My residency at NYU ITP started like a hurricane, quickly sucking dry all my time and energy. But I can’t complain. I practically get an extra year of art school, except this time I get paid. Although I have had to put my own performance schedule on hold to make sure I have time to assist students, I feel I’m performing now more than ever. After all, the main difference in being a student and being a teacher, as Kate Hartman pointed out several interviews ago, is what role to play.
Also, I’m lucky enough to audit two amazing performance-based courses with three great artists. Puppetry with the incomparable Ithai Benjamin, and a Performance Studies / ITP course with co-teachers Nancy Hechinger and Anna Deavere Smith.
“If you say a word often enough, it becomes you.” I first read this quote from Anna Deavere Smith’s introduction to her play Fires in the Mirror as a high school senior. It resonated with me as I watched the play in college on a VHS, and then again during graduate school via DVD. Most recently, I did a simple search on Youtube and discovered her pieces had been uploaded by a fan.
Never in my wildest dream did I think, while watching the play in all those mediums, that I would end up working with its creator. But when I heard that Nancy was going to co-teach the course, I simply had to ask if I could participate. She said no; she didn’t want anything to get in the way of the students’ collaborative processes. If learned one thing and only one thing from my graduate experience, however, it’s that it never hurts to ask. And during the first week of the semester, Nancy literally tapped me on the shoulder as I was installing some software on the computers we curate at ITP’s hallways. “I might need some help with the tech,” she said.
Last week, I sat in while Roni Horn visited, explaining that her impetus for creating Another Water was to understand what exactly is in the water of the Thames river. Several years ago, on one of many sleepless nights, I was watching PBS at 3 AM hoping something would lull me to sleep, and the Art in the Twenty-First Century episode Structures came on. I remember, even through the airwaves, I could feel the sadness in her work. Roni Horn admitted in person that Another Water is partly birthed from a rather depressing moment of her life. But largely, it came from asking the question again and again: “What is water?” And, more subtly, “When you see the reflection in water, do you recognize the water in you?”
A theme, a motif, a pattern. They are what strengthen the art that I enjoy. And this transitive year between graduating from art school and returning to real life, I realize, is the moment to ask myself: what word am I willing to repeat?