Dear friends…

Dear friends of The Present Tense,

2015 marks ten years since our first event, Activate: an evening of occurrence. Back then, we had a simple goal to support a movement of experiential art that we felt was underrepresented and had few options for exhibition. The event was modest but well attended, and confirmed our belief that it was our responsibility to support this movement that we were a part of. From 2005 through 2009 we continued to organize a series of events ranging in size from intimate happenings to large scale international performance art festivals.  Our goal was always to show the work of artists at varied stages in their career from all over the world, to create thriving bridges between Boston and other places connected by experiential art practices.  The outcome of these efforts was intense discourse, countless moving performances, many new friends, and of course shoeboxes full of documentation.

In 2009 we both lost our space and launched The Present Tense Archive online, which was an effort to take the traces of the works hiding in shoeboxes and make them available to anyone. It was a daunting task, but with the help of many friends including the Berwick Research Institute, Vela Phelan, and Coco Segaller, we were able to create an archive in the form of a blog. Since then, the archive has accumulated more content than we ever imagined. Interviews, guest posts, and curated thematic posts populated the archive alongside the images and video we had captured ourselves. It became more than an archive, it became a community platform for the art and movement we had set out to support.

A lot has changed since 2009, especially ways for individuals to navigate the internet and strategies for archiving experiential-based works.  It is time for TPT to change, too. This will be the last post on this platform, and the rest of 2015 will be spent reconfiguring the way TPT exists. The form will change, but the function will not. Priority will be given to finding a way to make this accumulated content easier to navigate and more accessible.  We are also contemplating other, more experimental forms of archiving.

This does not mean that The Present Tense will not be active!  We will still be maintaining our TumblrFacebook pageTwitter, and of course our Vimeo page which hosts a large number of works by many artists including our own work.  We will still send out seasonal email updates about our activities.  The Present Tense was born out of our collaboration and has always been an extension of our own artistic practices.  You can also keep up with what we are working on through our personal websites. The blog, however, will remain untouched, enshrined as a relic much like the work it hosts.

Looking forward,

Phil & Sandrine | 

Joanna Tam: 3 years + 360 hours + 107,594 + …


A Written Account of

3 years + 360 hours + 107,594 + …

Joanna Tam



I wrote the following piece of writing as a reflection for my year-long actions almost a year ago. I told myself I would burn all the index cards and throw away the two broken printers, the used pens and the books. I only wanted the photographs, the text and my voice to be the evidence of my original work. Yet all the index cards, the printers, the pens and the books are still sitting in my studio …

November 13, 2013

[Note] 107,594 is the estimated number of Iraqi civilians who died from violence since the US-led invasion, as of October 29th 2010 (Source: Iraq Body Count). I want to embody the magnitude of this number by writing the information of the victims on index cards. I began this project on November 19th, 2010 at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn. From that day onwards, I had been writing the cards at home every day for an hour. I finished a year later. Go to my website to view the documentation of the original performance, 107,594.


Is one year too long or not long enough? I had been doing the writing an hour a day, every day, for more than a year. All right I skipped 12 days. So I did it for 360 days or 360 hours.

I started this year-long project about 2 years ago and finished last year on December 2nd. I don’t remember too well about what I was thinking when I was doing it anymore. The idea that my memory of this daily action is fading so much quicker than I expected haunts me.

When I first decided to do this project at the beginning I wanted to embody the magnitude of the destructions of the Iraq War. To me 107594 is a number too huge and too abstract to comprehend. It is a number that could only exist on computers. I thought by writing down the information of the Iraqi civilians who were killed in the war, I could somehow connect myself to this horrifying event that was so far away yet so real at the same time.

At the beginning the writing did help me understand the situation over there a bit more. When I saw a big block of victims died in the same location on the same day, I would look up the Internet to see if the incident was reported. I wanted to know more about what happened to them. However after couple of weeks, this project had soon transformed to one that addressed time and labor. This project had become a burden in my life. There were 2 days that I was running out of index cards to write on because they were on back order. I was thrilled that I had a legitimate excuse to not to do the writing.

Putting aside an hour a day for this project had become a duty to me more than an act to commemorate the Iraqi people. This project was neither about the war nor the Iraqi people anymore. It was more about me instead. It was about examining my physical and mental commitment in a durational work as an artist. At the end the only reason I still continued the writing was because I had gone too far already that I was not willing to quit. Yes that was the only motivation.

Sometimes I feel ashamed when I tell people about this project. I feel ashamed because I am using a topic that is so politically charged for my personal artistic development. If I wanted, I could easily exhibit all the cards by putting them on walls. They could easily fill up many huge rooms and I could make it an impressive project. If I wanted, I could also make a beautiful argument about the result of this work by connecting the cost of the war to the kind of time and labor that I have invested on this project, not to mention the amount of money that I have spent and its environmental implications.

But doing so would be dishonest and almost hypocritical. What I found out was that I actually did not care much about the people over there as much as I thought or as much as I wanted myself to be. What I cared the most was when I was able to finish all the writing. And this took me a year to find out …

December 27, 2012



Joanna Tam is a Boston-based visual artist. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally including venues in York, UK; Istanbul, Turkey; Cusco, Peru; New York; Brooklyn; Boston among others. Joanna’s work has also been awarded Best Art Film at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival (2012), People’s Choice Award (Sub-Category) and Third Prize (Sub-Category) at the Prix de la Photographie, Paris (2009). She is the recipient of the Transitional Artist Residency Award at The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska City and was the Artist-in-Residence at The Center for Photography at Woodstock in New York. Joanna holds an MFA degree from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / Tufts University and has participated in the IPA Istanbul Performance Workshop with Roi Vaara.

