Savannah Theis: "How to follow the individuating process?"

Savannah's 20 minute presentation for Maelstrom Slow Dance - DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, June 2017



Savannah Theis cartwheels across stage, energetically bringing the audience’s attention to the stage and herself. Her laptop is set up so that she can show drawings from notebooks projected via webcam on a larger screen behind her. She introduces what she is about to do, share some of her drawings in her notebooks. She calls them “practices” and says, “I wanted to share with you some notes on my thinking and reading with the body.” The development of her drawing practice takes form in six books, where the colors, shapes and lines help identify the quality of the experience she was having when she drew them. She presents the drawings by interacting with the webcam, deliberately moving selected pages towards and away from it. Talking about the internal conflict of speaking and not speaking, she says, “my inhibitions to speak affect my ability to speak up, so I want to practice.” She shows drawings that look like energy radiating out of the throat area, asking, “how to follow my body and experience?” and, “How do I know that my experience is reliable?” These self-searching questions appear in Savannah`s live observations of her own body, and sometimes the connection between her body and the things she is doing are very simple: she says that her mouth is dry and drinks water. Partway through the lecture performance she puts the laptop on her lap and turns it to face the audience while looking through a notebook from her own perspective, going into the feelings ascribed to and associated with colors, textures and line qualities. Beyond the close-up of the pages, the audience sees itself projected on the screen. Her formal choices are interpreted from her personal perspective. In the last, most recent book, she tells us “this is the first time I drew my impatience” and “another headache, but drawn from another angle”, “another vice on my shoulders”, “feeling inverted, a few days before coming here”.

Ray Brassier remarked that he liked the drawings, especially how they are “enveloped in performance” where Savannah is showing the drawings and doesn’t explain or give theoretical justification, but rather gives a direct presentation “charting affective states of physical and psychological sensation”. He says that this prompts a question about how to follow an individuation process (psychological and ontological) and reminds us that Lacan distinguishes between the ‘I’ (the subject of enunciation, the pace from where one speaks) and the self. “It could have been solipsistic, but it wasn’t because the affects she shows are experiences of the ‘I’ and not of the ‘self’. They are charges of the ‘I’. This ‘I’ could be anyone’s ‘I’.” Furthermore, he points out the connection between this idea and practicing. “What’s forceful in this piece is its simplicity and directness. The one mention of theoretical reading may be unnecessary - because this is an experiential piece. The junction between the I and the self is foregrounded and this point in between is interesting.”  

Beginning with comments on the performative aspects of the lecture performance, Gabi Ngcobo remarked that she enjoyed the way Savannah entered the space and saw it as a “movement towards the space of performance using her own body.” Ngcobo said she “felt like she was watching a very personal conversation with the self and some of the people mentioned in the performance.” She further expressed that she wanted to be outside of it and not be pulled into Savannah’s experience. “Bringing in the audience and the books pulls and pushes and allows one to stay inside.” She enjoyed the feeling of the performance being unscripted - it is a vulnerable and fragile position to take and she found it brave of Savannah to deliver it this way. Though she was perhaps resistant or reluctant to feel it with her she was still affected by it.

Rachel O’Reilly interpreted it through the relation of art to exegesis, and the concept of individuation in title. When Savannah set out the notebooks, O’Reilly found herself obliquely thinking of Doris Lessing’s novel The Golden Notebook, in part because of the subtle confrontation playing out in a daily practice that happens in both. It “makes us rethink the theorists you bring up in the presentation” because O’Reilly did not think many of the drawings were about speaking. On the positive side, because of that, Savannah interrupted the performance expectations. On a more critical note, O’Reilly found Savannah’s text “generic and unspecific compared to the specificity of the drawings.”

Marina Vishmidt pointed out that the questions around process in the lecture performance were the same in the thesis. For her, the “optic of process” brought a few other elements into focus: “You can see bifurcation of subject and person on one hand, and individuation of affect on the other hand. The self becomes a landscape for those affects. This brings up the question of foreground and background, gestalt theory, etc.” For Vishmidt, the question of process implicates the framework of art therapy and highlights the way that “drawing practice rebounds on the individuation of self,” while also posing a question about the difference between an art practice versus a daily practice of drawing as a process of studying and training. Finally, she asks if there is something specific to the context of presentation (in the presentation of the drawings as a presentation of process).