Snail Philosophy for the New Year

Dear friends and supporters of Every house has a door,

This email is, among other things, a fundraising appeal. If you prefer, you may skip my end-of-year philosophy with this shortcut: DONATE. Otherwise, read on.

It’s a mid-December morning, and wind is blowing through palm trees. Lin Hixson, the director of Every house, and I have had the good fortune of 5 weeks at the Rauschenberg Residency on Captiva Island in western Florida, and we are now in the final days of that intense creative time. Our main objective has been to commence a performance collaboration with the extraordinary multi-media artist Essi Kausalainen, whom the Rauschenberg Foundation brought from her home of Helsinki to join us on this residency. Our project takes a micro-focus on ecological concerns, beginning with questions of interspecies communication. Essi arrived prepared with an in-depth study of snails. She presented a line from Francis Ponge.

“…he enjoys his perfect nearness, he is the friend of the soil which he kisses with his whole body.”

As we continued the work of making our performance, questioning, like many artists, how our concerns contribute anything of value in a bleak and turbulent time, the headline of a news article tucked away in the December 8th NY Times Business section caught our attention.

Tiny Snail Defeats Trump in Battle Over Sea Wall

The article tells the story of another episode in the nearly endless list of our President-elect’s corrupt business plans, this one an attempt to erect a wall to protect a coastal golf course in Ireland’s County Clare. A lawsuit by environmentalists, who had European Union rules on their side, succeeded in stopping the project. Their reason: to protect the Vertigo Angustior, the narrow-mouthed whorl snail.

With a 2 mm shell, this snail’s foot leaves a trail roughly the width of a single human fingerprint ridge. Its size and fragility offers a human like me a humbling lesson in scale. Apparently the Mayans saw the birth of written language in the snail’s trail. I don’t mean to treat this entity as a metaphor. I mean instead to propose that through 2017 we will regard the Vertigo Angustior as our inspiration.

We’ve had a busy 2016. In February we presented a work-in-progress showing of The Three Matadores at The Poetry Foundation as part of the In>Time Festival. In May we presented Testimonium at the amazing Knockdown Center in Maspeth, Queens, NY. In June, Lin and I began a collaboration with the astonishing Ann Hamilton on a residency at Bellagio, supported by United States Artists and the Rockefeller Foundation. In September we curated and co-produced Wasted Hours: An Evening of Performance, featuring work by Michal Samama and Alberto Aguilar at Sector 2337. In October, in the parking lot of Mana Contemporary, we staged a performance for the final Trunk Show, with a bumper sticker designed by Jordan Williams. I organized two performance/lecture evenings as The Institute of Failure, one in Chicago in February featuring performers from Forced Entertainment, and another at New York’s Prelude Festival in October, at which I also delivered a keynote lecture. Finally, our Development mastermind Sarah Skaggs relaunched our website with an ambitious new design.

We have plans for the year ahead. On March 11th and 12th we will premier The Three Matadores at The Logan Center as part of the DCASE OnEdge Festival. Anna Martine Whitehead has joined the project as Matador #2, as we have had to say a grateful farewell to taisha paggett whose life and projects have taken her in a different direction. In January we will spend two weeks at MANCC in Tallahassee to complete this large-scale performance, based on a text by the poet Jay Wright, and featuring the performers Sebastián Calderón Bentin, Stephen Fiehn, Tim Kinsella, and Martine. Michael Schmelling will design our lighting, and Sky Cubacub our costumes. We will publish a limited-edition reading companion with an essay by performance philosophy scholar Will Daddario. Regarding our project with Essi Kausalainen, Caroline Picard of Sector 2337 has invited us to present a work-in-progress of this performance in the fall. Essi will make her first visit to Chicago.

As we prepare to leave Florida and return to our frozen home city, we continue to re-examine our work’s relation to the country’s newly ascendant greed, intolerance, and grandiosity. Confronted with “the fierce urgency of now,” what can a small, devoted performance group accomplish? Maybe only this: snail philosophy – to embody, enact, and exemplify an alternative ethic of coexistence, and to do so at our own pace.

As always, and as I mentioned at the start, we need to raise funds for these projects. If you can make a contribution to Every house has a door, please understand that it will support as wide and inclusive a group of local, national, and international collaborators, both established and emerging, as we can manage in a sustainable way.  If you want to support this work with a tax-deductible donation, please go to our website’s donate button here: DONATE.

Whether you can make a tax-deductible donation at this time or not, we are and will remain endlessly grateful for your attention and belief in our work.

   Matthew Goulish
  Every house has a door dramaturg