Experiments and Failure

July 18, 2014

Whether playing catch with lemons or putting 100 choreographers into 4x4 foot spaces, the summer has been full of experimental Open Field projects. I constantly wonder if people will show up to participate and watch these events. When they do, I wonder where they come from and who these people are. How did they know to bring their mitt for the catch game? Obviously I credit the internet (and of course the Walker) with a certain amount of promotional assistance, but sometimes I think that word-of-mouth and the spectacle of action on the field are far more powerful. Regardless: they came! we shared! the experiment worked!

And sometimes it doesn't quite, and this is valuable, too. One thing I will certainly take a way from this work and apply to my own art practice is the importance of looking at outcome with a certain amount of objectivity: it's not personal, it's an experiment. Open Field is made possible by an amazing team of people that take on the grunt work and brainstorming of each programming day. Maybe sharing the responsibility is a way of taking failure less personally and even examining what failure means in the first place. This can only be a great thing-- when we feel safer taking risks, we risk more often.

Earlier this week I sat down to chat with dance makers Monica Thomas and Theresa Madaus for an article I wrote about their performance trio, Mad King Thomas. I've gushed before about the gobs of respect and admiration I have for these ladies (including third group member Tara King), both as artists and humans. Their work never stays complacent; it's always taking big risks. How do they do this without continually high blood pressure? Theresa talked about two important tools for moving their work forward:

1) Framing each project as an experiment
2) Allowing space for failure


I'd add to this: a safety net of people who remind you that you're great, regardless of whether the experiment flops or not (and maybe a few good collaborators to share the risk with).

What helps you feel comfortable with risk-taking? What was your biggest flop?


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