Ishmael Houston Jones at The Quiet Circus weekly performance practice.


Today I’m writing in response to Sarah Marks Mininsohn’s recent writing about “An Echo Score” on the Headlong Performance Institute Community blog page.

Sarah describes a score that she and Shreshth Khilani created as they explore a new iteration of Cabbage Head in her West Philly attic with new collaborators. In the score, people take turns echoing what the person before them has done. “The original task of imitation soon unravels into interpretation.” she writes. 

I love Sarah’s description of how a simple, straightforward structure quickly grows and thickens into a self-sustaining engine of inquiry into the unknown as they continue to work on their trans-disciplinary, performance slash podcast slash experiential-live-radio-club piece. I also love how Sarah and Shreshth’s Echo Score describes the essential elements of artistic practice: show up, do something, repeat. 

There’s a primal simplicity to a structure that focuses on the sense of “again” without being fussy about the repetition. “Again” is enough to get started which is the point since growth and change have lives of their own as long as something is happening in the first place. On the level of  artistic practice, following a simple structure of iteration can side-step problems that come with imagining art as a result of self-consciously visionary acts of will and rarified talent. Instead, a structure of iteration imagines an artistic practice as part of a lived life. It puts emphasis on the work of showing up over and again. To show up can be hard work but it is not mysterious and it doesn’t require an unshakable belief in one’s inevitable artistic prowess. This matters because, as I have written about the work of Eiko Otake in the Politics of Hesitation and the Limit of Imagination, I think questioning and doubt are essential qualities of an inquiry into the unknown.

Here is a very simple definition for an approach to artistic practice that is available to anyone. This definition has nothing to do with ideas of genius or talent, nor does it assume that an artistic practice requires a pre-condition of mastery or of mastering a rarified technique or artistic language. Rather it proposes that curiosity is enough and that insight and skillfulness emerge from the doing:

An artistic practice is showing up for a duration of time that is pre-determined and repeats.

Thats it. Notice that nothing is specified about what one does during the time designated for practice. Showing up is the work even if you don’t know what you’re going to do once you get there. A repeating duration of time might be: the first hour of every morning, or one weekend a month, or Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11a.m. to 1pm. The place might be the same place every time: a studio, a park, your bedroom; or it might change every time. The expectation of repeating, anticipating the “echo” of doing it again, is essential though. Knowing that you will return and knowing when you will return to the “empty duration” subtly influences your experience of the time in between practice times. This creates a new layer of awareness, observation and thought as you travel through each day’s ordinary and extraordinary journey.

As your practice echos over time, things will arise and begin to accumulate. This accumulation is insight which is the purpose of practice. Insight will suggest forms and languages as your practice continues.

In her description of An Echo Score, Sarah notes that the repeating echoes contain changes to the original that are both small and big, that changes over time encompass both variation and more fundamental transformation from any starting point. And so too with the echo of practice– insight and activities, forms and the skills that support them, will grow subtly and at times change utterly.

I would love to know how you practice if you would care to share.

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