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from Goat Island
CJ Mitchell, Bryan Saner, Karen Christopher,
Mark Jeffery, Matthew Goulish, Lin Hixson
To a Young Practitioner,
“In this present period of unemployment, you can
render a high service to your own community, and to the
whole country, by co-operating with all movements to accelerate
building constructions, especially of family dwellings,
new roads and local and state public works. These measures
will provide employment, enlarge buying power, increase
the circulation of money, create markets for farms and factories,
and assure prosperity and contented homes.”
I found this text during a Goat Island workshop, on a research
visit to the Elks Memorial Building at the corner of Diversey
and Sheridan in Chicago. It was one of a series of texts,
images, sounds, and associations collected on the trip,
which later served as a resource for a collaborative performance.
Instructions for collecting materials on that research trip
included finding: 1. a gigantic detail; and 2. an echo from
two different constructional forms, examples being a wall/painting
– or ornament/furniture.
Friends unfamiliar with Goat Island’s performances
ask me what they do, and I tell them: they use text, but
not to tell a standard theatrical narrative or story; and
they use movement, though it’s not what you would
expect by the term “dance”. And combining those
texts and movements creates something beyond those individual
components of text and movement, and the best word we have
for that is “performance”.
Bryan has said, “we practice creative research and
assembly.” Lin sees “research as an agent from
the outside that transforms the material within; that brings
nutrients to the digestion of our personal, individual experiences.”
Goat Island’s performance work is developed collaboratively,
a model also adopted when teaching their workshops. Divisions
between individuals, and ideas of authorship are blurred
– through this we see that the creative material connects
to others, and is completed by them. The emphasis is on
process, systems, structure, research tools for creation.
Use what is around you, approach it with fresh eyes and
ears: use the other workshop participants, Goat Island,
the room you’re in, the building, the city - other
bodies. Use your memory as a resource - mental recall, body
recall – not as route to nostalgia or therapy, not
necessarily to tell your story, but to tell a wider narrative
which reveals the extent to which your body already contains
a wider narrative. Critical evaluation is transformed into
the need to respond creatively. The work exists in the moment,
vital, perhaps not yet even assimilated or understood by
the artists who made it. Give up what seems important to
you; it’s not yours. Think formally and then thematically.
Not analyzing material to find its meaning, but accumulating
material, finding unexpected connections.
We are already participating in a Goat Island workshop.
Collaborating through words, sounds, touch, texture, viewing,
thinking. The material is there to be received, processed,
transformed. Keep a journal observing the incidence of the
color yellow. Memorize the street names between Monroe and
Belmont: how many streets is that? – the geography
traversed almost daily, let’s look at this a different
And in ten years you will find yourself living in San Francisco,
writing a letter, which says: “CJ refuses to believe
in the existence of the absolute. I have found it.”
And you will mail this letter to the person who, ten years
earlier, wore your left black leather glove at the same
time you wore your right black leather glove.
This is not everything I have to say, but this is all the
time / for all we’ve experienced together. I would
like to review a few thoughts now; lessons if you will.
There are seven of them that I thought of specifically as
it pertains to collaboration.
#1. Remember other people.
Love them, hate them, give them gifts, steal their ideas,
but focus on others to get out of your self. These other
people will be your co-workers of course but also your audience
and also those who have nothing to do with you or your art
or your lifestyle. By all this, we mean, remember that there
are people who live outside the art world. And we like to
remember these because there is more to life than art. And
we like to remember these because there is hunger and injustice
outside. And we like to remember these because we want to
communicate with other worlds of thought.
If you have someone that you can work with, make a commitment
and work through the differences. Make a commitment to supplement
the gaps with your own contributions. Pay no attention to
those who will tell you not to work with your friends. It
is an insurmountable work to be an artist. It is shallow
to rely on your own energy. Ideas like to be cross fertilized.
The bonding that happens between artists working together
produces an integrity that reads into the work ... is visible
in the work ... communicates to the audience and viewer.
#2. Beware of Brilliance.
Creativity and genius will only take you so far. They might
be of little importance. Beware of these gifts if you have
them. Be ware of these gifts if you see them in those you
collaborate with. Look for a sense of humor. Look for conflict
resolution skills, forgiveness, the ability to listen, the
ability to place faith in other people’s fragmented
ideas, a comfortability with failure, a disciplined nature
and a love of work.
#3. Make small plans.
Temper your big dreams. Dream the smallest thing you can
think of and try to perfect that. It's good to have one
tiny perfect thing in your history. This is not a small
challenge there are infinite details to perfect in a small
venture and the changes force themselves in, expanding the
vision. I feel that my eyes have become sharper in seeing
small things since I have been working with Goat Island.
