The Place Between
Moderated Gallery discussion / July 3, 2015
by Kristin George Bagdanov
I’d like you to close your eyes for just a moment. When you think of home, what appears? A place? A person? A feeling? Some composite of all three perhaps? As entangled as Scott Laumann’s piece, Pin Map. You can open your eyes, but I invite you to keep that image or non-image in mind as we have this discussion.
The tension between space, place, and home are the taut borders within which this show is built. We can understand space just as it sounds—a designated area, seemingly empty of meaning, while a place is space transformed by signification—our many subjective associations that make, to use the cliché, a house a home. I think it’s impossible for us humans, with our need to make meaning, to ever actually enter a space. As soon as we do, it transforms into place; it is significant because we are there, and we can’t get around our own signifying processes. And so tension seems to arise from the fact that we can never experience a place in its own so-called “pure state,” that no stable core actually exists, as place is an accumulation of our desires, expectations, and attitudes, both individual and communal, as projected upon a space. We make the place what it is.
However there’s something deeply troubling and frankly anthropocentric about this reading. Can we never get around our own selves to experience a place unmarred by our narrow perspectives? Sadly, I don’t think we actually can, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, and that there’s something to be learned in this trying. This show, The Place Between, teases out this paradox, investigating what it means to be hospitable to a place, for a place to be hospitable to one’s self. Rarely do we take the time or presence of mind to approach a place hospitably, open to what it has to teach us.
At the root of Scott and Alicia Laumann’s show is an investigation into such hospitality. In each piece, we find evidence of the tension between being hospitable to a place while allowing it to be hospitable to one’s self. To mark it in some way so as to feel like we belong. For example, in the two-hour time-lapse film on the left we walk with Alicia through the canyon. The repetitive sound of dirt crunching beneath her boots paired with her breath communicates a sense of progress yet sameness. She is moving, but where is she going? In terms of hospitality, how does our desire to just keep moving hinder our ability to receive the gifts of a place? And on the ten-hour time-lapse film on the right, we see Alicia’s radical hospitality to place. In varying postures of receptivity, she lets the place incorporate her into its shifting shadows, doing her best to open herself up to encounter without dictating the terms of the encounter. I don’t think I’ve ever before seen such a pure representation of hospitality as I do here.
Finally, by expressing this encounter via film in the context of this show, an additional layer of signification is added. And so it seems the tension we are dealing with here is not simply a dichotomy between space and place, but between but three points, as we see in product of the performance piece Landschaft, which is the German word for landscape. These three points might be summarized as follows:
our inability to encounter a space without making it into a place
our desire to make meaning out of a place, to inscribe ourselves in it
the need to be hospitable to a place in order to most fully encounter it
These three intersecting realities are what we must negotiate when seek to mark a place as home, which is represented in both the product and process of Landscahft. From the planning to the execution of this piece, Landschaft fully represents how a posture of hospitality arises from negotiating these three intersecting realities. For example, during the performance and building of the piece last month, the dancers had to adapt to the changing conditions of the piece as they wrapped the fence posts layer by layer, nail by nail. As they built, the accumulation of string pulled the fence posts inward as they bent under the cumulative tension of the material. In response, the dancers had to further secure and alter the positioning of the posts as if they were in conversation with the wood, responding to its needs just as it responded to the performance. Though Alicia and Scott had a vision for what this piece would look like, they had to adjust these expectations in order to respond to the material reality of the place they were building, each string a layer of signification that demonstrates how space is fashioned into place by our desires, and also how it resists that fashioning. And so perhaps the solution to our anthropocentrism is not simply to be dismayed at our inability to experience a place as it truly is, but to accept our need to impose meaning while remaining open to the conversation the place is trying to have with us, responding to and adjusting our expectations in turn. In this way, we are collaborating with the place in its own creation, allowing it to also create ourselves. Though there will always be a gap between our ability to experience a place for what it is and what we desire it to be, this posture of receptivity seems to diminish this gap the most, if only for two or ten hours.
In closing I’d like to just return to the concept home, which we shouldn’t misconstrue as a stagnant or stable place. Perhaps a better way to conjure home is actually to think of the word “homing.” Of animals, homing or to home means, “to return to some specific territory or spot after having left it or having been removed from it.” Introduced here is migration, movement, removal, upheaval, diaspora. Home is always rented or borrowed territory, a stopping ground along the path to ________? Also introduced by this word is the need for creativity amidst this crisis of transience; we are required to constantly destroy and create the stationary structures that don’t follow us in this migration. Mark Strand’s well-known poem comes to mind, then: “I move / to keep things whole.” In The Place Between, we see the manifestation of this movement, an accretion of distance, bodies, and desires. These pieces are homing; they create the hole as well that which fills it, not because it is empty, but because that is what the place asks them to do.
1. All of these pieces seem to evoke process—they are both processes in and of themselves and demonstrating some process that has occurred. I think of the wood pieces on the wall here, which call attention to their own process of growth via their rings. Can you speak more about the signification of process in your work, both as a concept and as a reality?
2. An ecotone is the between place that is both the most dangerous and the most enlivened. Think of dusk as a place where prey and predator meet, or the shoreline as the negotiated place between sea and shore. By collaborating on this project you’re invoking an artistic ecotone. How have you witnessed dance and visual art to hash up against one another in unexpected ways during this collaboration? What surprised or challenged you?
3. Can you talk more about this place, Northern Colorado, and why you are “homing” here?
4. With the exception of the videos and the pin map, all of these pieces will disappear once you dissemble the show. How does the ephemeral nature of this work connect to your transience, both geographically but also in terms of dance and visual art?