[back to projects]

Goat Island Summer School, Visiting Artist Performance Response

The following are two letters. Stephen wrote the first one after he visited the 2003 Goat Island Summer School. Tyler wrote the second in response to Stephen's letter, which he had received in Geneva. The letters were written for and presented too the participants of the summer school.


You asked me what happened, and to tell you the truth I've been wandering again, I can't quite remember where I've been, or the events the day in question. Please forgive my inadequate accounts, but this is what remains in the frame of my memory, and unfortunately it is the closest you and I will ever get to the actual events.

1. Found thoughts of a birdwatcher.

I remember standing in a group of four students, each of us dressed in an arrangement of large feathers made out of construction paper. Down the hall the school band was rehearsing the sound of the ocean.
We were told by our teacher that we were a subspecies of the bird known as "Birdis Humanis" and that each subspecies had a particular courtship ritual. What's courtship? Someone asked, the teacher then looked at his notes and said that in this case it was the process of attracting a mate via such things as dancing, singing, or showing decorative colors. He then went on to tell us it was now time to figure out our specific courtship ritual. There were five groups of four students, we all began dancing wildly, and blowing on kazoos. It was wild, it really was.

Eventually the school bell rang, class was dismissed, we took off our feathers and walked into the ranks of our fellow students.

As a bird watcher it's hard sometimes to tell who's watching who, right now it feels
like the birds are gathering to watch me, which leads me to asking the question:
if I were a bird what kind of bird would I be?
And the answer:
I think I would be a tiny bird with a tidy nest at the top of a tree somewhere in the north eastern United States, with a dishwasher, an air conditioner, a walk in close , a state of the art security system, and a cell phone.

And now the answer.

I will never be a bird.


Have you ever brushed up against the prime meridian, or sprawled across the four
corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. Have you ever stood on the perimeter and watch its lines bend? Here is the story of a line walker.

It was illegal to dance in our town, so we had to have the prom just over the border. I believe it was in a grain mill. Kevin Bacon secured the place for us, he was going by a different name then. I remember eating pop rocks and drinking coca cola then fighting for a space on the surrounding walls , and picking lint from my shirt while staring at that empty strobe light hole called a dance floor, it was an easy thing to do, but it was uncomfortable out there on the perimeter. Finally Kevin Bacon arrived with his buddy who couldn't dance so he started fights, he said something catchy like "lets dance" and just like that the walls were empty and people were doing the electric slide and the robot, and the guy with Kevin Bacon who everyone thought couldn't dance, started dancing. It was a night I will never forget.

4 I remember something happening in two minutes. ( Fountain group)

Did you know that in two minutes the brain of a newborn baby grows about two to four milligrams. A shrew's heart beats 2,000 times. The average person can speak about 300 words or read about 500 words. Light from the sun reaches the earth in about eight minutes; when mars is closest to earth, sunlight reflected off the Red Planet's surface reaches us in about four minutes. In two minutes I was asked to imagine a self restrained man being dragged down a pathway filled with concrete stairs towards a crumbling city. I had watched it before, and as I watched he was saying something and as I reenacted it in my head this is what it was.

"I wanted to speak with someone, but found no time; sought some fixed point but found none. In the midst of the unrelenting forward thrust I felt the wish to stand still. The Muchness and the motion were too much and too fast. Everyone withdrew from everyone. There was a running, as of something liquefied, a constant going forth, as of evaporation. Everything was schematic, ghostlike, even myself."

- Stephen



I got your letter of the 14 of July. I just called and got your voicemail. I was sad the robot voice was gone, again, but I left a message. I said I was sorry about getting mad when I hadn't heard from you in awhile. It's funny how someone not saying anything at all is worse than someone who screams epithets.

Also, as it is my understanding that we might read these letters for Goat Island's workshop participants, I was antsy to read what you had wrote. That being said, I probably wrote some of this letter to you, and other parts to them. I'm sorry I wasn't in town to see their performances, but thank you for sharing your responses with me.

