‘Purposeful Purposelessness’

– John Cage, Composition in Retrospect, 1993

Today is the 26th October 2020. This date might be different to the date that this post is published, and that is because I want to be deliberate and considered in what I write here. Today is the start of something, something as of yet unknown, and I am writing this so as to capture it, as though to take a verbal photograph that I can pin to this time and space. The description below consciously aims to describe my experience within the work. At Crisp’s request, I have not shared any direct instructions. My aim is to find a way to describe the work that is not reductive, to get across the feel of the work without stating it in absolute terms.

The ‘something’ began with a chance web-search, looking for a workshop, which then led to an email, which in turn led to a zoom call at 9am this morning with Rosalind Crisp on the other end, sitting on the other side of the world and at the other end of a Monday.

We spoke about the aim, the purpose of the session. My difficulty is that I have a problem with just moving, I said. Just moving is so coloured by unconsciously/consciously ingrained patterns. It feels bland. And this leads me to not moving. What is it that I do when I am not moving? Well, I choreograph through frames. I set up a mirror or a camera and I craft material through my interaction with that frame. Rosalind suggests: ‘the frame is a decoy that engages your attention, but it doesn’t address the moving’. Moving, then, is the purpose.

We unpick what is means to just move. Rosalind suggests another definition for just moving as ‘moving without a purpose’. This is where we start: purposeless moving for 2 minutes. And already, just doing this, gives it a frame, a kind of permission, paradoxically it feels purposeful. We begin to layer frames. The point is not that moving without a purpose is a problem, the point is to find strategies to work with it.

We settle on two ideas. I work alone for 3 minutes. I am aware of my working through the task. I notice my tendency to focus on a body part, with my eyes, whilst moving it, and realise this is not necessary. The eyes are just another limb, they can respond but need not constantly point at the moving part. And I struggle with the whole body moving. What does it mean to have the whole body moving? Is it even possible? Surely even if I send movement out into my whole body, that movement has been initiated at one point? At what point is it just whole body? And whilst I am working through this question I am almost unaware of how expansive and liberated my movement becomes in those moments.

Rosalind demonstrates another tool. When it’s my turn I instantly struggle. What become clear are the habitual co-ordinations. I am now locked in a battle of disrupting/ interrupting the ‘flow’ of those deeply ingrained patterns. I have to almost mechanically break myself down. Constantly stop myself. Every time I get it wrong I grimace, shake my head and try it again. It feels as though I am un-learning.

By holding onto a purpose, I maintain my interest. It’s as much about developing the ability to attend to the whole body as it is about the dance. At some point the task transitions into art. Right now it’s just an exercise.

I work again. I notice my desire to start shaping. We discuss this. What is my aim? Is the aim to show just one thing, to craft the movement, or is to remain in the expansiveness of the process? To craft the process?

We go back and forth between scores. I am aware of the comedy of those moments when I lose control and I find this curious since I would not consider myself funny… Can any body create humour? Rosalind notes how I stay with things. Yes I do. I don’t let them go, I respond. Partly because I do not know them well enough to register that they are there, and partly because I enjoy them and want to know them. Can I let things go? Can I stay ‘in the transition’.

After discussing a few logistics, we agree to meet next week.

I spend another hour continuing to work alone. At first I time myself. 2 minutes. 3 minutes. But my phone isn’t really working properly and the timer doesn’t signal the end of the time! I stop caring and find that I am just dancing, purposefully.

I sat down to write this out and remembered Cage’s quote ‘purposeful purposelessness.’ I kept reading and came across another line that seems strangely relevant:

Boredom Plus Attention = Becoming Interested’

– John Cage, Composition in Retrospect, 1993

Images taken with autophoto app documenting self practice 26/10/2020. Score: Just one thing.