Finding the still point: mindfulness and performance

Prof. Anton Krueger asked the audience to spend a few minutes in a mindful state, chimed in by his Tibetan prayer bowl. After those spare, quiet moments, the Think!Fest venue felt particularly calm, our restless minds more focused. Yes, it might have been a personal peace I was projecting on to the rest of the room, but it somehow felt communal. And that shared stillness was Krueger’s focus. In a talk entitled, “Performing Consciousness, Achieving Mindfulness”, he spoke about the relational aspects of mindfulness, particularly in performance art and theatre.

Krueger traced the history of the growing mindfulness revolution. Recent research about mindfulness has revealed fascinating links between the body and mind, and has resulted in its application in health, therapy, sports and the arts.

Prof. Anton Krueger

Although mindfulness is a secular tradition, it has its roots in Buddhist and Hindu meditation practices. Krueger explained how William James coined the term “stream of consciousness” to describe the thoughts that flit in and out of our minds in the late 19th century. But this image of the mind as a stream is also found in centuries-old Buddhist meditation traditions. Mindfulness involves being aware of the thoughts that pass through this stream, rather than being overwhelmed by the strength and frequency of its course. Krueger emphasised how mindfulness aims to develop a calm, stable and mature mind in a practitioner.

Mindfulness has many practical and goal-oriented applications, such as pain reduction, improving the performance of competitive sports teams, or even training snipers in the US military. However, Krueger spoke about how including “compassion training” in mindfulness practices is one way of moving this method beyond its instrumental (or even ethically-ambivalent) uses, as it involves the development of empathy and kindness.

Beyond its broader applications, Krueger is particularly interested in mindfulness in live (or performance) art, which makes effective use of stillness and silence. His interest in the intersection between performance and mindfulness was sparked by a show by Swiss artist Yann Marrusich at the 2013 National Arts Festival called Bleu Remix. In the performance the artist sits, unmoving and naked, in a glass box. Gradually, a mysterious blue liquid starts to stream from his pores, eventually turning his whole body an ashen, otherworldly shade.

Krueger was interested firstly in how his stillness embodied calm and contemplation. In an interview with Marrusich, he also found out that the artist spends six hours preparing for the show with “presence”. Learning about Marrusich’s approach to his art led Krueger to consider how minds potentially affect one another. He noted how the motionless artist constituted a still point which made the audience members less restless and more focused.

Krueger also began to consider how stillness and mindfulness may serve as a form of resistance. For example, he discussed Erdem Gündüz, a Turkish performance artist, who became known as “The Standing Man” in June 2013 after he stood silently in Istanbul’s Taksim Square as a protest against the repressive Turkish government.

Krueger emphasised how not all stillness is calm, creative or meaningful: he provides the example of the ubiquitous “living statues” who pose for coins in many tourist hotspots. The stillness he’s interested in is not merely a lack of movement, but involves a creative, conscious, non-judgmental attunement with one’s mind and body.

By Andrea Thorpe

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