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Myriam Van Imschoot: Today is 25 - no 26 January, speaking to Lisa Nelson in Café Beaubourg.

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Can you (reconstruct) what you were saying about survival (during the conference)?

The concept of survival in the culture.

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Lisa Nelson: I don’t know if I can reconstruct it. I was talking about concert dance and the kind of illusion…

that we stand on a certain illusion that we agree to

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consensus (that) reality culture offers us, and a whole set of behaviours, and ways to compose ourselves to create this illusion of culture.

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What I was speaking about, when I was speaking about

I was trying to articulate this negotiation

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that we are constantly making between our reflexive underlying behaviors, movement patterns

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to collect information from the environment through each of our senses, that we need,

for feeling safe in any environment and part of the information we need to be safe is a way

to disappear into the cultural norm.

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With this simple example of how we have to compose ourselves when having a conversation that I use a lot

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  • to see and to be seen, to appear to be listening at the same time of the actual effort to listen,

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in the sense that if I want to really listen to you it might be distracting to look at you, but

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that’s not that acceptable to not take the choreographic pattern of showing our attention to each other.

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Also, that effort, of course I was making it desperately in this conference situation,

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the effort to get the thoughts in my head to my tongue. Somehow my animal is not constructed

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that way, through speech. I do not express myself easily through speech, so I was offering

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the possibility that if I really was to hold my train of thought in this conference I would do

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much better to slow down and move my face a lot, so the thoughts get in my body.

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It really straightened things up. I could actually could get to the end of that sentence and repeat it.

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But this would not be easy if I used that technique that made me more integrated in the culture,

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it would be too distractive for the people. So I have to learn how to negotiate that territory,

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so that I dont distract and can go along with the assumptions that the culture offers us

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to make some stability and in making that analogy between looking at concert dance

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what are we proposing, where has the dancing gone, and how every dancer had to negotiate

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that territory between their motivation to dance and the proposals that are conventionally

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related, the proposals observer, audience, stage, that are already existing in our cultures.

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In many ways looking at that consensus as absolutely essential to the survival of

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a population and counter the doctive of the survival of the individual.

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The analogy is the same, we negotiate those things unconsciously all our lives.

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Ernst van Laserfeld, my stepfather, the epistemologist and radical constructivist who

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adamantly seems very purist when he refers to how the brain, the person has to construct some

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sense of meaning and organisation out of all of the sensorial array, and he insists that there is nothing out there.

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In being a physical person, living a very physical life in a physical world, not just the

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world out there, but the world inside the body, the existence of matter, like my body is

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outside my brain, if I want to look at it that way.

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Or it is outside my thought, in the sense of thinking in language.

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To deny that there is matter is very counterproductive to learning how

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to survive in the world.

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He even uses an example, this might be not true, but this is what I understood,

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that we also construct the ground that we walk on, and that it is a cultural consensus

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reality, and that without that consensus we‘d be stumbling all over the place.

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If your foot cannot assume that the ground is there under the next step

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than you would have to find another way to transport ourselves.

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Maybe by way of beams or something. Science fiction beams, we would never walk.

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But to the extent that I see that, that we trust that the ground will stay underneath us

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until we perceive an edge, the beginning of a step in our peripheral vision, that much I go

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along with it, from what our senses give us, we establish some stability in the environment,

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but the idea that the culture establishes a consensus that the ground is there,

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is a bit of a leap for me.

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We establish what chairs are for, you know, and in any other culture we establish our seating,

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what sitting is, but that there is not anything there, I dont know what it serves to think that.

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I cannot quite go that far.

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But in terms of human behavior I can embrace that thinking that I constructed every second through my experience.

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In all of the analogies that come from that in this project in the last two three weeks with

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seven people who really came with open minds into a process that out of the seven only two had an idea

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of what this process might lead to.

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Part of the journey in looking at one’s own patterns of behavior in entering a space and

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looking at a space, and creating those communication tools, is a breakdown of all your

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assumptions about what is there.

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Your own constructed reality, cause it is making a tiny little microcosm of that in the room, how you

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know where you are, establish buts (?) stable in your environment.

