VestAndPage: One Earth's Dreaming
Excerpt from the essay "The Reinvention of Time" by Dana Altman
Originally published on The Fall of Faust - Considerations on Contemporary Art and Art Action by Andrea Pagnes Florence: VestAndPage press, 2010
In a recent VestAndPage performance (One Earth's Dreaming at Grace Exhibition Space, New York, 2010), which is emblematic for their work, the room is dark, and covered in a carpet of grass, with white flowers on it. The smell of freshly dug earth is there, enveloping us. Everything is flat, with the exception of a mound which seems to create a much-needed alternative to the flatness of the landscape. The sound of someone’s breathing can be heard, but it is hard to understand the source of that rhythm. A woman in a white dress is sitting in the middle of the man-made lawn. The woman is gathering some of the flowers and knitting them together with thread and creating bracelets for herself. She soundlessly hands out pencils and pieces of paper to the members of the audience, who are requested to write a wish. Each person come on, writes a wish and attaches the note with thread to the white dress of the female performer, and then goes on to remove some earth and grass from the mound. There is something underneath, and in time one sees it is the male performer, who is uncovered like a living archeological relic, and one has to wonder about the ambiguity of the message. Are we communicating with the departed, or are we uncovering life by our willingness to actually communicate with it? Does the fact that we entrusted our thoughts and helped with the uncovering make him one of us, or does it make us like him? Did we unearth him because we provided knowledge? Or was knowledge always there and our willingness just facilitated its direct manifestation? And the fact we are moving in a whirlpool of viewers / actors is proof that we have already been incorporated into the universe of the performance. When he is uncovered, he stands up, washes and dresses in a simple suit, thus becoming as similar to one of us as possible, or one of us by the capacity to mimic an everyday action. The woman then takes off the dress with the written wishes of the audience. Together, the man and the woman open a window in the grass: under it, there is a mirror. Do they see themselves for what they are, themselves after the process, a bride and groom of history, or of the departed, or themselves as us? The two performers give flowers to the visitors, creating one more connection between the written word, the thoughts and us.
Once again, there is definitely the question of the communication process going on between the two performers, and between them and the audience, a flow of energy and signs that is being transmitted between all participants, and who become a whole during the event itself. Language is materialized by the actual writing, it becomes a sign, and the flowers given to everyone are another level of materialization, like a sign of absolution from the alienation. When we/they are encouraged to put together our most intimate thoughts on paper and pass them on, and the second our thoughts are verbalized, transformed into linguistic signs and then given away, the action feels meditative, like it was relinquished by means of the ritual to an instance that can further it and help clarification. One cannot be passive, cannot just sit and wait for everyone else to exorcise their fear of communication and hold back in the process of recreating unity. The need to let go and do it is too strong, and the atmosphere too encouraging. There is no judgment, and there is in fact no direct request. There is just an opportunity to do it, which is being provided in a conducive environment. And once again, each one of us is handed a loose script and allowed, or more likely, encouraged and supported to improvise according to our personal horizon of expectations. Once again, two issues on which Pagnes and Stenke have focused in the past is intimately entwined in the fabric of their performance: the importance of communication, and the ritualistic aspects involved in facilitating it, as well as a personal version of bypassing alienation, the fundamental and rarely acknowledged problem of contemporary society. Once again, a person has to go over the fear of allowing him/herself to bring to the fore an intimate wish, verbalise it, and also objectify it and in the process of objectification, relinquish control and hope for the best. The feeling of alienation is one more time overcome by the ritual which seems strangely familiar, and which turns it into something else, more comforting. In the same time, the ritual has its own narrative, often apparently unrelated to what we perceive as the “real time” and operating in a bubble governed by its own rules. It is a different type of narrative, and one has to agree with its reinvention and accept the sequence in order to experience it fully.