The Acteon instrument was used for a series of performances, the summer of 2009, in the Arnold Arboretum, Boston, MA. In these performances, groups of participants and I mapped the ancient Greek myth of Acteon over this public research park designed by Frederic Law Olmsted.
Sleep and waking, illness and health are not modalities of consciousness or will, but presuppose an ‘existential step’. […] The body’s role is to ensure this metamorphosis. It transforms ideas into things, and my mimicry of sleep into real sleep. The body can symbolize existence because it realizes it and is its actuality. p190 Merleau
To experience a structure [of space] is not to receive it into oneself passively: it is to live it, to take it up, assume it and discover its immanent significance. Meleau P.301
My professional experience as a community gallery director has been tremendously influential on my art practice. Because of the particular place my gallery played within the cultural life of the city [Durham, NC], my challenge was to introduce art objects into public discourse, to shape public experiences around a theme, and to create room for cross-culture, cross-generation, and cross-discipline conversation. In this way, I began to think of the gallery less as a specific space, but as a creation with nebulous boundaries, engaged with the city and “working” whenever people read articles about shows, received mailings and emails, or talked about them over the dinner table. These shows continued to live on as well, through the artwork brought home by my supporters, documentation, and cultural memory. Over time, I have begun to own these techniques and approaches as part of my own art practice, and it is the further development of these ideas I have turned to performance art culture.
I ground my performance work within three “interests” of the performance medium: an emphasis and interest in the body as a means for exploration, the treatment of the audience’s presence (or absence) as part of the meaning of the work, and an openness of interpretation. Each of these aspects could—and have—filled books of explanation, but I would like to highlight here is how these aspects specific relevance to the work of “translating” Ovid’s poetry into an action. Ovid’s voice is marked by an obsession with the corporal experience, an attention to relationships, and carefully constructed “open” meanings in the stories. I would also like to mention that, just as Ovid’s epic in its entirety “frames” particular stories, thinking broadly and openly about where and when these three aspects are applied, together or by themselves, opens the possibility for profoundly simple, yet effective experiences for everyone involved.
We do not have to decide on our own, as one did under the old speculative metaphysics, about the furnishings of the world; we have only to define the equipment, instruments, skills, and knowledge that will allow experimental metaphysics to start up again, in order to decide collectively on its habitat, its oikos, its familiar dwelling. p.136
This performance draws upon a history of scientific and psychological experimentation, and producing this project at the Arboretum, a research landscape, helps ground my project within this heritage. I do recognize it is both the right and obligation of science and art disciplines to preserve their boundaries. Cross-disciplinary collaboration creates great opportunities to initiate public discussion of the distinction between scientific and artistic process. To begin conversation about this difference, two definitions of experiment are important to consider:
a. A tentative procedure or policy
Explorations of new art practices have often been referred to as experimental art. In developing this project, I explicitly began to build my methodology from scratch, trying to recreate Ovid’s poetic voice as closely as possible. I have composed a coherent investigative technique of processes pulled from disparate disciplines including art, ritual, early psychological experiments, and modern cognitive science. I have designed and built an instrument [see sculpture section] for investigation, the use of which creates the framework for further questioning.
b. An operation or procedure carried out under controlled conditions in order to discover an unknown effect or law, to test or establish a hypothesis, or to illustrate a known law.
I believe that for the development of an art experiment to be authentically engaged in the meaning of experimentation, this process must be developed on art’s own terms. For example, I have realized in this project the construction of controlled conditions necessitates the addition of aspects at play instead the isolation of a single variable. The questions below are ways thinkers from different eras have approached the mind/body intersection:
- If someone were to transform into another being (like a deer), would the soul change along with the body? [from the Ovid/Lucretius debate, first century]
- Does meaning precede perception and how does the body participate in this meaning? [from George Malcolm Stratton’s research, first experimental psychologist 1896]
- Is consciousness emergent? [from contemporary neuroscience]
I combine and research these questions through a single act (the experiment component of the performance), thus locating my research at the confluence of these discourses. This method of “triangulation” brings more precision and universality to evidence produced: both focusing the research specifically into cultural discourse and its methods of accountability, and opening the questioning to participate in the broad conversations of how to understand personal and environmental transformation.
The Acteon Project was a series of performances enacted over the course of the summer of 2008 in Boston’s Arnold Arboretum using a prosthetic which allowed me to see through the eyes, hear through the ears of a taxidermy deer head. This performance was based after the myth of Acteon as described by Ovid in the Metamorphosis.
More on the sculpture here
See video of sculpture in action (performance for video) here