In January 2018, I performed for seven weeks in Tania Bruguera’s Untitled [Havana 2000]. The installation at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City was a recreation of a long tunnel beneath the Cabaña Fortress in Havana, Cuba.
Standing on dry sugarcane were four Cuban men nearly indistinguishable in the darkness, guarding a suspended television playing propaganda of Castro feigning vulnerability. We performed a sequence of four gestures in the nude six days a week, six hours a day, for seven weeks. Each gesture was a physical meditation on personal and political histories of silencing, shame, and oppression. Though the performance was physically and emotionally taxing, it gave me the opportunity to radically expand my boundaries.
Inside the tunnel, I found that if I focused first on my own attention, then on my body and then into my peripheral senses, I could be more receptive than usual. Much of that focus went into listening. One day there was construction in an adjacent building and the sounds of machinery and work reverberated into the tunnel through its metal understructure. The acoustic was remarkable. Unlike a sound from a discrete point of origin, as most are, the field of sound within the arching tunnel was all-encompassing, with every sound coming from everywhere at once. As I performed in the tunnel I developed the designs for what would become Arch.
The initial concept was to recreate the sonic experience from the tunnel using an acoustically resonant metal archway grounded to two resonant wooden beams. This year, in collaboration with artist Andrew Braddock, I built a smaller prototype with a steel arch attached to a single support beam in two places. Not large enough for an audience, but with space for a single listener. The video documentation shows a composition for this instrument performed by me, Leila Bordreuil, and Sam Weissberg. The three basic approaches to the instrument are bowing the strings attached to each end of the resonator beam, bowing the arch itself, and using the input/output transducers mounted within it for audio playback or creating pure input feedback loops.
I find the acoustic approaches interesting in the way they subvert traditional performance paradigms. The more energy exerted on the instrument, the easier it is to excite the multitimbral resonances. To get the arch really singing requires at least two people, using real strength. Producing sound requires intentional and physical focus on the instrument itself and, ideally, the dissolution of audience awareness. By working on the instrument, we are producing a sound field. If one’s attention lapses, the field dissolves. I consider my role not to be performing, but inviting the public to interact with the field.
The video component is a feedback loop meant to simulate the way in which an arch is a subform of tunnel, a threshold that reflexively becomes a journey.