Ice, compromised vision, and colonial geography: These formed the conceptual scaffolding that supported Evan Calder Williams’ live essay, T-1, performed at Artists Space on July 21, 2015. Despite the three subjects’ ostensibly divergent histories, Calder Williams wove them into a complex web that expanded into several narratives that highlighted epiphanic and unexpected connections. The dynamic multimedia event—comprising video, text, and images projected on perpendicular screens, and a narration by Calder Williams—made me resent the limitations of my binocular human vision. From where I sat, I could either blurrily see the two projections with my peripheral vision by aiming my eyes at the gap between the screens, or frantically switch my focus from one screen to the other, continually wishing my eyes could turn like those of a chameleon to 360-degree vision. The multisensory experience made me feel my perception was torn in opposite directions, like the cognitive cacophony of a passionately brainstorming mind.
To call the performance an essay is both fair and unfair. Or, perhaps more importantly, it questions the history and potential future of a form so familiar to the literate world. If we consider the origin of the word essay, from the late-16th-century essai, meaning a trial or attempt, then T-1 was a live attempt. The spirit of experimentation and uncertainty associated with attempts and trials exemplifies the nature of Calder Williams’ performance; though the presentation was highly considered and intentional, it escaped the safety and finitude of sentences strung together on a page. Instead, T-1 opened itself up to an unexplored method of conveying information, becoming an expedition in search of new visual and sonic languages.
Throughout the performance, plump, white, slightly out-of-focus words faded in and out on the screen to the audience’s left. The transitions happened so slowly, and the window of legibility—when the new phrase was sufficiently visible and the old phrase sufficiently faded—was so brief that it prompted dizziness, as I snapped my head back and forth, trying to follow the unraveling narrative on the left while keeping up with the more rapid narrative on the right. On this right-hand screen, videos and images played in secession or were layered, accompanied by audio clips and Calder Williams’ voice as sonic elements, all punctuated by numbers delineating sections of varying duration.