Reflections upon E|MERGE Artist Residency, February 2014 by Maré Hieronimus

In February, 2014 an incredible and diverse group of artists, scientists and activists gathered at EarthdanceCenter for Creative Living Residency and Retreat Center in Plainfield Massachusetts, and embarked upon a creative journey together, and within the community through the E|MERGE Interdisciplinary Artist Residency. I was blessed to be a part of it, and a collaborating artist on The Oracle Project, conceived by project leaders Cory Neale and Nicole Nigro, with Christos Galanis spear-heading the blazing of a lost trail from Earthdance to the West Cummington Church. The Oracle Project was a study of oracle within self, life, art making, and community, and a massive experiment in collaboration for all artists involved, which included: Cory Neale, Nicole Nigro, Christos Galanis, Alex Kramer, Adriana Segurado Mendez, and myself, Maré Hieronimus.

The Oracle Project collaboration was conceived as a four-hour performance event, which consisted of moving the audience through several experiences. This event was staged by the collaborators, with each of us playing an integral role in its creation, while simultaneously specializing in the areas most engaging to us as artists. After an “oracle ritual” in the Barn Studio of the Earthdance Center, audience members had the choice of taking part in the 1:30 hour, 1.5 mile walk on the lost trail that meandered over a small wooded mountain which was buried under frozen feet of snow. After the walking portion of the event, and guided by Christos Galanis, the audience members came upon a separate trapeze site installation in a nearby tree, by the Oracle Project resident trapeze artist, Adriana Segurado Mendez.

Blazing the Trail

Journeyers were then directed to the final site of the Performance, at The West Cummington Church, which included the outdoor surrounding area of the church building, as well as it’s indoor environment. Two separate site installations bookending the outside of the church were created, including my own installation, Field of Twigs, and a separate site installation by Nicole Nigro, consisting of a large square piece of blue fabric placed over the white, frozen snow, lit by candle light, upon which Nicole Nigro stood and moved.

The Oracle Project culminated inside the church itself, with a separate dance site work, co-created by Nicole Nigro, Adriana Segurado Mendez, and myself, with an original soundscore by Cory Neale, and original song composed and directed by Oracle Project collaborator and fiddler extraordinaire Alex Kramer, as well as additional ethereal music from the Church Choir.

The West Cummington Church, photo by Maré Hieronimus
The West Cummington Church, photo by Maré Hieronimus

For my site installation within The Oracle Project, Field of Twigs, I drew inspiration from my recent and ongoing solo rise, in which bundles of twigs and branches are used as imbued objects, becoming an extension of the body, and conductors of the dance. rise is also concerned with the notion of body as field or instrument through which forces of sound, light, thought, image, emotion, space and time are passing through.

For the construction of this site installation, I gathered fallen branches from the woods of the lost trail, and the Earthdance surrounding area. I also drew direct inspiration from Walter De Maria’s epic land art, The Lighting Field. This long-term installation in the plains of Western New Mexico consists of a field of 400 stainless steel lightning poles arranged in a grid like rectangle, 1 mile x 1 kilometer in scope. These poles become conductors of the forces of electricity, lighting up the sky and bringing bolts of light directly down to the earth. I am specifically philosophically and experientially interested in the notion of body as conduit, instrument and conductor of forces, much like the lightning poles in De Maria’s work. For my intimate homage to this large-scale piece, I planted the deadened, painted, fallen branches and twigs into the frozen feet of snow beside the West Cummington Church, allowing them to stick upward, simulating the lightning poles, and directing the eye towards the sky. Within the performance installation, the moving body was to act as the conductor of forces, rather than specifically the twigs themselves.

Field of Twigs is also the investigation of the notion of Oracle as state of being, or Oracle as state of consciousness within the self. I was, and have been for many years, interested in the shifting of consciousness through movement, and how it is that these windows of memories, images, premonitions or even visions can pass through the body-mind-consciousness, through the vehicle of dance. This can be witnessed most especially in shamanic dance practices, but I feel these experiences are also available to others who are not directly trained within these lineages, and that the field of somatic practice has radically shifted the way in which dancers now inhabit their bodies. I feel these practices potentially give rise to something akin to shamanic states of consciousness through movement. This has been an interesting continued experiment for me, and more research needs to be done before I can write fully about it (this is a larger body of research that I am just beginning to sink into).

By night, the Field of Twigs installation was lit through candle light, and a quiet dreamscape was created, haunting and remotely post-apocalyptic in feel. I inhabited this environment through dance on the frigid evening of the performance event, when the audience members arrived at the West Cummington Church, after walking the lost trail.

walking the lost trail
walking the lost trail

The whole experience was incredibly rich and diverse. Challenges were had, but the beauty of the collaboration truly began to sing when we were able to speak about the conflicts that surfaced, and find a space where each person was given voice at our table. Ultimately this experience was almost utopian for me: living and working together with 30 artists from all over the world who ranged widely in age, gender, and race, it was the unfolding of a fresh way of being in relationship to self, to fellow artist, and to community: non-hierarchical, community-driven, with each artist having a deep commitment to their own unique practice and vision, while simultaneously remaining overwhelmingly generous and open to new ideas and ways of engaging their particular art form, and the notion of oracle in life in general.

