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durational performance

Stacy Muszinsky on the effects of an Odyssey

Stacy Muszinsky

Stacy Muszinsky

 

This week we interviewed Stacy Muszinsky, who was a participant in the Odyssey Works 2007 production The Moveable Feast in Austin, TX.

 

Odyssey Works: What was it like to bleed the boundaries of your real life with that of the performance?

Stacy Muszinsky: Surreal and moving and rather frightening and ecstatic and cathartic and unforgettable.

OW: HOW WAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED AFTER YOUR ODYSSEY? HOW DID THE ODYSSEY AFFECT YOUR LIFE?

SM: The Odyssey itself was a wild and strange catalyst, bleeding between performance and reality. I remember having to focus on breathing sometimes, looking at my hands, to calm myself, to ground myself, to feel private and not blown apart, wide open for the world. That said, the whole of it was exhilarating and unhinging. I was dazed for some time immediately after Odyssey, unsure what was real and what was performance, as if the piece continued into life. I felt alternately giddy and sad. Odyssey injected a sense of serious play in my life. I birthed a child three years ago; the experience isn't unlike my Odyssey -- a cosmic joke -- a strange and surreal experience guided by what I can't say toward what end I'm not exactly sure. Same wild, scary, beautiful ride that I am one thankful mother to be on.

The Odyssey inhabited me utterly....I felt an intricate fabric in the weave of the entire experience while, in the same instant, feeling as if I were unraveling...

OW: Most performances ask that you sit and watch. Odyssey Works requires you to engage fully. How did that requirement change your experience of the performance and did it continue to affect you afterward?

SM: The Odyssey inhabited me utterly. I had no idea from moment to moment what to expect, would happen, how I would behave. Everything was of the moment. I felt safe and unsafe in the same instant. I felt an intricate fabric in the weave of the entire experience while, in the same instant, feeling as if I were unraveling, unraveled, naked.

Perhaps I said something good and useful in the recap video after the performance when I was sitting next to Doug. I remember getting weepy again when I talked about it. 

When the climax of the performance hit, I fell completely apart -- or together. I mean, I cry at any good climax -- story or sex -- but this one... I was wracked by the connection, the letting go, the release. I could not stop crying. Weeping, actually. Not the same style of weeping I did when I learned my mother unexpectedly died, but the weeping I expect I'll do when I meet her again at the end of my life. It was a catharsis so deep, so mind-body-spirit connected, I felt intercellularly stoned for weeks. I felt integrated, and I felt connected to every damn thing and every damn one. So right now.

I felt absolutely yes. Clear. Unafraid. Real.

OW: THIS ODYSSEY ENTAILED A GREAT DEAL OF RESEARCH INTO YOUR LIFE. HOW DID IT FEEL TO BE SEEN IN THIS INTIMATE WAY?

SM: Amazing and scary and open and real.

OW: What was most meaningful thing for you during your Odyssey?

SM: Years ago I may have said the most important thing about my Odyssey was sharing it with the others who were on the Odyssey with me.  I would have added: Feeling myself breaking down and re-integrating throughout the experience. I would have said experiencing the catharsis of the finale. Being given my life and identity back upon the death of my imposter, all the imposters -- feeling the grace and honesty and weight of that moment, that truth. Feeling, then, at one with everything stitched into that moment -- the sun in sky, the dark-haired actor running up the crushed stone pathway in his flowing white pants and shirt, the cello music, the loved ones gathered around us in that tiny gazebo in the middle of nowhere.

Today, I'd say all that. And: that it happened at all.That it happens at all. It was a gift. It is a gift.

Did I mention painful? It was so beautiful it hurt. Or it hurt so much it was beautiful. I can't parse or separate the two really. It all just really undid me.  

OW: Based on this experience, what would you say is the benefit of mixing reality and performance?

SM: Art. Life. Art. Life. It's so impossibly weird and, let me stop crying for a second... so terribly good. Thank you.

Dare Turner on Art, Presence, and Gratitude

An image from OW 2014: The Dariad. Photo by Sasha Wizansky

An image from OW 2014: The Dariad. Photo by Sasha Wizansky

What’s the longest time you have ever spent with a single piece of art?

When I visit museums, I often find myself spending an hour or more with just one piece of art. In my experience, it takes that long to really see it.

Looking at an artwork is a time-based experience; at first glance, it might come off as unassuming and quiet. After ten minutes, you start to notice things you didn’t before—new textures emerge, details become sharper, and colors become more vibrant. By thirty minutes, a piece has started to break through your shell and share its world with you. After an hour, you aren’t looking at the piece anymore; it is looking at you.

Being present, with an artwork no less, is a challenging feat in our modern world. But this is what artworks invite; this is the space they make in our lives, a space for presence. I am incredibly grateful for this.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I find myself reflecting on the many things that I am thankful for this year. 2015 has been a truly transformative year, due in no small part to my work with Odyssey Works. The group’s long-duration artworks have changed my perspective on the potential of art. Now I see so many possibilities that weren’t apparent to me before.

