Sunday, March 16, 2014

Miguel Gutierrez and the mind-body problem

After my first encounter with Miguel Gutierrez's performance art I had to talk about his uniqueness to many around me. I spoke about his courage, about taking actual risks in stage acts and risks in interacting with the audience. And much of what he did was in line with a wonderful statement that I found printed in the program. I extolled it as the best artist's statement I have ever read. Without claim to accuracy I recall that he spoke about the function of art and of performance art specifically. Answering the question why exactly do we want to show ourselves and act in front of the audience - or among the audience or other performers. He gave a brilliant answer: that we want to have a witness to our experience. A witness that reflects to us not our own image but the truth of our experience, validates the experience.

In the latest show, titled "and lose the name of action", - I saw it in Seattle at OnTheBoards March 9, 2014 - he battles the problem of the body being dominated by formal and authoritative systems of knowledge. Miguel apparently responds to the impression made by a close encounter with modern medicine where his own father was treated for a serious illness. Scientists, technologist doctors, patients and perhaps transiently angelic beings populate the stage. The doctors display the mastery that comes from technology based on scientific knowledge, passion for knowledge and dispassionate analytic attitude toward its effects in human world. The angelic beings seem to pray to the absent and unnamed gods. Patients throw fits of indignation about being only objects and just objects and that their rescue depends on their existence being treated on the level of existence of objects of science. Everybody joins in the debate about the nature of experience. Do I respond to heat because it is my experience of heat or because science has defined heat as an objective phenomenon that our brain (an object) is capable of responding to? Miguel's piece contains a very clever dramatization of the so-called mind-body problem. Of course it remains unresolved. The scientists debating it end their discussions with mutual "fuck-you's".

The reason for this impasse is that the patient is unwilling to take charge of his experience and say that he/she is the authority. The patient - that is most of us - will hand himself/herself over to the systems of knowledge asking for salvation. What the system will deliver is a body fragmented and converted into a set of objects that it can manipulate. To defend ourselves from that we must claim the ownership of our subjective life. This is something Miguel has not yet asserted in this show but an inkling of that notion was present in his early days manifesto with the excellent artist statement.