In January 2018, I performed for seven weeks in Tania Bruguera’s Untitled [Havana 2000]. Installed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the work was an historical recreation of a tunnel beneath the Cabaña Fortress in Havana, Cuba. The recreated site was a known torture chamber for political dissidants during both the Castro and Batista regimes, and then repurposed, by the regime, as a gallery space for the biennial and the first iteration of the piece.
Stationed on dry sugarcane, we were indistinguishable in the darkness, guarding a suspended television looping propaganda of Fidel Castro, swimming, hugging a young girl, unbuttoning his shirt, drinking a tea, generally performing congenial vulnerability. We looped a sequence of four, exhausting, full body gestures, nude, six days a week, six hours a day, for seven weeks. Each gesture was historically and psychoemotionally loaded and the sequence concealed an internal score. Though the performance was physically and emotionally taxing, it gave me the opportunity, ironically, to be with myself. I noticed that my body being so thoroughly programmed allowed my attention to modulate in unexpected ways. I experimented with long sequences of attention, from attention itself, to breath, to skeleton, through soft tissue, to expanding rings of space around my body. The tone of breath, the tone of muscle, and the tone of room.
One day there was construction in an adjacent building and the vibrations of heavy machinery shot through the tunnel via its tightly coupled metal understructure. It was awesome. Unlike a sound from a discrete point of origin, as most are, the field of vibration was totally encompassing, every sound coming from everywhere at once. Inside all of this is where I became preoccupied with making a resonant body that could contain my own.
The initial concept was to recreate the experience from the tunnel with a large copper sheet coupled to two resonant wooden beams such that a person or group of people could be surrounded by the structure. With the help of Andrew Braddock, I built a smaller prototype with a steel arch attached to a single support beam in two places. Not large enough for a group, but with space for a single person. The 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.
The arch is difficult to play. Harder still to play alone. The more total energy exerted on it, the easier it becomes to excite vibration. To get the arch really singing requires at least two people, but ideally four, exerting considerable force, force that if applied too asymmetrically would topple and most likely break the instrument. Exciting vibration requires intentional and physical focus on the instrument and, possibly, the possibility of dissolving social awareness. It rewards focused, repetitive work. In working on, or by being worked on by, the instrument, the vibrational field appears. If one’s attention lapses, the field dissolves. My intention is not to perform, in so far as my intention is not to show or display what we are doing, but rather to exert the energy required to generate a field that others are then invited to engage with.
The video component is a feedback loop meant to simulate the way in which an arch is a subform of tunnel, a threshold that becomes a journey.