I am introducing a series of conversations, reviews, and meditations on the challenging subject of healing through the arts. I am particularly interested in how contemporary architects, choreographers, dancers, writers, directors, actors, visual and performance artists privately pursue and publicly embody notions of healing for themselves and for audiences. I am speaking about art as a visionary and prophetic practice. And I am not embarrassed.

When I first conceived of a series of conversations under the title Healing Performance, I assumed the spiritual practice of my participants as a given. There have been countless interviews and profiles of established artists with spiritual practices, most notably those published by Performance Art Journal over the decade. However, I wanted to focus on the agency of spirituality in the world and, specifically, on the psychic and the material bodies of both performers and audiences in America.

I remember Christopher Isherwood writing about England after the Second World War, when it had become a minor power, confessing that while the country was sadly on its knees, it was finally becoming the humbler country he could be proud of. At a time when so much is bankrupt and broken in America (some might call it the end of empire), I find myself meditating on healing, at many levels, in terms of individual and collective reparation and renovation. While I could have used more political or architectural terms, I intuit that “healing” is the right term for our times.

Speaking in SilenceSpeaking in Silence performance, Honolulu, 2011. Photo credit: Ernesto Pujol

There is also the fact of what performance (as a verb) has become in our times: the desperate sales pitch of an economically, intellectually and spiritually impoverished people who have nothing left to sell but their bodies through the Internet. Thus, I am also interested in healing the medium, in remembering the origins and rescuing the criticality of performance art, its true agency in our culture.

If you Google “the healing arts,” you will find everything from massage to yoga-overall holistic care. There are spas, partnerships, networks, centers, schools and institutes. Missouri has a Board of Registration for the Healing Arts that legally requires, as of August 2011, all physicians to report their findings. If only we required the same of our art critics when they meet something outside their theoretical box of taste.

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