michael j. morris

continuing thoughts from Hamilton/Mercil seminar
14 January, 2009, 12:39 am
Filed under: art, cosmology, creative process | Tags: , ,

I again left my class with Ann Hamilton and Michael Mercil with pages of thoughts. Tonight we witnessed a series of “responses” or “activities” or “demonstrations.” Each person (I think there are fifteen of us?) presented an activity-based piece. 

The over-arching thought I was left with has to do with selection and choice. It has long been a life value of mine that anything I do, any choice I make, especially in reference to time, is to the exclusion of all else. This becomes especially pronounced in the creative process in which you are ultimately displaying a series of choices that you have made concerning the materials with which you are working (in my case, movement of the human body, source material, sound accompaniment, etc. etc. etc.). In almost every piece tonight, there was some structure of participation, and some degree of decision making within that structure.

In one, the artist was under the table around which we were all sitting, and she selected individuals to read accusations that she handed to them from under the table.

In another four individuals were selected to read transcripts of their own words that had been translated into a foreign language.

In one, the artist selected two individuals to sort through a pile of stuff from his desk at home. They were not given any criteria by which to sort these materials.

In another, we received envelopes containing two images and the instructions to select one, and paste the other to someone else’s image (giving you the agency to choose the image, the criteria by which to make that decision, how it would be applied to someone else’s image, etc.).

In another, we drew slips of paper from a bowl designating us either “A” or “B”. A’s were instructed to find a B, ask for their cell phone number, and call them. The piece progressed further, but it began with selecting (at random) our own designation, then the role of A’s selecting which B they would approach.

My piece also involved selection. I will paste the instructions below:


“Activity About Shame

* All are invited to participate.

*Starting at the north end of the studio, walk slowly towards the south end, contemplating that about which you are most ashamed. Allow this to be something like a moving meditation.

*At any point during the piece, you may choose to stop walking, make your way to another participant, and look them in the eye while continuing your contemplation. If you are chosen by another participant to engage in an eye contact exchange, please engage with them in it.

*If you are participating in an eye contact exchange, either partner (the initiator or the one who was chosen) in the exchange may choose to whisper to their partner the object of their contemplation (i.e. that about which you are most ashamed). Your partner may choose to reciprocate or not to reciprocate. In either event, continue in the eye contact exchange after any verbal exchanges have been made.

*At the end of the piece there are several courses of action that you may have taken.

You might have walked in solitary contemplation from one end of the studio toward the other.

You might have engaged in an eye contact exchange, either by choosing to do so or being chosen to do so, and maintained that eye contact for the duration of the piece.

If you were involved in an eye contact exchange, you may have chosen to whisper the about which you were contemplating to your partner, or your partner may have chosen to do so, or both; either way, after any verbal exchange, you will have continued to maintain an eye contact exchange with your partner.”


I can’t say I was particularly pleased with how mine turned out. Or maybe I was just frustrated by time constraints. The entire piece had to take place in 4 minutes or less . . . which seemed to make the emphasis how fast these things could or would take place. How quickly do you walk, how soon do you choose to make contact with another person, how honest/vulnerable can you/will you be in four minutes? I think ideally I would want to attempt this piece in a different setting in which there was much more time, for the walking to truly become secondary to the thought process (a movement concerned with residing in a specific cognitive space), for the choices to be deliberate, and the time spent with another person to become . . . profound? I suppose I am not surprised that I just wanted everything to take more time.

Which addresses a current obsession of mine. Things/people/events moving slowly. The slower they move, the better. The more minimal the content, the more important that content becomes. It is elevated by its scarcity. The piece tonight felt dense in time, too much happening too quickly, without quality. Stretched over something like twenty minutes, each step can almost echo in time. Each choice becomes rare and perhaps profound simply because of the space between choices. The time spent face to face or walking next to or listening to another person has duration, time to go somewhere. I think that is where my disappointment/dissatisfaction lies.

But I was talking about selection.

In my piece, clearly there were the overt choices (to walk, to find a partner with whom to make eye contact, to speak or not to speak). But there were also the subtle choices: how quickly to walk, whether or not you were actually contemplating your shame. And whether or not you continued that contemplation while looking at another person. Or whether you were honest in what you spoke to another person. Who you chose to make contact with (visual or verbal). So many choices.

So the question that arises, whether it be in art or some other part of life, what are the criteria by which we are making our selections? I truly do not believe(at present) that there are correct or incorrect choices, in art or any part of life. There are simply choices with outcomes/consequences. And each choice is to the exclusion of every other choice. Some choices have relatively mild consequences (how quickly I walk home from school, etc.). Some have profound consequences (whether or not to act on anger or hate). Consequences can be constructive, destructive, or neutral. It seems as if all choices affect someone(everyone?) else to some degree. Constructively, destructively, neutrally. If nothing else, each choice affects us, me, myself, and I am a social being, thus that affect on me affects the way I am/who I am with others, to some degree . . .

This is turning into philosophy. I suppose all I am meaning to ask myself/you is what are the criteria by which you make choices? Or a specific choice? In your art, or some other part of your life. Do you derive that value system directly from a specific source (such as your interpretation of religious literature, etc.), or more indirectly (such as the culmination of a series of experiences, etc.)?

These are my thoughts tonight.




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