Self-Interview on Practice

Sarma 1 Jun 2009English

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Contextual note
This self-interview was completed in June 2009. The text is excerpted from Self-Interview on Practice, an illustrated film-essay.
Self-Interview on Practice:
Text, illustrations and performance by Chrysa Parkinson.
Sound by Peter Van Hoesen.
Thanks to 6M1L/Exerce, and Inpresentable 2008.
It was published on Sarma on the occasion of the second "walk+talk" series organized by Philipp Gehmacher at the Kaaistudio's in Brussels, 15-19 March 2011.

Can you define what you mean by practice more clearly?

I’m trying to do that. I’m not satisfied yet. I started with the idea that there’s something I do that is not training, process, or product, and that this thing underlies the decisions I make about training, process and product. And I wanted to call that thing my practice – but I didn’t have a way of saying that in one phrase – a slogan. Then I thought maybe I could say the underlying, thing I do is “giving and getting attention.” Then more recently I thought maybe my practice is just performance.

Why do you need the slogan?


I guess I don’t really. But I like words.

Don’t you have to be careful that words don’t hijack the concept?

Yes. That’s the whole point, actually. I want to identify this concept of practice more precisely because I can feel that not only are my training, processes and product changing, but also my way of choosing them is changing.

Is a practice like a structure then?

A volatile one.

Does this interest come up because of teaching?

Yes. I notice my students devising principles, or thought-maps, mythologies, wish-lists, moral codes… some substructure that helps them navigate or synthesize or do some other thing that I don’t know exactly what it is; that thing helps them get through and around and up on their work. A lot of students start from a really vulnerable, vague point. Then they go make lives based on making art. It’s kind of remarkable.

But isn’t that just that they get training and then become good enough at what they want to do to actually do it?

No. They often redefine being “good at it” by redefining “it.” That’s the excitement. They use their education to change the field they work in.

Not everyone.

No. But even the ones who fit into an existing set of standards arrive at that level of achievement through something more than just training. Taking class every day isn’t enough. You have to work on a way of processing information that’s really functional. And I see it in the other, older artists I work with too.

Is that their practice? How they process information?

I think so. But people use the word differently – at least three different ways. But basically I like the idea of practice as an Active Thought, or a Filter.

What’s the second definition?

An habitual or regular activity. If you do it often, it’s a practice.

And the third?

To try. To attempt repeatedly.

What’s the difference between them?

If you are a snake charmer, and you think a lot about teeth, so much in fact that you interpret the world through teeth, and all your work with snakes is just an extension of this interest in teeth, then you could say that dentistry is your practice, although you are a snake charmer. Also, if you have a habit of pulling teeth, you like it a lot, you do it regularly for the people in your family and neighborhood – then you are a snake charmer with a dentistry practice. And last, if you keep trying to pull teeth, you repeatedly attempt it with more or less successful results – then you are a snake charmer who is practicing dentistry.

You’re most interested in the first definition?

Yes. And of course you could be a snake charmer whose practice is the charming of snakes, which would be convenient, but I think that’s pretty rare.

So what you see more of is something like: if I’m studying dance but my practice is music, I use the concepts and experience of music to analyze and intuit the dance information I’m exposed to?

Yes. And actually you see a lot of people approaching dance through a musical practice, and in turn dance can often be found humping the leg of other art forms.

Why are you so derogatory about that?

It’s another topic, but it’s one of the basic problems in thinking about dance. In order for dance to be taken seriously, it’s often used to create metaphors for psychology, theory, music, visual art, etc. And I like movement. For itself.

You would exclude other art forms?

No. I’d just like to see more things based on movement. I like to dance.

But movement is also a poetic concept, isn’t it? I mean as well as being a thing….

Let’s talk about this later. Actually, let’s talk about performance, and movement, and as little as possible about dance.

Okay. The first definition you used for practice, “an active thought” sounds like the definition of praxis “the process by which a theory, lesson or skill is enacted.” Is practice and praxis the same thing?

Maybe. A practice is an active thought, while praxis is an action that enables that thought. The problem is, I think, that so many thoughts and actions in performance can’t be identified as either an action or a thought exclusively. They’re more like thought-actions.

What do you mean? Is that a Buddhist thing?

You know I’m not a Buddhist. If there’s a relationship it’s accidental.

But you do meditate.

That’s personal.

But it is a practice.

Okay. But I really would prefer to keep that out of this discussion. I’m not sure how to talk about it. I can feel the concrete effects of meditation on how I concentrate, and on the detailing of my sensations, but I think there are spiritual connotations to doing it that I have not dealt with at all and don’t know how to deal with, and I don’t want to deal with it with you. So I’m really uninterested in talking about that right now.

