On instruction pieces, daily practice, walking and listening

When I did my first daily practice piece, it was really just a training session: what would it be like to do an action a day for a year? In the absence of anything but the rubric of ‘year-long daily practice’ motivating me (that is, in the absence of any motivation other than simply wanting to try out the form), I settled on: an action a day, organized by the number 365, for 365 days. What better way to engage in the training practice than to eject all content but that which came with the form? I did this action in collaboration with a colleague and friend of mine, and this collaboration helped motivate me. While I posted each action online, daily, giving me, in principle at least, a public audience-witness, the anonymity of the genre produced that witness as more of a ‘big Other’ than a committed listener. The committed listener, the collaborator, the one doing it side by side with me day in and day out, made all the difference.

I carried this knowledge with me into the next year, when I decided, having practiced the form and learned some of its ins and outs, to develop a new daily practice instruction piece, one that, this time, was organized by content that was meaningful to me and that the form of daily-practice “event scores” or “instruction pieces” was particularly well suited to helping me explore: daily maternal labour. Again, I worked with a group of listener-collaborators; again, I posted daily. But this time the instructions meant something, and did something, using the frame of instruction-based daily-practice to carve out, mould, shape, the fabric of the (maternal) every day and to render it other — defamiliarised — through this chosen form, and, through this, be claimed as worthy of attention, value, and care.

Generally understood to have emerged in the 1960s under the auspices of Fluxus, the instruction piece or score is a form with a (now) long history in contemporary art. Those associated with Fluxus in its later and earlier (proto) forms — folks such as Joseph Beuys, George Brecht, John Cage, Walter de Maria, Robert Filliou, Hi Red Center, Geoff Hendricks, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Shigeko Kubota, George Maciunas, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Ben Vautier, Wolf Vostell, and La Monte Young — resisted the cohesion of the term “movement,” preferring to see Fluxus as an approach, one that was international, decentralized, and multi-disciplinary. They staunchly rejected the art object as commodity while working to cross the inherited boundaries dividing that thing called “life” from that thing called “art” — not to collapse them, I hasten to add, rendering the two categories indistinguishable, but, rather, to render their relation uncanny. Following from the Duchampian assertion that “it is art if I say it is,” with the Flux-Score, any moment of life may be rendered art. The “frame” of art is mobilized to reorient habitual modes of being, to invite unexpected encounters, and, in its feminist mode, to bring attention to the maintenance labour that sustains our every day, at every scale of existence (see Mierle Laderman Ukeles for compelling Fluxus-related feminist work in this domain).

Linked to Fluxus, the Art/Life form of “daily practice” particularizes the conceptual (“idea art”) form of the instruction piece by insisting that the instruction be performed daily and for an extended period of time (the most famous of these are those of Tehching Hsieh and, to a different degree Linda Montano). This daily-practice orientation, in my experience, does something that the one-off score does not. While the booklet or the exhibition of scores has the advantage of seeding the critical creative imagination in unexpected ways, the daily practice instruction or event score insists on the value of dailyness, of the every day, of the quotidian. It does this in two important ways: (1) It carves into the flow of the everyday, insisting that the performer pay attention to something else, and pay attention differently, defamiliarizing and re-routing and framing that moment as an aesthetic act or event; (2) It insists on the value of repetition. The things that we repeat, that we do on a daily basis, render the shape of our actions, of our attention, and our being-in-the-world. At the core of the Art/Life movement in contemporary art is the assertion that aesthetic orientations matter, that bringing the insights of artistic thinking and training into everyday life reroutes the flows of how we engage with each other and the world. It literally changes how we look, see, listen, hear, touch, feel, and move through the day (try performing Yoko Ono’s winter 1961 Laugh Piece: “Keep laughing for a week,” and then tell me that it doesn’t). Imagine (to name some of the tasks that surround me on a daily basis) if one approached the practice running a meeting, or of mothering, or of washing the dishes, as art. Imagine the different level of attention to form — to shape; to composition — and the different degree of attunement and care that this would require. Christopher Cook did this in the early 1970s, when he took on the directorship of Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art for a year as art; Joseph Beuys argued for this with his conception of Social Sculpture, his Bureau for the Organisation of Direct Democracy (Documenta 5), and his claim that to be a teacher was his greatest work of art.

Yoko Ono, in her 2006 book “Imagine Yoko,” states that “Art is a way of survival” (9); “Everyday experience can be a work of art” (15); and “For an artist everywhere is a studio” (73). These perspectives inform this project. I chose November 7th as my start date in honour of the October Revolution that names one of the best-known journals in the field, OctoberFor 12 weeks I will perform “a listen a day,” devising a score for each exercise after having performed it and including action notes on my experience of the action. I will do this every day, for 6 days a week, leaving one day as a day of rest. I will start November 7, 2018, and end on January 30th, 2019. Following this, I will begin a second 12-week piece, “a walk a day,” turning my attention from “listening as art” to “walking as art.”

Coming soon: