This piece is one in a series of critical, contextual essays by Christin Call in response to Seattle performances. Here she responds to Daniel Linehan’s guest artist residency and performance at Velocity in September 2013.
Cartesian skepticism is a method of philosophical inquiry that was used by Descartes in his famous statement, “I think, therefore I am.” In order to arrive at this conviction, first Descartes began by doubting the truth of his beliefs. Could his physical reality be deceiving him? Could his mind be giving him falsehoods? In the argument with himself, Descartes plows through the nots in order to get to the root of what can be affirmed. His argument leads him to conclude that physical reality cannot be proved, but the process of thinking cannot be denied. Thinking is, and that means, for Descartes, that he is. Daniel Linehan’s work Not about Everything functions in a similar way by defining what the piece isn’t about in order to arrive at an idea, also elusive, of what it is.
Renée Descartes does not have Linehan’s boyish choir-boy comport.
Linehan, as he spins inside a circle delineated by art texts, magazines, and newspapers, tells us in repeated phrases what his piece is not about—repetition, memorization, physical tricks, boredom, endurance, therapy, whirling dervishes, the artist’s ego, technical virtuosity, lack of technical virtuosity, pop culture, politics, social change, art’s role in society, post-modernism, Derrida, critical workshopping, etc. He speaks in synchronization with a droning tracked chorus of himself, and as he repeats certain phrases over and over, slight variations occur—the rate at which his spins, the diameter of his circle pattern while spinning, the emphasis of his words, the rhythm and pitch at which he says them. It lets us know that none of this is improvised, but carefully planned. The slow progression from idea to idea is meted out with meticulous pacing. Thus, close observation and patience are rewarded with subtle surprises. It’s clear why the cherubic Linehan presents us with such a minimal visual and movement landscape as his concerns here are complexly ontological and wrought with failure from the outset. In his skeptical methodology to understand the nature and importance of his desire to make art, he must attempt to figure out what is true and not true about his desire and then what is important and not important in that desire. This methodological skepticism—kinetically depicted by the spirograph pattern of his spinning where the center remains untouched—presents an impossible task to the audience. Because when we are told to not think of a pink elephant, of course, we immediately conjure an image of that very thing. This phenomenon, called ironic process theory, is studied by psychologists to better understand the connection between our intellectual limitations and suppression of thoughts and desires. The ol’ id/super-ego battle, you could say.
Having already informed us over and over that the piece is not about himself, he takes out a letter he wrote to an unmentioned person about his frustrations in showing the piece in workshop. He reads aloud that his work was being labeled as non-technical or ego-centric or process-oriented, even though he felt none of these things were accurate. But, how do we not imagine him facing off with colleagues, having just finished showing the work-in-progress—their faces each tinged with a different level of earnest disapproval, cold analysis, or a slight lip-curl of distaste—as they ascribe their own artistic concerns to his. How does this image not inform and become a part of the piece? And how can we not feel impacted by the artist’s ego-asserting right to delineate the content, context, and method of viewing his work while fully indulging this image? It’s a catch-22 in which our inability to follow the artist’s instruction undermines and reinforces the skeptical contingencies on which the work is based. Linehan takes out another piece of paper later on—it’s a petition that he signs, folds, and sticks in a stamped envelope, then hands to an audience member to drop in the mail after the show. This is a demonstration of his desire for art to make a difference. But after this demo he disqualifies it with the comment that signing petitions doesn’t really do much in the grand scope of difference-making. After all these declarations and about a half-hour of constant spinning, something slowly changes. His words continue to morph until he makes the statement, “This is this.” In the Aristotelian sense, the potentiality of this piece, and, by extension artmaking, is contained in what is. What this moment comprises and what artistic materials are utilized function to demonstrate distilled potential, embodied optimism (with limitations) and analytic desire. He shows the same goals for his group work-in-progress of the evening, The Karaoke Dialogues: Seattle Trial. He is, in form, an artist for whom slight shifts in modality and construction accumulate over time in order to slide along a spectrum of meaning. In Karaoke he has begun a work that uses the conceit of sight-reading classical literature and theater-related anecdotes in syncopation with set movement to convey an estrangement between musings about human laws/morality and the fantastical/humorous settings in which we find them. Again, Linehan uses variations in speed, timing, and pattern, as well as combinations of reading and moving that have a certain insight into awkwardness. In some musings that I was writing prior to the show I ended up writing the statement, “Making art, perhaps in particular the performing arts with its human-to-human medium, is an act of attempting companionship.” The human brain is postulated to be able to store up to one hundred terrabytes of memory—that’s three hundred years of television. Impressive, but then take into account that there are seven billion brains out there in the world right now. How does the artist reconcile the strong desire to take up the space of some of those terrabytes with the impossibility of achieving it? Companionship—devoting yourself to a small group of people who can, through experience and time, come to know you deeply—is one answer to this dilemma. Linehan’s two works are necessarily insular in that they will only speak to a certain kind of audience, but they do so in a way that invites us to acquaint ourselves with a lively thinker and innovative artist.
Nobody knows Christin Call, the dancer/choreographer/poet/artist, explainable by part-existential, part-marketing reasons. As a fair weather critic she has written articles for F5, Kansas City Review, The Ulrich Museum, SeattleDances, and now, happily, STANCE. Her poems have appeared in the lively journals Boston Review, Eastwesterly Review, KNOCK, and Anemone Sidecar. The Mountain? The Mountain., her self-published book of poems, is available through Lulupress.com. Daniel Linehan photos by Olivia Droeshaut and Jason Somma.
Feature Photo courtesy of dlinehan.wordpress.com