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And in actuality what is stable in your environment is within you, which assumptions you can hold onto

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and when, and which are constantly challenged and the rug is pulled up from under you.

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Somewhere in the course of starting to understand the idea of tuning and listening, a kind of

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consensus starts to emerge, just for survivals sake and each person navigates that their own way,

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either by testing, pushing the limit, or by kind of a more watchful withdrawal and its such a complex

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process, everybody is reaching into everything they know but also watching themselves and deciding

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to risk their own pattern, basically in response to be interrupted in your pattern, and thats very

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emotional at first, but there is a way in which you can tune into it and experience it,

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or creating a trusting environment that it is not going to be questioned on a psychological level.

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There is a kind of decorum that evolves over, in cycles, a decorum where someone makes a big push at

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the limits and everybody shuffles in how that changes their reality and then becomes more polite.

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A new decorum gets established by conversation, how each person perceived it or survived it.

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Its very fragile, for this consensus that is a decorum, a politeness, keeps on being destroyed.

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It was really a rich opportunity with that many of people - we were seven - and with the languages.

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My language is difficult whether it is in English or not, because I really need to be precise to

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define the territory so that it is not a psychological encounter, but we acknowledge that

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this is also going on in our reports but we have very specific events that we can unravel.

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So it keeps putting the image outside of ourselves and giving some time to process ones emotional responses

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to ones own behavior because thats what becomes very apparent.

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If you have tools that you can use to interrupt the action and also to ask for explanation

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and you have to figure out when to use them, and sometimes you use them very naturally,

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reflexively, and its very clear how to use them, but then you also use them because you are making

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theater and so you provoke things to happen that aren’t about caring for the psychology of anything

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it could just be a shift into a visual excitement and not be polite about also looking in through

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the surfaces.

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You are shifting from looking at the surface values to the human being.

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All that said, that game is possible to play, but it is very fragile, also.

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It is possible because we agreed that it is possible.

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Thats really the only reason why it is possible; Oh yes, I can look at you like

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a diamond reflecting light, or like a piece of garbage in the corner of the room,

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and be stimulated enormously by that.

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And if I am going to be that little piece of garbage I could be delighted by that,

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it frees me from being me or trapped or paralyzed in the corner.

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But if I keep shifting what sense I am looking through when I am inside it gives me a way to act,

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it gives me other possibilities of action, if I dont trap myself in my own image.

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In that short time all of this got activated.

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In the runs nothing got repeated, it was just so new.

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We gotten long enough to create history on that level.

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Also we were not looking at the videos very much at all to be able to corroborate our understandings


of a moment where something might come together.


I was thinking about this consensus thing, what happened when working with 18 or 23 people in Brussels,


which was so horrifying to me because of my fears and inaptitude with groups of people


was instinctually with that size of group, a lot of the animal instincts of surviving the group


were very sharp, certain aspects of listening were just essential for survival


for really not bumping into each other.


So there was an agreement or a consensus that we, as a large group, that supported making


this journey of individuals look ….


Offering their beings or their bodies to be part of this.



At the end of the second workshop.


I was amazed all the way down that the system was not breaking down,


that the illusion that this communication system could work in a kind of


an artistic practice had not broken down earlier, cause it was so frightening to me.


And it broke down all at once in one of the showings of the three, it went total shit,


all the stupid shit that would normally arise during the workshop but that somehow


had been kept back by some other illusion, was very exciting artistically.



It all came out at once, and everybody was lost at once,


except for the people who were acting out the ego-shit,


because they had no idea that the rest was paralyzed.


I dont think we were using a restart call in that group, so we hadn’t used it yet.


It would have been a very useful thing.


The aftermath of that was like a big funeral, everybody was disillusioned, really deflated by that experience.


I was not deflated I just had no idea what to do,


because I had expected to happen along all the way, and it wasn’t.


I was just kind of waiting.


I was not even praying that it would not, for it seemed that if ….


It was very fragile what we were holding up as a group.


It was an unreal idea.


It really needed to happen.

