My lab-rat self did things that surprised me, and other observations of silence
Mon, Feb 18, 2013
I am happy that you have all decided to come to our silent night this Sunday on the 24th of February. Cocktail hour begins at 7:30pm, followed by a simple dinner around 8:30 and performance and art throughout the evening, please try to be punctual.
Location: 435 S Broadway, Los Angeles 90013 (between 4th and 5th
This is not a press release, since you have all already agreed to come, but I thought there was a need to send something out.
I have realized that each individual that I have asked to come may not be on the same page as I am and that is okay. This Sunday is not a day to put everyone on the same page, but a night where each individual can exist on their own, amongst others without communicating. I have tried to think of a way to not write out a set of rules for the evening because I do not want to put myself in a position where I am acting as ring leader or shssh(er). Yet it is seemingly impossible to invite a specific amount of people to a silent dinner and not explain what I am essentially expecting out of everyone. This is entirely a night where each attendee has chosen to come and be silent.
These are essentially the “rules” for lack of a better word, which each guest has knowingly committed to after reading and upon coming.
- No speaking of any kind, meaning no lip synching, noise making or letter writing. Hand gestures, laughter, coughing etc. are inevitably going to happen, try to keep it at a minimum. If somebody speaks to you, please avoid speaking back, you are here because you chose to be silent.
- Please do not leave the room unless it is an emergency. Smoking is not an emergency, the event only last 2.5 hours or slightly more, there is ample time to smoke before and after. If you have to leave to smoke and be away from the group then you may as well not have come. (not to be harsh, I will want a cigarette too)
- Bathroom breaks are okay in case of emergency, but do so honestly, do not leave out of nervousness (or to smoke). The bathroom is located outside the door to the left.
- This is an invite only event, the night is based around the individuals who have RSVP’d. Seating, food, space and performances are fitted to this certain and particular group. Please be courteous and not bring extra people (if this is a problem please email or call me personally, in case someone has canceled, or it inhibits you wanting to attend)
- When you walk in the room, on the left wall there will be a place where you can place your coat and phone, it is strongly encouraged to leave your phone on this wall, there will be a label with your name. It is also recommended that you leave your phone on whatever setting you usually have it on, whether that be ringer vibrate or silent.
- There will be some sort of cue that the event is over, I ask that everybody leave the room and building at least momentarily before speaking, if you wish to come back in that is up to you.
Since I am a full participant of the event myself, yet understand it is downtown and parking can be an issue I will keep my phone on me until 7:45 unless everyone has arrived, this is why it is important to be on time. There will be a key to the left of the front door, but I will try to keep it opened. The space is up the stairs, walk straight till you have to turn right and it is the door across from the stack of drywall. I’ll make a sign.
Tue, Feb 26, 2013
Hello friendly Silent Dinner people. I’m gathering thoughts and observations on our shared individual experiences of Sunday night. I’d like to publish these to Notes on Looking. Notes is able to accommodate writing, photographs and video. If you are interested, please send me your portion by next Monday, March 4. If anyone wishes to remain anonymous, that can be done.
If you need a reference for Notes on Looking, check here: www.notesonlooking.com. I think you will be comfortable that your insights and your work will be treated with respect.
Feel free to get back to me if you have ideas or questions.
By the way, I had a blast on Sunday! My feelings alternated among fear, amusement and excitement at being present with fascinating people. Even in silence I could feel who I was seeing – and maybe the silence helped, by distilling out the pretences that come along with language. I think of the historical observation that the true form of cinema is silent, and that a sound track lessens communication and the art. Of film. Who knows? I can’t wait to see your thoughts!
Cheers to you, and have a great week!
Tue, Feb 26, 2013
Here’s my take on the silent night:
There was a slow, organic tempo to the entire evening. Everyone moved around the space carefully, stopping at points of interest such as the art and architectural details of the room. The thresholds of the space (the door to enter and the step up to the platform) were the most theatrical spots, where participants drew attention to themselves by entering or rising in to a higher point in the room. Though I was intermittently tense, the tone of the room was thoughtful and composed. During dinner people interacted playfully, and my most successful interaction of the evening was when a stranger sitting next to me gracefully offered to clear my plate using only eye contact.
Tue, Feb 26, 2013
“I hope the tone of this email does not sound too authoritative; all you really have to do is be silent and enjoy the art and company. Please feel free to call me with any questions or concerns. No need to contact me unless you are canceling or can not come, please please email me if you cannot come. I look forward to seeing you all.”
