We have been working, Tara Fatehi Irani and I, for what we consider a long time now, on ALWAYS ALREADY, a performance within an installation. It has not been so many hours but it has been over so many years. The world is completely over turned since we started. That’s how it feels. The weather has changed and so much more. What I usually think of as a response to the time in which a piece of work has been made has stretched to epic proportions. We continue and it feels like the more we work, the closer we get to having less material (a good thing) and more focus (a good thing) and less time together (not a great thing). We were/are still coming to the end stages of making this work and now it stretches even further as a result of this pandemic we hope to live through.
At one point I wrote this about it:
An overarching structure of 100 Forgotten Questions, repeated throughout the installation’s duration and concentrated in the one-hour performance, provides texture, adjustments in significance, and subtle variation over time. The Questions include stories about machine operators merging with their machines, plants growing inside human lungs, and the lace in the interior landscapes of our bodies. As the piece progresses, some of the Questions — always remembered anew — morph and change, and in some cases the present moment makes space for improvisation.
At another point I wrote this:
always already thinking
who writes these words? how do they come through me? I am here and I am moving my fingers and thinking thoughts scaffolded into my brain via every thing and everyone I have come into contact with. Every build up and every bring down has contributed to this moment. And this is how I am filling it. This is how I am overfilling it with a narrow stream of thought or a thick one. This is how so much gets away. A thought about other minds came through during lunch and the trigger was food or another mind, another mouth moving, and strings of words find patterns that carry meaning — and do so even though I have heard them before — and they join with the earlier version, the one inside my head planted some time ago. Now I am hearing them read aloud by the person who caused them to be written down and that version, with the influential voice, and the specific lilt and intonation that benefits and boosts the meaning of these words, together with pre-existing tonal shadings derived in my particular brain wave theology and viral experience. I got an idea and I failed to note it down. Even as I wasn’t writing it down I thought: it is these words exactly together in exactly this string and it will be meaningless otherwise and, unless I write them down in that order now, I will forget and the meaning will not come back via some side door later when I am tired or even more awake than I am now.
It had something to do with the part of my brain that needs to disconnect to let the other part function, make decisions, and speak. This part of my brain is unconscious but knows where all the connections lie. This part of my brain has to be quiet when I’m learning the dance. This part has to keep my breath going when I focus on everything else but breathing while still needing oxygen.
Am I taking it seriously, the need to make this work? Am I working on it all the time? Can I think of anything else? Still I am miles away from it.
I have to know it well enough that my mind works on it even though I’m not thinking about it. I do not give my consent on the direction, on the tone, on the focus, on the rhythm. I don’t tell it what to do, it tells me.
Like learning a difficult dance and finally arriving at the point when I can do it without thinking. The feet go where they are supposed to go and my heart beats and my lungs fill and outer is exchanged for inner and vice versa.
And there are 100 questions listed and this list is the structure of the piece.
Then there was this:
I feel the noise in my head
it is still there, a residue of a noise of work and thought
it’s not easy this dance, this dance that does not yet exist
this dance of great difficulty
I am not sure what we will make but I am sure that we are still far away from it.
we have to move closer but it think it does too
time is weaving its way through us and we are smaller and tighter and fall over more easily
I mean, what time is it, that late
I mean, isn’t it time to eat dinner yet
I mean, my knee hurts
I mean, when I don’t think it is working I can’t tell what time it is
there’s a randomly generated sequence and now we’ve messed with it
random to less random but also maybe not quite known well enough to judge
is it dance or not dance
we need to sing a song of it, we need to slow it down, we need to see it backwards, we need to forget it and find it again, we need to speak to it and to listen to its response, we need to loosen up and tighten it, start over with what we already have. laugh at it.
See how it becomes more difficult? And then this:
if we are embedded in the wall and can’t get out, how do we get out? should one of us pull the other out? does it get messier? is it much more mechanised? when does the breathing make a difference and how do we distill everything we care about? how if we just keep repeating the same thing? what if the tone shifts are more pronounced? is there a point of dropping everything with radical shifts? we need to tumble out and dance much earlier. We need to start with dancing. We need to dance, then we need to dive into the wall, then we need to pull ourselves out, then we need to dance some more, and then we need to get in very carefully, and then we need to layer ourselves into the fabric of it and make noise.
Then we need to sing and then we dance again with more shock or more difficulty or the most minimal silence-heavy lightness we can find and then we slip the string and one leaf falls.
We have worked so long on this piece that the world has changed completely in the time since we began. This makes it even more important but also even more difficult to imagine finishing it. It is taking patience and discipline and a lot of self-examination alongside the usual effort it takes to pull meaning and insight out of a pile of ideas as yet in no particular order.
One day it will have a shape that seems like the only shape it could have been.
Photo: Jemima Yong