The following performance exercise is by Marilyn Arsem. You can find it on page 192 of the new publication about Arsem’s work entitled Responding to Site: The performance work of Marilyn Arsem.
Exercise On Experiencing Ephemerality
In a course on documenting ephemeral work, I being by examining the reasons that we try to hold onto the past, as well as the ways that our memories are fluid and elusive. Early in the course I give this task:
- Chose a place nearby that you have always wanted to visit and see, but have not yet gone.
- Go there, taking as much time as you wish to explore and experience the place.
- Before you leave, choose one object to bring back as a souvenir. Only one.
- And finally, you must agree never to return to that place again.
Initially this exercise appears mundane, until the final stipulation of never returning is added. The most revealing part of the process is each student’s debate on where they will go, knowing that they can’t return. The ones that choose the place they most desire have the most intense experience, and those that play it safe and choose a place that has minimal significance for them have the least meaningful experience.
I designed this exercise in an effort to replicate the experience of making a performance or other ephemeral work, and the profound feeling of loss that can occur when it is over. In particular, I am interested in pointing out that this kind of work is not unlike one’s own life, in that you cannot return to the past, but only—and if you are lucky—save a relic or memory of it.