Okay sorry. Sorry I brought it up. So. What do you mean by a thought-action? And what does it have to do with praxis and practice?

So. Movement or performance ideas, like an action, can take an amount of time, or can occupy a place. But ideas also process. You put an action through an idea and it gets changed. Actions themselves are definitely processes. Scores are durational places. You spend time in a score.

How can idea be a place?

Any idea I can “get in to” is a place. Any idea I can embody.

Can you give an example?

Okay. With apologies to the people that I’m paraphrasing, misrepresenting…. For example, David Zambrano’s practice of “passing through” creates an area of experience that is clearly enough defined to distinguish it as a place. I can drop in there.
Sometimes I use the idea of “fiction”. If I superimpose the idea of fiction on my actions, they are contained and limited by that definition – I can’t get out of the idea until I drop it.
Or Deborah Hay’s questions that start with “what if every cell in my body could...”.
Or the way Thomas Hauert connects force and space and people.
When I work with him, I’m working with a perception that finds a way to act itself out.

And Martin Kilvady’s concept of “dancing”? Is that also a thought-action-thing?

Exactly. He has a strong perception of what dancing is – it’s a large, flexible category. The idea of “dance” becomes a container that shapes whatever action takes place under that name, in that room, at that time, and the actions that take place there also push out and re-shape the idea of dance. If you call it dancing, it changes the definition of dancing.

But then how can you choose if you have such an open definition? How can you choose what Not to do?

Some dancing is bad dancing. You have to have a sense of humor, and judgment. Jonathan Burrows often talks about Human Scale. He has a sense of proportion, relationship, and it integrates his work and life, but it also means there are some things he would not do. When I was talking about practices with Eszter Salomon she talked about resisting – that it’s part of her practice to resist information and influence.

That’s beautiful actually.

Yeah. I know. It’s really good.

So could you say the concepts of praxis and practice are continuous, like a mobius strip. “My practice is contained by a praxis but the praxis is also defined by my practice?”

Yes. Hmmm. But I’m not sure what the good of distinguishing these words is. The more I think about it the more dangerous it seems to me.


Practice becomes static if you separate it from Praxis, and vice versa.

What’s wrong with that?

Once a practice is static it’s no longer functional. It becomes a marketable object, a product. Practices have to remain unstable, volatile.

I don’t understand how volatility makes something unmarketable. And I don’t understand what’s wrong with marketability.

I’m a performing artist. I change – I get old, I fall in love, I move to another city, I get injured, I develop skills, I develop knowledge, I lose interest, I get seduced. In order to guide me through training, processes and product, my practice has to change.

Could you think of a practice as a chemical reaction that would act as a catalyst on your experience? Then the author or owner wouldn’t matter

Yes. And why buy that? It’s just there. Just take it.

But David sells Passing Through, doesn’t he?

No. I don’t think that’s what he’s doing. He teaches ways of moving, techniques that he’s discovered for passing through. It’s a way to start. He’s not selling the practice of passing through, and certainly not the practice in the way he lives it. He invites people to join him in that way of living. He’s often providing them space and time. They spend it with him. It’s not bartering.

Is there really a difference?

Yes. Klein Technique tried to become a product at one point. A select group of people went into an intensive studying relationship with the authors of that technique, but when it came down to it, every one of that group of people refused their diploma. They felt that the elitism of qualification, and the labeling of the product as intellectual property, was detrimental to the practice. I think it’s a testament to the ideas behind that practice that the people doing it refused to make a product out of it.

I remember that. It was shocking.

Yes, and it was exciting. Because the concept of technique is so consuming and consumable. I remember sitting in this auditorium in Venezuela watching a dance concert of work that was very strange to me – I couldn’t follow at all really. But all these kids in the audience would cheer when the performers did these certain moves that they had obviously learned were very special and exciting moves. And I can get really into hard exciting stuff like high jumps and speed and perfect imitations, but this was weirder than that. It felt like a recognition of this virtuosity pocket they had been tucked into by their schooling. They’d go nuts every time.

But shouldn’t training, process and product be part of your practice?

Ideally yes, but things fall in and out of synch, and that’s also good – it’s movement…

For students that happens with training, right?

Yes. Professionals too. For example, my preference is for subtler physicalities, but I perform some pieces that demand a higher level of effort, and I like that intensity as a principle. I like the principle of physical range – and I like the principle of challenging my desires. So in my daily practice I do this jumping score.

And does that practice have to be daily?

No. It depends. Sometimes day-to-day consistency helps. It’s easier to track how an idea gets changed by an action when you do it daily. There’s another quality to memory. For things like stamina you need a daily rhythm, obviously.

What’s the difference between daily training and daily practice?

