The following is a speech I gave over Skype from Vienna, Austria, to an audience in New York City. I was asked by CCR (the Center for Creative Research) to weigh in on ideas of practice. The conference that I “spoke” at was dedicated to creating a space for the practice of engaging with practicing publicly. It is written in partial response to Claudia La Rocco’s “Some Thoughts, Possibly Related, on Time, Criticism, and the Nature of Consciousness.” At the moment, I am an ex-pat dancer/choreographer living in Brussels, Belgium. What I am practicing: pursuing an art form that is based in the body, as I live outside of my own culture, far away from those I love, while spending a significant portion of my time in the nowhere/everywhere space of the internet.
Ideas in 6 sections. Because my least favorite number is 6.
Section 1: Meet and Greet
First I would like you to decide how you want to greet people for today. Would you like to shake hands, give one kiss on the cheek, one kiss on each cheek, hug, or a combination of any/all of these?
Whatever you decide, try to be specific—do you kiss the actual cheek or do you meet cheek-to-cheek and make the kissing sound? Do you hug with just the upper body or do you make contact with the full body. Actually choose; I’ll give you a second.
Now walk around the room and greet the others with whom you are sharing this experience.
Okay, is there a reason you chose a specific greeting? Was your greeting experience as you expected? Did any of you include me in the mix of those in the room? If not, why didn’t you?
Section 2: E-mail
I want to read you part of an e-mail I recently wrote to a good friend about my life over here—meaning in Europe.
Here goes: Things are good. Not perfect, but good and still figuring themselves out. The allure of living on another continent is starting to wear off with my medicines now all stuck in the Brussels customs office and my ability to wear the same shirt I packed in my bag three months ago wears thin. I have eaten so much bread and chocolate that I now have a permanent baby in my belly—only one made of salt, butter, and spelt. But it is exciting to be here and often I remind myself how lucky I really am at this particular moment. And secretly, I have been thinking about getting more into animal rights. I just get so upset every time I hear about what happens to them. I think it is my life cause. Sometimes I just hate human beings. I miss my cat.
Where did you picture me as I read this? Was it somewhere nondescript or somewhere defined? Was it somewhere you have been? Was it on the computer screen? I pictured myself in my apartment in Brussels, not here. Did you find yourself imagining my cat? Your cat? Any cat? Here is an image of my cat so that you have one if you want [SHOW IMAGE OF MY CAT ON ANOTHER COMPUTER SCREEN—IMAGE IS FROM AN ALBUM ON FACEBOOK].
I actually do Skype with my cat (well, my parents and my cat). He isn’t that interested. He gets confused when he hears my voice; and my image means nothing to him. I can hardly get him to look at the screen. My sister, on the other hand, loves it. She just discovered Skype this winter—after I let her know that even our parents were doing it. Prior to she thought all Skypers were super technical. We talk more now than we have in years.
I have to admit, I watch myself more than I watch my skyping partner. Best part is, most of the time the person I am Skyping with—you, right now—can’t really tell. If I actually look at you, I am not, and if I look at the camera and it seems like I am looking at you, in actuality, I am not. Now I am looking at myself.
Section 3: Sourness and space
[CUT UP AND EAT LEMON]
Supposedly, if you reacted to my eating the lemon—meaning your lips curled a bit and your tongue did that lemon-tongue thing—you are a good candidate for hypnosis. I don’t know if being over the Internet makes a difference, though.
A good friend recently gave me the following quote: “Living is a form of time travel.” It is from Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. It makes me wonder if it is possible to forget the time it takes to cover distance that separates us. What is the distance between the image of ourselves experiencing something and the actual experience? Is that a form of time travel? If you see or imagine your own body (in a photograph or in your mind), do you compare your actual body to that image? Do you even think about it?
Section 4: Communication
[TURN COMPUTER TO VIEW NEW LOCATION]
When I was talking to my mother the other day about my package that is stuck in customs I told her not to worry about it because Brussels doesn’t have a government at the moment so things aren’t running quite as smoothly as usual. In fact, it hasn’t had a government longer than Iraq didn’t have one—which says something. My medicine should be fine coming across the border
and that is probably why it’s stuck—
[SOUND BACK ON]
to which she replies, “what do you mean they don’t check packages, what if Gaddafi tried to send a bomb through the mail to the NATO headquarters in Brussels to blow everyone up?” She was serious. My stuck package was suddenly equated with a random mail bomb from the embattled Libyan leader. My mother has never been to Libya and knows only of the situation through the internet and cable news. Yet she is genuinely concerned for me.
My friend says it is a way of trying to get me to come home.
[PAUSE AND EXPECT THEM TO REACT]
[SOUND BACK ON]
While the virtual is enough for the dissemination of supposedly believable information and images, she wants my physical body close enough to touch.
Don’t worry if you missed part of this story, it wasn’t important, besides you might have missed part of it while the sound was on anyway.
Maybe getting stuck/confused in the present can facilitate better understanding of ourselves, or maybe not. I sometimes find actually understanding to be super difficult.
Section 5: Closeness
Let’s take a brief nap together. Everyone get comfortable and close your eyes. Let your mind wander, but remember that we are doing it together. My boyfriend and I take naps together—virtually—to feel closer.
Sometimes it is nice to just be together. Even if we aren’t, or are, or whatever.
Section 6: The food
I am going to eat a Viennese delicacy (a Choco Torte) with you and describe how it tastes. You can decide for yourself if you like it as well.
[DESCRIPTION OF CAKE SPOKEN BY RAQUEL WHO IS FROM SPAIN AND HAS A SPANISH ACCENT AND NON-AMERICAN ENGLISH PHRASING]
Thanks—and come visit sometime.
KATHRYN ENRIGHT is a dance artist, educator, and photographer currently based in Brussels, Belgium (though part of her still lives in Brooklyn). www.kathrynenright.com.