Myriam: ja, want anders zou je met die illusie gewoon verder hebben rondgelopen en mensen zoudend at in hun werk hebben meegenomen.


Anyway, everybody recognized it after.


I thought shit we have to do one more.


The last one was beautiful.


The reason for listening was reaffirmed.


But to get powerful theater out of that group pushing the limits would be necessary.


But in this smaller group, you see how timebased it is, you cannot push it.


I pushed a lot to introduce things.


I pushed against my instinct but the learning process …spending more time on one call,


or one situation, yeah, I was just pushing it all the way,


but also because I chose those people feeling like they had a ritual process


and I had no idea how specific the learning process would be, how timebased


I always think it is timebased because I’m still trying to learn it


and its you know really a good fifteen years of practising the score,


in its present incarnation and still feeling like I could go much slower,


but it still was, because the people.


In practice many things were not proven,


but in extrapolating you know through seeing some of the possibilities,


people were very brave, really brave, thats all I can say.


Accepting that there was a performance and everybody knowing what they need to do to do that.


Myriam: About the survival-thing: I more and more see how you really had to make this work.


Lisa: It was completely a survival strategy.



Myriam: I remember you saying that you often felt like coming from another planet,


trying to understand what communication is.


Lisa: and speech.


Myriam: now you also speak of your concern for losing your memory,


again you can see that the tuning score can be helpful.


Lisa: Yes, but starting with invisible forms.


Did we talk about that before?


That was a question yesterday, about invisibility.


In so many ways I started calling my workshops, my laboratories,


I guess from 1980 onward, it was called Invisible Forms.


This comes from learning how to see, to use my visual sense through video.


I am not going into that story but I just going to refer to it.


My two least developed senses, sense organs that were least developed for me,


were vision and speech (the sense of speech).


Two things that were very underdeveloped.


I was visually oriented in the sense that I think was alone a lot as a child,


I spent a lot of time with myself and I did not play with myself a lot of visual games.


I drew, I made visual things, but I did not play with my visual sense very much.


I dont remember staring at things, you know, or playing with organization of things,


I did not know how to look at painting, I dont remember being visually oriented.


I lived in my ears and in my body.


I was musical and I danced.


I also drew when I wrote, and my mother was a sculptor,


but she kept that very much in the corner,


but she made things with her hands, she worked with clay.


She was very visual, but I wasnt.


Speaking was a very distant thing.


My father when he died when I was eleven he just disappeared


and besides the literal invisibility of him suddenly becoming invisible,


culturally because his body was never found,


there was no other way to make visible his absence in some way.


I really put a lot of time, very quietly and alone as a kid does,


to try to make sense of that invisibilization and then when I was thirty and naming my workshops


Invisible Forms having come through the experience with learning


how toabout all my other senses through doing video, it was my least dominant,


I really had to learn how to see with my eyes.


That pattern, all of the survival patterns that I built for dealing with this invisible things,


makes a very clear line all the way through,


discovering things about vision through video and what is in front of us.


When my father died what was in front of me disappeared, not just his body, but my future.


Because losing one parent, because if you are losing the second is so in front of you,


the future of having no parents and being lost in the world.


So there were parts in my environment that drew me to the future with a big gap in it.


This invisible thing.


So I would say that I put a lot of time into it, consciously as a child, in this puzzle.


This inner life working and observing how things were working outside


and finding out how I could withdraw socially


I was a very shy child.


So I did observe, behavior, but not observe visually,


I would watch people talking and trying to observe the patterns of behavior,


I could not understand the conversation.

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These skills, this building up of skills were kind of leading me to finally dealing with

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the aesthetic questions of creating work that people felt untrustworthy,

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because it was not visually repeatable.

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I would do the same dance but it did not have the same movements.

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For me it certianly was trustworthy.

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It started to make visible to me what was possible to find in a work of that sort,

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which was detailed phyisal movement, more or less, invisible themes,

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but seemed quite imagistic to me, not conceptual at all.

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I mean, you know, playing with ideas I could never start from that, but I could frame what I did

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to make the values more visible, but never starting from or based on an idea.

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Not that I have no ideas.