Remembering Peter Grzybowski

The Present Tense is saddened for the recent passing of artist and curator, Peter Grzybowski. A long time friend of The Present Tense,  we are grateful we had the opportunity to show his work at the Contaminate 3 Festival in 2008.  The following is a collection of memories from those who were touched by his presence and his work.


Peter Gryzbowski “Press” 2008 photo by Ben Smart

In the 21st century, many have surrendered to the inevitability of the hyper-documented life, a result of current technologies, but nothing can replace the experience of witnessing a live-art piece unfolding in the present moment.   To performance artists, art lives in real time and often times is believed to live in the body.  Consequently, when a body deteriorates the art dies with it.  The death of an artist working in experiential media can be devastating because it eliminates the possibility of ever experiencing their work in its totality again.

On August 29, 2013, artist and curator, Peter Gryzbowski passed away.  Like many, I learned of Peter’s passing through social media.  Discovering the death of a friend in this way seems impersonal, but it offers a collective experience of mourning that is strangely comforting.  We can see the magnitude of the expansive territory that a life can touch.  In the days after news of Peter’s passing spread throughout The Present Tense’s networks, it was amazing to see how many people in so many places throughout the world had been impacted by his work.   This tribute is an attempt to capture a morsel of Peter Gryzbowski’s impact on The Present Tense and the communities of artists with whom we are connected.  No video, no photo, no written account can capture his work, however, it feels crucial to try to compile something to honor Gryzbowski’s creative contribution.  This is also an admittedly selfish attempt.  Peter was a friend and teacher of sorts.  He showed my work when few believed it was mature enough.  As my own curatorial practice evolved, I had the opportunity to show Peter’s work as well.  He was a constant fixture in my career for a decade and I am grateful that I had the chance to experience his work and his friendship.

The following footage is from “Press,” a piece that Peter created at The Present Tense and TEST’s Contaminate 3 Festival in Boston in 2008.  The piece was minimal, cyclical and repetitive.  The principal action of the piece was captured both in real time and in video that illuminated the space through projection.  Peter engaged in the action of crumpling pieces of newspaper and throwing them on the ground.  The video played in reverse, making it appear as if the crumpled paper was magically floating back into Peter’s hand.  There were three bodies in the piece, the present self, the past self (video) and Peter’s shadow, an acknowledgement of the future self.   If my memory serves me, I remember being most excited by the moment when the accumulated paper on the ground matched the volume of paper in the video.  This visual collision offered a brief time where all three Peter’s could exist within the same moment.

Rest well, Peter.  Thank you for gifting me experiences for contemplation through your work and teaching me how to be a better artist.  I am forever grateful.

– Sandrine Schaefer

Peter Grzybowski “Press” 2008 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

This past summer, I was invited to participate in the SUPERNOVA festival in Rosslyn, Virginia. The festival circuit is an exciting one, a wonderful networking experience with both new faces and old ones. When I first caught a glimpse of the roster,  a particular old face jumped off the screen: Peter Gryzbowski. I first met Peter at the 14th International Performance Art Congress in Sacramento, California in 2006. His piece at that festival haunts me to this day. Peters presence during his performances was very powerful, and having seen and met him at a very early stage of my own performance practice, I learned quite a bit about the medium from him. Over the years I’ve felt more and more grateful for the impact he had on the genesis of my work. 

 Once I arrived in Rosslyn, I learned that Peter was unable to make it to the festival. Sad that I would not see him, I made a mental note to contact him and let him know I’ve been thinking of him. Later that day, I saw obsolete computer monitors, a favorite performance object for Peter, being loaded off a van and into the space I’d be performing in later in the festival. Once I learned that they were originally indented for Peter’s performance, I immediately felt connected to them. Eames Armstrong, the festivals curator, was kind enough to let me take one of them for my own performance. I wondered, what was Peter going to use these for? They were going to end up smashed up, weren’t they? 

I was excited to have an addition to my performance, but I was more excited to pay homage to an artist that I’ve always respected and looked up to. In the end, I chose both actions that are pertinent to my work as well as actions that were inspired by Peters work. I feel very grateful that I had this unique opportunity to connect with Peter and his practice, even if he wasn’t present for it. Peter will be greatly missed.

– Philip Fryer

Still from "WHAT NOW", Photo by Sandrine Schaefer

Still from “WHAT NOW”, Photo by Sandrine Schaefer


I met Peter in 2011 at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn.  His interest in my work as so genuine that we spent several hours talking about performance and art in general.  His passion for live action art was clear and enthusiastic especially when he described the projects he had been involved.  We kept connected even though many times we were in different continents doing separate things.  It was until last year that I had the opportunity to witness the strength of his performances and the details of their sociopolitical content.  The last time I saw him, and I believe it was the last time he performed, was in June this year at the same place where we met, Grace Exhibition Space.  He was in full command of his performance, and enjoying every minute of his delivery.  While buildings of the former Soviet era collapsed on the screen, he walked lively through light bulbs that rested on the floor, and much later while we crushed old television sets that had been covered with different flags.  That is the last image I have of a friend who knew how to listen and how to appreciate the liveness of art.

