linoleum block prints that I carved by hand
stencils cut from cardstock
posters designed for 2 very different choreographers
stock exchange building I designed to look like it came from
a child's inner landscape (for a narrative short film)
I've seen her glance at a particular place a number of times, a tucked in area underneath my ribs that I've always had. It showed up in the drawings by students when I was a figure model, I ignore it in the mirror. In a movement class, allowing myself to consider what it means to grow wide but stay fluid at the same time, she asked if she could touch me along the front of my ribcage, just above my belly. Her hand slid over that place where I fold in, held tight by my own sinew, and she asked me to soften underneath her fingers as I initiated a roll from my side onto my back. For just a moment I could feel my spine free, twisting on its own in the jelly of my being. I can't stop thinking about that sensation. That my body might stay together even if I didn't constantly try to keep it from falling apart. That there may lie underneath my skin an entire bodily experience that I have never had access to because of holding myself back. Up. In.
There was a baby the other day, in one of those classes, born sooner than expected and so small, and I imagine all of his systems were struggling to catch up to the amount of stimulation the world provides. When he got overwhelmed, this tiny human cried and cried, and I suspect every adult in that room felt a deep, primal response to the heart-wrenching sound of this little being declaring his existence with all the power of his developing lungs. So we listened while his mother rocked him, as we continued our individual actions. Maybe he cried out for the safety of the womb, we can't ever really know, but I felt his cries all the way down in my bones. Maybe there is a particular note being sung, that most animals can still recognize - a language we have forgotten - but his voice called it out of us, I could see it in the other women's faces. I tried to stifle the flashbacks of being trapped in the bathroom by my stepfather when I cried. His constant denial of my truth while I was growing up would burst out of me helplessly. Uncontrollably painful sobs led to hitched, repetitive breathing like hiccups trapped in a pathological loop, they would last forever. His hand holding the doorknob from the other side until I could breath normally, had control over myself. My mother's vicious words any time I tried to communicate to her when I was in distress. That I existed. That I had feelings and that they were being crushed. That I was being crushed.
I had to step outside to regain control over my face.
Since I was assisting, providing support to Facilitators and Caregivers with infants, this was not the place for me to be swimming in my own pain. But as I considered where my response was coming from, I realized for the first time that maybe it wasn't just Art School priorities that got in the way of me learning how to develop my self expression. Maybe I had already learned everyone else's needs and opinions were more valuable than my own. Maybe it isn't the men who have talked their way into my bedroom who robbed me of the ability to defend myself, perhaps it was always me, robbing myself of my voice. I am the one suppressing my ability to communicate how I feel. Since I never had a safe place to express it, I have no idea what could possibly come out of me - I am terrified that telling people how I feel means I will lose them or myself. Listening to the cries from those tiny lungs, I realized how long I've been moving through the world like I had that horrible man breathing in my face, like my mom's defensive, cutting words were true. That I brought them with me into my sexual encounters and my friendships. Their physical presence has long since evaporated from my life, but I've been reacting as though they have always been there. How have I not known I was free?
Later that evening I was one of 30 dancers in a performance art piece. The piece had no cues, just a sequence of scenarios that were equal parts choreography and improvisation. As we stormed and stomped through the tiny gallery space, we welcomed in 3 guests/audience members and randomly ignored them and focused on them as we also responded to each other. It took a specific kind of openness, where you could almost feel the energy of the room shift as bodies morphed into a new shape, a different pattern of movements. One of the transitions went from a fast, low to the ground stomping shuffle to locking arms and legs with any body close enough to grasp, anchoring to them and freezing. The 3 audience members watched a roiling sea of bodies suddenly coalesce around them into a sculpture, a coral reef, a gently breathing aquifer that air and space moved through, that they were held inside of.
Inside of the anchor, the kinetic landscape of our connected bodies, it is evident when the mass begins to shift because there is a subtle releasing of weight - the force moving through our points of contact with each other pours back into our feet - and slowly, we all find ourselves standing face to face with another body that becomes our Mirror. There is such a strange deep resonance in the mirroring, a silent exchange through our eye contact and a physical responsiveness that passes the role of leader and follower between us, that gives my limbs permission to be drawn into the rhythms and gestural nuances of another being with a consciousness that lives underneath the patterns I typically move within. We did 15 repeat performances in 3 hours, and almost every time I moved from Anchor into Mirror I was looking into a completely different face, open and hyper aware of a different heartbeat. Once I looked into the tremulous, watery blue eyes of a much older woman and felt something powerful soften inside of me as I let her lead my body in space. Another time my focus was tuned to a man who looked like he might have walked out of a Dostoyevsky novel, but with laughing eyes that I was helpless against. He slowly covered his face with his hands to give me the space to regain my composure as my hands followed, and we took a deep inhale together before the next wave of synchronized movement rippled through the collective. A few times, audience members folded themselves in with the performers, pulled in by a deep desire to be a part of us, and I ended up Anchored with one of them during the course of the evening. She became the partner I mirrored, my body responsive to this curious outsider, extending the fearless support and trust of the other performers by including her in the co-creation of this experience.
I started to understand how the body of performers was tapping into an ancient, primal awareness, and the presence of the audience members allowed them to feel the edge of that collective fabric, sometimes enfolding, other times shutting them out completely, like a wave pulling back from shore after it had reached out and engulfed you. What I discovered in that room was this potential that we all still possess - a primordial capacity to be connected to each other.
Maybe we have misunderstood our inheritance.