Thursday, September 15, 2011

Forever Incomplete

Can process and product be mutually exclusive? When does something cross from process to product? Is it possible to present process as something distinct from product? Charles Slender’s FACT/SF sought to explore these concepts in its recent residency at CounterPULSE, which culminated in four performances of Pretonically Oriented V.3 this past September 8-11. I don’t know if Slender succeeded in presenting process, but his attempts leave much for consideration.

I recently finished reading The Price of Altruism by Oren Harman, which had absolutely nothing to do with these concepts of process and product, but which ended with a quote I find interestingly relevant: “What makes great works of art complete is that they remain forever incomplete. Explanations for events are at once myriad and mysterious; putting down a book, or walking away from a painting or a sculpture, or finishing listening to a piece of music, one always leaves with lingering thoughts that are neither questions nor answers.” I am struck by the notion that a piece of art cannot be completed or finished, as its reception is often just as much a part of the art piece’s history as its process leading up to its presentation. Rather, there is only the current evolution of the art piece at the time of presentation.

I don’t think too many people will disagree with me when I say Pretonically Oriented V.3 was incredibly demanding of its audience. There were times when there was literally no action happening onstage. The choreography seemed to explicitly give the audience nothing tangible to hold onto. I sat in the audience brooding over whether this was pushing artistic boundaries or simply poor consideration of the viewers (Would you pay to watch an empty stage?). Nevertheless we all sat there. No one started clapping or got up and left. I felt that either the audience must be particularly erudite and patient, or just polite and sleepy. The piece was tedious, difficult to meditate on, and generally, dare I say, boring.

However here I am a week later still thinking about it, so it must have succeeded in a way. When I saw the piece in an informal showing about a month ago, I could very well see it was in progress. Overhead lights, rehearsal clothes, and an after-discussion cemented the feeling of showing a work-in-process. When I saw the piece in performance, with costumes and lights and a full audience, that sense of process was diminished by the presentational aspects. For me, the process is in the product, and in a piece like Pretonically Oriented V.3 that had focused so intensely on showcasing process, the finished product felt like it had little to say beyond what its process had been. Although it was an intriguing exploration, I don’t know if process and product can ever truly be distinct. It appears that there has to be more driving and guiding process than just the process itself.

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