Oh rock, my sorrow, 2022
Oh rock, my sorrow
Performance by Sarah H. Paulson
November 27, 2022 / 1pm-3pm
Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (Brattleboro, VT)
Improvised music by:
Travis Laplante (saxophone), Eduardo Leandro (percussion), Charles Overton (harp)
Jessica Batten, Megan Buchanan, Sandy Hong, Sarah H. Paulson
Handkerchiefs dyed with earth-based pigment by:
Patricia Burleson, Linda Fitzgerald
Oh rock, my sorrow is a performance about relationship and interconnectivity.
Rocks have always been steadfast friends to me. I regard them as living, breathing natural lifeforms, a constant source of beauty and wonder. They are of the Earth, no matter where they are. They are witnesses of time, of history, and of humanity’s relationship to the great rock that the Earth is.
Many of us collect rocks, wear rocks, make art from rocks, and more. They are like touchstones to the depth of life beneath and around us. Consciously or unconsciously, they remind us of our implicit connection to the Earth.
Recently, I opened a closet in my home and discovered a large box full of rocks I had collected from places all over the world. Some came from Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Italy, my backyard, the Jersey shore, Maine, Arizona, Florida, walks in the woods, and beyond. Some rocks had been purchased at rock conventions. Some were given to me by friends as a symbol of our friendship. Many originated from places I cannot recall. As I opened the box, I was flooded with a combination of elation and grief. What magnificence! And yet, how could I have hoarded so many organic works of art, far more exquisite than any art I could have created myself? How could something so primal end up in a domestic closet like a forgotten bin of toys no longer interesting to a growing child?
When Megan Buchanan first told me about her project, REGENERATIONS: Reckoning with Radioactivity*, she spoke the words, “What have we done?” She spoke from a deeply personal place and with overflowing feeling. The sound of her voice resounded within me, and I have stayed close to such grief and reflection as this performance has taken shape.
Oh rock, my sorrow is both an I’m sorry and a thank you:
I’m sorry for forgetting the Earth, for stealing her generous riches. Thank you to the Earth for the constancy of life, of majesty, and of friendship.
Throughout the performance, rocks from my collection are given into the hands and hearts of those present. As gifts from the earth, they are passed back into the world. They are wrapped in silk handkerchiefs dyed with natural pigment. Each handkerchief is a human symbol of tears and sorrow, or a gesture of farewell. The silk is then wrapped around the rock, like an embrace. Each rock, wrapped like a present, is a welcome into the possibility of a more connected sense of relationship.
Symbolizing the pressure required for transformation, the performers counterbalance and engage the force within one another, alternating between stillness and movement. The three musicians, all of whom have a close musical relationship and friendship, improvise with one another, contributing yet another layer of intercommunication.
Renate Aller’s photographs both house the performance and expand the performance space. Her photographs evoke a sense of reverence and awe in the face of such vast natural expanse. Oh rock, my sorrow seeks to honor these photographic and mysterious windows, at the same time as interacting with them through movement and sound.
Oh rock, my sorrow is gesture more than it is performance. It is an act of personal intimacy, intended to touch upon the universal.
-Sarah H. Paulson
About the dyed handkerchiefs:
"The colors in this process came from hand-collected rocks, soil, clay, and rust from rivers, mountains, stream beds, and roadsides. Also gathered by hand were the colors from lichens, oak galls, butternut, and black walnut. Each pigment was honorably gathered with care and respect. The experience of gathering is intimate and asks the gatherer to be in conversation and relationship with the earth."
*Megan Buchanan invited Sarah H. Paulson to perform Oh rock, my sorrow as part of Buchanan’s Performance Residency Series at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center. The Residency Series will culminate with Megan Buchanan’s second iteration of REGENERATIONS: Reckoning with Radioactivity, an interdisciplinary performance project of poetry, dance, projection, and live music that focuses on the spent radioactive fuel, radioactive water, and soil left behind by Vermont Yankee in Vernon, Vermont; explores some of the impacts of nuclear energy throughout the world; and includes expressions of grief and love for the earth.