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I dont like ideas all that much presented to me in theater.

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I never haven been so interestd in it, cause I like to discover myself what is there.

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And surviving teaching, that was a giant thing.

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Very young I had started to teach.

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It was very linear actually, in a way it just kept layering how to solve my life problems,

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and find a way to practice making things.

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Myriam: I always think of the story of your father as formative.

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I have this in my mind also when you construct your survival.

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The tuning score is the sum of survival techniques, but within that

the experience of a father missing is formative.

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Lisa: It was not even that he was not there, but that he disappeared.

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Myriam: What sometimes becomes emotional: is the irreversibility of time.

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Even with the reversal calls it becomes more clear how irreversible it all is.

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You give the illusion that somebody can tumble into chaos and you can rewind it.

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But in our lives we have entropy and entropy is the irreversiblity of time.

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Lisa: Although, what appears in the attempt to reverse

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a remarkable thing

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ok that level there is an irreversibility of time.

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Things won’t meet, the random synchronicities that happen in life,

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in terms of reversibility, but there is reversibility and and double irreversibility.

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You know the building falling down and then falling back up, and meeting again

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  • all of the meetings at one time.

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In going backwards reversing physically, the medium, you actually can go back,

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its just that all of the synchronicities have shifted, have gotten out of phase.

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You are in the present, because you are in your body experiencing the reversal

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but the past is suddenly registered like a crystal.

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These landmarks will suddenly become visible.

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Perhaps you reverse a handshake with your eyes closed and do the same motion as close as you could,

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reverse it again, the hands might not meet, but at the point that you would have met,

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you experience the other persons hand in your hand.

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And so this is where the imagination gets very rich, and the equation of memory and

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but also you are bumping into your future when you reverse, because you are in real time

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and you are traveling towards a future, what it does is that it makes

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Im sure they have a name for this

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it is a holographic in a way, that the future in the present moment

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and the past are completely in new places they

(end of side A of cassette)

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I dont know I am thinking of the irreversibility of time.

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Let’s say you return to your memory of your childhood and over time the richness of

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the sensorial events during that moment have maybe faded away, you cannot quite build the picture

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with as many senses as you might have had.

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Some faded out completely, but you still have something.

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I just realized – it is just a made up thingbut my father when he disappeared my future as a child,

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the fear of the consequence in a real way, but sometimes the stability of your parents

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is what you depend on for your survival and the other thing

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my mothers life span, she is losing her memory, and also with my own experience of memory loss


and having practiced the score in these (?) years, my difficulties with memory show up just as strongly when they are playing the score as they do in my daily life.


And as I watch the totally unpredictable pattern of my mothers memory loss


It thrills me; the unpredictability of it.


It doesn’t seem to have any patterns, you know what she loses and what she regains and then what she remembers.


At this phase, its an interesting phase of memory loss.


Its gotten so complex and also shes gotten more comfortable with it.


It becomes more like theatre…


Yeah, its a theatre, a real big theatre ???


And we can comment on it.


Van Imschoot: Every dysfunction is a new function.


Nelson: Yeah, she goes through the dysfunctional frustration and building new coping mechanisms and it goes on like that and the coping mechanisms are sometimes very not creative - I mean they are all very creative, but very imaginative in an interesting way.


I was seeing this past and future needing places where they get out of phase.


And sometimes in the working of the score the future is implicated very early on in this score and it gets recalled.


Something thats happend, that is recalled


Van Imschoot: Very earlyCould you be more specific?


Early when you started doing it or early when you


Nelson: Like if you‘re working for an hour.


Early in the run something might occur and nobody somehow remarked on or acknowledged within that somehow everything crystalizes around.


That set of relationships at the end, when nobodys awareness…


So the future being implicated.


Its the same moment occurs again, but with so many other layers of acknowledgement, whereas nobody consciously noticed this event.


This kind of divining (???) aspect playing with the tuning score materials.


It does seem like a bit of a microcosm of living, of a life time.


In experience in working with this score over a long period of time, I just see more and more examples of how time would end our experience.