R.I.P. Peter, you are remembered.

– Hector Canonge



Hi Alien! where did you disappear … sounds like your last words to me? an’ of our anachronistic turn – the promise of a next round – a one again happy fight coming s…  ?I miss THE LAST MAN headlined on the seafront / a no sense postcard without you in “your meta final. touch” I picture out of the frame where to keep on hanging(…) la vie est un rêve et… then I say fucking hell* (en français dans le texte*) I could not imagine how much you are here, where only your laugh, your tenderness, and your strength, remain. My. Indian  September  summer  passenger / hush .  ???Hey! Peter “excuse my french” Hey, Peter, I am telling you good bye… and hey. Peter, I am telling you hey for very long

– Stefanie Seguin



Peter Grzybowski, 06.16.1954-08.29.2013

Peter Grzybowski was born in Krakow, Poland. Peter was a performance artist, multimedia artist and a painter. Since the eighties he completed a number of performances, individual and group shows, installations and multimedia works ?presented worldwide. In his latest work, he created performances and installations using video, audio, light and live action, synchronized by computer. His paintings are in USA, Canada, France, Germany and Poland. 


Performing the Impossible Homemade Revolutionary Acts | Julia Handschuh

*an excerpt*

Performing the Impossible

Homemade Revolutionary Acts

By Julia Handschuh

I think it began when I tried something impossible. It happened in the context of a durational performance class: the proposition was to commit wholly to doing an impossible task for one hour.  I chose to connect with Andrew.  We’d known each other for some time already but were not romantically involved.  Andrew was backpacking somewhere in Europe while I was in a studio in Boston.  For one hour I tried to get his attention.  By immersing myself in that ridiculous act I was playing with the possibility of believing that I could shake some bit of the world so much it would send ripples out and run through him.  In a marketplace?  On a green hill?  Turning his head to the right?   Hoisting his backpack up onto his hips?  Sitting and reading a book?  Kissing a girl?  Hitchiking and beatboxing in the pouring rain?  Exhausted, content, full of wonder?  Later he told me if it were any day that perhaps it made sense that it would have been that day, sitting on a boat and thinking of home:


"home" photo by Andrew Hukins

In moments like these, with pause and brilliance, home seems just below the rocking hull and I find myself afflicted with another illness just as the previous one lifts: homesickness.  Home, even though conceived of geographically is more the longing for comfort, not in an espresso maker and morning paper sort of way, but in the rooms and fields I intimately know, and in the people who I carry with me.  It was with this last thing that I found myself absorbed by, sitting with Mateo, drinking some cheap beer or another, witnessing the burning harbor and goodnight sun[1]


As I moved in that studio and Andrew sat on that boat perhaps I was also experimenting with the capacity of my body to have impact and the capacity of my body to let go and transition into something else.  As I jumped around, whispered, danced, screamed, meditated, reminisced, and generally created a ruckus projected in the direction of his existence, something happened; if not in either of us specifically certainly in the space between.  I was giving into something.  I was allowing myself to be swept up in it.  I was falling in love.  Not just with him but with the things made possible in the space between us.  Sharing space with him in the following years I’ve grown to learn and lean into the deep satisfaction and radical change present in a willingness to unabashedly dive in.  

There seems to be great potential in the space of committing yourself to something you previously thought was impossible, just to see what happens, or to force yourself into believing the previously impossible.  Durational performance is a form that is concerned with the effect that time has on the performer, it anticipates that a given action will impress itself on the experience of the performer and evolve with repetition.  Endurance is oftentimes associated with durational performance; the labor or hardship that the body exerts overtime, the commitment to the act, the ability to transcend difficulty, pain and exhaustion, the belief in process and change.  A rhythm is found in repetition over time that passes with minute variations; evolving difference[2]

Learning about and engaging in durational performance art has shifted the way I think about performing life.  I’ve begun to think in terms of creating scores, or sets of rules through which a lived experience can morph and evolve while maintaining commitments to a basic rhythm: to a repetition of actions and habits that establish and uphold a performance for the duration of my life.  Some years after that initial durational performance, after more evolving structures were built between and around Andrew and I, he proposed a different structure.  He proposed a house.

Water. Mold. Moss. Lichen. Fermentation. Growth. Film. Leaves. Steel. Sweat. Finger nails. Flesh. Kerosene. Crust. Thread. Eye lash. Wood. Latex. Nerves. Tendons. Kiss.

in this tiny space we navigate each other

mapping. communicating. maneuvering. negotiating

dreams. troubles. desires.

compromise. extend. enact.

practicing boarders and measures

that hold each other accountable

to hold each other accountable

to house our hearts

to house our body of hearts

to take risks

to be courageous

to imagine the impossible

with love

We’re piling on the bricks and the habits

fortifying a sense (logic)

for a haptic relation

where we can touch our space (dreams) and this dream space touches us.

Meeting and making our world

co-constituting this moment

standing with the trees.

I like to think of Andrew carrying me with him on those days he traveled before we were together.  A talisman of home.  The physical and emotional gap between us somehow made smaller in the ways we’d begun to carry each other around in our minds.  Shared dreams beginning to well up between us.