Training is about learning and improving on specific tasks. Deborah calls practice “learning without trying.” If you’re training, you’re definitely trying to learn. You’re goal oriented, or maybe you’re putting yourself in that student-teacher relationship to find some objectivity. But a practice, for the most part, is independent of teachers, and intensely subjective. It doesn’t need the presence of a viewer, although it doesn’t exclude it either. I don’t think you can specify the goals of a practice the way you can those of training.

But you’re training for stamina in your daily practice.

Not really. For stamina I would run. I’m looking for the dancing when I jump rope.

Okay. But some people use training as a part of their practice.

Yes. That relationship with a teacher, or even just with a goal, can function to help you keep interested in your work. I’ve definitely felt that way – like I needed help to change my patterns so I could do more things. I was getting injured. Training can help with boredom. When I complain my friend Greg says, “use your training.”

And what’s the difference between a process and a practice?

A process also has a specific goal. If you don’t create a product from a process, it’s a failed process. It’s also a question of duration. Most processes are finished once the piece is constructed. A practice can span many processes. But I definitely use things I’ve learned from processes in my daily practice.

You said you steal other people’s practices.

Yes, I realized in working on it that because my practice is based in performance, I have to do the thing to understand it. It’s tricky because I have to learn to listen and watch people without absorbing their experience too quickly into my own if I want to learn something new. But I can’t learn new things without doing them.

You’re just always taking every bodies ideas?

No. It’s actually rare that I really like what someone else does enough to adopt it as part of my own thought process. I do relatively little of what I’ve learned.

It seems like you’ve adopted Deborah Hay’s practice.

Yes and no. I’m very influenced by her. She’s the first person I’d ever heard speak about (and use) performance itself as a practice. So when I talk about performance and practice, I use her language a lot. It’s clear. But I take a lot from Thomas/Zoo – the experience of a sustained physical practice over years, for example – that’s something no one but Zoo ever proposed to me – and this thing about paying attention to movement first, that’s from Zoo. It runs through everything I do now.

Are you defensive about being so influenced by Deborah?

Probably a little. Sometimes. Anyway. It’s a place to start.

What have you taken from the people in 6M1L/Exerce?

I took things for my daily practice in Montpellier. I’m not sure how they’ll fit into the larger picture. I took jumping rope from Jefta. It works well as a form of “bounce” which is an adaptation of “moving through space without traveling from here to there,” which also relates to Passing Through, but also to Zoo’s work with space, and is a direct steal from a Deborah Hay score. I took loops from Mette. I use them in one part of my body as part of a Three in One score I do. From Bojana I think I’m learning and maybe practicing “thinking in conversation.” I’m not sure I do that yet, actually, but I’m very interested in it. It’s something about speech and performance and improvising and thinking and writing. I’m not sure how it will manifest eventually.

If you think of the material of performance as perception, or as relationship (as Deborah would say), then some form of “doing it” to understand it does make sense.

Yes. That’s why I like to think of daily performance practices as small, metaphoric versions of your larger practice – microclimates in the larger environment of your eco-system. You can experiment safely there on the relationships between ideas and the physical world but it involves actually doing the thing every day. I really learned to observe that continuity and erosion and development of words to actions and actions to words from Deborah. I do take a lot from Deborah. I feel like the “learning without trying” happened here, in this interview, for example.

Oh. I just thought of something. Maybe the difference that’s actually important is the difference between “a practice” and “my practice.” Once something becomes your practice, it’s infinitely more complicated than it was when it was something you could pick up from someone else. It becomes implicated in all your work, all aspects of training, process and product, and if you tried to separate it out you would kill it, or kill a part of yourself.

That’s a bit dramatic. Drowning your inner kitten. But maybe it’s that simple also.

Why do you always resist passionate thoughts? You’re so dry sometimes it’s almost cynical.

I’m trying to include more people’s experience by being a little objective.

Isn’t that antithetical to the idea of perception as active and subjective?

Maybe you’re right.

I think you have to be passionate to make sense.

It’s true that making sense makes me feel connected to people and my environment. I guess I could admit to being passionate about that. Synchronizing. Coordinating. Making sense.

I’ve been noticing writing is a way of making sense, which is what performance does for me. It reminds me of this phrase “synchronizing with duration” – Bojana was using that phrase to define the attention that passes between an audience and a performance. Do you think synchronizing with duration is a part of performance practice?

Yes. I like that. Writing can synchronize.

Then performance could still be your practice, even if you never performed.

Are you suggesting that as a goal?

No. I don’t know. Maybe. Is it a goal for you?

I think it might be for me actually.


Maybe yes. I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll try it. I’ll try it repeatedly.

Well, okay. Good luck with that.