Applying ones focus to an act, seeing the here-and-now, finding the fluidity of the experience at hand followed by the next experience preceding the previous, seems at this moment in time almost impossible. At times our obsession with organization clouds the reason why we focus on the past and future, which is to understand the present. So it seems the more we have to stimulate our minds the more we need ways to revise how we see the world and how we can experience it through ourselves not through filters. As artist and art lovers this dilemmas has given us permission to allow the rise of art forms that take the now and the experience into full appreciation and contemplation.
A prime example is performance art. With performance art there is now a forum where the experience is at the core of the art. Not only does this art form enriches our understanding of existing in the now but grounds us in a place of the performance, thus we have the concept of time/space to play with. Once film and video collided with performance art a new dimension was added. With a way of documenting the act, the act became frozen in time. What remained was an event with a fix point but with infinite occurrences. The question now at which I present is how can one create a work that focuses its attention to the here and now but has a third possibility of infinite now’s and be successful? To explore this possibility of an art that can be about the here-and-now but can have infinite “now’s” I will investigate three subjects, Bruce Nauman, my personal work and Gestalt Therapy in the clinical sense. With less of an empirical approach and more of an intuitive feel I will try to explore Bruce Nauman’s and my work as attempts in Gestalt experimental interventions.
First lets explore what is the approach Gestalt Therapy takes in shifting ones experience from the known and assumed to the present and new. Gestalt therapy is a method of awareness, by which perceiving, feeling, and acting are understood to be separate from interpreting, explaining and judging using old attitudes. This distinction between direct experience and indirect or secondary interpretation is developed in the process of therapy. The client learns to become aware of what they are doing psychologically and how they can change it. By becoming aware of and transforming their process they develop self-acceptance and the ability to experience more in the "now" without so much interference from baggage of the past. As it goes “ clear perception of the immediate present leads to ‘good gestalten’, well formed or well-represented relationships…To handle present demands well, a person needs to be able to clearly see the necessary relationships among important elements of the current experience without importing concerns from the past or about the future.”
An important tool in gestalt therapy is the intervention. “The foundation for intervention in Gestalt therapy lies in this dictum: the most potent interventions are existential, experiential, and experimental. The existential dimensions leads the therapist to the here-and-now of interactions with clients: the experiential dimension focuses on the knowledge that emerges from awareness of any phenomenon: experimentation builds upon the belief that we learn the most important personal truths by discovering them for ourselves.” Because the structure of Gestalt therapy lies in relying on the phenomenon occurring at the present moment the process of this form of therapy is a “touch feely” one. To have success with gestalt therapy client and therapist must have full concentration, therapist and client must not be aloof.
In Bruce Nauman’s Work entitled “Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square” (1968) one can see that the central focus is the act itself. It is a classic experiment from Gestalt therapeutic techniques in which “exaggeration brings the inner experience in to focus”. Nauman pays close attention to the action he is engaged in. Every movement he makes is conscious and momentary. Because of Nauman’s intuitive approach the work becomes art about the act. As he said the way he works is “much more intuitive…It has to do with working on something and finding out ‘wow, that’s far out or interesting.’ And then thinking about it, trying to figure out why it interested you…it has to do with intuitively finding something…I never seem to get there from knowing some result or previously done experiment.”
Naumans own words leads us to understand that the success of the work lies in the three modes of Gestalt intervention existential, experiential, and experimental. The focus of the work is the action of walking in an exaggerated manner around the perimeter of a square. The existential element is seen in each movement, which seems very intentional and focused. The experiential element is the knowledge gain by Nauman’s experience of the phenomenon of walking in an exaggerated manner around the perimeter of a square, one can even go as far as to say that Nauman's “Figure and Ground” (in Gestalts term) collides with the viewer’s “figure and ground” to become an intersubjective phenomenon that is walking in an exaggerated manner around the perimeter of a square. When this occurs what is learned for Nauman by experiencing this phenomenon is his awareness of his body, his weight and familiarity with the boundary that he has made for himself. Nauman becomes a vehicle in which the viewer can learn some important “truths”. We become Nauman and we understand the awkwardness that it is to me human and mobile. We all are preprogrammed to walk but there are infinite possibilities of how to walk. What the viewer learns is the same sense of body, weight and boundary but this investigation can go further for the viewer it can be seen and studied over and over again. The here-and-now is suspended and infinite.
This Gestalt dictum in which the existential, experiential, and experimental are important elements in intervention has some how emerged within my work. Most likely it is the influence of some years of studing psychotherapy, being in therapy and some studies in eastern philosophy which Gestalt theories have also been influenced by. One good example is a work entitled “Sweep” (2008). This piece was in part performance and video documentary. The work consisted of various performances in which I recorded sound and/or video of me sweeping specific areas of the city of Long Beach. The location was not important only the boundaries I set. The boundaries I set were arbitrary, mostly they were determined by an area I found interesting in some form or another to sweep. In each performance I concentrated on the technique of sweeping towards me systematically going from one side of the perimeter and back until every inch of the area was swept and touched by the brooms bristles. Rhythm and intent of movement was crucial so was continuation of the act with no intervention from anything. With the audio/video material I obtained I created a video of the various acts. The P.O.V. (point of view) of the video was a view above the broom towards the floor; the camera was mounted on the broom so the only stillness in the image was the broom. What was vital in the video was the P.O.V., the collage of various events that were represented by video and audio, and the action itself.
My Gestalt intent can be heard in my own words, which were written as a proposal for the piece,
“Through many exposures to various activities that I have been intrigued with and have practiced throughout I am slowly getting at some sort of activity that affects every part of me that I intend to enrich. What will be the result in the end is negligible, and to what extent the overall enrichment will be is unimportant. Yes the drive is to eventually get at some unification that will be all consuming, but really what is only needed is the drive.
The body physical, the spiritual, aesthetics, and the tool are basic parameters for this piece. I plan to pick various locations in the urban that I will sweep with one broom. This broom will be a standard straw broom. The action will only consist of sweeping, there will be no displacement of the substance that is swept, and it will only be left in a pile. With each meditation I hope to learn something new: what will be the next location, how much, how long, and to what extremes or lack of extremes the next meditation will be.
I feel that the proper meaning is unimportant as of now. I believe that the only proper way to further explore this concept is to sweep. With the meditation I will find more insight to which way the concept will go.”
A here-and-now attitude was need for me to experience the motion of the performance, the phenomenon was getting lost in the action and having the here-and-now come and go as I tried to focus on the stroke and rhythm and what was gain for me and hopefully for the viewer is an infinite feeling of the here-and now of the performance even if it is temporary through the video piece.
Gestalt theory and practice can be helpful in understanding human relations, self-awareness and can be a useful tool for the artist as a studio practice. Viewing Bruce Nauman's work and my work using Gestalt theory and practice we can see that there is a way to investigate the art practice as a form of intervention for the artist and viewer to learn new things about the artist, the viewer, (the figure) and the world around us (the ground). With this view and the artist/video as a vehicle for intervention one can have an experience of the here-and-now with infinite occurrences. What we then have is a form of art that can intervene in infinite moments of various viewers, each having a separate here-and-now with intersubjectivity.
1. Margaret P. Korb, Jeffery Gorrel, Vernon Van De Riet, Gestalt Therapy: Practice and Theory, (Pergamon Press, 1989) 7.
2. Ibid., 91
3. Korb 103
4. Jane Livingston and Marcia Tucker, Bruce Nauman: Work from 1965 to 1972, (Praeger Publishers, 1973) 2
5. DBL, “Sweeping Meditation: Proposal for Performance” (2008)