I had a complex array of impressions. Throughout the night I was always curious as to how the night would unfold, what the “tribe” would do or become involved with. With communication restricted by silence, I felt a deep sense of the primitive, and I felt I had deeper access to people’s psychologies merely by observing body language. At different moments I felt more self-conscious, especially after I stepped on the art, destroying the stage where I thought a performance was going to happen. Other moments I was more relaxed and one with the tribe, especially when moments became very silent, where activity was at a minimum. Then I felt very free. That I could do anything, that no laws apply. That doing something weird or wrong may get a response, but nobody would be able to say anything about it. So do it. I spilled water onto the floor
John Cage came to mind
The whole night was fun and interesting. Really enjoyed it. It was one of those rare socially oriented art projects that I didn’t want to end.
Sat, Mar 2, 2013
There was so much happening and not happening that developed over the evening. I didn’t know what to expect but Pam was a bit nervous and we made jokes about how this is my type of party because I’m shy and awkward and prefer not to have to talk. Upon entering the room it very quickly became so cinematic, in part because I was able to just concentrate on looking. People to varying degrees made or avoided eye contact and that suggested the omniscient, idealized view, the camera and the stage. No language was sort of a gray area as interactions occurred and were expressive. I immediately thought of Last Year at Marienbad for the social party setting, for the silence, for the out of time but in my head space that film conjures. There was sort of a tempo of people shifting location and actions that in retrospect felt like scenes. Over the course of the evening I also thought of The Exterminating Angel, which numerous people brought up afterwards up on the roof. But also, with no language, no dialogue or narrative, looking at people suggested the reaction shot in a movie – the silent cut away from the active talker to show the recipient’s response. But it was all that shot constantly, continuously! If there was a plot it rested in you and your friend writing notes or the woman’s breasts on the brink of spilling out of her dress. Over one person’s shoulder I began to read his note until I got to the line that read “do not show this to anyone.” I read the note addressed to me and realized it as some exquisite corpse as gender was wrong and it seemed to have an intended provocation, plus it included the line of “don’t show this to anyone.” I chalked that up to the inherent tense atmosphere of that room and the entry of strangers while you two were writing the notes. As things went along I decided to commit to the dinner table as I felt like there was maybe some progression to engaging the sequence of events. Would dinner begin once we all sat down? I also appreciated the décor from the art that didn’t seem so strategically present (as a prop) to the long coat rack – that was a favorite! I was curious about the video cameras and wondered if they were recording or just adding stimuli. I appreciated that they were not documenting the entire room. I took photos for a while but didn’t want to be so prominent in that way, marking and making moments, so I tried to be a bit discreet (charm). Although I started to feel more comfortable over time it was not as though I could express that. I think the gesture of smashing the plate came out of feeling more comfortable and that we were all committed to this time.
I really enjoyed when you put on the motorcycle helmet and sat there against the wall. There was that component of a lab test as you surveyed the scene and stroked your beard, sans lab coat and pocket protector, but it was also casual and didn’t feel that you were separate from our situation. There were so many moments and gestures that took on a heightened significance. To a certain degree this is how the physical comedy of a Jacques Tati film works. He speaks no words and deals with social situations throughout. Mon Oncle is my favorite. I had many cinematic references come to mind. [ I guess this also means I had time to think and wander which isn’t so much the case when talking at a party.] I thought of Tarkovsky’s The Stalker for the silence and the mysteriousness of the zone in a landscape that looks very commonplace. The guide leads people into the zone to reach a certain room that can possibly allow you to attain your dreams. But it is not so much the room that came to mind as the trip across the zone when the guide leads people through a typical field of thick grass and requires that they follow his exact steps. It seems absurd and people don’t understand and there is an awkwardness of the group to abide or contest.