Anyway, I don't wish to drag this out with my insignificants, just to tell you how it is. Understand that it is my tendency to drag these things out. Also, would you mind forgiving me for my being especially wordy or mystical when describing those things that I have just seen, briefly, for the first time? The amount of words will probably be disproportionate to my time spent with those things I might try to describe. This is perhaps the nature of some kinds of word play. Traveling certainly brings out the chatter bug in me, and it's possible that I might talk at length about these things. Please understand that this is because I have felt touched by them, and think that I might pass along the way they touched me to you who might then in turn be touched, but I certainly haven't had enough distance from them and am exhibiting symptoms of that silly urge to record my insignificance for posterity- imagine how many people have visited the Eiffel tower and written letters about it, and yet I feel the need to add to the build up?

But enough about that, I found your accounts of real, or imagined events to be full like a crisp photograph, not inadequate like the map and directions the hotel desk worker gave me when I asked if he could tell me how to get to the nearest internet café to retrieve your letter. I have enclosed an approximation of the map he drew me. He did label the map, Geneva. That was nice.
I have responded to your three responses with three sections of writing that employ three tactics that respond in similar and dissimilar ways. At times I will tell you exactly what I think about what you wrote, other times I will try to engage you by describing things that I feel relate, directly or indirectly, with the desired effect being that you happen upon what I was thinking about when I read your letter, and the times other than those, I just use the excuse to say something I wanted to say anyway. By using these three tactics I think you might better understand what I was thinking about when I read your letter. Anyway, here goes:

1. Found Thoughts Of A Birdwatcher

It's difficult for me to imagine what four students with paper feathers looks like while a band practices the ocean, but I know the teachers face expressed either pleasure or embarrassment while discussing courtship. I'll bet the teacher also smiled once or a few times and probably closed their eyes in contemplation at one point. The teacher probably also gestured with their right hand. I find it nice the teacher considered each person a sub species, as an educational ploy- it seems to work.

I recently saw a documentary on birds called winged migration, and it occurred to me that the birds with long necks acted like they were supposed to have long necks and the birds with short necks acted like they didn't really care that they didn't have long necks. To make this movie, the filmmakers convinced the birds that a plane was a bird so they could get spectacular angles of flying birds. It was beautiful.

I can see how the students dancing wildly while fantasizing courting rituals might seem wild to you, but I don't really understand it I guess. It seems a little silly, or disturbing. I wouldn't send my kid to that school. That's the funny thing about movement though, isn't it? It depends on who's moving and why, and what the accepted context, or desired effect is. Why should we move at all? Let's speak mathematically about why you touch your face. I would say that when I touch my face, 80% of the time I do it out of nervousness or habit, and 20% of the time I actually have a problem that touching my face will solve like an itch, or something in my eye. I once read a book about how public speakers should ration gestures like they rationed sugar during WWII or else risk giving the impression that they are erratic and nervous.

My favorite quote from Sam Beckett is, "I can't go on, I'll go on."

2. Desolation

Pop Rocks and Coke could spell death, or at least that's what they'll have you believe. The common conception is that your abdomen would expand so quickly that you would explode. Exploding is often considered the worst way to go, but Coke is the most popular beverage in the USA. Coke is very successful because all they really sell is syrup; the bottling franchises do the bottling and distribution. The syrups primary ingredient is sugar. During the 2nd world war, Coke convinced the US government that Coke was such a symbol of America that it should be exempt from sugar rations. The government agreed, and Coke didn't go out of business, instead they got large military contracts to supply the troops with coke, you know, give them that taste of home while they wasted Nazi's, liberated Paris and got killed. I think Coke should have an advertising campaign that shows a dead US troop who is bleeding Coke with the slogan, The Heart Of America.

The electric slide is often referred too, but how many people actually know how to do it? Now the YMCA, that's a dance for the people.

Yesterday, in Paris, a waitress who was trying to be especially nice to me asked me if I wanted regular butter, or light butter. I laughed and said, "Just butter." She replied, "Well it is Americans who invented such things."

My high school prom was in the ballroom of the stockyards. We leaned against the walls in a big building surrounded by cows in the middle of a small city. At the job I had in high school, my boss was fond of telling me I didn't need to keep the wall from falling down, it could stand up all on it's own.

