The timedesert Dissertation
by Teddy Tedholm
timedesert is developing duet being created with guest collaborator Samantha Smith. This dissertation is meant to describe the processes and narratives of the piece in a way that mirrors the multi-entry way of understanding the work. It is meant to be read in any order.
“timedesert” is a place. In this story we join the players in medias res(or at the beginning, THERE IS NO TIME, AND SO SHE IS THIRSTY). We see a woman, hardened by the beating sun of an eternal day. She has been here for a long time, alone in a desert with no time to kill. She has found this place and decided to stay. She reminds herself she is here by choice. The day is monotonous and menial and time does not pass. A man wanders into the desert, he is crawling away from something with the last of himself. He has accepted a life alone and a life different from whence he came. But suddenly there they meet, two orbiting bodies of resigned loneliness astonished by the appearance of the other. They must check to be sure this is not a mirage. The cruel heat that has tortured the woman for all of these years(or minutes, THERE IS NO TIME, AND SO SHE IS THIRSTY) has suddenly become a reminder. The shift in conviction of the heat lets them celebrate togetherness for just long enough (or too long, THERE IS NO TIME, AND SO THEY ARE THIRSTY) The celebration leads them to discuss what brings them here. Feeling the woman leave triggers the man’s story. Their arms brush by each other as he stands still and she drifts away. He feels the rubbing of their skin in this arid dry climate, shifting like tectonic plates that once were comfortable and now must find their new norm.
His past creeps up like a warm breath on the back of his neck, an uncomfortable memory. He has done terrible things. He has scars. He hopes the only things running away with him are the marks on his skin that he cannot remove. He cannot bring himself to even say what he’s done. He relents that the more you look into the eyes of your past the more of a monster it becomes. So he presses on, away from anyone he knows. He has travelled far until this point, and now he is here in the timedesert. His memories immobilize vividly, she tries her best to comfort. They wait through the attack.
They make a sneak exit from his panicked mind and enter their dream of the world. It is blank. It is even slightly chilly. Sound and movement find a harmony and in loneliness time means less. He cannot remove himself from this dream, his brain glitches at the thought of returning to the reality of the timedesert. She pulls him back with her story. She is misplaced by Hurricane Katrina. Unlike him, she is not running from the people she loves. The water took her past. No matter how the city is rebuilt, her past is gone forever. She has chosen to stay in a place that can never change in an attempt to find herself. If all of her history is gone, then what differentiates her from a stone in a desert? He listens to all of this. He takes this in. Together they sit in silence soaking up her words. The deafening silence that falls between her voice escalates. The escalation physicalizes itself in rain. So there they sit in the rain in a desert. It is almost as if the sky cries for them both. Through togetherness they have created time. And so we leave them in medias res (or at the beginning, THERE IS NO TIME, AND SO THEY ARE THIRSTY), contemplating.
They remember television, and the apathy of the evening news. They sit in a place with all of the time in the world and no time at all, all at once. Time, time everywhere but not a drop to drink. Like Sisyphus they find comfort in knowing that their now is equal to their forever future. “timedesert” is a place.
Time and Water:
Inspired by an interview with Dan Gilbert about his theories on the past, present and future, “timedesert” treats time as man-kind’s first finite resource. In many ways, “timedesert” is an allegory for Heidegger’s concept of thrownness. Similar to the human race’s psuh into existence, the characters of “timedesert” have simply found themselves here. Their existence in the timedesert is spent accepting or refuting the concept of existing within it.Water finds its way into the narrative by way of association with Dan Gilbert’s interview. In an attempt to physicalize a lack of time, we chose to liken a lack of time to dryness. Beyond this forced association, mankind’s relationship to time and water are similar. We are born needing it and also know that there is not an unlimited supply.. We can waste it. We can ruin it. We can desperately want more. As we explored this relationship that humans have with time and how it is similar to its relationship with water we began to notice how the two could affect one another.