The house was designed and built with people, seasons and sun in mind.  I was feverish the day we swiveled the house slightly to the right.  We had designed it to face south and built the first rendition slightly to the east.  I swung and slept in the brightly colored hammock as Andrew and Brian nudged and pulled the house to face the sun.  Now the light filters into our bedroom so perfectly: six am a geometric stream enters the room, seven: smooth along the wall, eight it crawls along the pillow, nine gathering in the corner and by ten accumulates and diffuses to a glow that misses the corners of the room and lays evenly over the bed.

Striking out together and building a home made something happen that continues to resonate today.  It made what was felt in that first durational performance take on the solid materiality of wood, glass and sweat.  It became a living object.  A dwelling to contain our bodies and the space between us.  A frame to ponder and dream and love.  We were ridiculous enough to let go and dive in.  Believing that this was possible meant that we believed in each other.  We love each other for this.

These eight by eight foot units held together with bolts rather than nails, were designed with the intention of impermanence, that we might dismantle it some day and move it to a bit of land that is legitimately our own.  With the addition of roof, shingles and a sink the space becomes solidified in my mind as something unmovable­ and I wonder if this processes of making habitat leads towards a cementing that can produce comfort without stasis.   As our house sinks into the land and finds its volume in the overlapping layers of wood insulation and paint, my hope is that it does not grow to be sedentary but rather evolves with the landscape of our lives.  I wonder how long we will stay here and if there will come a time when moving is no longer the lens through which we adjust our beings.  Is this no longer a structure that is collapsible and movable?  Is there still a possibility of dismantling, reassembling and aligning toward the sun?


What is the gathering force that propels our actions? Perhaps it is necessary to create a crisis or disjuncture, to trick ourselves into immediate and urgent response.  Does it need to be an issue of life and death? [3]  The war is so far away and the bodies are so neatly stacked.  How can we carry the weight of these things?  Embed them in our skin?  Perhaps they are already there, and we forget.

"the smoke" photo by Julia Handschuh

We’re seeking a space where actions have implications that you can feel.  We can no longer trust the eyes.  Searching for a haptic feed-back loop that empowers us to maintain presence, persistence, perseverance.  Where citizen participation is not redirected through votes and consumerism.  In the United States the implications of our actions are muted by governance, those systems held so tightly so as to restrict movement, whose gloved hands withdraw the bloody wounds of activists, soldiers, immigrants, prisoners.  The implications of our actions are effectively hidden to ensure a glossy finish, a gleaming surface that reflects and refracts, deflecting responsibility, deflecting guilt. I am looking for systems that I can feel a part of, that I have impact on and impact me.  So can I feel pressure push and push back.  That we might seep into one another.  A citizenry of dissent[4].

What spaces are here yet go undiscovered for fear, arrogance or exclusion?  What is truly possible in this moment?  In this life?  What impact do our bodies and actions have on others?  Does it make a difference if I don’t buy coca-cola products or pay taxes?  Two people living in one little house in the woods writing love sonnets to anti-capitalism.


There are books: shelter from 1963, feminist theory read and unread, Carlos Castneta, obsessed over and contested, Edward Westin’s images of Charis’ sincere body, Louisa May Alcott, Charlotte’s Web, Mathematics For Builders.  There are windows, some in, some out, leaning precariously in their unfinished sills between two pieces of plastic, trying to keep the winter air out.  There is a small woodstove with the inscription A & J HEAT welded to its side, the pipe leaks the distinct smell of creosote into the air which mingles with linseed oil, wood and incense.  Wax drips in pools of chard plywood amongst toothbrushes, bobby pins and nails.  It’s just the right size, if a little too small.  Eight by eight foot units, seems to be people size.  Built in a ratio proportionate to our adult bodies.  I feel as if I’m playing house.  Playing hippie, playing childhood, playing radical, playing make believe.  Make belief.  To make belief.

This was an action we could take that felt in keeping with our bodies, with our beliefs.  A reflection of the way we want to be (a way we are).  Allured by the logic of glossy capitalism and plastic bodies that pervade so much of the 21st century it seems necessary to remodel the connection between how we identify and how we are; to make stronger links between what we believe and how we act.  To realign and reorient the hows and whys of what matters, what forms this existence; negotiating the gap between polymer constructions and organic growth.  Between our place, our bodies, our selves.  To transfer these beliefs into our lives, into our bodies, there is a translation that must be made from ideas to actions, or actions to ideas, looping the abstract and the practical back onto itself, folding everyday reality into the weave of theoretical and ideological dreams[5].

Maybe we can make ourselves believe in this.  Make-believe.  Make-belief.  If I act as if, if I perform fear, perform preparedness, perform sustainability, play radical, play creative, practice hope, if I make actions that reflect the way I want to be (the way I am) at what moment would my actions shift to belief?[6]  The world is racing far ahead of us as we sit by and buy[7].  In our cushy debt and fear filled lives there is an impossibility to “be prepared”.  What if we sink into an unknown that is pregnant with possibility?  At what moment will something break, or open?




"ours" photo by Julia Handschuh

To Score.  To cut through —making impressions and incisions, opening up the world.  To keep tally, accumulating and measuring up, weighing one against another.  Scores: a large amount of something: amassing numbers and volume.  A score: a set of rules or guidelines that provide structure for an improvisation.  A written composition, a map for something to be performed, to be enacted.