It seems to me that performance is important because it's one of the few times your experience of a body is unmediated for your eye. If a gesture seems like it's nervous, then it is. If the performance is on grass, it's because somebody decided it would be. It's the only time you can watch somebody else's body and say that it is close to a closed system and open to interpretation based on what each individual knows about their daily interactions with the world and those that people it. Another great thing about performance is that there is almost certainly a great performance that refutes the first good thing I just said about performance. If I tell you about something, you will assimilate what I told you into your memory. If I tell you something that seems to contradict the first thing I told you, you will notice whether I point it out or not.

In Paris Diet Coke is called Coke Light. Parisians don't need to go on a diet, but they often consider American food to be real heavy.

3. I remember something happening in two minutes. (fountain group)

At the center Pompidou, there is an installation on the fourth floor by Ilya Kabokov called The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment. You need to see it for yourself, but it is an installation of a room. In this room is a bed, a chair with a diorama on it, some shoes, a spring loaded catapult fixed to the walls with the seat in the center of the room, a painting, etc. The diorama is of the town the room is in, and coming from the little building that represents the building the room is in is a silvery ribbon that disappears out of the diorama into the sky. In the ceiling of the room, directly above the seat of the catapult is a hole in the ceiling through which you can see the sky. There is plaster and drywall scattered about the room. The story is, Kabokov lived across the hall from this room and once met the man who lived in it. The man was very private, but on subsequent visits, started to talk about ribbons of energy that would exist every now again depending on how the planets lined up. The man theorized that if one could get the proper propulsion from the surface of the earth, one could catch these ephemeral ribbons of energy and ride them to a better place high in the sky. He had a travel bag packed that included different maps of the solar system and the stars, some goggles, water and bread, and a change of shirt. He talked about how he had mathematically figured out when the next ribbon of energy would be present above the apartment building, and how he planned to use the catapult he had built to catch that energy. He was very secretive about the date, but one a day a loud crash was heard, and the room was found just as it has been installed in the museum.

Stephen, it is amazing how large two minutes can be, that two minutes can be defined as an eternity depending on the context. I enjoyed what you imagined the restrained man to be saying as he was being dragged. It was nice for me to imagine this being the man in from Kabokov's installation. Let's read again the text you imagined the dragged man saying, but this time lets believe for the moment that the man is The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment,

I wanted to speak with someone, but found no time; sought some fixed point but found none. In the midst of the unrelenting forward thrust I felt the wish to stand still. The Muchness and the motion were too much and too fast. Everyone withdrew from everyone. There was a running, as if something liquefied, a constant going forth, as of evaporation. Everything was schematic, ghostlike, even myself.

Two days ago, it was midnight and my friends Michael and Chris and I were sitting on the edge of the Seine a block away from the Notre Dame Cathedral. It was very dark, and it was a Saturday night. Bastille day was Monday, so people were out having fun during the long weekend; the small walkway we were sitting on was crowded with people drinking wine. The tour boats were still running down the river, and to combat the darkness, they all had massively powerful spotlights on either side of their boats so that the city would be illuminated for the passengers. We couldn't see the passengers, because of the spotlights in our eyes, we could only tell the boats were extremely crowded with dark figures. I enjoyed looking up and down stream, and seeing the coming and passed boats lights on the city. It made me imagine the Seine from above, and how it must look like a long string of Christmas lights to the birds. Chris told us a story about how the revolutionaries beheaded some of the kings of Judah on the Notre Dame cathedral because they looked like they could have been a history of French monarchs. Eventually somebody told them they weren't, they were the kings of Judah, and so they stopped. We saw the statues, and their decapitated heads at the Cluny the next day. They were lovely.

I enjoy thinking that the man being dragged was having the effect of the boat lights on his surroundings, and I enjoy the idea of the conversation that must have taken place between the mob and an art historian, the art historian trying to explain that the statues were not symbols of French monarchy, but symbols of faith, and that the mob was inadvertently destroying something they worshiped. It must have been quite an argument, and the art historian must've been quite brave, and quite an orator.

That's all I've got. I hope it is sufficient.

Many thanks, I look forward to seeing you soon.