WILDCARD :: Power
A note about this blog:
We decided on topics to discuss, and the order in which to pick them up, this past summer by writing things down that felt particularly important to consider on scraps of paper, then picking from a hat and plugging topics (and the Architect that would write about them), into the calendar. As usual, we had more topics than time, having set out to conduct this writing project over the course of one year. To spice things up, between rounds of each of us spending time with the same topic, we decided to insert WILDCARDS, in which we all put our attention on the same topic.
Welcome to our first WILDCARD post!
The Score: Take a topic and unpack it over the course of a few days via text messaging. In order to have a jumping off place, and to make space for our varying approaches to topics, compose a statement ahead of time, and post at the same time. Unpack the discussion from there. (Beginning of thread: Thursday, Nov 21, end of thread: Saturday, Nov 23.)
PV: Pamela Vail
Here we go...
Not fully paying attention can result in exerting power (control) over others, and/or whatever is being collaboratively made--whether it's intentional or not.
KF: Katherine Ferrier
When the explicit intention of paying collective attention to emerging forms meets the rigorous practice of balancing a deep inner focus with a wide, panned out point of view, we have begun to create the conditions in which power is not only shared, but amplified and magnified, throughout the ensemble; these are the very conditions in which transformation can arise.
JK: Jennifer Kayle
Something I’ve learned about ensemble co-creation is its potential to distribute power- not only can power be spread or shared, but it can be radically fluid... which is a big deal because it asks you to feel what it’s like in all the positions of power; even in one short session, you might find yourself a leader, follower, or spoiler – a ruler of the narrative or catalyst for a theme, an eclipsed soloist, abandoned partner, or unwitting butt of the joke- what a distinctly visceral kind of learning! I’m grateful for this awakening to a spectrum of power relations and their ontologies. External to our practice, it makes me wonder about translation and application to other social processes and practices. Internal to our practice, it makes me wonder about practicing with people who are not just like me.
KC: Kathy Couch
and if we were to imagine further into this vision of collectively held/manifested/experienced empowerment, then we may see how it might become an artistic circumstance in which we could begin to understand, explore, and then become more agile in using ‘power’ as a compositional element. in other words, what kinds of things/meanings might be made by employing various forms of power.
LG: Lisa Gonzales
This may seem quite obvious but I feel I have to remind myself that my own sense of agency within ensemble improvisational practice grows out of my sense of agency as a human in the world. In each arena I negotiate my relationship to the systems of power at play. Collectively endeavored improvisational practice provides an opportunity to transform that relationship, practice different roles, meet my own resistance and the resistance of others. But, it feels important to acknowledge that there are systems of power always at play.
Patti Smith – The People Have the Power (poem) (Later Archive 1996)
Um apropos of nothing, a friend just sent me this.
Interesting! Who sent it and why? And...
Am I a terrible person to say that this song annoys me a little bit? Not the content, but the delivery. Sorry Patti Smith 😬
I think it was in response to something in my newsletter that went out today?
She actually sent two versions
That’s a better version methinks.
Terrible person!!! No no no. ha ha ha. Loooove the singing 2nd version, but I feel the first as well. It just seems like she might need to go have a little time alone when that one is over. :)
Lisa writes: “I have to remind myself that my own sense of agency within ensemble improvisational practice grows out of my sense of agency as a human in the world.” It seems like we tend to practice like the opposite is also true- that each member’s sense of agency in the world is/can be/might be informed by the sense of agency we experience in the co-creative ensemble. That one of the things we know we’re “staging” is an alternative power model, and our whole being is absorbing it and learning something (because we’re paying attention on that level along with all the others) and is it changing us? Will we act in the world differently (better?) because of our ensemble mindset and experience?
Anyway, I put question marks there at the end because I don’t think these translations and applications are automatic or given. And the formation of our impulses and acts - this process is embedded in constant feedback loops (social/cultural) that go wayyyy beyond the studio. Our power moves are networked in many dimensions at once!!
I do believe it changes us, Absolutely. And I think that how we are changed can be so difficult to really know, but it can also be profound, has been profound for me and most of the all of us who have practiced together. I think you are right that the applications can’t be assumed. Is that what you said up there? Automatic. I’m drawn to something you said earlier, something about practicing with people who are not just like you/us. I think that of course all the power relationships change depending on who’s in the room. So, what we can practice changes depending on who is doing the work together. Particularly around this issue of power that comes up for me. And I also think that what you say is true, that we are practicing alternative power models and trying to absorb them with our whole being and that that matters. Yes, to many dimensions!
Yes to all of this. And as I read it I can feel the familiar longing that comes up whenever we speak of the potentials of this practice, the ways it can change us and give us opportunity to experience and become more agile and astute and empathetic within different positionalities (of power). The longing is for it to be true, for there to be a place in which to be brave and attentive and awake, to practice ways of being and being with and making with that feel impossible (but so necessary) in the regular walk-around world. And partly, I just want to name that longing because it’s existence is brought forth by being in this work...which means that there must be something in this work that is pulling forth the longing. It isn’t a general longing that I’m just placing on this situation or that. There is something that the longing is drawn to, some promise that things can actually function differently, that we can truly be in ensemble together in a way that broadens and supports the agency and empowerment of all those present.
And then, of course, that longing bumps right up against the fear that I am caught up in some schmaltzy utopian vision and am failing to consider all sorts of power relationships that this make my ‘utopia’ exclusionary or even unintentionally oppressive. And then this is all ironic because what we are trying (and succeeding) to create is a space to excavate (by playing them out in our embodied interactions) these power dynamics. So maybe it’s just about being more explicit about that endeavor.
