Tidal (part 2), the final performance of Accumulation, existed in segments, or perhaps more accurately, in layers. Viewing documentation of the performance on the Accumulation website would suggest an experience entirely different from the one witnessed in person. The performance began several hours before the arrival of an audience at the announced time. The artist, Creighton Baxter, first worked to ‘reset’ the space, undoing the work of the previous week’s artist, who had aggregated all of the physical remnants from past performances into a single pile. Drawing on their memory of the space from past performances, Creighton returned each object back to its approximate place, recasting the gallery within its recent past. Looking back on this gesture, it feels simultaneously like a show of personal commitment to the work that developed in the space over several weeks time, and also as a prelude to the themes of recollection and revisitation that pervade Tidal.
Once the space was returned to its prior state, Creighton acted out a series of physical gestures that echoed previous performances by the artist. Dragging their body across the floor of the gallery, trailing a long thread of saliva from their mouth to create a nearly invisible line through the space; tying a knot with their hair; placing a selection of images on the gallery’s front windows and interacting with them from within and outside the space – all of this, performed for only a handful of people and the documenting camera, left behind only subtle physical traces, not easily discovered without some prompting. Towards dusk, the performance for an audience began. This portion of the work was not recorded in any way, save for the words: “For the final 2 hours of this piece, the artist used marks on their body as sites to activate the body as an archive.”
I came to the performance with the intention of observing and taking notes. When I realized that Sandrine, who had been dutifully recording the performances throughout the series, was packing up her camera, I began to realize that I would need to shift my critical expectations. This was reinforced soon after by the action itself, which took the form of a somewhat informal presentation, conversational in tone and intensely personal, on the floor of the gallery’s west corner, near its tall windows. A small group of people sat facing Creighton, who was beautifully framed by a setting sun in the window behind them, creating a haloed silhouette as it sank behind the horizon over the span of the performance. In an action revisited several times in the past with about a year between each iteration, the artist told personal stories, using their body as a point of departure and reference, a living archive.
In a way, it is impossible to ever truly describe an event as it happened, only to define its membrane. I similarly don’t feel that I can specifically repeat what Creighton shared in the performance. Uncharacteristically, I did not take notes during the performance, instead listening intently with as little barrier between myself and the artist as possible. I didn’t feel the typical audience-performer designation in the sense that, while this was explicitly Creighton’s space of activity with a passive albeit engaged audience, I still felt that there was room for us in the work. We were being acknowledged through the organic structure of the action. Though it consisted almost entirely of speech, it didn’t resemble a spoken-word performance or monologue, but felt more akin to the moment in a conversation where the emphasis shifts to one person, their thoughts build momentum and organically the other party makes room for them by simply listening. I don’t know Creighton personally and I was probably one of the few at the performance who didn’t, but I was by no means made to feel outside the circle of intimacy drawn by their words and actions – in fact their level of attention to the audience members as individuals, their informal approach and the sheer openness of their recollections led me to feel as if I knew the artist on a personal level. They expanded their personal space to create a profound sense of interiority.
While I feel that the details of what was discussed were meant only for those at the performance, I can describe Creighton’s method, and from that I will work to outline a few key concepts that were imparted. Creighton went systemically through the markings on their body – tattoos, scars, brands, their haircut – as an archive of relationships, traumas, abuses, and exchanges. The process of displaying, elucidating, shifting from present to past – itself a poignant response to the theme of Accumulation – wove a narrative of how individuals affect one another, and through physical and psychological marking, stay with them. To use Creighton’s words, “people can haunt you while they’re still living.”
And it’s the idea of haunting, of the Specter, that I think lives at the center of the work. How a person, or a remembered imprint of that person can function simultaneously as living and dead; how an individual can be both present in their body and outside themselves in instances of profound stress; how a space or a time can be so indelibly marked by a person that it carries their psychological traces – in the Tidal series Creighton has constructed a language of actions to make physical these elusive, often unstable concepts. They have worked to make their own body a site for this instability.
There are two audiences to any performance work: those who witnessed it live and those who can only visit it through recordings, remnants and personal accounts. How then does the private, undocumented and deeply personal segment of Tidal haunt the privileged audience’s viewing of the work's documentation, which does not align with their memory of the event? I look back on the remnants of actions that I did not witness as if I were privy to an alternate version of the performance – one that, unrecorded, exists now only in memory. I am forced to reconcile my memories of the performance with the documentation and the subtle physical traces in the gallery itself, which I returned to the following day. In this vacillation between internal and external documents a space opens up, an almost corporeal absence. I repeat the performance in my mind in an attempt at clarification, at setting my memory to truth, at connecting what was said to what was done.
Without going into specifics, Creighton discussed the importance of reinforcement through repetition for a survivor of trauma in their performance. The need to say something again and again, to reexamine it and scrutinize it, altering one’s language slightly in each iteration so that what remains consistent becomes one’s reality, this I believe is the process at work in Tidal. The physicality of performance as a medium lends itself to this kind of work. To charge a space with one’s physical presence allows this reaffirmation to happen at a deep, bodily level for both performer and audience. However, in Tidal, this intensity is tempered through a process of distancing created by the unverifiable elements of the performance: the immateriality of the traces left by the performer, the undocumented spoken action, the limits of disclosure.
I can’t speak about the work without referencing performances that came before and after, elements of the performance that I have not seen. Conversely I can’t speak directly of much of what I saw. I can only approach the work in a hazy area of possibilities, where past and present, private and external are blurred. If Tidal is meant, among other things, to be an examination of trauma and its remnants, this liminal space that Creighton brings the viewer into is profoundly affecting.
Revisiting Tidal in writing, contending with the disparate elements of the performance at a remove has produced an uneasy synthesis. While the undocumented talk feels like an inversion of the physical actions of the series, like their interior, the two occupy the same space in my mind. The site of the performance in my memory contains both knowledge and uncertainty, and I am haunted by what I know and do not know. I think here is the crux of the series’ title, the ebb and flow of what we can access of an event or a person, of their lingering presence.