“timedesert” touches on events in the recent memory of the American artists who created it. As the female character tells her tale of loss in Hurricane Katrina, clips of news coverage of the Flint water crisis plays. The woman speaks of loss and how the water from the Hurricane has erased her history. How her future can never be the same. The piece arrives in a political landscape as if to allude to the fact that perhaps we all live in the timedesert. By seemingly guiding the audience into an imaginary landscape, we open the doors for new understanding of political landscapes. The TV footage takes only a small part of the stage, mimicking the size of a TV. It’s inconsequential placement calls to the apathy of the news cycle. Once one story is broken it is not over, yet it is replaced by the next story to break. People do not keep these stories in the forefront of their brain for long, but the events are still there and still repairing. The woman speaks of the way the Hurricane water took everything she had, including her friends and family. In Flint, Michigan the opposite is true yet it yields equal devastation. The people who were meant to be taking care of the citizens of Flint made choices that knowingly hurt thousands of them. The water is poisoned. There is plenty of it, it is not tearing down houses. Yet lives are equally destroyed. Nature acted in Katrina and Man acted in Flint. Yet water is the enemy in both.
Layering and the Viewers’ Lens:
“timedesert” marks a new mode of creative intent for me personally. We created “timedesert” in two iterations. The first iteration was just movement, far more focused on the narrative. This narrative was created similarly to a funnel. The piece starts from the abstract and slowly but surely finds its point at the end. By beginning with an open meaning, it allows for more people to relate their own experiences to the work. By engaging the audience early on, we can guide each viewer down this “narrative funnel” as we focus in on more concrete ideas and concepts and more easily arrive at a mutual understanding of the content of the work. By also freeing ourselves of the feeling that the audience must understand our narrative in order to fully appreciate the piece we created more of an accessibility into the work itself. The second iteration of “timedesert” focused more on the layering of sensory concepts to provide the viewer with choices of what to latch onto and what to relate to. By layering the projections on top of the movement, the soundscore, and even onto other projections we inundate the viewer with so many options to make sense of, they may feel confused. This, however, is resolved by the miracle of the human brain’s undying want to make sense of things. The combination of the “narrative funnel” and the imagery over-layering allowed us to use the viewers’ lens, individualized by their own personal histories, as a tool in the creation.
Art as Audience Education:
The evolution of art is, of course, an intriguing topic to any artist. Many focus each paradigm shifts of creation solely on the creators pushing work forward but there are two entities at play. Thinking back to the first motion picture, a train came right toward the audience. In fear, the audience leapt out of the way. This seems laughable nowadays, but that was a major step in educating audiences on both the limitations and possibilities of film. By creating art that forces an open-minded audience to find a way to accept and understand a work, it creates a more open-minded audience and therefore more space for artists to create more exploratory work. As each generation of artists push the limits, they are pushing what an audience can permit as acceptable. In regards to “timedesert”, the goal was to force the audience to do the large part of the work of understanding. By throwing multiple ideas, delicately strung together through one or two similarities, the audience must pick up the ideas they want to fully investigate the piece. In this way the work becomes cerebrally immersive and encourages the audience to push themselves outside of their typical zone of artistic acceptance.
Straddling Reality and Surreality:
There are times where reality is too much, and so we create art. This escape can be a moment of zen for a viewer, as well as a creator. To those coming to art to find something they can relate to, however, pure abstraction can be a turn off. In “timedesert” we strove to straddle this line between reality and surreality, allowing the user to “shift lanes” from one to the other whenever they felt it necessary. By providing a clear through-line narrative, the viewer is aware that they are meant to go on a journey. The vagueness of the narrative itself allows the viewer to try to dissect and create their own idea of plot or “tune out” and take things aesthetically. Through this mode of open creation we came to the understanding that the language of the movement became relatively irrelevant. Though each “scene” required different things of the movement, the emphasis became less on WHAT we were doing and more on the fact THAT we were doing it. By focusing on the movement alone, the viewer might be left in a completely different realm of thought. Which, as I said earlier, is the encouraged result.
For as long as I can remember, at the foot of my parents’ basement stairs, a poster of William Blake’s “The Ancient of Days” has hung. The title is a biblical term for God. The design was originally created as the cover of “Europe a Prophecy”. William Blake created an entire mythology throughout his life and in this image is his god, Urizen. Urizen represents the embodiment of conventional reason and law. It shows him holding a compass, crouching in the sun, surrounded by clouds. He is a bearded old man. This picture was the visual inspiration for the projection animations and sound tone of “timedesert”. Beyond the imagery, the piece links itself to time personally by being a memorable image of my childhood, seeing it nearly everyday for 18 years. Similarly, Blake loved this image and recreated by hand whenever necessary. This left each copy slightly different than the original. The copies varied in material, in detail, and in color. Yet the design always portrayed the same thing.
“You know, if you go to the beach, you see water and you see sand, and it looks like there's a line between them, but that line is not a third thing. There's only water, and there's only sand. Similarly, all moments in time are either in the past or in the future...”