As a child I studied in a one room school house and the
first word I learned to read was “LOOK.” My
vision for a classroom would be an empty room save a table
a chair and a microscope.
#4. Value the work of your hands and body.
This physical body is the meeting place of worlds. Spiritual,
social, political, emotional, intellectual worlds are all
interpreted through this physical body. When we work with
our hands and body to create art or simply to project an
idea from within, we imprint the product with a sweat signature,
the glisten and odor which only the physical body can produce.
These are the by-products of the meeting of worlds through
the physical body. It is visible evidence of the work and
effort to move from conception to production. Our bodies
are both art elements and tools that communicate intuitively.
#5. Work slowly.
This follows quickly after the last lesson about the physical
body. It takes lots of time to work by hand, but this time
input is a distinctive trade mark. The old world crafts
people made things. We think they are valuable not because
of their content but because of the time signature of the
work. Their bodies were not more capable than ours to join
wood or carve stone or create paintings or make dances;
in fact, it is possible that the physical body is more capable
today than it was hundreds of years ago. But a possible
advantage the old world did have was a different concept
of time. Perhaps they were more at ease with the passage
of time. It was acceptable for them to take years to finish
a work of art. We would advise you to look for long periods
of time at your project. Maybe put it away, forget about
it, bring it back years later finish it after you have become
a different person.
#6. Learn to say no.
This follows quickly after the last lesson about working
slowly. If you work slowly you will not have time for every
project that will be presented to you so you will pass up
creative opportunities. It’s easier to say no when
you are older, But while you are still young you might not
have many opportunities of a lifetime being offered to you
and it will be hard for you to say no. But I think the chance
of a lifetime comes quite frequently to those who are looking.
If you follow this advise you will definitely regret having
said no to some great opportunity and you will learn to
live with that regret, but in return, you will have time.
#7. Be thankful for your fears.
Add this to the others that have come / the day is still
Never take the same route, always vary your path.
Don’t write with a slow pen get one that flows well.
See as a new eye, as a novice, as someone who isn’t
jaded by fixed notions.
Invent 7 ways to exit your chair.
Stand with the smile of a sad person. Mark the place where
your soul lives.
Breath out through the nose like my grandmother’s
labored breathing. Life was heavy and hard and she lived
long and did not believe she would die, no not that way.
She said: With my arms I don’t think I could touch
Dive a hundred times into a harbor.
Fall into the grip of another.
Perform a whirling dance to purge the toxic spider venom.
Listen to me:
I heard the creaking rope of a rope bridge and the crashing
of the ocean waves 100 feet below. I heard a thousand stones
moved by a hundred feet grinding against each other like
the gnashing of monumental teeth against mountainous bones.
I saw a man climbing muddy down a rocky mountainside on
hands and heels dragging his bottom along the slippery wet
stones. I heard another man say “He’s trying
to get a bit of punishment for all his wrongdoing.”
Move in place as seven body parts step in the same spot
at least twice before you can make a new footprint. Breathe
only once every fourteen moves.
All that my heart longs for, may you achieve, and be
Get your writing materials ready. Close your eyes.
Adjust your body so that you are sitting comfortably.
Take a deep breath. Let your shoulders relax.
Let your forehead relax.
I forgive you all the endless hours you were away.
Coming apart at the seams, I need to get a hold on things
in my brain. There’s a building
coming down across the street. Men are turning the bricks
and mortar to a fine silt with a huge machine and the dust
shoots out into a pile.
Meanwhile in the building where I live the roof leaks and
the landlord would not like to fix it. There are buckets
in the attic that have to be emptied and when they are not,
they overflow. The water pools around the ceiling fan. Yellow
marks show where the rain went. Please oh please don’t
make me climb that rickety ladder to the attic. Don’t
make me lift down that bucket to empty its dirty leaky roof
The dust is everywhere and settling in my room.
But when, from a long distant past nothing subsists,
after the people are dead, after the things are broken and
scattered, taste and smell alone more fragile, more faithful,
remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting,
hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; hear unflinchingly
in the tiny and almost imperceptible drop of their essence
the vast structure of recollection.
Memorize to perform. Perform to remember.
When is the sky lavender and the sea slate hard and flat
and not much like water?
In the mornings the sky over the lake is white or pale blue
and the water like metal deflecting the sun.
In the afternoon and early evening the sky and water are
shimmery shades of perfect blue.
In bad weather it is all a mud gray with the cold and stormy.
What time is it when the sky is lavender and the sea slate,
hard as a piece of rock and twice as silent?
You are probably wondering / how does one come to or reach
this place of a young practitioner? I still consider myself
a young practitioner, and am now trying to decide when writing
this letter, with the thoughts that are in my head of when
one enters this transition. What is the counter point of
a practicing artist to that of the training or discipline
one enters into to reach this certain place?
