2020 January: Personal Metrics and Elephant West

Ridiculous! At Elephant West, 9 Jan – 2 Feb 2020

I did manage to develop Atom into a longer piece, from 3 to 7 minutes. What helped was to create as intimate a space as possible in which to try telling the story again and again to myself. Instead of changing anything about the physical space (the ‘studio’ room in our flat) I put on some headphones and connected myself to a standing mic. I stood in the room and felt safely isolated by the sonic effect of hearing my own voice clearly, and nothing else. In this situation I was able to just tell the story to myself without feeling self-conscious. I could concentrate. This was not ad verbatim rehearsal, but a genuine attempt to retell, to myself, the different aspects of the story, and to act the character. I recorded my attempts. Later, when I felt the piece had some resolution to it, I listened over the recordings and tried to piece together my favourite parts from each. Eventually I came up with a story.

Since then, I’ve been rehearsing not only two, but three pieces amounting to 15 minutes. 20 Percent has had minor modifications to it, Long Term Ethics was learnt pretty much ad verbatim, with some rearrangement, and Widow (or Atom), was developed much further. Now I can remember all my lines, and am only left to deal with my nerves. It seems like a lot more people are going to attend than I initially imagined; some 177 people have RSVP’d. If this number is in any way true, it would by far be my largest audience yet. I’ve suggested that the gallery set up a standing mic for me, which I will stand behind, unceremoniously, in the manner of a stand-up comedian, only more whimsical I suppose, than funny. I keep rehearsing the pieces at home, but am more confident with my performance when I get lost in the character and am unaware of my surroundings. As soon as I start imagining people’s faces it distracts me. I’m hoping I can stay calm and not blow this night out of proportion. I need to remember that even when I make mistakes, they can be incorporated, and need not mean that the whole thing is ruined. I’m going to practice five times today and five times tomorrow and then I will go tomorrow night and just try to serve the characters. Forget my own judgements about the works themselves and just serve the characters. Bewitch the room with the colour of the voice, almost transcendentally in relation to the words. In other words, let the words become justified by the conviction of the voice, true rhetoric.

‘Long Term Ethics’. Performance at ‘Ridiculous!’, Elephant West. Jan 2020.

10.01.20

Sadly I was struggling quite a lot with nervousness pre-performance. I tried a few things to calm myself down, did yoga, downloaded the Sims and played it to get my mind off stuff! But one of those things was actually talking to myself ‘in character’, thinking through what exactly it was I was afraid of. What kinds of failures might occur. I published the video on social media before heading off to the performance. Then, I listened to music on the way there as a way of getting out of my head. The therapy session with my made up character had helped a little, but by the time I arrived at the gallery it had worn off, and my heart was beating hard against my chest. It always happens, but for some reason it was particularly tough this time. To make things worse, when I arrived at the space it didn’t take long to realise that my performance wouldn’t work out here. Elephant West is one large warehouse-like rectangular space, with a bar on one end, tables and chairs filled with people relaxing and chatting, and house music. At the other end, was some artwork and a microphone, which I had asked for a couple of days before. Unfortunately, the sound from the mic did not have much reach, at least for me and the viewers closest to me. I later learnt that the sound was very loud at the other end of the space, where there were speakers. In fact, those standing closest to me could see me but barely hear me, and those standing furthest away could not see me but could hear me – probably too loudly. Performing was really tough. For me it felt like I was a fiasco, comically so. But within myself I didn’t have the ability to laugh at the situation – I’d spent so long rehearsing and agonising before that evening. I didn’t break character, nor forget any lines. I performed all three to a good level of proficiency. But I didn’t have the connection with the audience that I am normally able to establish. And I felt really downbeat afterward, because there was no redeeming pleasure of having captivated people for a while. Some thirty, forty people nearest to me definitely seemed interested; they were watching intently and straining to hear. But they were also frustrated. It was embarrassing, but I ploughed on.

