Artist Statement for the Jardin d’Europe Wild Card Residency
By Michael Helland, September 2012
Last week I returned from the intensity of dOCUMENTA where I performed for nearly 100 days straight in the exhibition This Variation by Tino Sehgal. Everyday was an improvised durational variation on a set of songs we had learned to sing and dance and intermix and beatbox while configuring ourselves around strangers in the dark – interspersed with conversations about money and virtuosity – for five hours per day, six days per week. At times the piece became incredibly performative, at other times it felt more like we were just hanging out with friends – and Tino was always quick to remind us that we were in an EXHIBITION and that if anything we should think of ourselves as ‘players’ in the piece and stay conscious of the ‘situation’ to take care that we avoid slipping into the trappings of dance and theater. But when I immediately reflect on much of what happened in this situation I feel more fulfilled as a performer and impacted as an artist than I do perhaps by any other dance or theater piece I have ever participated in. Many of my values and tactics were transformed into questions where each day had a different answer.
So what now? How will I move ahead and carry the richness of this experience into my continued work? Having been out of New York for just two years I am still locating myself in Europe, searching for my own path in the creative community. I know that I will continue to work in the coming year as a performer in a few contemporary dances that, while being quite experimental in their own regards, operate in a more or less traditional fashion. And I know that performing in an exhibition is very different from performing in a theater, obviously – and also demonstrably, for when I left dOCUMENTA for a quick tour to perform a piece by choreographer Daniel Linehan a few weeks ago, I had assumed that it would be easy to take the stage after performing everyday this summer, but instead I found myself incredibly nervous beforehand, even more than I can recall at any point in the past few years. It was then that it hit me how this greater sense of what it means to hold the space and transform the energy of the public that I experienced daily in This Variation is not necessarily transferrable to the theater – or if it should be, then how could it be? So I find myself with an awesomely shifted center of gravity, searching for ground within my current creative context, and more curious than ever about how this will apply to my future independent work.
I think it has something to do with the art object – participation, where the public becomes part of the body of the performance in a direct way, where critical distance is challenged and the experience of the work becomes bodily for everyone visiting the piece. I think it has something to do with what happens when an artwork becomes your entire life, when everything is centered upon it and there is no escape, so you just have to live inside of it as if it were your only reality. I think it has something to do with not asking too much from art so that it becomes an untouchable unsolicited demand for transformation, but finding a way to honor your work through practice, presence, and community – where you can create the space for transformation to emerge, and then celebrate it when it does! I think it may also have something to do with exploring the history of these ideas in art and having the chance to play alongside a new cohort of peers as a Wild Card participant at ex.e.r.ce this autumn. And in the end, at this very moment of my life, I know it would be wildly exciting to step in and test out the role of Masters student!