This Is Water was a lengthy process, as we struggled to find inspiration. One of the artists studied was Tehching Hsieh. Tehching, or Sam, Hsieh is a former performance artist, who performed duration performances. This fascinated us and as we studied his work, we began to draw influences from his performances. All of his performances were fascinating but one of his year-long performances, Time Clock Piece, was particularly interesting. The themes we liked were that of repetition and the exploration of time. We hoped to use these themes in our performance, yet struggled to think of a way to interpret these into our own ideas.
We started developing the idea of a duration performance based around repetition, when we discovered the Water Tower in Wickham Gardens. Situated on Steep Hill, the Water Tower is a short walk from the cathedral, and has an unkempt children’s play area. Through further exploration of the area my group partner and I came up with the idea of using water in our duration-based performance and decided to use the repetitive rituals contained in our everyday lives.
Considering this framework we decided which rituals would be the focus of our performance. We noticed there were sections in the ground where playground structures had been removed. These created ‘frames’, and we decided to include these in our performance using daily routines based around water as our theme. We would perform five separate rituals using water, in each of the five sections in the ground. These rituals, which are normally done in day to day life in a matter of minutes, would be stretched out to the length of an hour each.
The performance would start with a ‘morning’ routine; brushing teeth and washing faces. Our use of repetition in this routine would be through our actions, for example brushing the bottom row of teeth, then the top, spit and restart. We would change who did which action every fifteen minutes to avoid any irritation that may have been caused.
Next would be clothes washing. I would place a washed article of clothing on a climbing frame in the play area, my group partner would take it off, wear it and make it dirty again. Whenever I would finish cleaning one article of clothing, another would come back to me dirty, signalling the repetitiveness of this ritual.
The third routine would be that of lunch. My partner and I would set up two small tables in the smallest of the sections and have water-based foods and drinks. We would take it in turns to eat/drink these items.
Fourth would be washing the dishes. We would wash our lunch time dishes incredibly slowly, attempting to make it as long and drawn out as possible, exploring the passage of time in banal everyday routines.
Finally we would bathe each other in a paddling pool set up in the largest of sections in the play area. Every fifteen minutes we would change whose turn it was. The site that we were performing in used to be that of a public bath (source) and we wanted to reference the history of our site in this section.
Analysis Of Performance:
As I started the site specific module, I remember being fairly excited to get started on performances based on location, and how we could best use this throughout the module. When we were greeted at the LPAC stage with a list of instructions to perform in public, it grasped my curiosity. The idea of performing in a public place has never intimidated me personally. As somebody who adores performing on stage, I never thought that site specific would be that much different. However, I quickly learned that there were many other layers to performance in a public location than just simply that of a stage in a theatre. The reactions we got on our first day from people passing by as we performed were much different from that I normally get while performing, and I don’t know why I thought they wouldn’t be. My experience to date with drama has mainly been stage based, and people have viewed them with ‘theatre’ expectations. However when you take a performance to a public place, it can take on a whole new meaning. There is no longer any expectation of performance, and the performers themselves have to work that much harder because of this fact.
As a class, we were then taken on a guided tour around parts of Lincoln, mainly up Steep Hill. We were shown several areas of historical significance and given the option of selecting any location we wanted for our site specific performances. As my selected group partner and I walked around Lincoln, attempting to decide where we’d like our site location to be, we found ourselves eventually drawn to Wickham Gardens, in which stood the large water tower of Lincoln. Our first thoughts when entering Wickham Gardens was that we really wanted to do something with the children’s play area located inside of it. With the massive backdrop of the Lincoln water tower there as well, we began to think if there was any way that we could link the two together.
Once we had decided for certain that this was the location we wanted to use, we conducted background research into the water tower and Wickham Gardens. During this research, we discovered that our site had previously been the location of a public bath in the 1900s. (Heritage Connect). As a group we wanted to link in as much of the history of our site as we could, and so we made a mental note to include this in our performance in some way.
Through our initial research, we had early ideas of using frames. In our very early creative process we wanted to use a picture frame to create a scene that related to our site, with the theme of water being present. Our initial idea didn’t sit too well within our group or with our peers, however through the ideas of framing and water, our group eventually settled on an idea we were quite proud of. My group partner and I sat down in our site and attempted to think of a way to link our early ideas into our new thought for a performance. Thankfully our playground site had five separate sections in the ground, where play equipment had previously been removed. And so this was where our idea for framing could be incorporated in to our new idea. There were five sections of artificial flooring, in varying sizes in different locations throughout the play ground. We decided that we’d like to include all of them in our performance in some way. We also began to think about how we could include the water tower, and water itself.