Forrest light
Forrest light

I have been left with many questions about The Oracle Project, and Field of Twigs, and my own continued dance/art practice. But I seem to have more questions about the place of art in our world today, questions that have gnawed at me my entire adult life as an artist. Living in such a utopian community, I could not help but wonder again about the separation of art and life, art and spirituality, art and everyday being. I have questions about the incredible function and power that art can have within our lives and culture, and wonder why these functions are not fully utilized because of lack of funding, lack of knowledge, lack of community and common vision. I have questions about why art, and dance art in particular (as it is my primary form), continue to struggle for place, space, understanding and audience; and I have questions about how we as artists can continue to do our work, together, within community, and bridge these gaps. This is work that I truly feel, no matter how many people see it, that it has impact, and that it does matter. And yet, I think it is also important that more people are able to see this kind of collaborative, multidisciplinary work, and experience its impact first hand, and within their lives. There is so much that can be received from the witnessing of such work, and so much that can be taken from these new models of collaboration and living that subvert age-old and tired notions of power and dominance, and celebrate multi-generationalism, multi-genderism, multi-racialism, all within a communal living situation.

Not everyone has the desire to live this way, and I am not really suggesting this. But there is a balance to be struck, and I feel there is a such a driving sense of isolationism that underlies our American culture, from the old world pioneers who pushed out west, to the self-made millionaires, then billionaires, there is a deep-seated sense if individualism that is essentially focused on self-preservation and self-motivation. This wild individualism celebrates the uniqueness of each of us, and in its highest form sings the "song of myself", as Walt Whitman put it. And yet, if taken too far, it separates us so deeply from one another, and can cause a self centered-ness, and a selfishness, that feels insanely destructive. We need each other, we need community, we need a feeling of togetherness as the world becomes increasingly complex and global, and we wonder, for example, why people living in NYC, one of the most densely populated places in the world, still feel so desperately alone and isolated. It is part of the experience.

How can art bring us together more, and gather us into community, and bring us into relationship to one another in healthier, fuller ways? From the first ritual dances and cave paintings and miniature figurines of ancient times, whatever their ultimate purposes were (as they remain mysterious), we do know that bringing people together in meaningfulness was at the very least one of the functions of art. We as human beings have always made things, dances, paintings, sculptures, songs,  to mark time and life and meaningful events through symbol, metaphor, or illustration. Life without marking these moments ceases to feel as meaningful. And life without the feeling of meaning is an empty and lonely place to live.

As artists, it is important for us to keep creating, however many people come to know what we do. I resonate with the quote by Joseph Campbell, that "I don't believe that people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive". This experience then creates a feeling of meaningfulness. And through the creation of these very particular spaces and places, the world for me is made more whole, new perceptions are given time to arise, new ways of thinking are given space to surface, and I feel what it is to be alive and living. These experiences, within this American culture, this time and place and space, are difficult to sustain. Lack of funding, lack of time and space, lack of understanding of the meaningfulness and purposefulness of art, and a decentralized community: These are the beautiful challenges that we face as artists living in our world today. I feel honored to have had the time to be able to reflect upon these larger issues, and to reflect upon a practice of non-hierarchical collaborative process and practice. These experiences become a catalyst for transformation, and with it comes the opportunity to bring these reflections (with all the questions that they bear) forward into my continued art/life.

The Church, and final destination
The Church, and final destination

Dance Matters by Maré Hieronimus


To culminate our experiences at CultivateDanceNH in August, 2013, photographer Arthur Fink asked each of the participating artists to write a paragraph on why we believe dance matters. Below is the paragraph I am sharing that will be coupled with a group of his images from the dance festival, which he hopes to publish and share in some form. I love the dance. It's quiet revolution and transformation, in all ways. This is why dance matters, to me...

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant, and has forgotten the gift." -Albert Einstein

There are many ways to know or experience meaning, and one of these ways is to allow the linear/logical mind to give way to the non-linear, intuitive and non-verbal realm of the dancing body, which can precipitate overwhelming experiences of timelessness and interconnectedness inside of a fleeting performative act. This body to body, human to human real-time exchange is the foundation for my interest in the creation of performance works. There is no way to fully commodify or sell this experience, which presents a problem in this culture of consumption. But dance still nevertheless matters, and perhaps it matters even more because of its ephemeral nature. Dance is a profound way of knowing, connecting, experiencing, processing, communicating and expressing. It's origins take us back to some of the earliest ways in which we as human beings experienced meaning through ritual and communion. It still serves that same function for those of us who participate within it, whether witnessing or moving. And through taking us out of the realm of the logical mind and into the intuitive, dance has the potential to help open an internal space that shifts ones attention away from the importance of "I", and into the importance of "we", and the earth community in which we live. I would say that this is exactly what this society, and earth, need now, as we sway further and further away from nature and swing towards technology, isolation, and total disconnection from the vehicle in which we live: the human body. Dance matters because it brings us back into that vehicle, and into the here and now, through which we can experience and celebrate the movement towards something that is holistic, integrating, communing, and healing. To me, at this time in human history, there is nothing more important then this. - Maré Hieronimus, Brooklyn, New York

Dance Improvisation and The Five Elements by Maré Hieronimus


Notes, Correlations, and Experiments: Dance Improvisation and The Five Elements

Maré Hieronimus/The Body Archive

Over the course of this past year, I have been facilitating a workshop which explores the movement and experience of the forces of the Five Vedic Elements through dance improvisation. Below are some of the notes and basic correlations. This is an ongoing and active body of research, and is some of the foundational investigation for my current visual and performance project, Body into Sky.

