the tools of unmaking

Notes from  residency with visual artist Tracy Taylor Grubbs (Week one)

Opening Desire: The Non-Rational Mind
Tracy and I are exploring what it means to have an art practice that is an extension of a meditation practice. How can artmaking be a training in responsiveness? As makers, how do we stay in the open, rested, quiet mind without pulling form out of the rational mind? What needs to happen so that we can allow forms to arise from the intuitive, listening mind?

We begin with scrolls of paper. T. has brought scrolls of different sizes and kinds of paper, brushes of different sizes, and calligraphy ink.  She begins by taping some of the scrolls on the floor.  She has prepared a large brush so that it is taped to two long sticks.  The brush is therefore awkwardly far away from her hand. When I pick it up, it makes me acutely aware of the nature of distil initiation.

What are the tools of unmaking?
What is the nature of an art that strips away, deconstructs, opens up the self and the world?
How do you make the practice of presence legible? Visceral?
Is an art practice possible without metaphor?
How can art be more like hospice work? (Sit with a body. Change places with the body.)

Things that paper can become

Other things that can become other things
matter becomes non matter
form becomes formlessness
body becomes energy
body becomes dirt

Words for the transformation of matter

Events in the studio that felt like success
T. unrolls the scroll of large paper and tapes it down. There is a portion of the scroll left at the end. I want to touch it. Until now I have been in a solo practice, hesitant to cross over into her zone.  But I am on the floor, and my hand reaches out, and there is the scroll—her scroll. I reach out and grasp it and wait. She walks over and stands close. Then I begin to inch my body underneath the scroll, ripping up its tape anchors as I go. I am soon stretched out under the unscrolled paper on my back, my fingers poking out, grabbing the paper’s edge. I think about the Shroud of Turin.  After a while, I scissor my legs around the paper. I raise my legs up into a shoulderstand and begin to turn, winding the scroll around me like a sheet.  I crawl out of the paper, and it is now a sculpture.
Ripping up paper very fast and then taking the fast ripping body for a ride.
Taking the scroll and playing baseball with wadded up balls of paper.   Laughing with T. as it happens.

Annoying habits of mind
Ghosts: Trisha Brown’s foot drawings and Forsythe’s massive lexicon of line-making techniques.  An oppressive imperative to make up new movement.  I really want to go to my notebook and write things down.

The practice of presence in duet form
T. and I. intersect, drift apart.
What are the dropping-in points for connection?
Parallel play becomes playing together
Staying listening
Eyes closing and opening
Framing the action in the space through the action in the space
shared stillness is important, so are moments when just one person is moving

Yvonne Rainer/Deborah Hay-inspired mini manifesto
no to imposing anything on the audience
no to metaphor

try to get lost
Resonance/Memory (rip the paper quickly, play with the body that rips quickly)
Allowing vocabulary to arise is different than making a phrase
Allowing vocabulary to decompose is different than deconstructing it
Stopping before recognizable form arises
Observing how new form arises in the body/mind
An energetic following of movement within the body
Imagine the body as a set of particles constantly re-arranging themselves

T. and I discuss the painterly mark
A real mark is the one you make without effort of will, without repetition of habit.
A representative versus an intuitive line. If you paint with your nondominant hand, the mark will more likely come from your intuitive mind. What are the analogous tools for accessing intuitive physical language?

The “Rainbow Body” in Buddhism
According to some Buddhist traditions, the attainment of the “rainbow body” is the sign of complete enlightenment.  In this practice, at death,  the corporeal body returns to its primordial energetic essence.  The rainbow body is a body made not of flesh, but of pure light.  As Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche states: “The realised … practitioner, no longer deluded by apparent substantiality or dualism such as mind and matter, releases the energy of the elements that compose the physical body at the time of death.” Sometimes only hair and nails are left.  There have been a number of documented sightings of this process.  It may take a number of days to complete. From the case studies of those who have realised the rainbow body, the practices of Trekchö is key. Trekchö means “thorough cut” or “cutting through,” cutting obscurations completely to pieces, like slashing through them with a knife. So the past thought has ceased, the future thought hasn’t yet arisen, and the knife is cutting through this stream of present thought. But one doesn’t keep hold of this knife either; one lets the knife go, so there is a gap. When you cut through again and again in this way, the string of thought falls to pieces. If you cut a rosary in a few places, at some point it doesn’t work any longer.