An artist’s reflections on a residency at The Watermill Center
by Vesna Mačković
Editor’s note: Founded by avant-garde visionary Robert Wilson in 1992, The Watermill Center is an interdisciplinary laboratory for the arts supporting young and emerging artists through its year-round Artist Residency Program, International Summer Program (which has gathered more than 80 artists from 30 countries this year), as well as Education Programs, and open rehearsals. The Center also presents exhibitions, public programing, and offers tours of its 20,000-square-foot building, eight-and-a-half acres of grounds and sculpture gardens throughout the year. The following essay is contributed by a 2017 Watermill Center resident.
The stillness of my body not having to rush anywhere. Silence of the regular world with sole loudness and noise coming from birds and bamboo leaves. All that mundane emptiness that creates fullness – that is how my Watermill residency started.
After breakfast we start our day with what’s known as “morning meeting,” during which more than 75 people take five minutes of stillness.
This may be my favorite ritual in the daily routine. Bob knows it. Bob knows stillness, he knows silence.
I always believed that stillness is the most important thing to understand in order to excel in the performing arts, either as author or performer.
You have to know how to stop and stay that way for as long as it takes. And it’s you, the artist, the author and performer, who decides how long it takes.
And then, people from different continents arrive. Many people. More than 70.
They’re my people – artists – a whole new extended family for the coming weeks. Immediately a rush of ideas, creativity, poetry, visuals, music, sketches and rubber gums and some more sketches. Followed by fabrics, wires, materials, cardboards, color cans, plaster, glitter and some bananas.
Finally and mostly; sweat, back pain, too much sun, or cold rain and wind, scratches, ticks, painkillers and working into the night. All too soon followed by sunrise, work, sweat and back pains… you got it. All of that mixed with conversations and laughs in a myriad of different languages.
That is how we, the residents at The Watermill Center, spend our days in this green oasis while the day of the Annual Summer Benefit gala approaches.
My journey to The Watermill Center from my hometown Zagreb, Croatia took a total of 24 hours.
As I switched from two airplanes and two trains to get here, I never anticipated how intense and different it would be compared to my usual artistic experiences.
My performance, Salute, for FLY INTO THE SUN is an adaptation of a 10-minute video performance I filmed in a devastated iron factory in my hometown of Sisak, Croatia. The difference now is that the 2 hour performance will be done in a live setting instead of video. Try to imagine the thoughts racing through my mind – is this what I’ve flown 24 hours for!
A team of Summer Program Participants were assembled to replicate the walls from this factory. They put up plaster that will be torn down during the performance, as easily and as exhaustingly as the communism went down, and as dusty, dirty and chokingly as capitalism and fake democracy came to our everyday lives.
As I perform, I destroy these fake stubborn plaster chunks to shreds with my hammer hoping to destroy all unpleasant histories and present-day devastations and corruptions. All the while I remain out of breath. I fight for my breath.
Do I get out of it? Or do I crash down similar to the plaster under my continuous and willful hammering?
Finally the silence happens. The stillness arrives.
Two hours later.
Thank you to The Watermill Center. Thank you, Bob. Thank you, artistic family of the world.
My flight back will last more than 24 hours. I’m sure of it.