Essay : Space of Self
SPACE OF SELF
Thinking about the context of space and how it informs objects, peoples, memories, and time, it is easy to get lost in the dense layers and intersections of meaning. Where does one space end and another begin? What is space physically, mentally, socially and in representation? These questions are explored in site specific art. However, I believe that as we consider these ideas, we instinctually conclude that understanding site specificity is a way of interpreting our relationship with the world around us. We can understand different modes of “self” through the awareness of our own personal space and site specificity.
Valparaiso is dense with spatial layers. On the surface layer, we have a story about a business man taking an accidental flight across the world and then living through the public fame he receives as a result. The site of the play is a theater. The site of the story is in a living room, an office, and on a television set. The site of memories is an airport, plane, car, bedroom, kitchen, and motel. Spaces include the intimate spaces between characters, the invisible spaces with the public audience, the technological spaces of television, sound, and video, and the personal spaces of solitude. These spaces and more weave in and out of each other creating the psychological world and resulting identity of the main character, Michael Majeski.
I like to consider Michael’s identity as folk art. In the same way Ferdinand Cheval built his elaborate Palais Ideal around a simple rock he found, showing how “A single site-specific found element becomes the catalyst for constructing an environmentally all-encompassing, self-reflexive, and multi-focused work.” (Suderburg 11), Michael builds his identity around an odd travel experience. Both naïve to the cultural/philosophical ramifications of communications technology and welcoming of the false stamp of legitimacy offered by fame, he embraces the invisible public’s “need to know” about his travel experience and personal life history. In the telling and retelling of his mundane story, he builds an extensive public identity that reaches out across the atmosphere through radio and television networks. His public identity is site-specific. It originated in the sky on a plane and continues to exist in the temporal space of communication air waves. His public identity is abstract, fleeting, and missing a good honest chunk of his personal identity. He revels in the newness and freshness of his public identity, but it gradually shifts and destabilizes as the layers of public and private space it occupies intersect to become more complicated.
Michael’s fabricated identity performs as it moves through these spaces. Analyzing the performances of The Gutai group, Suderburg remarks on “… reconfiguring the space of art-making through bodily interventions and spatial dissembling. The artist is implicated in the work of art, as he or she becomes content, material, and process.” (p.13) Viewed as a performer, Michael becomes abstract content, material, and process. The retelling of his story as a script, the stage directions of his interviewers, the shifting narrative sequence of events, all add up to the absence of substance. His performance is his words, his words shape his identity, but the words mean nothing. Near the end of the story, he holds no control or jurisdiction over his identity (and sub sequentially his life) which he hands freely over to the public. He is living art through his own verbal dissembling.
Is it possible for us to occupy more than one space at a time and be true to ourselves? Or are we constantly negotiating the different selves we have allocated to different spaces? These are not questions either reading brought up, but when discussing the nature of site-specificity in terms of self identity, it seems we are already assuming that one self can only exist in one particular space. Michael did not want to return to the self identity he had before his flight to Valparaiso. That self was lonely and destroyed. However, as the public space of his post-Valparaiso self began intersect with the private space of his pre-Valparaiso self, he could not blend/balance himself into one person. He performed with his disconnected selves using words while passing through disjointed mental, physical, and social spaces, inevitably beating himself into falsehood, isolation and death. And in the imaginary world of this play, his public identity continues to exist and fluctuate within the electrical currents of technological space.