How to Save Your Own Life, A Winning Essay in the New Art Writing Contest!
Dear readers, this week we are publishing articles by the cash prize and honorable mention winners in the 2017 New Art Writing Challenge. Thank you to all of you who submitted your writing. Co-founder of the New Art Writing Challenge, Matt Kalasky, penned this lovely introduction for you…”I often use the analogy that art writing has become a fixed tool in the service of criticism. Like we are stuck using the same monkey wrench no matter what type of art we are talking about; no matter what type of art viewer we are; no matter what reader we are trying to reach. The winners of this year’s New Art Writing Challenge have, each in their own way, thrown aside the usual tools and have shown us the power of cooked spaghetti — or a flower — or a diary entry to talk about art. The best stopped trying to make sense of the work and started to unravel the art deeper into a personal mystery that epitomizes the experience of two humans looking at each other through art. This contest didn’t generate these new perspectives and manners of looking but rather it has illuminated the spectrum of writing that has always existed. This is an art writing landscape as complex, enigmatic, and empathetic as the art it examines. Get reading!” — Matt Kalasky, Co-founder, New Art Writing Challenge

sponsored

How to Save Your Own Life
Taisha​ ​Paggett’s counts​ ​orchestrate,​ ​a​ ​meadow​ ​(or​ ​weekly​ ​practice​ ​with​ ​breath) at The​ ​Institute​ ​of​ ​Contemporary​ ​Art
By​ ​Nishat​ ​Hossain

"Endless Shout," Taisha Paggett performance at ICA, March 7, 2017; image credit: Stacey McDonald.
“Endless Shout,” Taisha Paggett performance at ICA, March 7, 2017; image credit: Stacey McDonald.

Benches​ ​scattered​ ​across​ ​a​ ​vast,​ ​tall​ ​room,​ ​all​ ​save​ ​one​ ​lining​ ​the​ ​sides​ ​of​ ​the​ ​room.​ ​I​ ​sit in​ ​the​ ​one​ ​at​ ​the​ ​center.​ ​Monitors​ ​and​ ​screens​ ​with​ ​videos​ ​of​ ​dancers​ ​dispersed​ ​across the​ ​space.​ ​A​ ​gallery​ ​staff​ ​member​ ​comes​ ​up​ ​to​ ​me,​ ​“Umm,​ ​I​ ​may​ ​have​ ​to​ ​ask​ ​you​ ​to move,​ ​but​ ​let​ ​me​ ​check​ ​with​ ​my​ ​boss​ ​first.”​ ​A​ ​few​ ​minutes​ ​later​ ​he​ ​returns,​ ​“Anthony says​ ​we’re​ ​all​ ​good!”​ ​I​ ​soon​ ​learn​ ​the​ ​reason​ ​for​ ​his​ ​hesitation.

Heavy​ ​breathing​ ​at​ ​the​ ​entrance.​ ​A​ ​knot​ ​of​ ​languid​ ​limbs​ ​begins​ ​to​ ​make​ ​its​ ​way​ ​through the​ ​door.​ ​It’s​ ​paggett​ ​and​ ​Murugesan.​ ​Their​ ​bodies​ ​are​ ​balled​ ​together​ ​in​ ​the​ ​tenderest and​ ​oddest​ ​embrace,​ ​moving​ ​at​ ​a​ ​pace​ ​slower​ ​than​ ​the​ ​beads​ ​of​ ​sweat​ ​dripping​ ​down their​ ​foreheads​ ​and​ ​my​ ​legs.​ ​Limbs​ ​folding​ ​and​ ​opening,​ ​swaying​ ​and​ ​turning, meandering​ ​through​ ​the​ ​makeshift​ ​meadow​ ​that​ ​is​ ​the​ ​floor​ ​of​ ​the​ ​gallery​ ​space,​ ​not moving​ ​in​ ​any​ ​particular​ ​way​ ​or​ ​direction,​ ​but​ ​instead​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​find​ ​their​ ​center​ ​of balance​ ​in​ ​the​ ​body​ ​of​ ​their​ ​partner.​ ​​actions​ ​choreograph​ ​themselves​ ​​the​ ​performance note​ ​sitting​ ​on​ ​my​ ​bench​ ​reads.

