Creature habits

Artists have routines and work habits like everyone. Sometimes these grooves are invisible because artists so often seek out new experiences and novel ways of doing things for the sake of inspiration. I would argue that our habits are core to the quality of what actually comes out of artistic practice.

One useful habit is to get out of your routines at least once a month and go see what artists in neighboring disciplines are up to.

Last weekend, I got myself tickets to a couple of programs at the Dance on Camera Festival at Lincoln Center. I saw seven films, each with a completely different aesthetic, framing, and theme. And, all the filmmakers were in attendance, along with family and friends cheering. A perfectly nourishing art adventure.

The last film of the evening was so intriguing, which I wasn’t expecting from the written description. Titled “Future Futures,” it is a series of five short films that explore digital humanity, asking “How do we bring our physical bodies with us into our inevitably digitally-bound futures?”

“Embracing the absurdity of centering dance inside a sci-fi narrative, the experimental series collapses time to portray human culture at an unprecedented moment: an emergence of a new, autonomous and intelligent being – the digital reflection and culmination of ourselves. In a state of mass transition, and forced into a bizarre coexistence alongside this growing presence, the remaining population of embodied “real” humans confront their own fears and curiosity of this new dawn while grieving what might be left behind in their looming obsolescence.”

Future Futures
Created by Company 605 & Brian J. Johnson
Produced by Company 605 & Screen Siren Pictures

It’s particularly poignant in moments like this, when we are talking endlessly about Open AI and about the catastrophic earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. Of course, we have bodies, we belong to earth, and so then what are we even doing?

Here is another interesting film/dance piece by the same arts organization, in which dancers perform a “loop” of choreographed movement that intersects with other dancers’ movements. Almost like habits colliding in life, from person to person to person.

I love the way the dance shifts and evolves as the dancers encounter one another in space. The freedom that emanates from this — something that is supposed to be a closed loop — is energetically so inspiring.

But the first film I had watched was completely different. In Habiter Le Seuil (Living on the Threshold), dancer/choreographer Marine Chesnais dives with humpback whales off of Reunion Island to gain inspiration for her next project.

With her vision — dancing with immense creatures in an immensity of ocean — we are meant to experience the vulnerability of our human forms. The perspective after such an encounter sets us down on a level more appropriate to our given place on this planet.

Chesnais talked about how the whales had all the control over the encounter: they decided when and whether to connect with her. It took many attempts to get close to the whale and her calf, and to enter into communication with them. She described how her “burning impatience” turned into “burning patience” during the process.

We get a glimpse of how an artist works, how the environment moves us in our artistic gestures, and how inspiration catches us up unexpectedly after so much persistent effort.

I consider poetry itself a kind of burning patience. We use so much silence. That doesn’t mean we aren’t working. It is a necessary habit.

Some new poems have been stirring my notebook, so that’s a nice sign for me in this late-winter lull. I have been reflecting on this poem by Jean Valentine, who always pushed me out of my comfort and into the necessary fires.

Door in the Mountain
by Jean Valentine

Never ran this hard through the valley
never ate so many stars

I was carrying a dead deer
tied on to my neck and shoulders

deer legs hanging in front of me
heavy on my chest

People are not wanting
to let me in

Door in the mountain
let me in.

Demand it. And then get tickets to something awesome if you can.

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