And at some point I decided to smash a plate as the plates were there, the stage was available, and I could place the helmet on the young guy sitting at the edge of the platform. I had really enjoyed that small windup music box and how sound punctuated and sometimes embellished the situation. I had cranked it at dinner to provide a moment of dinner music. I have to add that in my family the dinner table was a place of tension and was not so comfortable. So a silent dinner was a bad dinner. But so I thought smashing that plate would be such a great opportunity, such a sound, and we had come to this point where things were controlled and calm. The wildest thing in the room was your long haired friend that looked substantially hung over. Geoff afterwards said that guy was a “beautiful mess.” But so I went through the motions of smashing that plate and to my surprise putting on that helmet completely removed me from the space. I could only hear my breathing and wasn’t going to get the joy of the smash. But it was also an unexpected privacy and without my glasses I was pretty focused on my responsibilities. I didn’t want to be aggressive or declarative but just provide this sound. I also felt like we are waiting for what will happen and, well, that would happen. The situation had established itself. I hope that wasn’t inconsiderate to use that guy’s helmet that way. Also without my glasses I couldn’t really tell the chips of plate from the white paint splatters which was a problem when I was picking it all up. The only shortcoming of doing that is if it frustrated the chemistry or dynamic. I’m sorry if that was the case. For me it screwed up the evening a bit in retrospect because I got so nervous and now today it’s like that action is trying to write over so much of the evening.
When it was over, I guess that came around the time the woman started smoking the pipe or maybe that occurred before the dancing, it seemed so unexpectedly early. I preferred the silence.
Also before going out that evening a friend has said to Pam that it was going to be like Eyes Wide Shut, a Kubrick film that I can find no appreciation for, and it was going to be a sex thing. Ridiculous of course but then when the woman spilling out of her dress got up on stage and tucked away her sweater, and stood there at the deepest corner of the stage, I thought, oh my god this might be very unexpected.
The food was good. I enjoyed the company – strangers and friends. Thanks. I can give you some money for the plate if Geoff and David made any comments about the value, just tell me. So great to garner so much by not talking.
I’ll send some photos later on.
(I wrote to you the day after the dinner. Now, a week later, I’ve had some time to think about the night.)
First off, I realized that in retrospect smashing that plate was so inconsequential and did not warrant retelling to friends. So what? But I think that in the situation with those people there was an attentiveness and possibility that made it permissible and satisfying. I just don’t think that I can convey that experience of the dinner in writing. I also think that talking and language really build a hierarchy. It is how people make themselves comfortable or define the dynamics of a group. It explains (resolves) information (experience). That was what was so nice about the evening because it developed without talking or clarification. There is so much you take in that doesn’t conform to language.
Silence is often the space between words or the time of thinking, so the dinner seemed to create more of that space and that time. It was so generative in that way. It also made me think of this equation: 1/∞. One divided by infinity. I came across this while reading about Helen Mirra. It is a buddhist idea called momentmind that’s written about by Seung Sahn. “This world is impermanent. Everything is always changing, changing, changing, moving, moving, moving, nonstop. Even one second of our lives seems full of so much movement and change in this world that we see. But your mind – right now – is like a lens whose shutter speed is one divided by infinite time. We call that momentind. If you attain that mind, then this whole world’s movement stops. From moment to moment you can see this world completely stop.” I think that’s a terrific equation that works in an unexpected way. I also think although he uses the idea of the lens that this isn’t an idea of stopping time or a problem that you solve with a camera (Muybridge). The moments continue while you attend to the world. It isn’t an infinity that pushes an overwhelming vastness but more a recognition and attention to the moment.
There is an absurdity writing about the value of not speaking and not using language.
March 4, 2013
I didn’t have anything to say anyway. It reminded me of dinners I’ve had before where awkward silence couldn’t be avoided. I was comfortable in a way because I wasn’t trying to think of what to say, and I didn’t miss words much. I was so bored. When I describe the event to people they don’t get it. I guess I’m not explaining it well. Fall into your own hole.
March 4, 2013
Be quiet and eat.
If you told me that I’d arrive at a silent dinner party, and that by the end of it I would personally inflict damage on a piece of art without being drunk, I would never have believed you. However, that’s exactly what happened, and for the life of me I still can’t completely piece together why.
The whole thing had me at hello though – from the 6 point instruction email up until the last coat was lifted up from its hook and the room of evidence remained left like the used set of an Ubu play. David did something potent by subtracting communication from a social ritual. And thankfully, it was a room of artists, so the results were even more notably strange, uncomfortable, delightful, subtle, and resonant than they would be if it were another demographic.
At first focused on watching everyone else, catching people’s gaze and turning away due to my inherent laughter rising to surface, but containing myself to witness what a dinner party is without talking. Hearing the clinking of silverware, the small coughs and fabric murmurs of coats being hung, subtle wine sipping noises, footsteps and chair squeals – these were the only sounds in the room bouncing off the walls between us and it was strangely exciting. My senses were radically enhanced and my eyes were wide, not wanting to miss a single bit of the non-verbal evening. This made the ordinary extra-so and ended up strangely amping up my adrenaline.
