Monday, December 12, 2011

"Create a ZONE in which placed things (head) luminate!" Richard Foreman said

The playwright and director Richard Foreman has also written several sets of "manifestos" along with his plays. I suspect he does this partly to explain his methods to himself, but we can overhear the conversation!  My husband and I have seen his plays in New York, and we talk about his ideas all the time (I wrote about him here on November 30 and September 29-- and a few other times before that).  He is a powerful influence.  We both --often -- re-read a copy of a set of his writings, inter-woven with scenes from Foreman's plays, that was published originally in the journal Performance in 1972, called "HOTEL CHINA: Part 1 & Part 2."  Foreman believes, with Bertoldt Brecht and Gertrude Stein,  that art -- theater -- often puts audiences into a kind of comfortable trance, because they identify with the characters who are onstage and wait for the dilemma to be resolved.  Viewers should not be waiting, passively, for the linear progression of introduction-problem-resolution; they should be awake to "the new possibility ... a subtle insertion between logic and accident, which keeps the mind alive."  The play needs to be interrupted: "The field of the play is distorted by the objects within the play, so that each object distorts each other object and the mental pre-set is excluded" (p. 4).

In order to make this happen on his stages, Foreman has used all sorts of props and bizarre costumes; here is a scene from "What to Wear" in 2006:

There might be strings between the stage and the audience, or a plastic wall, characters might stop, mid-sentence, to wind up a huge crank or sing three bars of a song. The story? We are not watching for story. We are watching for movement, for surprise, for what is happening right this minute. Foreman wrote that the audience must "Be happy NOT knowing in condition of wanting to know. Be joyous in that tension" (p. 18).  He says, on page 5:

Art: not concerned with essence
    But with THING
               used in such a way
                  that it vanishes
                     & what is
      left is suspension:
    In life. -------> . thing is tool   --we get
    In art. <---------> never get there
                  Why? Create a ZONE
                     in which placed
                  things (head) luminate!

Above, a shot from "Idiot Savant," 2009.  (You can see more by Foreman on his website, 

Why Foreman today, here, now?  We went to the Open Studios in the Arsenal in Benicia yesterday, and saw an artist there, Sharon Payne Bolton, whose work brings Richard Foreman's ideas to mind.  Her exhibition space is wallpapered with washed-over maps and fragments of French notebooks, and the art works (see the white-framed piece below) share shelf space with books, lasts for making shoes, lenses, glass bottles filled with vacuum radio tubes, rulers. The works themselves hold keys, or locks, or French papers from the 19th century (Bolton lived in France for a time) or small mechanical devices or waxed photographs:

We talked to Bolton about her similarities to Foreman, a writer she did not know, and about the ways her work can resonate with a viewer, because it is familiar, but not familiar, simultaneously. Her works are beautifully made (Bolton was a cabinetmaker, and her space is called "Cabinet of Curiosity"):

Each piece rewards continued scrutiny -- and holds the viewer in the present moment. Sharon Payne Bolton has created her own little world in each of her artworks:

If you can visit, do! If not, here is the artist's website:

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