Doing Nothing = Time Outside of Time


I started addressing the topic of the “in-between” in my previous post, referring to a “peculiar prolonged interstice,” in particular as connected to the Buddhist retreat and my cousin’s passing. So I wanted to return to say more about that space-time interval. And how it relates to this project. And its impact on time.

I’ve been exploring the in-between in my performance practice for a number of years, but have been experiencing new angles on this phenomenon since this past spring. It moves back and forth between being deeply intellectual (exciting my neurons and making my synapses fire) and being deeply embodied – which is the case for me now. I’ve been struck by how potent a bodily sensation this is, emerging like an actual feeling: one that keeps recurring and accompanying me during these deliberately set-aside moments of Doing Nothing.

In the case of the Buddhist retreat, it seemed like my feet never quite touched the ground. Although by the same token, I was feeling very aligned, and in my body.

Clearly it’s hard to describe. It’s like another level of consciousness that, in its very (self) awareness somehow uncannily manages to slow down time. More than that, it makes time feel like it’s stopped. As if, while being in these moments, I am also looking through a window, not so much with a watchful eye but with a peripheral vision of things passing by… This indirect receiving creates a kind of meta awareness which somehow produces another framing of experience. Like opening up a space within a space. By extension, engendering another perception of time: Time Outside of Time. (The retreat was once such instance, and its occurrence, right at the precipice of my cousin’s passing – from life into death, and whatever comes after – further amplified this threshold state).

I’d been writing about the links between subtle performative interventions (infiltrating actions/imperceptible performances), and notions of “non-productive” uses of time only to realize that when we put forth such actions, we are not only highlighting an endemic disgust toward “failure” but also very deliberately creating a gap: opening up a space-time interval that necessarily reveals various aspects of our work-obsessed culture. There is, essentially, no time for Doing Nothing. I quote myself here:

“Where “work” does not neatly conform to a conventional understanding of production, does not enter into the economy of readily consumed material goods and further does not ascribe to a standard set of “useful” skills, and yet does sit, and assert itself, even if awkwardly, amidst this dominant framework, a space for negotiation is opened up. Between the cracks of faulted foundation there germinates alternative ways of being in the world: performance. This assertion by the performer is risky because it does not necessarily bring great financial reward. It is risky because it posits thinking “outside the box.” It is risky because it falls too easily outside of the frame entirely. Where is the skill? Where is the art? Risky because performance embraces the slippery space between the stage and the “rest of the world” actively courting the unknown, the unexpected, the unforeseen. Often without a safety net.

A “non-productive” use of time (durational performance, furtive practices, the doing of “nothing”), as displayed in public (place) takes risks as it becomes political, activates a space. The “infiltrating” action – a transgressive occupation of space – becomes such a use of time, in “non-productivity.” A performance, some kind of trajectory and living discourse as an investment with the territory in the doing of an action not engaged with production of capital or consumption of goods becomes an act of resistance and dissent. Making the artist’s body vulnerable. Whether inflicting pain on oneself or sitting quietly on a bench [or in the case of this project, ostensibly “doing nothing”], the artist is questioning modes of production and consumption at every level. Ultimately these performances are demonstrations of some kind of greater failure, of failure to conform to capitalist norms in the eyes of a prevailing dominant culture. Paradoxically they are a success, successfully (even if subtly) revealing the construct that promotes complacency.

Again, such actions perform resistance, are transgressions, puncturing a hole into the daily grind as they open up a space for other possible realities to exist. They posit time in between time, for in the middle of linear action (I get up, I eat breakfast, I go to work, I come home) they provide a détournement, a way around that comes back on itself and holds up a mirror – to itself, to the rest of the world.”

Doing Nothing as a way to stop time.
Time Outside of Time as a form of resistance.

Author: Victoria Stanton

Montreal-based performance artist, writer, and educator Victoria Stanton explores live action, human interaction, video, film, photography, and drawing.

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