Keith Hennessy defines queer in many different ways…how do you define queer?
Queer is the possibility of a river not a lake, mutable, with temporary pockets of stillness and rage. A multiplicity of velocities and viscosities, co-existing, influencing and remaining singular at the same time. A telescoping vision that manifests a 1000-fold prism (and then destroys it). A practice in endless questioning and uncertainty.
Does failure drive your work? Does dissatisfaction? How so?
I’ll answer this question on failure and art making from the perspective of my biochemistry research:
In manufacture-based science one is trying to manifest something that pre-exists, following a formula or protocol to reproduce. In this mode the inability to reproduce a pre-existing entity can readily define failure. One can continually go back to the protocol and see non-adherence or deviations from the formula, illuminating the potential point of failure in the system. Attempting to modify in order to improve the design can also produce failure (or a new success).
I work in discovery-based science where experiments are designed to ask questions of the unknown in order to interface the observations with the known. It is a continual disruption in a way. The newer observations are dismantling or at times reinforcing the current paradigm and building upon or destroying pre-existing models.
Experiments are often hypothesis driven, an anticipation of an outcome given the current information. Experiments can prove the hypothesis true or false or yield an in-between where parts are true and parts are false. In discovery-based science, the answer leads to more questions, and furthers one into the unknown.
This process has influenced my art. I have a discovery-based practice in my dance making. This approach allows the unknown to destabilize the known, refreshing and disrupting a temporal sense of understanding. Although this kind of instability can produce messiness, confusion, non-consensus, fear-based apathy from audience, peers, and oneself, these responses do not have to be interpreted as failure, but rather raw (neither good nor bad) information that can benefit and guide one’s research.
From this angle, failure does not reside in the outcome, but in the inability to design experiments or dances that offer insight into questions posed. Sometimes the right solvent for the question wasn’t found, thus yielding the same question (unchanged) at the end of a process. Additional failures would be to not learn from the experiment posed, to stop halfway, or to let an external source destroy my motivation for searching and following my curiosity.
From my perspective, failure is not a driver, but rather a circumstance that arises periodically. Failure is also dynamic and time-based: what I consider a failure today, ten years from now (or tomorrow) might seem like a success because my perception or values shifted.
This is how I feel on the generative days when my ideals feel fresh and alive. On those other days I find myself struggling against social and cultural constructs of success and failure, and I can beat myself up for not doing a good enough job in development, clarity, and execution. In these moments I ask myself, “why even bother?”
This is where my support network of friends and advocates are critical. I think this is critical for anyone who is attempting to do something they might not be able to do. Most of the time it is less important whether one succeeds or fails. It’s more important to be present for the myriad of experiences and insights offered inside an attempt.
Beth Graczyk is a dancer, choreographer, teacher and published biochemist. Her interview project artist2artist is regularly featured on STANCE in the interview section. For more information about Beth visit bethgraczyk.com