VIS-À-VIS SOCIETY / RACHEL KESSLER , SIERRA NELSON
The Vis-à-Vis Society, lead by founding poet-scientists Dr. Ink (Sierra Nelson) and Dr. Owning (Rachel Kessler), exhibited selections of new and ongoing research focusing on Vis-à-Vis Society installations and videos from the field and laboratory spanning over a decade. In conjunction with the exhibition, Drs. Ink and Owning facilitated a series of ongoing, live performance experiments, peaking on December 8, 10, and 17, in order to interact with, and build upon, their installation investigations.
In our installation and performance piece “The End,” we took inspiration from William Carlos Williams’ hypothesis: “A poem is a small (or large) machine made out of words. When I say there’s nothing sentimental about a poem, I mean that there can be no part that is redundant…. As in all machines, its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.” In “The End,” we built a large-scale word machine with 1000 unique ending words and phrases, printed on race bibs and displayed in stacks on a large wall. Drs. Ink and Owning then invited the audience to turn on the machine by embodying the words themselves: “Now it is time to end again. Choose how you would like to end … pin it on and wear it as you move throughout the gallery, into the city, and through your life. Combine with other words and phrases to form impromptu poems of ending, perhaps as a means of beginning something new.” Over the course of the performances, every audience choice permanently altered the composition of the wall, creating new poems as the forward-facing endings eroded over time.
In “The End,” overtly and obliquely, we asked: is this the end? What is the best way to end? How do I want to be remembered? Where do we go when it’s over? As we prepared this work during the fall, and through the 2016 U.S. election, our inquiry began to take on a more sinister and urgent meaning.
We hope that, in some small way, people found catharsis in interacting with our work, or at least a renewed sense of connection through collaboration. In “The End,” we tried to remember that each ending is only one of many that are possible, and that we have the power to choose, individually and collectively, which kind of ending we will move forward in the world.