Memorial Auditorium has always struck me as haunted. Perhaps the same could be said of every building meant to commemorate, to house not just an institution’s lectures and performances but also its ghosts: of students, of soldiers. Ghosts of a very different sort find themselves at the heart of Citation, a new durational performance piece taking place within a transformed MemAud on October 15 and 16. The theater is unrecognizable; you should know that this will not be the room you’ve sat in for NSO skits or Ram’s Head productions.
The piece “recalls performances by female artists from the 1960s to our contemporary moment” over the course of a 34-hour performance by Raegan Truax, a performance artist and Ph.D. student in Theater & Performance Studies. Citation will be free and open to the public for the entire 34 hours, and audience members are free to come and go as they wish. From Wednesday, October 15 at 7 am until Thursday, October 16 at 5 pm, all are welcome to witness Truax’s piece unfold inside the newly ghosted MemAud and to discuss the work with her in a talk-back immediately following the work.
Our conversation, which I present here in Truax’s words, will hopefully provide an interesting backdrop to Citation, which you should go see at some point this week, in the wee hours of the night or the early hours of the morning, at its beginning Wednesday morning or its end Thursday evening.
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Why this work? Why now?
What if I took literally the feeling I have of an artistic lineage that is embedded in my very body, in my skin? That was one of my first questions when I started making this work that came up, I think, because my work is always haunted by a group of artists that remain slightly unintelligible or invisible in many ways. Artists always do their due diligence, research- and inspiration-wise. We ingest work constantly. And as scholars we literally write out our citations in a way that’s acknowledged as good scholarship, so – what if I demanded (from myself) the same kind of recognition in an embodied way? A way that can’t be published and is actually designed to be ephemeral?
I think as an artist one is constantly building work from one’s archive and experience and within that, there’s a lot of ghosted predecessors that emerge. Citation started bubbling up as an idea when I began doing more artist talks where different referents and associations were attached to my work or I would be asked to contextualize my work by associating it with the work of a more established artist. Sometimes those associations made sense, and sometimes they didn’t. A few times I wouldn’t know the reference, and that’s always interesting as well – to be held accountable to every art piece you could have ever possibly referenced, that can actually be quite stagnating for artists. Or it can open up a lot of potential and possibility. I lean toward possibility. But I would get frustrated that more often than not these types of conversations would circle back to a few key (primarily male) art figures, and if I’m being honest, that’s not my archive.
Either way, there’s a certain exhaustion to the play of citations, which is why this is a durational piece. There are so many artists that I love and whose work matters to me. When I started more consciously thinking about which artists I would incorporate, it was literally like cutting out my stomach to pick between one artist and another, but at some point I had to start working at a certain scale.
How does Citation unfold in the live moment?
I have a map of performances made by female artists I am rigorously thinking about and actively trying to remember in the live moment. Because of the type of performances I create, it’s imperative to be in the moment and with the people in the room so I’m not working chronologically, but with a movement score that is dependent on the live bodies in the room and feeds off of how people enter or leave the piece.
I’m dealing with female performance artists specifically, engaging a canon that is incredibly important to me as an artist and one I don’t find to be very visible in our discourse about performance work. I hope to make performances that somehow disturb or disrupt our ideas about what gender is or can be. I’m drawn to the performers and performances I cite in Citation because I “read” and experience these artists and works as doing that also – performing gender, but also placing gender in question.
I generally make pieces that are specific for one place at one time. This piece was definitely made for Stanford as a place of rigorous intellectual labor and for this moment when a return to works that inspire and inform my own practice seems right for me.
Text, movement, and inspiration, I think, are always part of my practice, and then there’s this whole other level of mental and physical preparations. But about 6 weeks prior to a piece of this duration, those preparations become incredibly rigid. You wouldn’t want to live with me right now – I’m already living in my own time.
Building this piece, obviously, required a lot of research about the works that end up in the piece with me – and the actual live memory recall of those works in the moment will be exhausting. I’m pushing at a border I’ve never quite provoked in this way, staging both a mental and physical exhaustion while living in this environment I’ve created for myself that excludes any markers of normative time. I’m not sure what will happen, but I will be at the borders… of exhaustion definitely, and potentially of my own sanity.
Well, I’m not trying to resolve anything in this work, I’m trying to provoke something and be with people in a different way and be in time differently. The talk-back for me is so important to do immediately after the performance, because that’s the moment when those audience members who came in for hour 1 and came back during hour 16 get to talk back to the piece. It’s everyone’s stage at that point.
I try to encourage a certain resistance to our need to make sense out of the moment of performance in the moment. It’s about framing – what’s the radical potential of just sitting together in a space after a performance has happened? Maybe we don’t say anything, but we just come together. Hopefully the performance disrupts something, jars something in you – so it’s nice to provide a space for people to sit in it. And people will sit in it during the performance – will sit with unknowing, with discomfort, with boredom or interest, with the fact that you have no idea why I’m doing something that I’m doing and maybe just give yourself over to being stuck in it for a while.
What about the audience?
People fascinate me. People react in such different ways. It’s quite beautiful. I don’t have an ideal spectator but I have a genuine and sincere interest in people responding to the work in whatever way is true for them. Everyone can fill in this piece with their own experience, and I think that’s exciting.
It’s not a play, you don’t have to clap at intermission. There’s no code of ethics, there’s no script. You can come at 3pm or 4am, or both. Hopefully there are openings for people to take up from staging the body in time in everyday, banal, recognizable yet odd ways.
I don’t mean to be nondescriptive. I hope what I’m saying is taken up as an invitation and not as a withholding. I’m requiring a bit of labor from my audience in a way, in this big space, where I’m one body. The risk is that people are going to be incredibly frustrated. I’m just hoping they stick through it long enough to work through that with me.
See the Stanford TAPS website or Facebook event for more about Citation.
Photo 1 by Tom Eichelberger
Photo 2 courtesy of Raegan Truax