Routine Performance

Martha Wilson

1972, 02:10 minutes, B&W, English


Once an individual performs a role sincerely, he is able to incorporate the routine more easily into his permanent repertoire. I am going to perform in some manner that I see as desirable, in hopes that this performance will enable me to act in this manner again in the future. The routine I have selected is “calm”. For the next few minutes I will be as calm in appearance as possible. This activity is ironic, however, because the person who is throwing himself into acting calm is paying so much attention to the play-acting aspect that he is seldom genuinely calm. Consequently, my activity cancels itself out. I am making my body perform as calmly as possible anyway, though, limiting abrupt movements and embarrassed grins into the monitor. If this were a real-life situation, some people would be taken in by my performance, responding to me as though I really am calm. This would reinforce my ability to continue the performance of desirable behavior on the one hand, but on the other, it would throw into contrast my interior sense of how I feel and my perception of how others see me. I might feel either cynical or relieved as a result of interaction with others. In other words, I might be able to take myself in, or I might not. But I can’t “take in” a video monitor, and I can’t see the response I am getting from the audience outside my own internal sense of audience. So in effect the one-way nature of the situation allows me to decree my feelings. I assert that I am calm.

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