 At the end of 2014, I received an incredible gift from the Odyssey Work crew: a surprise Odyssey. “The Dariad,” coordinated by Abraham Burickson and my dear friends in San Francisco, offered me the perfect avenue to explore ideas about art that I had been toying with for several years.

Outside of Odyssey Works, I'm a Medievalist, which means that I've spent the past several years studying centuries-old art and ways of seeing that art. The medieval way of seeing is both astounding and incredibly relevant even today. The Middle Ages have gotten a bad rap, going down in history as some sort of backwards-era that offers us nothing more than ugly pictures of baby Jesus. But the art of the period was about so much more than that.

Art from the Middle Ages is all about being present. You can’t see or experience the artwork if you aren’t really there. Medieval art requires patience, longing, and the viewer’s full-bodied participation.

In this way, medieval art theory speaks to and reveals new facets of modern performance artworks, such as that of Odyssey Works.

During the climactic scene of the Dariad, I met a group of around fifty wearing black outside of the De Young Museum in San Francisco. They had gathered for an unconventional tour of the museum, in which we would only view three pieces of art, but spend anywhere from 15-30 minutes with each individual piece.

As we stood in front of a modern-take on an aboriginal sculpture, and a large video installation by David Hockney, I was struck by the medieval-ness of the gathering. By standing in front of a single piece of art for a rather uncomfortable length of time, we had to honestly confront our feelings about a piece, and learn patience.

By engaging with the artworks for minutes, instead of mere seconds, we gave them the chance to look back at us.

During the Dariad, the final artwork that we viewed together as a group was Cornelia Parker’s Anti-Mass. This massive mobile-like piece consists of fragments of a former Baptist Church that had been destroyed by arsonists. The shards of wood are suspended in mid-air, offering a vision of extreme violence and a venue for quiet meditation in the same breath.

Standing in front of this artwork with fifty some people for thirty minutes was a surreal experience. I walked up close to the piece, sat on the bench in front of it, stood at the back of the gallery and waited for the piece to penetrate through my shell—the buffer that protects me, but also separates me from the rest of the world.

Minute by minute, I felt that protective layer dissolve. As every second wore on, I became more present.Anti-Mass crept deeper into my subconscious and altered my understanding of the world. Eventually, I watched my “self” melt away—I became a part of a collective consciousness in that room, communing with art.

Believe it or not, this communal experience is very medieval in its nature. The idea of the “I” emerged with the Renaissance, but the Middle Ages, on the other hand, demanded that egocentric I be subordinated to the collective we. This way of thinking about things may have been mostly lost to time, but in front of Cornelia Parker's work it was entirely accessible. This is the power of art. It transcends time and place; its message can permeate generations and outlast the lifespan of the artist who created it.

It is impossible to experience this and not be grateful.

The Dariad was just one transformative event that Odyssey Works offered me in the last year. Throughout 2015, I have been the acting Public Image Engineer for the group, which has allowed me to explore my creativity on a deeper level and be a key player in running the Kickstarter.

2015 has brought many blessings to the group, most important of which is the incredible outpouring of support that has come through our Kickstarter campaign. Even after months of planning and promoting, I find myself surprised by the fact that over 350 people have donated to the campaign, and that we met our goal after only 15 days!

Both of these wonderful gifts—the Dariad and the success of our Kickstarter—have demanded something important of me: to be present. To actually see the world and not take it for granted. To savor every moment with (or without) art. And to offer gratitude to a world that has blessed me so.

This Thanksgiving, I give thanks to all of you—the Odyssey Works supporters and volunteers that have worked to transform my life and the lives of other art enthusiasts for the better. Though our work might be small in scale, it’s monumental in its effects.

Thank you for making the world a more beautiful place.

Sasha Wizansky on what it's like to receive an Odyssey

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a participant in an odyssey works piece? This week we're pleased to introduce you to Sasha Wizansky, the recipient of an Odyssey in 2009. Since then we have had the great fortune to work with her as a designer on many an Odyssey Works project, including our Borges & Calvino forgeries, not to mention the design concepts for our forthcoming book. 

Sasha Wizansky

Sasha Wizansky

Sasha Wizansky is an art director, graphic designer, and bookbinder, and holds an MFA in sculpture. Sasha co-founded Meatpaper, an award-winning, internationally distributed quarterly journal of art and ideas about meat, in 2007, and was Editor-in-chief and Art Director until the last issue came out in fall, 2013. Meatpaper’s mission was to create a non-dogmatic forum in which to explore the ethics, aesthetics, and cultural significance of meat. 

 

Odyssey Works: What was it like to bleed the boundaries of your real life with that of the performance?

