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writing : Lecture in a Stair Shape Diminishing : Introduction :

We began by studying immobility. We pretended our bodies were cars, and imitated the patterns of a chase and an accident. We pretended we were dancers, and imitated the patterns of a dance. We pretended we were machines, and people learning how to behave like people. We collected words about phantom childhoods. We fashioned a narrow performance space, angled askew, with no parallel in the world: part Chevrolet insignia, part Libeskind passageway. We have discovered a performance by making it, with the following ideas at its heart: the construction of memory, the aftermath of historical destruction, the place of nature, the way one might learn to love the world, the way one might say to oneself, "I am not afraid."

Goat Island – It’s an Earthquake in My Heart


Goat Island’s “Lecture in a Stair Shape Diminishing” was written in response to an invitation from the Vienna Festival to present a lecture alongside the premier of It’s an Earthquake in My Heart in June 2001. It was written by the six members of the group, partly to contextualize the performance, and partly as an artwork in its own right. It was intended that the talk would also reflect the theme of the Vienna Festival into which we had been programmed, which included: “…a story made up of many stories, of voices, sounds, and images… [dealing] with places, biographies, and identities that change, with power and helplessness, zones of transition from biography to politics, from story to history.”

As the design of Goat Island’s performance spaces presents us with a vessel to fill with our performances, we also found it useful to have a structure which we would fill with words for our lecture. Matthew constructed this design, reproduced below. Structure might be said, in instances such as these, to provide clarity and focus to the creative process. Six alternating voices (A to F) each speak four times in sequence for a duration of diminishing length, determined by numbered sentences, starting at 35 and reducing to 0, at which point the lecture concludes. Each person delivers 61 sentences in total. To ensure that the lecture diminished in length with each section, we decided that the average sentence length would be approximately 17.5 words in each of the 24 sections.

In addition to the sentence structure, each member of Goat Island supplied a directive to be followed by us all:
(1) Write one to three lines about not being able to move - Lin.
(2) Compulsion. To complete the experience of looking, create a climate of things - Mark.
(3) At some point in your piece, stop and observe a moment of silence, directly after which you complete the sentence, “I hear…” - Karen.
(4) Find a safe part and use it as an anchor - CJ (appropriated from Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies).
(5) Write three sentences in a row, each sentence beginning with the same word - Bryan.
(6) Share a word at the transitional sentence, and add a change of season - Matthew.

The outcome of this process is multivocal, and perhaps internally contradictory, reflecting the manner of its conception. The structure and directives, outlined above, are secondary to your response to the lecture, and indeed may not be apparent without reading this introduction – however, we hope this information will add to your appreciation of the lecture.

CJ Mitchell
Goat Island Company Manager
Chicago, March 2001

Lecture in a Stair Shape Diminishing