On December 31, 2001, in response to the US invasion of Afghanistan, Miguel Gutierrez did a performance/protest/ritual improvisation in which he tried to move continuously for 24 hours while blindfolded and earplugged. He wanted to do something to acknowledge the people whose lives were being disrupted by the conflict. This year, Miguel reprised the action with at least 31 different artists in 31 different states moving, blindfolded and earplugged, for the last 24 hours of 2008. Organizing Freedom of Information 2008,
his hope was to create a nationwide contemplative action of protest, reflection, and solidarity.
In her twenty-third straight hour of dancing, my friend Janice raises her arms delicately and lightly, like she is flying. She dervish-spins and crawls along a cardboard boundary delineating the ten by ten foot space in which she moves.
Twenty-three hours before, at 12:01am on December 31st I turn on my computer screen. I watch live webstreams of artists on the east coast beginning to dance.
Janice Lancaster criss-crosses her ten by ten foot space. She marks her territory, or rather it marks her. She walks in orderly, linear lines, hitting one cardboard boundary and then the next. I feel claustrophobic and overwhelmed knowing she will dance in this North Carolina gallery space for the next 24 hours.
In New York, Miguel Gutierrez begins with rolling, organic movements. And while Janice appears alone, Miguel has an audience. I am glad he has support. Then, when an audience member seems to join him in a bit of a contact improvisation, I feel protective. I wonder if he wants the company.
As these dancers begin their long journey, I think about turning off the computer and going to bed. I am aware that it is a luxury to choose to go to bed.
I think about my plans for tomorrow and I feel a new responsibility to use my freedom well.
At 1:01am, my time, I watch Malinda Allen join the dance from Arkansas. As Janice and Miguel dig further into their solitary worlds, she joins with a completely new and beginning energy. She bounces and hops.
I am struck by the beauty and hope implicit in dancing as protest.
What is it that keeps us going?
At 2:01am I send an email to all of my friends. They have to witness this event, the power of art and silence and meditation and empathy and dance. It is hard for me to contain the experience of this cross-time-zone offering.
I do go to sleep. And when I wake up in the morning, I am concerned about the dancers. By now, even Hawaii has started. What if I go to the webstream and find only a black screen, or a note? I am worried about Janice. I am worried that the people I emailed will link to find some horrible remnant from an experiment gone awry.
I turn on my computer. And there is Janice in North Carolina and Miguel in New York and Greg in New Hampshire and Malinda in Arkansas and even someone in Hawaii… And they are all still dancing. The most private, individual dances take place, simultaneously, within the most public, communal performance I have experienced.
I go on New Year’s Eve errands: the rehearsal studio, the video editor, the bagel store. I carry with me a magical and seemingly secret knowledge of an event taking place across the country.
I walk to a studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to watch Miguel in person. I enter during his fifteenth hour of moving and join eight other people including three children, one painter, one photographer, and one person who seems to be officially holding the space.
We sit on the window side of the room, quiet and yet not overly precious, as Miguel balances and stomps and grunts. I feel the movement of clearing out and of continuing. I am shocked by his presence and groundedness after fifteen straight hours of moving.
At one point his sounds turn to mmmmmm, maaa, maaaaa. It reminds me of that universal childhood sound of vulnerability.
Eventually, at 3am, after a free person's New Year's Eve revelry, I return home.
Against the quiet protests of my husband, I turn on my computer to find recorded webstreams of Janice in her twenty-third hour of dancing. I watch as she continuously jumps (high on concentration energy?) and moves into a headstand. She curls up and also flies, a fetus and a bird, a baby learning to walk.
She crawls over her cardboard boundaries and then she begins to peel them off the floor. She pulls them off and rolls, wrapping herself in cardboard.
She is no longer linear and ordered. She is a mad and free woman rolling around in her own walls.
I go to sleep knowing that Janice and Miguel have made it to the end. Hawaii still has an hour left.
This performance has exploded my sense of the time and space in which performance takes place.
What does it mean for a performance to take place in thirty-one different states, simultaneously consolidated onto my one computer screen? What is structure, beginning middle and end, in a twenty-four hour performance that spans six time zones?
What does it mean to be a witness to such a private and, I would imagine, transforming experience?
In what ways am I a witness to the private and public pain caused by war?
And is it enough to be a witness, an audience member?