For a few years, I created arrangements of people and things held in stasis for long durations, and called them still acts. The term comes from anthropologist Nadia Seremetakis who uses it to describe social events that alter normal modes of perception and attention. The effect is similar to the theatrical tradition of tableaux vivants, which were used for religious and ceremonial processions prior to the nineteenth century, and as a form of trompe l’oeil entertainment up to the present day.
Over time, the still act is not entirely still. Imperceptible movement occurs, muscles shake, and the spectacle changes due to forces that the performers cannot control. The more the actors attempt to suspend life, the more things work to break the stasis.
Still Act for the Portland Armory
Performed at Portland Center Stage’s 2007 JAW West Festival, Portland, Oregon.
For the Portland Armory still act, I invited 20 individuals and slow-playing musicians to compose a line of stillness that started at a table of theatrical props and costumes, snaked through the lobby, and ended along the sidewalk outside the theater.
Still Act for Goat Island
Performed at the SAIC performance space, 2007.
This was one of the last still acts that I created in Chicago. Inspired by the situation comedies of Lucille Ball and a still life painting by Frans Snyders in the collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, I created it with David Cook and Ryan Tacata.
Still Act for the Chicago Cultural Center
Part of the City of Chicago's Looptopia Festival, May 11, 2007.
As part of the events surrounding Chicago’s first all-night Looptopia event, I worked with a large group of 30 performers and musicians to produce a performance in two parts. One part of the performance took place in a gallery within the Chicago Cultural Center building and involved an installation with musicians and a strange variety of domestic objects and actions. The second part was a long-duration still act with 25 performers arranged in poses drawn from art historical references. They appeared sprawled out across the east and west building entrance steps.
Both parts took place simultaneously. During the performance, the streets of downtown Chicago, as well as the Cultural Center building, flooded with thousands of people. Eventually, the crowds became so dense, that the police closed off the streets around the Cultural Center, and locked the doors of the building to prevent more people from entering. But we stood still throughout.
Photos by John W. Sisson.
Still Act at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Performed at various sites around Chicago between 2006 and 2007.
I was in graduate school, wrestling with my waning faith in the avant-garde. Stillness seemed like a good way to slow things down for more careful looking.
Still Act for Performance Works Northwest
Part of the Annual Richard Foreman Festival, August 17-18, 2007.
For this annual summer event in Portland, I created a still act on the lawn of the performance venue. There, a sprinkler clicked and a man in a lawn chair slept with a can of beer in his hand. A mother in a party dress held a birthday cake in her outstretched arms. And the beer was spilling. And men hummed on a porch and candles burned on the cake. And a woman reclined on a blanket with balloons in her hand. And a girl in a wading pool cradled a houseplant.
And the sprinkler soaked the man who was sleeping. And lawn torches blazed. And the cake slipped from the mother’s hands and an overturned television showed a woman tied to a chair. And she was shouting. And a blindfolded man held a pin on a tail near a picture of a donkey on a tree trunk. And someone passing on the sidewalk held a melting ice cream cone. And a rogue figure was caught in the headlights, clutching a suitcase.
Photos by Scott Jackson.