In this space there is a score, one that is upheld, revisited and revised.  We share in each other’s bodies, in our selves, in our body selves.  We’re charting a course, delineated with intention, a trajectory propelled by attunement, choice, permissions, breaking and making habits, a self-reflexive performance.  A flexible performance.  Flex, reflex, respond.  Building up strength and muscle memory, a flexibility that is determined by use.  Finding enjoyment in the duration, the passing and the process.  These charts map moving, orientation points shift, renewing origins remapping arrivals, re-visioning success.

The volume of the score, a medium through which the score makes manifest takes on its weight from what is perceived; made hidden and revealed: governance, systems, legitimacy, anarchy, freedom, capitalism, consumerism, cash flow.  Living alternatives to domesticity, between two bodies in a straight framed home, intimately questioning the queer possibilities within this place. Where home extends beyond comfort and familiarity to a challenge and support.  To count on one another.  To hold each other accountable.  An intimate challenge to dissect the lines of power and oppression that tie knots around our limbs.  Countering, escalating and grabbing hold.  Making careful choices for what binds us.  To have and to hold.  To hold. Using our bodies as bridges to the world, enacting the possibility of dissolving dichotomies: individual and collective, rural and urban, worker and intellectual, outsider and insider, citizen and dissent. Performed by to people within a home.  Performed by two people within the woods.  Performed by two people within the world.

And where is this performance seen?  How is it seen and by who?  Do our everyday actions dissolve just as citizens blend into the capitalist regime?  Is this a way to show up for oneself?  For the world?  I am told past generations have ruined this world for us, have failed and made things worse.  I’ve encountered some liberals who say they’ve done their part and it’s time for our generation to stand up to the task, others express regret at the failures of their generation to revolutionize, to tare down and reimagine the world.

I do not know that my actions towards sustainability and environmental rights and wellbeing are meant to incite actions in others so much as satisfy my desire to feel a connection between what I believe and what I do.  I would not say this is an existential, transcendental, religious or even spiritual desire, but one that is aligned with an ecological ethics which recognizes the materiality of our existence and the inextricable ties between human systems (be they governmental or cellular) and the ecological networks of life[8].  Networks that we are told again and again are rapidly changing, indeed failing, to detriment of life as we know it[9].  After all, “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism”. [10]

Bookended between the failures of the 60’s and the imminent collapse[11] of the future, perhaps it takes the world to dismantle itself before we can begin to imagine something new, something outside this world order.  Are there actions that lead to believing?  Or believing that incites action?  What if we sincerely believed in this collapse?  Wouldn’t we act?  Are we just playing with this belief?  Toying with the possibility of collapse?  So capitalism totes it around on a brightly colored string, some wooden duck on wheels bobbing its head to the tune of derivatives and debt.  Derivatives and debt. Debt. Debt. Debt. Dent.  Making small dents on impact.  And we all fall down.

Failure rears its head

like some systematic nervous tick.


machines answer with

fall falling failure

political, economic, climate


and we all fall down.

What reliance and resilience?

What neatly leaning lines?

Deciduous leaves drop to the floor


announcements written in digital paper trails

scribbling and scratching

marking witness to the


American Dream.

Increasingly I am questioning the possibility of systematic change.  What could possibly change the performance of our daily lives if not global climate change or a global war on terror?  At what point and how must we feel these experiences in our bodies in a way that would instigate a response other than consumerism and fear?  Must we always do as we’re told?  Here I am caught between past failures and the presence of a left leaning toward the center pulled by an evermore-radical right.

All space is legitimized through contract and currency.  The space of land, the space of love, the space of creativity, are consistently co-opted by capital and governance[12].  The existence of private property ensures an inequity propagated by the initiation of arbitrary lines of ownership predicated on stolen goods and labor.  If this is true it may not be legitimacy that we must seek but rather an adherence to systems that we can believe in and a radical rejection of those forms of legitimacy that are upheld by systems of inequity and oppression.  Maybe we do not want to own some land after all[13].  If we already reject marriage as a form of private possession, a sequestering and tracking of bodies by the state, what other forms of property can be disentangled from our lives?

The magnitude of these knots are revealed in so many histories[14] whose contemporary manifestations further the foundational weave of this American life[15]; so much so that a radical disavowal of these systems requires an intricate interrogation of our daily lives.  These historical and contemporary atrocities deserve nothing less.  It is time that Americans not only reflect on but also enact strategies of radical equality, participation and self-governance and at the very least cease to be complicit with projects that ensure the United States as a dominating world power.   I refuse to participate and so I am attempting to disentangle myself from this mess.  Perhaps the spaces of action must be smaller, radically localized to touch the intricacies of how capitalism saturates our daily lives[16]. Perhaps there is an answer in condensation, like so many water droplets, fusing against the grain, blurring the panoptic view[17].  It will be a shared space: made small enough so we can feel each other in it.  We are not running away.  This retreat is not an escape.  It is a reconfiguring of the rules for our existence.