It was then that I remembered a speech given by David Foster Wallace entitled; “This Is Water” (Wallace, 2005). In this speech he talks about the repetitiveness of everyday life, and the ‘day in, day out’ routines that every person goes through. David Foster Wallace goes onto say about finding meaning in the mundanities of life and how; “…the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance” (Wallace 2005, 1). While it may be fairly over exaggerated, we took this to mean that there is importance in every single routine that we perform in life, despite how repetitive and mundane it may first appear.
As site specific classes continued, we were introduced to artist Tehching Hshieh, and his performances based on duration. One of them in particular stood out to both of us, and this was his Time Clock Piece (Hshieh, T 1980-1981). In it, Tehching Hsieh performs a repetitive action for a year. We liked the ideas of both taking duration and repetitiveness, and began to think of ways that we could link this in with our initial ideas of framing and water. Thankfully, we could see some correlation between the repetitiveness of Tehching Hsieh’s piece, and David Foster Wallace’s speech about finding meaning in repetitive routines. It was then that we decided to model our performance around the repetitive and mundane routines that we use water for in our everyday life, and hopefully finding some meaning to them when elongating the period of time that we performed them for.
The first thing that we would have to do then, would be to think of these routines and which ones we would like to be the main focus of our duration performance. Seeing as we had five separate sections of ‘frames’ in our site, we decided that we would perform a different routine in each one, lasting an hour each. The duration of our performance then would be five hours, changing each daily routine on the hour, commencing each change with the sound of the church bells. Basing it on a daily routine, we began to consider how we would start and finish, before filling in the rest. We decided to focus upon an average daily routine of water use, from the start of the day when you get out of bed and wash your face and then brush your teeth, to the end of the day when you relax in a nice bath and wash yourself clean. And so we began to think of a way we could show the average day and the use of water in it.
Of course we started with the face washing and brushing of teeth. To link in with the repetitiveness that Tehching Hsieh influenced us to perform, we would have a specific set of actions when performing these routines. With the face washing, we would go from washing the right side of our face, to the left, to the forehead and to the chin, before drying with a towel in the same order. With the teeth brushing, we decided upon the bottom row of teeth to start with, doing the front of the row, the top of the row and then the back. The same would be done again on the top row, before spitting and starting again. This completed our first ritual.
Then we would go onto the washing of dirty clothes, with ideas of how we could make the clothes dirty again after washing them to show the cycle that clothes go through, and how no matter how much we clean them they are just going to get dirty again. This links in with the repetitive banality of daily routines.
(Dunn, J 2015).
We would then go on to have our lunch. We took this at first to be our ‘break’ in performance. Starting with drinks before lunch, we would pour out squash into a cup, and then pour water into it, before taking it in turns to have sips. We would then move on to the main course of lunch, having hot soup already prepared in a flask. Then would come desert, which we would eat in the form of jelly. The plan was to put the pot of jelly on a plate and take it in turns to eat little bits of it. And finally for our lunch routine, we would make coffee or tea, and once again take it in turns to drink from our mugs. We would perform each of these four routines for fifteen minutes each, so that our ‘lunch break’ successfully lasted an hour.
After that would come the washing of the utensils we used during lunch. One of us would wash a utensil that we used in a bowl of water over the course of the hour, while the other dried a utensil that we used over the course of the hour. We would use very minute actions to do this to explore the passage of time and how long and boring we consider this particular ritual to be in our everyday life.
Finally, we would enter a paddling pool, and bathe each other in it. One of us would wash the other with a sponge for fifteen minutes before it would be the other’s turn. This linked in well with the history of our site, and the fact it used to be a public bath. We would bathe each other instead of bathing ourselves to show the interdependence of the performers.
As we began to rehearse these rituals, there were a few problems that arose throughout. First and foremost was the earliest rehearsal that I attempted, which was the washing of my face and brushing of my teeth.
(Dunn, J 2015).
