how to get started

What do you do when you don’t know where to start?

Climate change terrifies me so for many years I turned away from it. Once I started turning toward it, then I had to figure out where to start. What can one person do? I did some online research and got some important but unsatisfying ideas about recycling better and reducing my carbon footprint. I read some books and I tentatively talked to my friends and family about what they were doing. My mother, who runs a non-profit for movement and creative healing for social change, told me “you already know everything you need to know in your body now.”

“You already know everything you need to know in your body now.”

Alana Shaw, The Body Now, Turning the Wheel Productions

So I turned toward what I know. I’m an artist and I know how to make things in video and interactive media and my deepest and earliest training is in dance and theater. At the time, I hadn’t been performing for many years but I sensed that this issue, of climate change and just transitions, had to be embodied, it had to be brought down to the scale of our lived experience. So I decided to turn toward climate change with dance and make the audacious leap of assuming it mattered. And again, I didn’t know where to start, so I did the next thing I know how to do, call in my resources and ask others what they know. I put out a call on social media tagging in several artist friends of mine and asked them:

“What do you do when you don’t know where to start?”

The outpouring of response I got is a treasury of creative practices for initiation and a manifesto for turning toward what is, arriving into radical presence, and responding creatively.

DF: “Seeing what’s there:” I like to walk into the studio, drop my bags and start improvising right away with no warm-up, no prior thought. I like to see what an unprepared state will come up with. Sometimes it has bearing on the piece one is working on, sometimes it doesn’t.

KK: I like to talk to my friend for four days to find different ways to describe what animates what I think I’m working on, and then together create a big grid of discrete compositional assignments.

EBT: I make a short intensive residency–scheduled “feedback” folks who will come in…to get things rolling…following gut in the time- if i want to paint or write during that time–it is fine, or computer listen or whatever–i have a hard time with this during sch…

VU: 1) Set yourself in motion via some physical problem, game or trick, 2) glean promising nuggets and/or phrases, 3) tweak/alter timing, facings, spacings; exaggerate, diminish, 4) push and prod the movement toward the impossible and uncomfortable. 5) Once you have this motherlode of movement, you can assess it and tweak it from an intellectual perspective.

NS: alone: sketch; with others: whiteboard brainstorm when wanting to get on your feet: emulate/write in the margins of others’ work; in the evening: read about other work or philosophy…

RB: Day 1: Schedule shared space with another artist you trust and feel no competition with. Give yourself 20 minutes to tackle the core/most scary/most salient part of the problem. Show it to them. Repeat 3x.

RL: Nap

EB: for starters, don’t do anything anyone tells you to . I’m a fan of the hash-it-out-with-a-friend method. i’m also a fan of index cards. writing down anything you consider material so that they are moveable parts. also a fan of diagrams. spatialization of an idea. but that’s for my own brain-organization. but what you describe above reminds me of something I did as an answer to an invitation by a friend to do a “walk+talk”, which ended up being an improvised lecture demonstration sort of thing and for that, writing down the talking points/anecdotes/key concepts/ideas/anchors on papers in the space and navigating them differently each time was useful for me to practice alone and with others, and making it a performance-practice made it easier to bridge the gap between the two situations (being alone in the studio and performing for others)… hope that’s helpful…

JG: Bring someone into the studio with you! them what you have, they will have a suggestion/ opinion. That usually sparks me to know what I want/don’t want.

MBS: authentic movement, then “fake movement” sample and recombine from favorite youtube videos (create a dance karaoke list) and dance them!! Mix the score of Product of Circumstances of [Xavier Le Roy] with with your own…fake retrospective…

A beloved improvisor and mentor, Simone Forti. (animation started with this beautiful image from her work, Sleepwalkers, 1968/2010. Photo: Jason Underhill.

ID: do a kind of 1970s Simone Forti’s crawl into the studio, perform it and crawl out of the studio immediately. Let it resonate, work on some ideas – only come back to the studio or any other working environment if you feel the necessity – but wait at least 2 weeks. If it does not trigger anything – drop it and start from scratch…

crawl into the studio…

RL: Always start with a nap!

EB: “Find a place you love and trust it for a while.” (I think that comes from oblique strategies by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, innit?)

MK: Erwin Wurm – one minute sculptures

TR: Change your perspective and get out of the studio. To think, to see-think, listen-think, and move.

WB: Ask others to send you assignments. Roll dice for randomness.

ER: Start with simple images or sound and move from there. Live inside that movement world for a while, it tells you what to do next once you’re there for a long time. Then you are free to interrupt, contradict, add layers, points of nothingness, or keep as is! The base is the hardest, then things get more interesting…

HL: making a complex set phrase – just walking into a studio, warming up, and in linear fashion clipping one movement to the next to the next

TO: I just say “What am I doing?” over and over (not ironically, although one could) and then spend the rest of the day chasing invisible butterflies or I guess you could call that dancing. Honestly I don’t do anything planned other than force myself to stay in the slightly inchoate state that defines “beginning” for me and I don’t try to make any “knowledgeable” decision for weeks.

JJ: my only two cents: keep going. especially when you get stuck – keep going.

keep going. especially when you get stuck – keep going

How do you begin a new project? Do you gather information, assemble your materials, call in collaborators, enjoy an empty space or page? What do you do when you don’t know where to start? If you assume that you already know everything you need to know to get started, what is one small action you might take today to create livable futures?

1 thought on “how to get started”

  1. This is wonderful and such a testimony to collaboration and sharing. Thank you! My next action: I
    want to step more courageously into telling my story – whether in movement or word or sound or breath.

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