Scott and I worked together a lot and what happens now is that we recall things, situations that arose in the learning process, specific things, about certain calls and how they were interpreted or played out.


Ten years ago, in a specific room in a specific instance and we can even bring them into the space at the moment and we‘ll recognize it.


Van Imschoot: Its very helpful because everyone has maybe a sense thats more dominant and my very dominant sense in my life is past.


So probably thats why I link this very much to your work.


I see that element very pronounced because Im already preformed to hold onto that maybe more.


Its only recent that I started having a much more complex understanding of how the different tenses copulate in the score and much more thinking about how future is always implicated or activated.


Theres a lot of prediction going on in the score.


All predictions.


Time is very different for me as soon as I bring in the other tenses.


When you speak about past meaning future, it gets very, I kind of lose track.


Nelson: A present reverses a fantastic exercise for seeing how


You retain the present while youre moving into the past.


We were looking at something together


Thats an example of how


In order to move you have to prepare action - not consciously but the body prepares action.


So theres always a looking, a predicting into the future.


Theres no way for the body to move without that, without projecting either in imagination and also the body organizing itself.


Myriam: ??? made very nice comments on how Bonnie Cohen ??? is trying to ???


Nelson: I think that the scientific measure of that time, the motor pattern getting organized in the brain is 1/100 of a second of reactions.


Its written down, I cant remember, but they measured this.


Myriam: Overall we‘ve been talking about analogies with survival in life and how that also ???


I have a very practical question.


HowCan I use some of the autobiographical information what I write about




Second question.


We speak about analogies, but also how culture works, how this little microcosm works with similar codings and recodings.


Still I feel that the little microcosm that you establish or present has an utopian aspect which we dont have in our culture.


I would ask you in what way can we leave the analogy a little bit as it is and see where there is a transformational aspect.


Its not only doubling something as it occurs, but something that also seems to open other perspectives in that way.


Nelson: Its funny because Denise Lucioni came up with this comment about utopia.


I asked her to write down, butit was complicated.


Myriam: I dont want to stick too much to the word, but theres something constructive in that way too.


Its not only reconstructive.


Nelson: As a system of communication in a group, which is a little mini microcosm culture


The idea that everybody has personal responsibility for their own desire to make it apparent is a ridiculous democratic kind of notion, but its the empowerment of oneself.


If you dont like it, change it. You dont like itIts up to you.”


But you dont ask somebody else to do it for you.


This is another survival thing for me, because I dont like groups.


Ive never been able to be in groups.


And my life has led me to having to be in groups, communes, always with great reluctance.


So Ive tried to learn how to survive being in groups very painstakingly.


And so this communication system evolved.


Also in making performance, making art Ive never wanted to tell anybody what to do.


And in teaching I never wanted to tell anybody what to do.


So Ive created an illusion for myself that I could make proposals for the sake of having somebody saylets do this“.


Anyway I had to do that to make my living.


I had to find a way to do it where I wasnt telling people what to do.


And in order to work with a group I had to find a way where everybody was directing.


This just really fell out of this group tuning situation.


Knowing all along that there were two things that were necessary.


The difference between tuning and directing for example.


Its so fragile, the difference between tuning something in, to offer oneself to somebody elses vision, aesthetic taste and vision, which has been very hard for me to do and to be the subject to recompose myself.


To be willing to do that, I had to feel depersonalized.


I had to get myself out of the way, in a way that other people find very easy, but I find very difficult.


How to serve something else, to serve an image rather than to serve a personal desire.


So to first find out how to co-direct in a way that isn’t directing but is tuning, is asking an individual to become somewhat empty of their selves, of their ego-selves.


Willing to be seen and willing to say “okay I go along with this for a minute”, but recognize that Im going along with it.


You know if someone says to me “pause!”, I know they dont have to pause.


How can I create the situation where theyd want to pause, or Id want to pause, because Ive been given a request, suggestion, a clear indication that that would be a good thing to do at this moment.


The fragility of both taking full responsibility for embodying ones, inhabiting ones body, showing oneself at the same time and being seen and being encouraged to be seen more in relation to the whole picture ???


