The Space Upstairs is home to The Pillow Project, or as I’ve come to think about it, The Cool Side of the Pillow Project. Everything Pearlann Porter creates in the space has an element of cool, uber imagination and, despite what people often think about improvisation, time-consuming effort. Porter’s latest work, (a) Long Here, felt like a dream in the dead of sleep, when you’re not sure upon waking if two minutes or the entire evening has passed.
Last Friday, I saw the tenth performance of its 16-night run. Because the concept focused on time, an extended two-week show worked in their favor. The space was set up like a gallery; for the first hour, audience members were free to look at the visual art.
Each piece was titled by the amount of time it took to create. In One Hour and Forty-Four Minutes, Porter drained an entire pencil in one sitting. Below the abstract drawing, she listed other tasks that take the same amount of time, like driving from Pittsburgh to Erie, PA. In another, titled Four Seconds, Porter smeared multiple paint colors on a canvas in a work that could have easily taken four hours or four weeks.
The most tedious and striking work took 80 hours to complete. Porter glued individual grains of rice onto a black canvas. Rather than manifesting in straight lines, the effect was wavy and resembled the movement of sand on a beach. The piece questioned whether spending extensive time on a project produces more value.
At 9:00, the movement performances began. Every evening, Taylor Knight performed An Accumulation of Nows. The improvised solo took place in front of two wooden doors that, when closed, stood as one bare white wall.
The cool-factor came in the technological realm. Each solo was videotaped and projected onto the wall the following night. The effect was an accumulation of Knight’s images essentially performing with him. For example, on the 10th evening, Knight performed alongside 9 previous replicas of himself.
Live sound was mixed by Anna Thompson (and other musicians previous nights). The music was also recorded from night to night and layered for the following shows. A steady beat came from an earlier incarnation of the work, then Thompson’s live atmospheric hum overlapped.
Knight began facing the wall. He sat at a music stand and directed his own carbon copies as a conductor of his multiple selves. He eventually stood, alternating between stillness and movement. Sometimes we watched images of the past move about, and sometimes his present action was the focus.
There were spooky moments when Knight’s figures appeared to be opening and closing the doors, and times when his old images intertwined, all while Thompson sang quietly in a haunting tone that matched the mood.
At one point, Knight stood on a chair gesturing simply with his arms while several replicas on the wall behind him did the same. The result was reminiscent of Lakshmi, the eight-limbed goddess of Hinduism. In another instant, after a movement phrase of leaps and floor-work, Knight sat cross-legged as if in meditation; on the wall, his old shapes seemed to rise out of his present-day body. These moments were a testament to Knight’s skills as an intuitive and wise improvisor.
The second and third works were created in different ways. Porter came up with Un/Re years ago and had yet to bring it to fruition. Friday, Kaylin Horgan and Alex Bright performed the duet. Dramatic string music by Arvo Part set the scene. At one end of a diagonal line, Bright held on to a large tree branch. At the other end, Horgan crouched, wrapped in translucent fabric that connected her to Bright.
An exquisite tension between the two was palpable. Bright turned in place at an incredibly slow tempo, essentially pulling Horgan and the fabric toward her. Porter purposely wanted the audience to exercise patience. While we knew what was going to happen, we watched with rapt attention.
Eventually, the two came together and the audience collectively exhaled. Although little movement occurred, the dancers excelled in bringing emotion to a simple structure.
The third and final piece, For As Long As They Fall, was planned the same day of the show, an exercise of using time quickly. An hourglass sat in the middle of a brightly lit circle, emptying sand under Porter’s careful and almost-stationary watch. Two others, Roberta Guido and Sara Friedlander, moved hurriedly around her, shifting weight and changing directions constantly.
While Porter kept her gaze intently on the hourglass, changing the shape of her body at a crawling pace, Guido and Friedlander became more frenetic, adding energetic gestures that rivaled the stamina of their feet. Their speed brought another dynamic to the evening.
The show left me wondering, would I spend my own time in intense concentration of one undertaking? Or would I hustle to get more accomplished in a short period? Although each approach in the show held weight, there was something compelling about the long durations that captured my attention in a profound way. Perhaps it is the rapid-fire, smartphone day and age that had me craving the slow and steady.
Regardless, I enjoyed blinking my eyes out of the dream-like fog that is always induced by the coolness of the Pillow Project.