In the Spring of 2017, CFW awarded multi-discplinary artist Lea Fulton a six-week residency wherein the artist would create a new work based on the given theme of "the unfinished work". Fulton's work explored our theme through an immersive installation centered on the experience of forgiveness. The carefully crafted piece was installed in an empty storefront on the Lower East Side, where a single table filled with sand, occupied by the artist for 14 consecutive hours, invited strangers into an urban stillness where they could experience or practice forgiveness, with the artist and other strangers, however they felt lead. The following is the artist's own account of the work from conception to execution.
I began this project holding my old baggage. One suitcase of fear of not finishing anything, and ironically the other hand holding the bag which holds the fear of defining myself by the things I do finish. I am afraid to “speak”. Along the way I met with a spiritual counselor who uses an ancient Peruvian shamanic tradition to help us discover and move through blockages in our journey. We found together that there was something unsettled in my third chakra, which lies just at the solarplexus and is the space where intuition (lower 2 chakra energies) and power of heart and mind (upper 4 chakras) are integrated and navigated. This was important work for me in relationship to this project. Artistically I’m in constant pursuit of receiving visions for my work and yet I have a deep distrust of myself and anyone else who claims to be speaking as a mouthpiece of the Divine. It became clear to me that this is a tension in my practice that I am working through. In the journey of this particular project I felt like I was able to rest in the conviction that the idea was indeed God breathed. My own responsibility was to move ego and doubt out of the way, attend to the purity of the idea as best I could through discipline, and allow the idea to breathe itself into being through a simpler me. I began to understand that the idea would not be breathed into completion until the people came to participate. This was a relief. This was a true offering, an emptying - the economy of giving is receiving. I want to be filled up by the work of this exchange.
Practically speaking, this was the first time I had even been able to fund myself to write and conceptualize a project. What a gift in this new paradigm of valuing my time as an artist. Throughout April and May I scheduled for myself 2 morning hours twice weekly to be devoted to reading, meditating and writing in response to this project. The rigor of that was new for me and has drawn out in me a new working paradigm.
The revolution must be irresistible. This new mantra that was given to me is guiding this next season of my life as an artist began in this process. It challenged the thrust of the project to shift along the way. Conceptually, the idea of forgiveness as a ritual that we must participate in and practice, gave way to a challenge for me: will this image (the performance itself) be one of such beauty and mystery that it will be irresistible to those that are open to hearing and seeing it? I began to concern myself more with aesthetics- form and style, not in opposition to concept, but as a precursor.
Its strange how you fight for something for so long and then suddenly realize it can be done a completely different way. I had originally designed the installation room space to be separated into two different areas: one holding the sound and the other for sitting at the table. I fought for it even until the work began at 8am on performance day. Around 8:30am I walked into the back space for a minute, to get tape to hold the curtains a bit better and I was surprised by my first guest performer on my return. She was sitting in the seat I had reserved for myself, at the head of the table. I think she wanted to be able to look out the window onto the street. I stayed in the wings for a while, curious that this first guest had come in while the table was empty, though 20-30 people had passed that window in the 30 minutes I was sitting there. I would consider throughout the day the space of anonymity and witness and the tension between these two things. However, the clarifying teaching about having her there was that the curtained off space that was to hold the meditative audio journey was completely unnecessary. In fact I realized that these things were not separate at all but must exist in overlap. As soon as she left I got the ladder, ripped down the curtains, turned the table to its horizontal position and took a deep breath. This was right.
The performance day continued to be full of surprises. The audio meditation was 3 minutes long. Most people that entered stayed for at least 5 repetitions of the audio but some performers of the ritual stayed for close to an hour. It became clear to me that this kind of quiet nest, in the middle of the busy city, is a necessity, not just a privilege. Being a fixture of a still space for 14 hours, I began to see the city in its rhythm. 80% of people that walked by were on their phones. A handful of them would look up and notice me, maybe slow down, but kept on their way. A smaller amount would take it in, acknowledge, and then keep walking. An even smaller percent would venture in to the risk. But once they came into the nest, the power revealed itself. Something about the language, the ritual of taking off the coat and bag and sitting at the table, the deep listening, the visceral feeling of putting a hand into the sand, the stillness of the space, brought people to a deep longing. This longing was to tap into the Divine Reality- the thing that is truest, the thing that connects us all, that brings us to stillness. It wipes away opinions, the filing away of dualities, and brings about the acceptance of what was past and puts us into now. This is the power of meditation and the collective thrill of action.
Throughout the months of preparation I must admit I barely thought of what the act of sitting for that long would be like. It was a task that I knew I must endure for the sake of the community, as a prophetic imagination come into reality and I trusted that the endurance would supernaturally meet me. It did. Not without struggle, but the bliss of being a vessel and being in the hand of God in this struggle was enough. God was made present here.
The most difficult part of this was meeting the reality of the New York City economic mind in asking for a space to perform this work. The endeavor of finding someone who could get on board with my idea was a big part in establishing this new mantra of the “irresistible revolution”. It’s not enough to have a good idea, we must be able to articulate that idea in beautiful form and function to another person, so that they want to get on board. Having the generosity of the grant from CFW was of ultimate importance in this way as it establishes a credibility that is necessary for irresistibility. It helps people get on board with the idea that this must happen. And for that I am entirely grateful.
Moving forward, I would like to take this project on the road. I’m looking for opportunities to travel the project towards West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and beyond. My vision is to set up the project in storefront windows or in parking lots and invite people in. I’m working to create a partnership with another dance company that is currently in the midst of a cross country project that brings people into embodiment and conversation.