In 1994, I graduated from art school but previously to
this time I was within the guise of preparing, preparing
to be where I can situate myself now.
In the context of background, we are informing ourselves
through what we have learnt along the many interruptions
and decisions we have reached until the point at which we
can be decisive to be a practitioner, within the particular
field of the arts we have chosen.
I am still at this point of preparing now, paying close
attention to all the details and information that encircles
me. I still have a desire and need to learn what is placed
in front of oneself and others around.
In an exercise on departure during a Goat Island workshop
last summer, I was given a white sheet of paper from a participant
with a single word written on it. The word was openness.
We asked each participant to take the single words given
to them as a gesture of a gift to take with them, and possibly
guide and incorporate into their lives throughout the year.
Openness is now bluetacked onto the wall next to my work
desk at home. This single word I have taken into and incorporated
into my daily life both private and public.
The act of receiving, and the acceptance of a gift is an
important philosophy I adhere to, especially in the practice
of one's artwork. Through receiving one can attach many
different levels, how to be influenced, to take on others
thoughts as presents and reinterrupt into your mind and
body. Once the digestion of the gift has been articulated
in oneself then we begin to understand the nature and the
power of sharing. Taking forward the information given.
This idea of ownership becomes a wider participation, and
one of interaction and creativity with others.
Roger Bourke, conceptual Installation artist and teacher
on my art degree course once told me in a tutorial to firstly
stop, then look and most importantly listen and be patient
with your work. Do not rush, allow us the viewer to see
what you are making. Be confident and allow the material
to come to you, begin to see with different eyes and learn
the value of listening, the silence of yourself and others.
In hearing these words of guidance it allowed for confidence
to build. The display and act of mentoring and listening
is a large part of my teaching and arts practice. To create
a space where seeing and hearing is an integral and pivotal
role in how to be understood and acknowledged. As a young
practitioner it is your decision whom you wish to take from
and be influenced by. Choose wisely. Identify possible situations
you wouldn't normally come into contact with. Allow for
a great deal of care and in return it's own saturation to
take you forward in confidence and articulation.
Be open to new discoveries. Being excited by the many languages
you are able to learn and create / you understand who you
You understand who you could be.
You understand the gap between the two.
Sometimes, you close the gap.
You become who you might be.
You experience this for a moment.
What if we call that moment: “the classroom”?
I am talking nonsense, I know.
But I have had enough of the rules.
How straight the path, and how strict.
This you must do; this you must not.
That explains why we repeat the same thing over and over
Why we see so many animated features starring heroic mice.
Ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night, will that
ever be your homework?
Or might this be your homework?
1. Describe the largest thing.
2. Describe the difference between green and yellow.
3. Describe something rough.
4. What is 62ºF?
5. What weighs 4 pounds 6 ounces?
6. What is shaped like a hand?
7. What can you lift?
8. What is the opposite of music?
9. Describe a perfume.
10. Describe a delicacy.
11. What unbalances?
Take as much time as you need.
Strain the machine.
Never think yourself singular.
Absorb every experience that comes your way fearlessly.
Don’t labor under the burden of importance.
Don’t use up all your energy chasing the dollar.
There are children in America who haven’t learned
how to play.
They sit immobilized.
There they go, strapped into cars, into videogames, approaching
their imprisonable years.
The municipality has removed their sidewalks.
Do one thing at a time.
Never grow tired.
Because what if we call that moment: “the performance”?
I saw a dance, or a comedy.
It was an act, people I did not know, doing things I did
Yet I felt I knew them, and I felt I understood.
And as I left the theater — I was exactly as old
as you are now — I saw everything reel, as one does
when one falls from a horse or bicycle, and I asked myself
whether there was not an existence altogether different
from the one I knew, in direct contradiction to it, but
itself the real one, which, being suddenly revealed to me,
filled me with that hesitation which sculptors, in representing
the Last Judgment, have given to the
awakened dead who find themselves at the gates of the next
I knew then that I had a place, and that I had found it.
I will love the experience longer than the rest because
I have taken longer to get to love it.
You must forgive me…I have been unwell all this time.
I am not yet well, writing comes hard to me, and so you
must take these few lines for more.
My hand is tired.
I think of you often, and with such concentrated wishes
that that in itself really ought to help you somehow.
Whether this letter can really be a help, I often doubt.
But what if we call that moment: “the right now”?
Prepare ourselves not for the world as it is, but for the
world as it might become.
In this preparation, we experience this world as it becomes
that one, for a moment.
For now / I cannot speak without hearing your voice. Your
voice sits inside my voice and then again your voice sits
outside my voice. Here is my voice. I exist. But I exist
does not come before we exist. You switch on twelve mechanical
birds, start them chirping, read me directions to a ghost
town while a woman walks by in a grass dress. You kick my
imagination into the air like a particle of dust and it
floats. But it’s airborne with your imagination. Eventually,
the two settle together on the floor, indistinguishable.