When I was young my family edited out television then meat then town then school.  Living without these things our lives were not defined by their lack but rather the worlds opened up onto in their absence: countless hours spent outdoors, vegetarian cooking classes; the nightly gathering of family dinners; long evenings in the company of friends and family without the pre-occupation of screens.  Before the Internet and personal computers took hold of our worlds, there was more silence, more singing, more conversation.  As pressures weighed on daily life this idealism lost its luster, or revisions were made to the score that had choreographed our lives.  Television, then meat, then school, were added back in for convenience sake.  Television became a respite to the troubles of economically sustaining a family, the ease of cooking meat afforded time at the end of a long day, school served to ensure oversight that working parents or a wider community could no longer provide.  With the addition of exhaustion from upholding ideals within a fading partnership, our collective familial dreams sunk into a picture of working American life.  And what American family would not be complete without divorce?  After nineteen years of participating in the play of a picture perfect family I witnessed my parents relationship dissolve into the folds of typical marital statistics.

Reflecting on this now it seems pertinent to the unfolding of a life with Andrew, in this little house in the woods.  It is fitting that I would surround myself with a structural integrity that lifts up and supports the childhood ideals that have sunken into my skin.  There are a good many things I could blame for the deterioration, or perhaps I should say, transformation, of my family.  Of many families.  It would be these things that create the lines drawn in the sand between acceptance and rejection of scores for ways of being in the world.  They form a basis for my lack of faith in American Governance and American Dreams.


"gone" photo by Julia Handschuh

I have spent the past year apart from Andrew, living in a city, pursuing another dream, always with the intention to return.  We’ve been apart now just enough that we can come together, a defining of self, skin and boundaries that opens pores; the sweating out of the other to let in a sigh of return and relief.  Brushing against the space of self-sufficiency and resistance, to know ourselves as individuals so that we might join snugly at the hip.  In this way space becomes a catalyst, a medium for transference of our dreams into the world.  The space of our house accumulates a history, like our bodies whose layers of memories and imaginings show up on our skin.

Sex, dirt, honey, olive oil, milk power and marijuana, ash and wax, salt and glue.  In the absence of sterilization the residue of life builds up the surface on our things, ingrained in the wood through substance and memory.  Bus schedule.  Ladder.  Staple gun.  Legos.  Forming some assemblage of childhood and becoming.  Our pasts are with us in these moments and spaces: the heartache, the bug bites, the smoothies and drug trips, hoola hoops and hitchhiking, truckers, fresh tomatoes, Mexican beaches, washing in the pond with peppermint soap, the tingle the rush of air the prickly grass.

We’re attempting to hold onto this thing that people see as fleeting, this idealism of the twenty’s that I’m told will soon slip from my 28-year-old body as it passes into jaded adulthood.  Disentangling illusions and reality.  We feel close enough to our childhoods that the dreams of them are still living.  That time is tangible; made within reach through our present actions, resonating in our daily lives.  Scrapping away the screens of surface tension on familial skin.  My father’s freckles my mother’s eyes.  What remains in this body, in this house, is the stuff of dreams.  This house, this home, this dream space moves, it moves us to enact the previously impossible, the stuff of dreams.  A score of durational acts that build space to ensure that we are living the life we want to lead.



Works Cited


Boltanski, L. 2008, ‘The Present Left and the Longing for Revolution,’ in Under Pressure:


Pictures, Subjects, and the New Spirit of Capitalism, (eds) D. Birnbaum & I. Graw,


Sternberg Press, Berlin, 52-71.


Bourdieu, Pierre. The logic of Practice. Stanford University Press; 1 edition. 1992


Gibson-Graham, J.K. The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It). Published by the University of


Minnesota Press. 2006.


Guatarri, Felix. The Three Ecologies. The Athlone Press, 2000.


Harmon, Graham. Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics. 2009.


Jackson, Michael. Things As They Are: New Directions in Phenomenological Anthropology. Indiana University Press. 1996.


Lefebvre, Henri. Rythmanalysis: Space Time and Everyday Life. Continuum. 2004.


Massumi, Brian. Parables of the Virtual Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Duke University Press Books. 2002

 A Shock to Thought: Expression after Delueze and Guattari. Routledge. 2002


McKibbin, Bill. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. St. Martin’s Griffin; First Edition edition. 2011


Ruppert, Michael. Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World. Chelsea Green Publishing. 2009.


Thoreau, Henry David. On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. Arc Manor. 2007.


Utopia in Four Movements. Dir. Sam Green, Co-Dir. Dave Cerf. 2011


Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Dlx


Rep edition. 2002.


Collapse. Dir. Chris Smith, Star. Michael Ruppert. 2010.


[1] Written by Andrew shared with me through an email.


[2] Lefebvre. 6.


[3] In the absence of any understandable response in a moment of extreme distress we act according to a body logic that makes it’s own sense, “generating words or actions that are both senseless and sense-full.” (Bourdieu, 95-96) Is it only in these moments of extreme distress that we will act? At what point will we feel the ramifications of United States foreign policy in such a way that would make us act in appropriately senseless and a sense-full ways? I am not so sure that the calculated compromising moves of the Left are the best ways to counter the impassioned senseless distress calls of the Right.


[4] Here I am thinking of Henry David Thoreau’s classic text On the Duty of Civil Disobedience as well as Bruno Latour’s notion of the Dissenter, as explained in Graham Harmon’s Prince of Networks. Harmon describes the Dissenter as a person who serves to question a process at every turn. (39) Both of these authors recognize the importance of oppositional characters to the process of innovation be it scientific, social or political.


