Students wait expectantly. Professor opens door, walks into classroom, sits down at head of table.
Scans room, meets each student’s eyes.
Stands up, leaves classroom, closes door.
Opens door, re-enters room, sits back down. Reaches into bag. Opens book
Professor says: page. #? Saussure
The text above reads as a performance script of sorts. It was enacted by Robert Morris for students in the MFA program at Hunter College, CUNY on Monday, September 17, 2001. Our first day back. I was a second year graduate student in his Theory and Criticism course.
Morris was well known for rigorous and deliberate art and texts. He was also an early participant in the Judson scene, a locus of task-based experimentation. Had this been Simone Forti’s or Yvone Rainer’s class, might events be recounted differently?
We returned to the assignment. sign and signifier.
This semester, students and I have studied, enacted, and devised performances based on instructional scores from the Fluxus Workbook to Clifford Owens’s Anthology. We now rehearse alone behind a camera or computer screen. At times we may still find interesting ways to collaborate.
As faculty we are asked to hold space for our students — providing room for them to participate or lead. In light of the current moment I think of Morris’s inaudible pronouncement as an intentional failure. Failure to find or allow words, but perhaps in a way we held space together for that short pause.
Likely your generation will be the ones best able to define through words and works this inscrutable time. Hopefully shared together in person before long.
Peter Simensky is Associate Professor and Chair of SICA (Sculpture, Individualized, and Community Arts) at CCA.