Afterwards I felt incredibly weird. I half felt pleased and proud to have film, drawing and performance in this show, and I felt half depressed at the outcome of the performance. I was also hit by a really unpleasant wall of exhaustion. I had been under so much anxiety that after the last performance I now felt hollow and aching in my gut. My adrenaline, which was high for weeks, had suddenly hit the floor. I felt extremely nauseous for the rest of the evening and the rest of the next day. And that was that. Nobody knows what an ordeal that was for me, no one will remember it. And I somehow have to move on to other things now.

CHASE proposal

Once the performance is over, I need to sort out my CHASE proposal by the end of the week, and upload the draft. I haven’t had much feedback on it but am quite pleased with it myself. Still, there are a few things that maybe need to be calibrated, so as to tip things further into my favour. Kristen gave me some good advice: in addition to a good proposal I should show how my research could benefit the institution and wider research, how I might actively get involved in the organisation of certain academic events like the Writing for Practice Forum, which I’ve recently been invited to get involved in and eventually run. Impact and my own suitability for research need to be emphasised.

At the same time, getting too absorbed in this opportunity can eat up quite a lot of my time and energy, as it is a protracted competition, taking ages to churn out results. I’ll try to work on it only when I have to, and try to build up some writing & art documentation for the year thus far, in the meantime. This month I should only have to work on it twice, and next month, if I get that far, once.

Anomaline

In ‘Encapsulation’, I now see that what is really happening is that the story is merely showing how the character solidifies into an individual entity in my mind. She was some sort of cloudy thing to start with, in Kundera’s thinking she was merely this nagging recurrence of hormones, hunger, tiredness and other physical manifestations of necessities and passions being met or thwarted, in my daily life. In a sense, my authorial move to think her into existence was somewhat involuntary. She coalesced like an unborn solar system – a mess of daily feelings that stabilized into a familiar quality; from that point so easily anthropomorphised. In this first chapter, we see how I draw a line around her being and try to contain an emergent life-pang within a character, and agent – now all at once an acquaintance with whom I can have a relationship.

And not only is she encapsulated in the skin, but perhaps by further layers of careful isolation – the room she is in, the house she is in, the world she is in, which comes across as hermetic and not open-ended. So this is about skins, or boundaries, and how this move to isolate things seems necessary for individuation – being set apart from all other things and thus gaining ‘character’, ‘distinguishing mark’.

In the second chapter, we take a look at the place in which M finds herself. At this point, I have decided to be an author, and to write a story with my character, now that she is a loose, unified object that I can move around in fictive space. However, most things in my imaginings are vague, and this is directly reflected in the behaviour of the surroundings in the story, which are tumultuous and inconsistent, at times ill thought-out and full of holes. Likewise, she, or I, have to work to remember her body parts and to reinstate that boundary of hers. The place has a certain desperation about it, it would really like to get itself in order and be continuously logical. What I like about the approach here is that the writing is confident and collected, even though it is about something very messy.

We also get introduced to the idea of ‘episodes’, the fact that she blacks out and wakes up at involuntary intervals – reflecting either the period when I discard working on the story until a later time, or the period ‘between’ chapters, which often jump between activities and situations in which the character finds herself. She accustoms to this way of life and tolerates her fantastical surrounds just as we humans go about our daily business and ignore the miracle of our daily existence. M herself starts to feel a little alienated by her encapsulation – as if this meant that she is not fully present in her world, that she must experience everything through an ‘interface’. Indeed, this begs the question of whether we ever can have an unmediated experience of the world, or what that would mean, since we humans too have skins – in the manner even, of complex onions – we are each a great coil of intricately packed folds of mutual discrimination. The ability of the living to discern, mentioned in the first chapter, is thus integral to being – it runs through the deepest fabric of a living thing’s bodily presence. Meters of DNA packed into each cell nucleus; cell membranes, tissue membranes, valves in veins and other ducts… the very structure upon which experience is built is a system of compartmentalising disparate materials; ordering processes. So the fact that M feels put out at her predicament, is maybe in the end unwarranted. Maybe this skin is just one of many skins, ordering her universe. But the chapter ends by differentiating her skin from ours: it is clean cut as opposed to permeable. That would suggest that she never ingested or excreted anything, that she was perhaps self-sufficiently a universe by herself, that she doesn’t need the world in which she’s been dropped. But I must remember that the event of her encapsulation was her solidifying herself in my mind, becoming a thing. Is this harsh boundary necessary because she is otherwise so loose and uncharacterised? I’m not yet sure why this distinction about the impenetrability of her skin has been made.