After a delicious dinner I gravitated towards the large mysterious ring of zip-tied mortar and bricks on a chain. I began circling it and poking it, noticing it was still wet mortar, and suddenly flicked a bit off and to the floor. There was a palpable energy in the room that gave me an extra pulse of action, or the room’s calling may have just existed in my mind. It was as if the congregation silently willed me to make the gesture bigger, to make the intersection of me and that thing more dramatic. But, as I think back on it later, perhaps it was just my nature in the group dynamic to be loud. My laugh is loud, but I couldn’t laugh, so perhaps I had to make a big noise or event to replace the laughter somehow to be myself. It was a group dynamic set akimbo so that other behaviors rose to the surface. I noticed people’s gestures were bigger, some people’s behaviors shifted and watching was like watching a match near some gasoline – right at the edge of interrupting the order of this skewed order. It was as if we all took clues from those of us who did something first, and then we’d follow and repeat, or do something unexpected for someone else to follow or simply observe – but at the same time wanted to all respect the whole vision, that was David’s. I was in a social experiment, and my lab-rat self did things that surprised me under these directives. I was back home later thinking, did that just happen? Do I need to apologize? I grin to myself now, and silently feel thankful to be in this arena of people, thankful to be challenged in these ways to think and to do differently.
March 11, 2013
The silent dinner which wasn’t so silent
This piece was convivial as dinner parties with food and drink go. I appreciated getting stretched and how it opened up awareness of others movements and postures and time. The over all language of socializing and our unity and ridiculousness in it was most compelling.
I expected myself to generously pursue ways to connect with others beyond vocal, but somehow my own anxiety got the best of me. It began once I was sent the email from David, the artist/host. It was a real game changer. I was initially approaching the event with a “go with the flow” attitude, but the email was serious and it quickly made me understand that I had made an agreement to participate in something. That all of us had. He laid out the parameters and expectations. They weren’t too much to ask, but it was a contract of sort. I felt stress because I’d never been to the location before and really only knew two other people and had other pressures too. There was no crutch or comfort.
So the fishbowl dynamic happened. I clung to the art facing the walls my back towards the group and looked at the work until I couldn’t tolerate myself doing that anymore. Then I faced the middle still stuck to the walls and watched everyone. I was envious of those that could remain still at the table. Just “being“ was impossible for me. I felt unable to enter my own mind and escape nor able to have meaningful connection with others. The sense of spectatorship was intense. Many of us were actively looking in the small room. Every sound and movement was something, a distraction and a welcome tension release. Thank goodness for the crash, got that over with. Someone played a little music box on a chair with wheels, that was a particularly exquisite moment. The sounds together in memory felt very Dada. Small sentimental seeming objects and consciously earnest notes which stated they were personal, were laid around the long dinner table for everyone to read exposing our hunger for word but then revealing themselves to be a affectation of intimacy, lumping us all into the human (6 degrees of separation from David) pot together.
The gathering went in and out of performing performance, tension between everyone waiting for something, entertaining ourselves, resistance, passing time or dealing with the constraint. Then really lovely, unselfconscious and subtle affects, twitches, misunderstanding and coping gestures occurred in between the noted points. Those were the juiciest moments for me.
The evening ended with the artist playing a song on his laptop and dancing awkwardly. The song lyrics were an ode to all our foolish humanity trying to get close to others and then asking what do you do? It was a nice summation of our bungling fragility, guardedness and agency in the room. Moving bodies in a shuffly dance was a good way to shake off the tension and finally lose myself and everyone else for a minute.
March 12, 2013
(from Facebook share comment)
I participated in this very interesting Silent Dinner, hosted by artist David Lucas Bell at his studio in downtown. Here are some of the artists’ comments and thoughts about the event posted on Notes on Looking. As a Speech and Language Pathologist, who works with non-speaking deaf teenagers or having worked in a hospital full of stroke victims with Aphasia, I was actually quite comfortable being in a situation where no one could talk. I felt like it was just another day at work… but unfortunately (because of the rules given to us prior to the performance) I was unable to bring augmentative and alternative communication devices to assist my fellow diners in expressing themselves. But I also realized that these artists didn’t really need words to show the crowd what they wanted, needed and desired. Like I said, just an extension of my typical day…
Video by Daniel Lara
Photographs are by Bettina Hubby, John Pearson and Geoff Tuck