. We’re afraid of our fear…the more you push away from it, the worse it is. Assumptions about otherness…If you can stay with the fear…it starts dissolving a little and then you glimpse a basic sense of space…but you have learn how to trust yourself over and over again.
  • It’s interesting how artists age and when they do, it’s about different concerns and different emotional minds.
  • It becomes a natural process of spiritual practice – It goes to the bone. It takes a lot of effort and time to get simple. Cooking reference to soup…It comes from a particular wisdom about when you let soup have form. When she has to start putting soup into a form, MM gets very sad.
  • In her twenties – there was a lot of flayling about and finding artistic identity…find your own voice…Take material from self and/or culture…depending. One thing that’s very hard for young people growing up in a world – so much information—when she started working with voice, she was the only doing it…voice…How do you sift your way through all this information…you the only one who exists going to do? It’s not just about information…<br>

Question 10: CM - Questions of practice: Relationship between spiritual practice and artistic method…she’s thinking about method…and American artists…How you proceed is through practice…what’s happening with content. I get the impression that Claire is speaking about a method that’s generative—that actually produces content—so your method becomes both a catalyst and material for content.

  • Coming as a way to continue (?) and one continues and the material that creates the content enters the work… See Exile of the Word: From the Silence of the Bible to the Silence of Auschwitz by Andre Neher…history of formalism and history of practice…
  • Relationship with emotion…and as working on the material itself…and then she starts to figure out what it is…Big growth…you work with it itself and then let it take you where it goes…Try not to live your life in a conceptual framework…not actually see what’s in front of you…experience the world through various modalities…
  • Where you centre your attention…sometimes centered on your roots…
  • Opening up through method in a way that enables you to start to create content
  • Questions around being privileged: Focus on being…<br>

Question 11: Questions around what spirituality means: We’re surrounded by a culture that’s obsessed with surface…there’s something interesting about the idea of a body communicating with another body…emphasis on communicating…words are sometimes an interference…

  • Both the words “spirituality” and “religion” have problems, but religion has more problems. <br>

Question 12: Question around extended vocal technique:

  • Weaving together perceptual elements – means of integrating self from various interests…pieces were more gesture based in NY…interested in a cinematic structure
  • Cinematic syntax as structure…
  • Find as many qualities within voice and find a vocabulary within my voice – started stretching her voice…what would a spin be in the voice – vocal gestures…what would a laugh in the voice sound like?…knew right away that she wanted to abstract forms…painting and dance…technique and maintenance…allows her to sing with full range
  • Work isn't so informed by other music…Balkan singing
  • Using self as own guinea pig – self-experimentation
  • Going from the inside out…you come across transcultural sounds…But MM wants to put the record straight: She didn’t actually come to this type of singing through listening to examples of this singing…she came to it through her own experience.
  • How do breathing techniques cross over into singing? Singing has made her meditation more difficult because she can’t be relaxed with breathing, it’s so much part of her other practice.
  • She interested in fear that the human tendency to place god elsewhere...and the resulting limitations. John Robinson…imprisoning spatial rhetoric…
  • Ascension….we’re not always going up…so there’s a kind of irony <br>

Question 13: - Is the ability to become lost important in performance?

  • Actually, it’s about being very much present…Pinpoint attention…both loose and tight simultaneously…the studio is a lab…working with quality and “qualities”…Both sense of the term…
  • The ability to care about the piece and what the congregation is doing…generous spirit…and willing to put up with a very labour intensive, slow and torturous process. This is the way it works…

</td> <td width="250px" valign="top" style="padding-left: 20px; border-left: 1px dotted #69c;"> MB: I wish MM had said more about the politics of transparency - transparency can become even more tyrannical when it's not critically engaged - insidious - Would be fascinating to hear what the people with whom she's worked say about her methods and how their perceptions relate to hers. (I'm thinking her about my experience working with Tomomi Adachi and the complexities of this engagement - all that happened off the page, was effaced in the "final presentation.") Her description of the fear involved with art making chimes with my own experience. Nice to have it articulated so succinctly. (March 7, 2010)