Theres a lot of levels of transformation in yourself.


You have to do something.


You have to do a lot of operations to survive that.


It encourages a very awake dialogue with yourself in that situation.


You have to lend yourself to that experiment.


And it also says: I take responsibility for following as well as reading.


All of that is just so idealistic I find.


Im not talking about utopia, but an idealized way of living in a culture.


Also taking responsibility to say no.


It brings up all of the things that are impossible to figure out about how to stop our governments from doing things they are doing that I just absolutely dont agree with.


Theyre doing it in our name.


And its trying to find out how to empower oneself, to see the shift thats finding place.


And in very local ways, you know, in your own house…


To recognize when the mess is a layer thats useful and when the mess is a layer thats really creating a (??? 58;20) thats hurtfull, somehow hurtfull to your own being at that moment.


And then looking at time, how time flows and how long it takes both for something to become visible for the organization of that shift to become visible so that you can take an action.


And when you have to be impulsive and take a big risk


I was just talking to Michel whos involved with the human shield action thats being planned or discussed…


Were going to Iraq.


Although thats an action thats been made by many people, thats been discussed and shared by many people, and the risk is really


If youre looking at it based on past experiences it really is a risk.


You might get hurt or killed so its commitment to not knowing consequences.


This kind of ??? (59:40) people take all over the world all the time, but many of us dont have to go there.


Its not right in front of our face that we have to decide…


Somehow thats also this kind of practice, performance practice.


I have an ideal about how I connect these things apparant.


Myriam: Did you ever come close to…?


Lisa: There have been runs that have been incredible in the studios that start pulling models.


Myriam: Can you recall some moments?


Or why you felt that it got close?


Lisa: Its very much more than a ??? (1:00:43)


Actually there are a lot of small…


Its again bringing the small, the peripheral, the unintended, the uncentralized actions ???


Actually we had a beautiful run yesterday afternoon where I felt that


I mean its also my aesthetic taste.


It matched.


Where the reading of time and the tension in the group creates these beautiful dances.


Very weird. ???


There was a scene that appeared, that got tuned in from all kinds of reversals and replaces, and a lot of replaces, and this scene with three people standing in a line, parallel to the front of the stage, three people in a line.


It was these series of replaces and it left them there in motion and it was Vera, Nuno, and I think Laurence.


And each of them was doing different kinds of movement, but it was sustained and there was some sound of this ???.


The three worlds were just magnificent. ???


And then Pascal and Vera suddenly took of her shirt, slow, normal pace, took of her shirt.


At the same time she was doing that, Pascal had crossed the way and he went directly towards her.


She was closest to him.


She made a baby bundle and Pascal suddenly ???


And she just shifted her weight in a way that they were a couple with a new baby.


Somehow Pascal was interacting with her in some way.


Suddenly she put this baby bundle down.


Nuno was still there.


Everybody staid where they were.


And Nuno was leaning over and it worked.


It was right there and Vera took a bundle and she put it on the table.


She just put it on the table in such a simple way. ???


Laurence was an instant mother, sightless. ??? Giant changes? T


Myriam: Thats a discription of a very beautiful scene.


Lisa: Thats what I mean.


It was something that arose.


Just being here.


And that could have happened by just three people going to the space and starting something, but it didn’t happen that way.


It evolved and a lot of tuning.


Myriam: ??? A co-operation.


Nelson: Co-operations.


Yeah, so anyway, the contradiction between co-operation and directing and personal responsibility.


In that Im very idealistic or utopian.


And going ??? (1:06:00)


Myriam: Its incredible.


Its like some allegory for it.


They formed a group, theres this baby in it, theres this family.


Lisa: Like the individual starts to melt away and form this kind of consensus community and all this individuality goes away, because were going trough a phase trying to unite someway with some common motive.


And then over time the need for action evolves thats individually imagined, because you cant do that kind of projection.


Then reading about aboriginal mind and the extraordinary way they communicate through time and space, is a whole other thrilling adventure.


Looking at a very sophisticated development of human communication with very few people in an enormous space, covering thousands of miles of distance.


Myriam: I would call this a very good example.