The​ ​pair’s​ ​slow​ ​crawl​ ​brings​ ​them​ ​to​ ​the​ ​center​ ​and​ ​my​ ​bench.​ ​pagget​ ​sits​ ​next​ ​to​ ​me and​ ​begins​ ​gently​ ​leaning​ ​her​ ​weight​ ​on​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​lean​ ​back.​ ​My​ ​body​ ​eases​ ​itself​ ​onto​ ​hers. I​ ​rest​ ​my​ ​head​ ​on​ ​her​ ​back.​ ​My​ ​breath​ ​steadies​ ​it​ ​rhythm​ ​to​ ​hers.​ ​We​ ​hold​ ​each​ ​other’s weights,​ ​each​ ​other’s​ ​breaths.​ ​She​ ​moans-sings-cries-yawns-shouts​ ​into​ ​the​ ​air​ ​through the​ ​megaphone​ ​nestled​ ​between​ ​hands.​ ​Her​ ​sounds​ ​catch​ ​in​ ​my​ ​flesh.​ ​Her​ ​breath​ ​beats in​ ​my​ ​chest.​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​move​ ​with​ ​her.​ ​​all​ ​action,​ ​meaning​ ​starts​ ​from​ ​the​ ​breath​.

She​ ​hands​ ​me​ ​her​ ​megaphone,​ ​looks​ ​at​ ​me​ ​intently,​ ​then​ ​returns​ ​to​ ​her​ ​partner.​ ​I​ ​look at​ ​the​ ​megaphone,​ ​then​ ​look​ ​at​ ​her.​ ​I​ ​imagine​ ​all​ ​the​ ​sounds​ ​I​ ​could​ ​breath​ ​into​ ​it,​ ​and all​ ​the​ ​sounds​ ​I​ ​probably​ ​couldn’t​ ​breath​ ​into​ ​it.​ ​A​ ​sharp​ ​impulse​ ​to​ ​let​ ​loose​ ​the obscenest​ ​moan​ ​I​ ​can​ ​ungrip​ ​from​ ​my​ ​tensing​ ​muscles​ ​overwhelms​ ​me.​ ​​where​ ​does pleasure​ ​go?

What​ ​does​ ​it​ ​mean​ ​to​ ​move?​ ​In​ ​your​ ​own​ ​body?​ ​With​ ​other​ ​bodies?​ ​Through​ ​the​ ​world? we’ll​ ​move​ ​together​ ​for​ ​ourselves,​ ​knowing​ ​we’ll​ ​be​ ​seen​ ​elsewhere.

Three​ ​months​ ​later​ ​on​ ​Sunday​ ​1:45pm​ ​June​ ​4th​ ​2017​ ​I​ ​would​ ​fine​ ​myself​ ​at​ ​the​ ​ICA again,​ ​and​ ​paigett’s​ ​lessons​ ​about​ ​breath​ ​and​ ​movement​ ​that​ ​day​ ​would​ ​guide​ ​me through​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most​ ​traumatic​ ​experiences​ ​I​ ​would​ ​go​ ​on​ ​to​ ​have​ ​this​ ​year.​ ​Early that​ ​morning​ ​I​ ​would​ ​reach​ ​out​ ​to​ ​a​ ​friend​ ​after​ ​having​ ​spent​ ​a​ ​night​ ​by​ ​the​ ​river​ ​out​ ​of severe​ ​depression.​ ​He​ ​would​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​to​ ​meet​ ​him​ ​at​ ​the​ ​ICA.​ ​I​ ​would​ ​cry​ ​my​ ​way​ ​there only​ ​for​ ​him​ ​to​ ​walk​ ​to​ ​his​ ​bike,​ ​mount​ ​it,​ ​turn​ ​the​ ​corner,​ ​and​ ​leave.​ ​Only​ ​for​ ​all​ ​the colorful​ ​and​ ​glittering​ ​promises​ ​he​ ​once​ ​made​ ​me​ ​to​ ​settle​ ​into​ ​noxious​ ​clumps​ ​of​ ​dust and​ ​plastic​ ​that​ ​would​ ​chase​ ​all​ ​the​ ​air​ ​from​ ​my​ ​lungs​ ​and​ ​leave​ ​me​ ​dying.​​ ​​I​ ​would​ ​then go​ ​on​ ​repeat​ ​this​ ​trauma​ ​several​ ​times​ ​with​ ​him.​ ​Each​ ​time​ ​I​ ​would​ ​tell​ ​myself,​ ​maybe he’ll​ ​care​ ​this​ ​time.​ ​Maybe​ ​this​ ​time​ ​will​ ​finally​ ​be​ ​the​ ​one​ ​where​ ​he​ ​greets​ ​my​ ​pain​ ​with love.​ ​But,​ ​each​ ​time​ ​I​ ​would​ ​always​ ​be​ ​stopped​ ​at​ ​Sunday​ ​1:45pm,​ ​halted​ ​at​ ​an​ ​angle​ ​I don’t​ ​understand,​ ​sightless​ ​save​ ​the​ ​sound​ ​wrenching​ ​up​ ​my​ ​limbs.​ ​Each​ ​time​ ​he​ ​would turn​ ​his​ ​head,​ ​then​ ​turn​ ​away.​ ​Each​ ​time​ ​I​ ​would​ ​be​ ​left​ ​with​ ​the​ ​empty​ ​cup​ ​tossing about​ ​the​ ​steps​ ​we​ ​stood​ ​at,​ ​the​ ​trampled​ ​sidewalk​ ​steadying​ ​my​ ​startled​ ​limbs.​ c​​ertain repetitions​ ​fail​ ​us