In the next chapter, there is a sense of agency emerging from the house itself, or maybe the plot, a hint of adventure, of being mislead, of being lulled into a trick. There is a sense of a contract with this world, certain mutual explorations taking place.

In the fourth chapter, there’s a sort of cautionary tale of the acquisition of knowledge happening, something like eating from the tree of knowledge, and other stories like that. Is it bad to know more, does it imply a danger or a weight to become knowledgeable? She is being raised by the contents of these stories, and becomes ‘satiated and weightless’, she is gaining depth from reading, but also feeling perhaps increasingly isolated by learning about her improbably seclusion.

In ‘Kettle’, she starts having some sort of relationship to things, which seem at once like agents, but also like omens. Everything seem to seem like a warning. Perhaps it is a warning about the precarity of living here.

Installation

I’ve just been cycling through different options for the installation at Goldsmiths next week, and although I am under pressure concerning time, I think I’ve got an adequately experimental idea for the occasion. I’ve visited the Seminar 03 space today and felt like there was nothing I needed to add to the room. Initially I had planned to put in some videos, but I actually think a video installation would be a bit distracting and somewhat irrelevant to the main idea, which was to perform the three versions of the videos I presented at Elephant West: 20 Percent, Long Term Ethics & The Widow and get the audience to fill out personality tests for each of the characters, in the manner of an HR psychometric test. I need to research these tests and choose what kind of data I’m after, but then if I build my own online survey I could get audience members to fill them out there and then.

Wikipedia: A personality test is a method of assessing human personality constructs. Personality assessment is used in wide a range of contexts, including individual and relationship counseling, clinical psychology, forensic psychology, school psychology, career counseling, employment testing, occupational health and safety and customer relationship management. There are self reports and observer-reports – find the latter? (It’s also a direct observation). The Big Five personality traits, also known as the five-factor model (FFM) and the OCEAN model, is a taxonomy for personality traits

The Hexaco PI-R seems to be a pretty thorough test. It shows ‘the big five’ dimension with several sub-dimensions in each category. It also represents the data against a mean based on a sample group’s self assessments (students in Canada). Using this in the session may take some time, but then we would be able to discuss the extremes of the data. I’d ask participants to download the pdf and email it to me. Later I could average the scores and process them into a many-dimensional representation.

Format of the Evening

  • Introduction (& introducing respondent) (5)
  • Perform 20 Percent (3)
  • Questionnaire & short discussion of results (20) (email pdf)
  • Long Term Ethics (5)
  • Questionnaire & short discussion of results (20) (email pdf)
  • Widow (7)
  • Questionnaire & short discussion of results (20) (email pdf)
  • Discussion with respondent (10)
  • Discussion with audience (30)

Things I Need:

  • Online personality test with link/QR code, access available. Hexaco?
  • Printed versions of the test.
  • Access to questionnaire and my email printed visibly
  • Rehearsal

I will perform here.

Personality tests, like the Jung Typology Test, are used widely in employment contexts to sort the characters of applicants and quantify dimensions of their personhood: ‘introvert/extrovert’, ‘impulsive/premeditated’, ‘exploratory/conservative’, etc. These metrics are then used to assign roles to different person ‘types’ accordingly. But what could result from applying these metrics to fictional characters? And what if the same person is performing all of these characters? By subjugating imagined persons to the same quantitative evaluation process, this performance event is an attempt to explore both the foundations upon which such tests are based and an experimental meditation on the categories ‘person’ and ‘character’.

Plan Achievements/Notes
Week 1 6-12
Rehearsing 3 performances ✓ Daily until performance
Prepare drawings for exhibition ✓ Framed & dispatched
Performing at Elephant West (8)
Draft CHASE submission (11)
Week 2 13-19
Plan Installation (Gold)
Get references permission (CH)
Week 3 20-26
Installation Personality Tests
Process PT data
Rework CHASE proposal
Week 4 27-2
Submit CHASE proposal + refs
Contact ST
Contact Hexaco creators

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