Sasha Wizansky: In August, 2009, I was having a glass of wine with two friends at a home in Brooklyn when a stranger in an overcoat appeared in front of me and handed me a small box full of sage leaves. It was a full week before I thought the Odyssey would begin in San Francisco. He turned and walked away, as quickly as he’d come. My companions refused to acknowledge that anyone had been in the apartment. This was a true surprise, and well-played by my friends. Their silence showed me that this was an experience for me alone and that nobody else would be able to experience as I would. It felt big, special, mysterious, enchanted. My heart was pounding. After that point, I experienced my life in a heightened way. My senses were sharpened. It felt that anything could be a sign, or could be art. Any human interaction could be significant.

OW: This Odyssey entailed a great deal of research into your life. How did it feel to be seen in this intimate way?

SW: Something about the experience of filling out the application questionnaire in very personal terms opened me up for the intimacy of the Odyssey. I willingly engaged with Odyssey Works intimately with my answers to the questions. And Odyssey Works, in turn, continued the conversation before, during, and after the Odyssey. They are still asking me personal questions, and I am still answering them. I don’t think my Odyssey would have been as meaningful if it hadn’t been built upon such a personal dialogue.

A scene from Sasha Wizansky's Odyssey in 2009.

A scene from Sasha Wizansky's Odyssey in 2009.

OW: How was your life changed after your Odyssey? How did the Odyssey affect your life?

SW: This is a bit difficult to pinpoint as the change was subtle and changed over time. I think the Odyssey made me realize how lucky I am. To be gifted an experience of such richness and magnitude is truly remarkable. Very few people have experienced a gift like this. I learned that anything can be art, can be mesmerizing, and can be transformative if properly framed and granted sufficient attention. After the Odyssey I felt cracked open, vulnerable and accessible, open to experience and human connection. I found that telling the story of my Odyssey to friends and acquaintances taught them about the capacity people have to care for one another and inspire one another. The feelings I had weren’t akin to those I feel after seeing a great film or a great play; I had a deeper sense of having experienced something large. As if I’d climbed a mountain, or as if I’d produced the play or a film.

After the Odyssey I felt cracked open, vulnerable and accessible, open to experience and human connection.

OW: Most performances ask that you sit and watch. Odyssey Works requires you to engage fully. How did that requirement change your experience of the performance and did it continue to affect you afterward?

SW: I have never felt so alert or so present as I did on the day of my Odyssey. That day, my car and purse and phone and keys and everything else were taken away from me one possession at a time. At one point I was cast into the city with nothing but an index card and bus fare. There was something profound about having only my body, the clothes on my back, and my perception to guide me. There was nothing to distract me, nothing to hide behind. I was part of the fabric of the city, permeable to everything happening around me, ready to engage with anything, ready to be taken by surprise. During the Odyssey I never felt like an audience member. With nothing to mediate my experience — no cell phone or camera or even pen and paper, I became more engaged with the world and with my senses. I should do this every week. We should all send our friends and family members on small odysseys weekly to inspire them to commune with their unmediated, mindful selves.

A scene from Sasha Wizansky's Odyssey in 2009

A scene from Sasha Wizansky's Odyssey in 2009

OW: What was most meaningful thing for you during your Odyssey?

SW: Throughout the day, there were many astonishingly beautiful moments. When I entered the San Francisco Main Library and saw that it had been subtly transformed into a scene from the ’80s film, “Wings of Desire,” with actors in overcoats on every floor, I am pretty sure I gasped with wonder. But another moment touched me quite deeply. The angel with the feathery wings who had been guiding me greeted me by the tent where I was to sleep that night. She hadn’t spoken all day, but this time she told me aloud that she would be in the field, just on the other side of the fence from my tent, all night, in case I needed her. It was remarkable to feel watched over, not just because she had wings. I suddenly understood that the whole Odyssey experience wasn’t just aesthetic or intellectual — it was also personal. It was about love. There was an angel in a field outside my tent making sure I was ok in the night. It is a fundamental need of humans to feel safe, to feel cared for. Though this might have been a simple element in the narrative of the weekend, it affected me deeply and added warmth to the way I thought about the whole experience.

OW: Based on this experience, what would you say is the benefit of mixing reality and performance?

SW: All around me I see people stuck in cycles of habitual behavior. After walking down the same street every day, we cease to see it. After speaking to the same people every day, we cease to regard them in all their dimensions. After engaging in the same tasks every day, we lose awareness of what we are doing. I think the epidemic of smartphone addiction has exacerbated the human tendency to tune out. When we enter a designated performance space, we similarly approach the experience in our habitual performance-attending mode. But when reality and performance are mixed, our definitions of art are widened and cycles of habit are broken. New pathways of sensory and intellectual experience can be found. I think most people could benefit from questioning their habits of perception. Relationships can be deepened, senses can be heightened, experiences can be made richer. Just answering these questions has provided a well-needed reminder to slow down and pay attention.