familiarly long conversations (2020)

performance in collaboration with Abigail Stoner

How can we understand rituals as a technique for identity management?  Jan Koster, in his article “Ritual Performance and the politics of identity” breaks down the concept of ‘ritual’ by distinguishing between three kinds of actions: simple ritual acts, complex ritual acts, and ritual performances. Understood as the smallest unit within a stream of behavior, simple ritual acts are defined as “non-utilitarian acts that are conventional and constitutive of the identity of some group”. When combined in ordered sequences to form complex ritual acts, and in even larger groupings, ritual performances, Koster sees these as “a community’s symbolic demarcation of a territory in space and time,” functioning to reduce a participant’s sense of individual identity.  In other words, ritual performances serve to develop a sense of ‘us’ against ‘them’. By using the experiences of a collective unity to generate a shared symbolic space, it manipulates identities into forming a sort of ‘tribal loyalty’. 

According to Koster, this effect occurs regardless of whether or not an intention exists behind the ritual act. The individual, as they focus on the details of performing something correctly, easily falls into a state of mind where a sense of meaning and questions of purpose for the context of the action is ignored, two properties that are fundamental to individualistic identification. Thus, any ritual performance becomes one that functions to remove a sense of ego from the individual. The loss of ego or sense of individual self then allows for the possibility of adopting other identities. More commonly, the result is the aforementioned strengthened sense of community.

As a part of the preparatory work for ton in ton, Abigail Stoner and I had developed a listening practice of sending sound recordings of our surroundings to one another daily for five to six months, taking this action to be a ritual act between the smallest unit of social relation, between two people. Over time, we varied the lengths of recordings or times of day we were to do this to observe if there were any obvious changes in the recording matter, either responding to one another's recordings with our own, or simply to capture the moment we were in at a certain time. From this, the recordings served as a small reflection of our everyday life, creating a shared audible space. To present our listening, we then composed a graphic score which we performed together over Zoom, which were then shared at ACHS 2020: Futures, a conference for heritage studies. The video above depicts a recording of the performance and provides additional commentary to the work.