The main issue that I encountered during this rehearsal was the effect that the water was taking on my skin. By washing my face over and over again for an extended period of time my face began to sting, and eventually turned red and began to swell slightly. After a discussion with my group, we put this down to the use of soap. It had somehow irritated my face, and we decided to cut the use of it in our performance all together for safety reasons.
Another problem that occurred was of our personal opinion. During a rehearsal of the lunch scene, we began to be concerned with how visually interesting this section of the performance was. While we did want to show that these actions aren’t exactly that interesting, simply because we don’t think so much about them, we were worried that our audience would become bored or uninterested in our performance at this part. To put our worries at ease, we consulted this with our tutor and agreed that as long as we did it with enough focus and determination, it would become plenty interesting.
(Dunn, J 2015)
As our site specific dress rehearsal came around, we realised that we hadn’t quite been as organised as we had hoped. Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances, the paddling pool for our final section hadn’t yet arrived, and so we had to do the dress run without it. Thankfully though the dress run had been planned a few days before our actual performance, so we had enough time to rehearse this section when it did eventually arrive. Apart from that however, our dress rehearsal went well, and we were confident going into our performance that we would be able to perform all of our sections with the determination and focus that we wanted.
(Dunn, J 2015)
On the day of our performance, we realised that there was one thing we hadn’t taken into consideration. The weather. Sadly on the day it was against us, with high winds and unseasonably cold temperatures, which was a huge shame as every other time we had rehearsed it had been warm and sunny. Still however, we soldiered on and performed our site piece to the best of our abilities, until at 12pm, during the lunch section, it had to be cut short due to health and safety concerns. It was eventually the mixture of performing these actions with cold water and the weather that led to the concerns. Our group was disappointed that we hadn’t been able to complete this challenge that we set out for ourselves, but were grateful to be out of the wet and cold.
Thankfully we did have a few people show up to our performance, and the reviews that we heard were mainly that of a positive note. One person who came stated that while they liked the signs that we had put around the play area informing people that there was a performance underway, there could have been more information on the history of the site and the water tower in general, as well as the background information about the performance.
Overall however, we were happy with how our final performance went, despite being cut short. We feel like we performed what we wanted to, and hopefully made people more aware of their usage of water and to think deeper when dealing with some of the rituals we performed. For me in the end, this became more of a personal challenge, and I’m glad that I managed to complete what I could. There were however a few things that we would have liked to have changed in relation to our performance. It would have been a good idea to take into consideration the weather, and possibly look into a way of working around that, maybe through the use of warm water in our stations instead of simple cold tap water. To link in with the water tower more as well, we could have collected rain water from when we began this creative process, purified it, and used it in all of our sections. This would have reflected nicely with the way the water tower was used, in the purification of water.
While there were issues with this performance in the end, the entire process has given me a deeper understanding of what duration artists go through, and just how long time can take to pass when you’re focussing on one repetitive task. I find myself now with a greater appreciation for the artists that we studied throughout the course, particularly with Tehching Hsieh. Duration based art is something that continues to fascinate me and hopefully will continue to have an impact on the way I look at everyday life, and at performance art in general.
Heritage Connect, Swimming Pools, [online] Lincoln: Heritage Connect. Available from http://www.heritageconnectlincoln.com/lara-raz/swimming-pools/794 [accessed 14th May 2015]
Wallace, D F, (2005) This is Water, [online video] Available from https://vimeo.com/68855377 [accessed 15 May 2015]
Wallace, D F, (2005) This is Water, [online] Available from http://www.metastatic.org/text/This%20is%20Water.pdf [accessed 15 May 2015]
Hshieh, T, (1980-1981) Time Clock Piece, [online] Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90izVR2Kip0 [accessed 15 May 2015]
Dunn, J (2015) Washing Clothes 1, [online] Available from https://www.flickr.com/photos/133329868@N08/17465905639/in/dateposted-public/ [accessed 15 May 2015]
Dunn, J (2015) Endurance Performance Rehearsal, [online] Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xErlJtAjc4s [accessed 15 May 2015]
Dunn, J (2015) Lunch 1, [online] Available from https://www.flickr.com/photos/133329868@N08/17031881123/in/dateposted-public/ [accessed 15 May 2015]
Dunn, J (2015) Teeth Face 1, [online] Available from https://www.flickr.com/photos/133329868@N08/17029708994/in/dateposted-public/ [accessed 15 May 2015]