MARTIN’S (WORDS LOST)
MOLLY BETH SEREMET
Remember someone you are not convinced that you ever really knew. Make your image of this someone as clear as day from night. Now embody him. And simultaneously make yourself present. Do not be him, but also avoid being you… as often as possible. Make space in your relationship for observers. Let the feminine be masculine, while teasing out the reverse as well. Wander the shared terrain between you and him, guiding without prodding, coaxing without dragging.
This performance focused on the figure of Martin Bernard Kendi (called Barney), my grandfather who died when I was three. My memories of him are patchy but intense, mundane but very, very clear. By exploring this generational pairing, I sought to unpack not a particular family dynamic but rather the nature of memory itself. How much do I really know about what it is I know? Can I be trusted? Am I the best person to tell my story? My grandfather’s story? When devising, I felt tensions arise when too much of my own voice seeped into Martin’s. Instead of talking about him, I decided to reanimate his voice through a pastiche of his written traces: tender letters written to my mother as a young college student, official Army Corps of Engineering Manuals he co-authored (albeit anonymously), fragments picked presumably verbatim from my cloudy toddler memory. Like the bridge-building instructions he left behind, I sought a meeting place for us. I stepped outside my childhood remembering and traveled to Iceland to inhabit his home away from home during a year-long military tour of duty. I stood in the ballroom of Reykjavik’s Hotel Borg, where American servicemen twirled with beautiful Icelandic women, and asked Martin to dance with me. I wanted Martin in the performance space at all times, afraid to rely solely on my own recollection, my own assemblage of text. An empty chair joined me. This chair, like Van Gogh’s Chair, invokes the absent sitter better than a portrait ever could. It is an invitation for co-presence.
“Martin’s (words lost)” seeks to be a dialogue, a duet for one with potential always for a second. A fragmented barráta of verbatim text, endless decks of playing cards, an empty chair and a 30-year-old version of my age three self remain, further traces of a life lived in abstentia.