I cannot teach without you teaching me.
I will tell you what I’ve been thinking lately. And
listen for your response carried by lines of air. I have
One does not always want to be thinking in the future,
if as sometimes happens, one is living in the present.
At twenty, I expected in the coming years to live the life
of an artist. Having had artist friends in high school who
jumped chain-linked fences to swim in swimming pools late
at night when the gates were locked while I was trying unsuccessfully
to fake an injury to remove myself from the agony of cheerleading
at night games; and having painted paintings in a college
art studio with skylights, where I spent afternoons discussing
my paintings with Professor Thompson who sat in the corner
of the room with a free standing ashtray at his elbow flicking
a long-ashed cigarette into it as he told me to observe
the beauty when I turned my paintings upside down and on
their sides; having had these experiences I had a pretty
romantic idea of the life of an artist. I was not prepared
for what followed – researching pooper-scoopers, toys,
and ear plugs for a patent office and delivering plate after
plate of French toast to craving Los Angeles customers,
leaving only fractions of night-time to make art. I did
it by pooling my energy with others so that together we
had enough usable heat to make a performance. But then,
I saw the work of Pina Bausch, Tadeuz Kantor, and Tadashi
Suzuki. I needed to work harder, much harder. These artists
did not stop where I stopped. They kept moving. And they
ran so far that the distance covered in their performances,
caught me up and overtook me. The only way I could make
work of this distance was by taking time. I moved to Chicago
and found collaborators who were not in a hurry. I rested
in each moment with the process and the moments accumulated.
It was almost mundane. Mundane in the sense of a plodding
ordinariness, a daily step taking of one and half to two
years, to make a work. But also mundane in the sense of
17th century astrology when the word pertained to the horizon
- that visible line of the in-between; between the two,
of time to come and time elapsed. The final performances,
when finished, had a rigor I liked. No one told me about
this methodical, caught-in-the-moment beauty.
All you need now is to stand at the window and let
your rhythmical sense open and shut, open and shut, boldly
and freely, until one-thing melts in another, until taxis
are dancing with the daffodils.
The members of Goat Island wrote Letter to a Young
Practitioner collaboratively, and delivered it for
the first time at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
on March 16, 2000.
The text has been published in Goat Island’s Schoolbook
2, and Theatre in Crisis?, edited by Maria
M Delgado and Caridad Svich (Manchester University Press,
/ marks the transition from one author-reader to the next.
The authors-readers progressed in the order, determined
by chance, in which their names appear at the end.
Sappho: The Poems, Sasha Newborn, trans., Bandana Books:
Santa Barbara, 1993.
With my arms I don’t think p.42
I forgive you all the endless hours p.27
All that my heart longs for may you achieve p.15
Virginia Woolf, "A Letter to a Young Poet", The
Virginia Woolf Reader, edited by Mitchell A. Leaska, Harcourt
Brace & Company: San Diego, New York, London, 1984.
I am talking nonsense, I know. p.271
And look at their rules! How straight the path is for them,
and how strict! This you must do; this you must not. That
explains why they repeat the same thing over and over again.
Straining the machine. p.269
Never think yourself singular. p.263
To absorb every experience that comes your way fearlessly
One does not always want to be thinking in the future p.272
All you need now is to stand at the window p.271
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, translation
by M. D. Herter Norton, W. W. Norton & Company: New
York, London, 1962.
ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night pp.18-19
You must forgive me I have been unwell all this time. But
I am not yet well, writing comes hard to me, and so you
must take these few lines for more. p.23
My hand is tired. p.73
I think of you often, and with such concentrated wishes
that that in itself really ought to help you somehow. Whether
this letter can really be a help, I often doubt. p.73
Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time Part One: Swann’s
Way, translation by C. K. Scott Moncrief and Terence Kimartin,
revised by D. J. Enright, Random House: New York, Modern
Library Paperback Edition, 1998.
But when, from a long distant past nothing subsists pp.63-64
Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time Part Two: Within
a Budding Grove, translation by C. K. Scott Moncrief and
Terence Kimartin, revised by D. J. Enright, Random House:
New York, Modern Library Paperback Edition, 1998.
I saw everything reel, as one does when one falls from a
horse, and I asked myself whether there was not an existence
altogether different from the one I knew, in direct contradiction
to it, but itself the real one, which, being suddenly revealed
to me, filled me with that hesitation which sculptors, in
representing the Last Judgment, have given to the awakened
dead who find themselves at the gates of the next world.
And we shall love it longer than the rest because we have
taken longer to get to love it. p.142
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