Performing Vowels in the Note of Blue

Project Overview
Research Core Areas: 
Project Abstract: 
In my research and practice, I develop artistic means and public experiences to engage myself and others in dialogue about our relationship to the natural world, interspecies dependency, scientific discoveries, and models of resiliency in the face of climate change. I propose to spend several days at the Biostation in order to learn about forest volatile research being done at FACET plots. I would also like to connect with faculty teaching interdisciplinary courses at the Biostation. This is initial research for a proposed event/performance (Summer 2020). For more details, please see the proposal below. __________ This initial site research will inform a proposed event/performance: a second iteration of ‘Performing Vowels in the Note of Blue’ with different participants, location and level of public engagement. Take 1: Catskills, New York. The first iteration (2018) took the form of an 8 minute video. It is a score for nondiscursive communication with/in a grove of red pines, planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps during FDR’s New Deal. Five women perform vowels through the use of semaphore flags—an antiquated signaling system that augments the body to communicate over distances of land and sea. The movements—like language, like the forest—slip between structure and improvisation. In the video, I imagine a future form of communication in which the forest plays a role in how we transmit ideas—a ritual of call and response whereby the patterns of movement form the phrases of language.1 Less concerned with the symbolic meaning of the letters themselves—this work uses the augmentation of the body (think: frilled lizard), sound, color, and movement, to consider how meaning is constructed in the natural world.2 The video and handmade shibori flags were recently shown in two settings: at BAU Gallery in Beacon, NY, and at Tahoe Gallery, Incline Village, NV for solo show, ‘Mother Nature Calls.’ Website: https://jeanbrennan.com Link to video: https://vimeo.com/jeanbrennan/performingvowels Take 2: University of Michigan, Biostation. Last summer, while visiting Michigan, I was struck by the endless miles of reforestation—a mesmerizing repetition of red pines flying past the car window. Eventually, I found a location, maintained by the University of Michigan Biostation, with little undergrowth save a patchy carpet of spring ferns. I staged a few photos and the seed for ‘Performing Vowels’ was planted. In my desire to return to perform this piece in situ, I propose to undertake a multi-disciplinary research project culminating in a public event (Summer '20). I recently contacted a family member, connected with the Biostation, to become familiar with research happening at these sites. As it turns out, there are a number of researchers who are monitoring whole-forest fluxes of volatiles that respond to global warming and other large changes. I propose to spend one week at the Biostation (Summer ’19) to meet researchers, write about how volatiles might inform a performance, and consider what opportunities exist, if any, to involve the Biostation curriculum, faculty, and/or students (thinking here of GLACE, the interdisciplinary humanities program). Vowels are the breath of language—like volatiles, they are atmospheric. Vowels are a speech sound made with no obstruction of the vocal tract—frictionless and continuant, they are open-throated. Likewise, the color blue corresponds to the throat chakra, and to truth and communication. The original action was inspired by research on how trees ‘talk’ and asks if there are examples of human communication that come closer to the way nonhumans communicate. In the making of ‘Performing vowels,’ I realized it is also about the power of our collective voices and the need for rituals that create healing through simple sounds, movement, and connection to each other and our environment. __________ 1. Haraway, Donna. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. 2. Kohn, Eduardo. How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human.
Investigator Info
Funding agency: 
Faculty, Pratt Institute, Seeking external grant; Initial site research phase: self-funded.
Years research project active: 
2019 to 2020