Because what really helps free me from this fear of schmaltzy utopia is recognizing and committing to the rigorous work of it all.
I love that Pam and Kath opened this thread by connecting issues of power to issues of attention. On superficial glance, it’s not obvious, but give it a minute, and it becomes crystal clear the entanglement of the two. To what you will “pay” attention, or withhold attention (withhold your very self) is an act of power that has huge consequences. One of the major gifts of the ensemble practice we learned is its call for meta-attention, that we are called to analyze the movement of attention as a tangible force that shapes impulse, decision, relationships and forms that can/can’t emerge as a result. Harder to explain sometimes is the huge (negative) impact of refusing to do this self-analysis and steer one’s own attention with consciousness and integrity. People who can’t or refuse to do this work severely injure the artistic growth of a group- (and the injuries have worse consequences “out there” if we translate this idea to other contexts). Kathy’s reminder to identify how blind-spots and lack of rigorous reflection could undercut the liberatory potential of the practice is a good example of leveraging meta-attention toward excellence (and justice). Schmaltzy Utopia? Indeed “no place” I want to be. (Root word jokes- anyone? anyone?)
Yes, the power of deeming something ‘worthy’ of one’s attention. Which brings me back around to what Jennifer wrote about the desire to practice with folks of different life experience, as it expands the range of what might need attention. And it offers the opportunity to explore how to attend to those things, both in specific and…by holding them within the ensemble’s meta-attention. Here is where the ‘paying attention to more than you can pay attention to’ really comes in handy. It feels vital that we undo the belief that it is just too overwhelming to pay attention to all that needs attending. That overwhelm paralyzes us into inaction and rigidity and stinginess. And so this is another practice opportunity the work offers us...the opportunity to practice an expansive attention that frees us from overwhelm and allows us to act and choose and respond to that which is emerging between us.
Before I take my attention away from this conversation (see what I did there...?) another thought occurred- about this format. Not texting per se but DIALOGUE. It seems that dialogue is a pivotal tool in not only negotiating (or re-negotiating) power relations, but there’s something in the form itself that could de-stabilize fixed power dynamics, or catalyze transformation. Deep listening, honesty, civility, exchange, curiosity- all are components of serious transformative dialogue- the kind that tends to reorganize how. things. are. Reorganize how WE are - in relation to each other, in relation to our habits of control, acquiescence, ownership, support, independence, etc. All the power personalities and proclivities. DIALOGUE: deep listening, honesty, civility, exchange, curiosity- Sounds an awful lot like what happens in the co-creative ensemble process when it’s really working at a high level (level of what jk?!?! of expertise? of consciousness? Another blog topic maybe).
Omg I have to go to sleep! I’m powerless to resist it! But I want to agree that attention—practicing full, dynamic, fluid, meta, inner-outer attention—is crucial to this endeavor. And what Pam said about unconsciously exerting power in ways we don’t mean to—the reflective nature of the work creates the space to become aware of this and turn it into a choice. //. I think I’m just repeating what was already said...goodnight!
POWERFUL thoughts, all. With all this I’ve been thinking about how we can respond in the work when someone is perhaps abusing their power.... go right up to them and reflect back to them exactly what they are doing (KF); shine a light on them... or turn it off! (KC); start a complex text monologue that deflects (JK); surrender to it and start another event that is much more interesting! (LG). Thank you all for being so smart and funny and inspiring.
KF: Had a thought as I fell asleep at 4 this morning (don’t ask) about power and attention.
Thinking about the ensembles by chance that form in classes and workshops. And how powerful an effect on the group and the emerging forms that someone NOT paying attention can have.
The power to keep a thing from gelling, the power to disrupt or destroy, the power to impede, or stall. How this stems from an unwillingness or perhaps lack of current capacity, to recognize that one is working within a larger framework, and that one’s choices affect the whole.
This is not about codifying an aesthetic. But about agreeing on a foundation of, as Jen would say, a WE intention.
(“we-intention” – that’s Kirk Ludwig! Philosophy of Collective Action)
Pam- thanks for recounting the strategies you’ve witnessed in our group! I often consider these MOVES like what De Certeau might call “clever ruses” and “tactics” that recover power from structures that are oppressive. (Even though in our case those structures are fleeting). Something I’ve seen pam Vail do (especially as a teacher) is to refuse to intervene at all! And let the wheels fall off and the car roll into the ditch… Forcing everyone to notice and deal with and build muscles for these difficult scenarios. You can tell people why a particular way of working doesn’t work, or you could let them experience how difficult and heavy and irksome or offensive the working process could be by letting people’s own choices manifest. Sure does give a concrete way to discuss how unconsciousness about power grabbing, power sharing, or disempowerment in the ensemble looks, and how it feels.
Katherine’s comment really hits home, and reminds me that when people are bullying or refusing to respond, neglecting to activate curiosity and openness to their co-creators, it often seems like a sign to me that they’re missing something big- missing that they’re already embedded in the communal body, no matter what they do, they (WE) are already a part of the overall network of interaction, influence, cause-and-effect. We are subjects in an inter-subjective process. Whether you recognize that or not. Minding your power, impact, influence, effect as a member of the system allows you to participate with integrity, an intentional integrity about not only what’s happening in the work, but who is happening in the work.