Laurel Foglia is a performance artist and writer. This is an abridged partial transcript from a 30 May 2013 interview at Reno in Logan Square. Laurel and I spoke for two hours over boozy rootbeer floats with unidentified bits of what we eventually determined to be sarsaparilla.
My mother is a storyteller and she used to put on this festival in the park in our town when I was really little, maybe four or five.
One time, she caught me waving my hands in front of my face while another storyteller was onstage. Afterwards, when she asked me what I was doing, I told her I was trying to get the storyteller out from in front of the story.
Whatever you are conveying with your voice, in your language, to a live audience, the experience happens in that space between when it leaves your mouth and hits the back of their brain. I would love to be able to create that sort of rapture; I have this image, this memory of a feeling, of seeing little children slack-jawed because they’re completely engrossed in whatever the storyteller is saying. I don’t have memory of that particular feeling, because you’re lost in the feeling when you experience it, but I have memory of the moment I become aware that I had it.
In meditation, Samadhi has many different translations, but essentially it’s the point during meditation where you achieve a complete sense of awareness, presence. But as soon as you realize that you’re present and aware, you’re no longer present and aware.
But that moment before you’re aware of meditating is possible to achieve, I think, in a performance that’s particularly captivating.
Where I would like to be in performances right now is just behind that space of the experience.
When I try to imagine the viewer’s experience, it cultivates empathy. I’m imagining what I see myself doing. I usually first see a piece from the back of a room, and what feeling I’d want to see.
That might be what’s missing from a lot of performance work. You don’t know how to respond to it because the artist may not have considered the aesthetic experience. We have two distinct words that are still only related in concept. The artistic relates to the make or making, the skill of the artist. And the aesthetic refers to the reception of the viewer, the perception of the work. Ideally what should happen for the artist is that he or she embodies both characteristics when they make their work; they should not only pay attention to the artistic effort, but they should be able to think of it, re-receive it, and understand what the experience might be. To see it from the viewer’s point of view.
I think that the art criticism that I would like to hear is not one of evaluation at all; is not one that even says “I like this and this is why” or don’t. But rather, something that’s not evaluative. Instead of praising or critiquing, just talking about experience or knowledge that work allows for. It feels much more productive.
Matthew Goulish always says, “The first piece of evidence that a work is good is that it exists.”
And then if you start from the premise that every work of art you’re looking at is already perfect, then how does that change the way you critique it? If there’s nothing you would change, if you’re not approaching it to make it better, then what do you say about it? Then, what you say would be about your experience with it.
If Art Criticism just talked about, subjectively, that critic’s experience with the work, I wonder how the readers would respond more or approach work differently, and I wonder how artists would approach it differently.
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This is part of “Radical Storytelling,” originally submitted to the SAIC Collections on 14 Dec 2013.