Friday, November 23, 2012

Not What, But How

Back in the 1970s I made my first trips to New York city as an art student, and one of the artists who attracted me most, and who has remained a major influence for me, was Richard Foreman. I bought a copy of his book Richard Foreman, Plays and Manifestos (NYU Press, 1976), and couldn't help but notice that there on the cover of the book was an illustration of a theatre by Robert Fludd, one that I first saw in The Art of Memory by Frances Yates.

Now, the image on the cover would have been enough to sell me on the book, but Foreman's texts were so focused on exactly where I wanted to focus, on that moment where one notices. It isn't a scientific type of focus or noticing. It's a noticing where one suddenly finds oneself aware that one had been carrying around a conceptual frame that was not synched with what one was confronting, and then one notices that frame shift so that one is suddenly resonant with that confrontation. What happens in this type of noticing, is that one is not so involved with WHAT something means, as one is with HOW something means.

After a lifetime of focusing on how things mean, it is a response that is always ready to erupt. If one continually had that as an initial reaction we would not survive--we'd get hit by cars while staring at the walk/don't walk signs, instead of just waiting for the proper sign to blink on. But it is a response that occurs enough with me that it is my main source of humor, and I'm sure I annoy many people with my deliberate misinterpretations of statements. It's not that I think I'm clever, my mind is just constantly looking for the pun, the parallel meaning, the unintended wordplay, and it goes there first. I live in an alternative universe.

Here is a note in one of Foreman's "manifestos" from the book: "Write by thinking against the material. Since you don't want to convince self of your vision, etc.--but to let it be informed by the disintegrating non-moment".

For me his plays throw everything at each other so that all of us--and I believe Foreman himself as a viewer--is actively engaged in trying to find anything that makes sense. With no traditional story or narrative, objects are present as objects, and only on occasion, seemingly unconsciously, they collide with the right object and a symbol radiates from the crash. And as the symbol emerges from our suddenly noticing, from an otherwise noisy but meaningless stage, we are able to better notice elemental aspects of our "making sense".

In October, Foreman premiered a new film "Once Every Day" at the New York Film Festival. He was interviewed by the critic Amy Taubin. Here it is:


No comments: