Background: a performance created on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, September 11, 2001. Erika Lutzner, the host, is a poet who lost her husband Jon in the attack. I only know Jon through Erika’s memory. At the time of the attack I didn’t know any victims personally. Back then I lived in Albany, NY, experiencing the shock at a distance. On September 31, our family made a pilgrimage to still-smoking ground zero. In 2007, after I moved to NYC, the attack took a more personal dimension. My son became close friends with Matt, a fireman who knew 70 of the people who perished on 9/11. He worked there as a first responder before becoming a specialist at Fresh Kills Landfill recovering remnants of the people killed in the attacks. Then I met Erika who had been presented with her husband’s wallet a few months after the attack. Both Matt and Erika are very private about those experiences.
Process: no words sound right, no action appropriate. Grieving is a personal process and pain is not removable. On long meditative walks along Shore promenade where the outbound faces the Verrazano Bridge and the inbound the Twin Tower-less Manhattan cityscape, it becomes clear that the performance needs to be stripped of any seductive or plaintive pathos. It has to be elemental, secular and séculaire, so as to channel the primitive and ancestral beyond me, us and them. Three words stand out: Remember-Reflect-Mark.
Action: a 48 X 12” piece of white paper, unrolled towards audience, sides held down by seashells. Ten pieces of charcoal brought back from my Pyrenean fireplace, placed on sheet. On the side, white pigments, an oyster-shell, a stick of cadmium red soft pastel, a timer set up for three minutes. In front of the unrolled white paper I announce: Remember-Reflect-Mark. Then step on and crush each of the ten pieces of charcoal. The crushing makes its sound, as does the dragging and the rubbing. Sound leads marking. On all fours, rub hands on paper, rub face. Back on knees, pick up oyster shell with white pigment, pour overhead. Back on all fours. Timer goes off: deep bell strikes ten times. Marking each strike with cadmium red soft pastel. Grab my drum and chant. Audience members are invited to mark the piece.