And​ ​each​ ​time​ ​he​ ​hurts​ ​me,​ ​each​ ​time​ ​I​ ​think​ ​this​ ​will​ ​be​ ​the​ ​day​ ​his​ ​hurtful​ ​indifference finally​ ​kills​ ​me,​ ​I​ ​orchestrate​ ​my​ ​breathes​ ​into​ ​a​ ​meadow​ ​to​ ​rest​ ​on,​ ​and​ ​repeat​ ​paigett’s and​ ​Murugesan’s​ ​performance​ ​note:​ ​​how​ ​to​ ​save​ ​your​ ​own​ ​life

There​ ​are​ ​many​ ​approaches​ ​I​ ​could​ ​have​ ​taken​ ​to​ ​paigett’s​ ​performance.​ ​I​ ​could​ ​have talked​ ​about​ ​black​ ​performance​ ​theory,​ ​body​ ​performance​ ​art,​ ​dance,​ ​poststructuralist feminism,​ ​and​ ​other​ ​vital​ ​veins​ ​of​ ​thought.​ ​I​ ​know​ ​many​ ​will​ ​find​ ​the​ ​contents​ ​of​ ​my piece​ ​unsavory.​ ​You​ ​may​ ​ask,​ ​why​ ​are​ ​you​ ​making​ ​public​ ​a​ ​private​ ​trauma?​ ​Or​ ​what does​ ​this​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​about​ ​paigett’s​ ​work?​ ​My​ ​piece​ ​isn’t​ ​about​ ​paigett’s​ ​work.​ ​It’s​ ​about myself.​ ​How​ ​she​ ​and​ ​her​ ​work​ ​connect​ ​me​ ​to​ ​parts​ ​of​ ​myself​ ​I​ ​would​ ​otherwise​ ​be​ ​too afraid​ ​of​ ​looking​ ​into.​ ​Attending​ ​to​ ​her​ ​work​ ​is​ ​only​ ​an​ ​excuse​ ​for​ ​me​ ​to​ ​attend​ ​to myself.​ ​Probing​ ​her​ ​art​ ​is​ ​only​ ​an​ ​excuse​ ​for​ ​me​ ​to​ ​probe​ ​the​ ​darker​ ​corners​ ​of​ ​my​ ​mind, in​ ​the​ ​safety​ ​of​ ​the​ ​space​ ​her​ ​philosophy​ ​of​ ​improvisation​ ​has​ ​helped​ ​me​ ​build.​ ​​every space​ ​is​ ​a​ ​classroom

"Endless Shout," Taisha Paggett performance at ICA, March 7, 2017; image credit: Stacey McDonald.
“Endless Shout,” Taisha Paggett performance at ICA, March 7, 2017; image credit: Stacey McDonald.

Nishat Hossain is a BA candidate in Independent Visual Studies at Haverford College. Her works have exhibited nationally and internationally at venues including San Francisco Cinematheque, Anthology Film Archives, Woodmere Art Museum, and Mana Contemporary. She uses her body, the most cheaply and easily available material, to explore how its corporeal and psychic specificities clash with the habitus she continues to acquire as an artist and scholar, how her race, class, gender, sexuality, and mental illness misfire with the relationships and institutions she inhabits.

Tags

New art writing challenge 2017, NISHAT HOSSAIN

sponsored
sponsored

Hello!

Sign up to receive Artblog’s weekly updates and monthly Our Picks sent directly to your inbox.

Subscribe Today!

Send this to a friend