ETHER- Akash

Ether manifests the idea of connection, allowing for interchange between all material mediums, communication and self-expression.

Sensory Potential: Sound

Sense Organ: Ear

Motor Organ: Mouth-expression

Chakra: Fifth Chakra- Vishuddha- Throat

Alchemy: The field, matrix and source from which everything flows. Space continuum, the mother of the final four elements, The birth and initiation.

Qualities - expansiveness, pervasiveness, soft, light, subtle, abundant.

Action - provides room, looseness, openness

Facilitates - sound and non-resistance

Body: space- both internal and external, one-ness of matrix, interconnection, formless.

LMA Correlations: SPACE MATRIX, SPACE HARMONY, Active Stillness

AIR- Vayu

Air manifests the idea of subtle movement, manifesting ideas of direction, velocity and change, and giving the basis for thought

Sensory Potential: Touch

Sense Organ: Skin

Motor Organ: Hand-grasping

Chakra: Fourth Chakra, Anahata, Heart.

Alchemy: The idea or thought or mental activity born from the ether of space. The idea moves into manifestation through the Agni/fire. Cosmic substratum, infinite, unbounded. A continuous medium.

Qualities - mobility, dynamics, movement unimpeded, key element for fire to burn. Existence without form.weightless, mobile, cool, dry, porous and subtle

Action - motion or movement, evaporation, dryness

Facilitates - touch and vibration.

Body: the breath/wind that moves that body, empty space inside body- specifically between the joints; the skeletal system

LMA Correlations: SPACE, Effort Quality: SPACE-Direct/indirect

FIRE- Tejas or Agni

Fire manifests the idea of light, allowing for perception and movement from place to place, therefore also transformation, transmutation, change.

Sensory Potential: Sight

Sense Organ: Eyes

Motor Organ: Feet-motion

Chakra: Third- Manipura- Navel/Solar Plexus

Alchemy: The spark, impulse, heat through which the air/idea is transformed. The idea is the seed, but cannot transform without the heat, which is the key to all alchemical transformation. The power to change solids to liquids or gas and back again. Digestive power. Impulses through the nervous system- the impetus.

Qualities – Radiance, hot, sharp, dry, subtle, weightless and rough

Action - radiation of heat and light

Facilitates - form, color and temperature

Body: the digestive organs and tract, the heat/Agni that is available for digestion; blood/circulatory system and heart related.

LMA Correlations: EFFORT, Effort Quality: TIME-quick/sustained

WATER- Jala or Apa

Water manifests the idea of liquidity or flowing motion, allowing for life.

Sensory Potential: Taste

Sense Organ: Tongue

Motor Organ: Urino-Genital- emission

Chakra: Second Chakra – Swadhishthana, Sacral

Alchemy: The flowing substance, which is heated by the spark (fire), initiated by the idea (air), born from the ether field. This is pre- solidified. The water is needed to assist the fire from burning itself out- so in this sense the water modulates the fire and creates a cooling environment through which the Agni can act without destruction. This is pre-FORM.

Qualities - moist, cool, soft, and sticky fluidity, change, flow, movement with weight. Guided or defined by earth, Cohesion

Attribute - cohesion, lubrication

Facilitates - fluidity and taste (via saliva)

Body: all fluids of the body (70 percent) including seat, tears, craniosacral, synovial, sexual, and the lymphatic system.

LMA Correlations: SHAPE, Effort Quality: FLOW- free/bound

EARTH- Prithvi

Earth manifests the idea of stability or solidity, giving resistance in action. Inertia

Sensory Potential: Smell

Sense Organs Nose

Motor Organ: Anus-elimination

Chakra: First- Muladhara, root of spine.

Alchemy: the solid form which is manifest through the thought, spark, fluidity, the last stage of bringing something into being and “physical completion”. The physical world is a manifestation of this last stage. This is FORM.

Qualities - stability, permanence, rigidity, density, heavy, rough, solid, stable, slow.

Attribute - resistance, densityFacilitates - fragrance, odor and shape

Body: The muscles, connective tissues and density of the body. Muscle, bones, teeth, tissues. As Air creates bones and fire creates blood and Water creates Lymph, all are manifest through the Earth, which brings the energy into matter.

LMA Correlations: BODY, Effort Quality: WEIGHT- light/strong, weight sensing

Every substance in the world is made up of these elements, with certain elements predominant.