[5] Here I am thinking of Michael Jackson’s introduction to Things As They Are in which he speaks about the production of knowledge; that which is lived and that which is disembodied. He calls attention to the paradox of theorization and practical knowledge and suggests that ethnography is one way to straddle the division between lived experience and linguistic articulation. Forming political critiques from lived experience and infusing political theory into daily life is an act of translation between the abstract and the embodied, making theory that is embedded in the world.


[6]Resonating with Jackson’s sentiments of embodied theory, Pierre Bourdieu’s theorizes in The Logic of Practice that beliefs (those things that are theoretically real) are materialized in our bodies; that they become real through the ways they are enacted. 69.


[7] In The Present Left and the Longing for Revolution Luc Boltanski sites various ways that the left has turned it’s politics away from capitalism and towards issues of bio-politics. Despite the ways that capitalism is tied to the furthering of bio-political oppression political action has been directed away from critiques of labor, market and capital and towards identity politics. 66. In the face of American culture, which encourages consumerism as every turn, Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping targets the complacent consumer reflex by making performances that aid consumers in breaking their addictive buying habits.


[8] Felix Guatarri makes a similar proposition in The Three Ecologies in which he outlines what he calls an “ecosophy”: an articulation of the ethico-political arenas of “environment, social relations and human subjectivity”[8] through the lens of ecology. His call to recognize the depth and breadth with which all things are interconnected (not as a singular unity but as a system that consists of a multiplicity of interacting forces) demands a deep interrogation and response to political and environmental issues, both individually and collectively. It is with this same sense of material interconnection that I reference ecological networks.


[9] In Eaarth, Bill McKibbin outlines the ways in which global climate change has reached a tipping point that erases the possibility of recuperating the destruction wrought to planet earth. He argues we must continue to develop sustainably solutions not based on an ideal of turning back the clock but rather facing how life might be able to continue given the continued climate shifts that are already underway.


[10] Jameson, 76.


[11] See Michael Ruppert’s Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World and the related documentary Collapse.


[12] See The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It) by J.K. Gibson-Graham


[13]The Invisible Committee echoes this sentiment in their manifesto: “For us it’s not about possessing territory. Rather, it’s a matter of increasing the density of the communes, of circulation, and of solidarities to the point that the territory becomes unreadable, opaque to all authority. We don’t want to occupy the territory, we want to be the territory.”108.


[14] Such as is illuminated in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States


[15] The continued war in Iraq and human rights violations in prisons like Abu Ghraib are indicative of United States foreign policy, which functions on a blatant disregard for human rights both at home and abroad.


[16] In The End of Capitalism (as we knew it) Gibson-Graham note that “…on the left, we get up in the morning opposing capitalism, not imagining practical alternatives. In this sense, it is partly our own subjection—successful or failed, accommodating or oppositional—that constructs a “capitalist society.”xv.


[17] In April 2010 Alexander R. Galloway presented a lecture at the New School titled “Black Box, Black Bloc” wherein he speaks about the French collective Tiqqun who speak about “invisible revolt” in terms of fog, a veil through which subversive actions cannot be seen by the imperial state. 9.


Julia Handschuh writes, moves, and makes objects; oftentimes in relation to issues of improvisation, ecology and the politics of space.  This past year she and Andrew were forced to dismantle their cabin, and they now reside in Turners Falls, Mass where they are working to secure a cooperatively-owned building.  Julia intends to include these experiences into a further edition Performing the Impossible.  Please contact her if you are interested in reading or publishing this work:

“i wish you no ill will” EL Putnam / “I Wish You New” Kurt Cole Eidsvig

El Putnam "i wish you no ill will" 2012

In August and September of 2012, artist and philosopher, El Putnam handed out 200 postcards with the following instructions:

“write an anonymous note to someone you have loved and lost. you can write whatever you wish, but you are required to end your note with the sentence: ‘i wish you no ill will.'”

The cards were returned to her via USPS and used to build an installation at Mobius’ space in Cambridge, MA. In the final performance, the cards were read by Putnam and audience members, and then placed one by one into a shredder.

Part of The Present Tense’s Mission is to include a myriad of ways that individuals archive and document experiential art pieces.  Artist and poet,  Kurt Cole Eidsvig wrote a poem documenting his experience with this transformative piece.  We are happy to share it on The Present Tense!

El Putnam "i wish you no ill will" 2012


Kurt Cole Eidsvig

After EL Putnam’s “I wish you no ill will” at Mobius, Cambridge, MA USA  Sept 8, 2012


1. Woven scripts, as in a chain of words reassembled from tangles. This line, this line is now your bracelet, these memories record to handcuffs. Of course you feel the grit of glitter under foot. The road to crystal suffering is a version of America obese hearts with hardened arteries suffer for. I’m kidding, of course, as the delay of dish sounds regurgitates flickering glass chewed through to sewing needle skin. Your alterations to the breezy wind behave so necessary, just as exhales only matter if something plans on following.

2. Behold the thorns on flesh hung upside-down in effigy. Behold ligament and joint, gasp. Behold the breaking sound of items getting crushed to bits and shards and molecules, the smallest parts of each of us that disfigure but won’t go away.

Hold the remnants of what you were, of what I was when we were we, and consider:

The tangled ends won’t render, the tangled ends begin.

3. Because of shadows the font of words can be confusing. Nib and pencil tip chew against bright pulp. In the background— do you hear it—these echoes of hollow wind through the structures. Bridges pull against two things here, rather than connect and allow mercy in catastrophe. When I say “I wish,” I mean “I don’t wish.” Just as when I said “I don’t know,” I was certain. Now look at us: You, and that shadow of yourself behind you, the layers of our time-bomb gasps—the way fingertips can be squares, strings, chains, flowers, legs and light collections in the course of just one night. I am sure you realized at the end of every curve of words, sinewy across the page, was another
lesson in infinity. The two of us repeating; the two of you, so sad.

4. Remember when we danced, the way your voice collapsed?

5. Cave entrances with beads of glass for windows, as if your eyes were premonitions.
Like, lay in bed next to me and create a story with your pillows. As anonymous confessionals
of our hand-me-down linens become a metaphor for the landscape spots we mailed pieces of ourselves
from, no longer blurred by the dishonesty of atmosphere. As the necklace of doubt
is certainty, a noose of stories even your handwriting can’t believe anymore. As when I say, “I wish,”
I mean, “I’m leaving.” As when you command things of me, you command the sun to disappear behind the hills
without the benefit of time passing. And did I ever tell you about the whispers in the dark, my house at half-past martini?
This is my equation: Vodka plus footfalls equals promises on pillows, the lipstick stain of glasses
breathed at hopeful earlobes. Regret is shaped like a nightlight.

6. When I said, “I hope I never see you again,” I meant, “I hope when I see you again, I look different to you.” I meant: “Every time I try to break the mirror that you were to me—that you are—your power only multiplies.” There are countless memories of you cutting me from the floor. There are multiplying versions of you, seeing me, reflecting me, from the floor, from the whispers,

from the filament of your near-invisible fishing line words and promises; the curve and hook of C’s, of J’s, of S’s, of kisses, of denials. In every crunch and break and broken collapsing piece of us, I am chewing silver- glazed glass in teeth and gums. You have caught me. I’m on the land. I bleed.

7. All of us eventually disrupt the air so much, rose petals hit the ground.

8. Behind the girl with the single lens reflex camera there is always a fire alarm.
When you raise your hands, this sculpture you are, roses implode in their lack of water.
On my way back from the shredder I realized you had booby-trapped the safety pins. What else could I expect from all this merciless opening?  Tell me, tell me, my feet dismaying my swaying torso, tell me, what you hope to impose here. The edges of this room are the centers of multi-dimensional omniverses, the bent-out gravity of forgotten strands catching souvenirs of words turned into light.

9. Before we met I couldn’t read my own handwriting.
Now I know each defogged windshield glass I pass
allows your eyes to see me.

10. This census of disregard creates paper stand-ins for humanity. This consensus of disregard is a series of balled-up tissues mispronounced as grief before dislocated into wastebaskets.
On Saturdays, wherever you are, I still take out the trash for you.
On Sundays I’m still angry you forgot to buy more trash bags.

11. Depending on the angle you deposit these messages into mailbox, our frames become uneven. Our squares and rectangles, gulped and digested, are mishandled into rhombuses. From where I stand our shadows have elongated. From where you stand there is light—bright, exotic light—shining against your face. Both of us stand still as the lies we hung from unevenly wobble and dance around our figures. In this, both of us are paint. In this, both of us are lines.

12. Pretend there is a word for truth and pretend you understand it. This is the definition of wishing, of course. But isn’t it irresponsible to suppose your unclasping buttons, zippers, safety pins, snaps, won’t lead to heaps of regretful clothes on the canvas of regretful floors?
There is, of course, the brutal honesty of two people having sex in a lightning storm,
a power outage, and then the emergency generator rumbles and the back-up lights blast on.
When we meet again, let’s travel to red glitter beaches, so the two of us can look down and then agree—these footprints in the ground, these are the places
we dropped our spectacles. This is the spot where our lenses cracked, where landscape disappeared.

Guest Post from Coco Segaller

Our lovely intern Coco Segaller, who edited the good majority of video you see on this archive, is moving on to new adventures on the west coast. In the midst of logging and capturing, editing, and researching we had her choose a piece that stuck out to her to write about. Below is one of the more humorous perfomances that have happened at a Present Tense event, Benjamin Bellas and Justin Cooper at Rough Trade in 2007.
Thanks for all your help Coco we’ll miss you!!

Performance art, most would agree, is best observed first-hand. However, performances frequently are subject to fragmentation through word-of-mouth recollections and opinions. Justin Cooper and Benjamin Bellas’s performance was one that I did not witness, but definitely heard about. Watching it for the first time, I was struck both by how different it was than in my imagination when I heard about the piece, and how faithfully its witnesses had relayed the performance’s incredible humor.
As Sandrine recently said, performance and theater are two different mediums that share characteristics, which can often be confusing for thespians and performance artists alike. Cooper and Bellas have done a wonderful job of bringing out the best of the familiarity of stand-up comedy or theater, while totally juxtaposing it with the attitude of farce that performance art encourages. I was reminded while watching this piece of great absurdist comedy, like Monty Python’s Flying Circus, or George Carlin’s stand-up routines—with the added bonus of the (slightly) controlled mania of a dynamic performance. Jazz Wolf is a performance that one watches and wishes to pass on to anyone else who hasn’t seen it, and the Present Tense is pleased to share it with you.