Article 1. Dancing in the Dark

By Beth Elaine Wilson

In the days following 9/11, Catskills-based artist Eeo Stubblefield was in California, working with a group of people at Anna Halprin's Sea Ranch Collective. Halprin has pioneered a unique, healing approach to movement and dance, and has attracted a number of followers (including Stubblefield) who have explored this rich territory both personally and aesthetically in innumerable ways over the years. A collective shudder passed through the group at Halprin's retreat when the World Trade Center came down, and most of the group assembled there spent the following days working out their fear and their grief using Halprin's methods. Stubblefield found herself sitting on the beach, methodically scooping a hole in the sand with her hand, taking care not to allow any grains to tumble back in, then rolling a few feet down the beach and repeating the whole process. She was soon joined by others at the ranch, forming a row of people all reproducing this quiet, rhythmic, meditative action.

While the atmosphere at Sea Ranch was very conducive for this improvised activity, Stubblefield found herself criticized for her obsessive need to watch the nonstop television reportage of the disaster. "Why subject yourself to all that?" she was asked. "We don't want to hear all of that horrible stuff." And so she found herself huddled up close to the only TV in the place, the sound turned almost all the way down, throwing a cloth shroud over herself and the television so as not to disturb the others. And she could not peel herself away from the spectacle, the incessantly repeated images of planes crashing into the buildings, and their subsequent collapse. For her, it was as necessary as breathing to immerse herself in these images, to feel her way through the darkness and the despair that they captured.

In her recent book Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag makes the argument that simple exposure to graphic photographs of the carnage and destruction wrought by war is not the way to provoke pacifism in the viewer; to the contrary, over-exposure to such images can create a sort of callousness toward their content, invoking exactly the opposite reaction, desensitizing the viewer rather than arousing empathy for the victims of violence.

Yet there is no determining the absolute meaning of a particular image. Photography is a notable case in this respect. Despite the tremendous amount of visual information a photograph can impart, the sheer level of detail it can report in a single moment, I can still have only partial access to its subject unless I have a descriptive caption to tell me when and/or where it was taken, along with the identity of any people in it, and so on. Believing a photograph is perhaps the most frequently committed act of faith in the modern world today.

But perhaps we've been thinking about pictures in the wrong way all this time. Instead of thinking of meaning as something inherent in the image-composition x points to content y-maybe the meaning of any given picture is the result of its context, a complex situation, a set of relationships that in and of itself is non-visual. Perhaps the correct point of linguistic comparison for the image is the letter in a word, or the word in a sentence. The letter "f" doesn't create the meaning of the word "form" all by itself-it's dependent on the sequence of sounds that follows it as well, which is why "form" is different from "from." And individual words are then given specific application only within the sentences that contextualize them, adding another layer of potential new meaning.

Fast forward to the recent, still unresolved war on Iraq. Stubblefield found herself once again immersed in images and information that she found difficult to bear, and just as difficult to tear herself away from. She found that the American news media wasn't presenting the whole story; surfing the Internet at night (after putting her granddaughter to bed), she found accounts of the carnage in Iraq from sources around the world, and began downloading hundreds of gruesome images of civilian casualties that never made it to the American public. She learned that the use of depleted uranium ammunition during the 1991 Gulf War has led to enormous numbers of birth defects in Iraq, and found photographs of the resulting deformed children. Just as she had related in a horrified, visceral way with the devastation of 9/11 through the media, so she connected with the Iraqis under fire by the US military.

She began thinking about how to make art out of this experience. Stubblefield's process is fundamentally grounded in the body. "I never score a feeling, I only score motion," she says. Out of these movements and actions, however, inevitably arise many powerful emotions. For her performances, she begins with a rough script of movements and ritualized activity for groups of her volunteer performers. As this issue goes to press, Stubblefield is in the heated final planning stages of a major production that will have taken place near the end of August, her most overtly political work to date. (She is collaborating with freelance journalist and activist Helene Vosters to maintain the political edge.) Haunted by the Iraqi dead and injured, she has organized the two-day performance ritual "These Are Our Deaths," involving an ensemble of 27 performers, many of whom are flying in from places as far flung as England and California especially for the piece.

At the center of the piece is a process of community building among the participants, who are to create crude dolls out of sticks and grass, covered with a square of silk-on which has been screened one of 300 different graphic images from the Iraq war, drawn from Stubblefield's dark cache of downloads. The dolls are then to be carried on stretchers from Phoenicia to Woodstock, where the dead will be acknowledged in a wake, the details of which are still being planned. (One of the exasperating-and wonderful-features of Stubblefield's work is that it is open to change and suggestion up to the 11th hour. She works with an open process that calls for the active input of all of her performers, refining their suggestions to both pare down to and enrich the core of the piece.)

Frustrated by being told repeatedly that the subject matter of this piece was too controversial, with too many negative political repercussions, Stubblefield has spent a tremendous amount of time finding public locations for this event. The very fact that she's encountered such resistance says much about the very necessity for the work in the first place. Its message-"These Are Our Deaths"-rings with a double-meaning. We all share in the tragedy that is Iraq today; by the same token, these deaths have happened in our (American) name. The gap in meaning between the two is big enough to drive a truck through. Artists like Stubblefield should be commended for opening up this territory, and asking us to think thoughts and work our way through feelings to grow toward a deeper understanding of our identities in this mess.

Stubblefield will be documenting the piece in photographs to be exhibited later-viewing them will not be exactly the same as participating in the event firsthand, but the performance is so organized around striking images (the dolls, the shrouded performers) that the photos should capture a vivid piece of the performance. Placed in context by that live experience, these images will then ask to be understood in that charged, open, emotional context. The issues that both the performance and the resulting images present may be dark and difficult to take, but we shrink away from them only at our own peril in the long run.

Copyright © 2003 Luminary Publishing. All rights reserved.
PO Box 459 New Paltz NY 12561


Article 2. Traveling with the dead
Performance piece on Iraq casualties to unfold in Phoenicia field and Woodstock streets center


"I'm sorry this year I'm coming in with a sad story, but that's the story I have to tell." Eeo Stubblefield [ Eeo Stubblefield ]

by Violet Snow

Eeo Stubblefield, whose performance piece Women Walking with Chairs set the hamlet of Phoenicia on its ear three summers ago, is preparing to unleash her latest work on August 21-22, culminating this time on the streets of Woodstock. While Chairs was puzzling, visually arresting, whimsical and open to interpretation by viewer and performer alike, These Are Our Deaths carries a somber and straightforward message about the civilian casualties in Iraq. "I'm sorry this year I'm coming in with a sad story, but that's the story I have to tell," said Stubblefield, who followed up Chairs with the joyous Mingling with Hats two years ago, but found herself politicized by the events of 9/11 and the war in Iraq.

These Are Our Deaths will begin with 23 local and international artists creating a village in a natural setting near Phoenicia, building huts and pathways, interacting and preparing food, while observing complete silence. "Most of my pieces involve silence," said Stubblefield. "It changes the experience and the focus. It makes you go inward."

After the spending the night in their village, participants will walk down country roads, shrouded in black, as they gather grasses to make hundreds of dolls and dress them in gowns bearing images of horrors in Iraq. This task is designed to convey to the performers the state of a people coping with a steady stream of dead and wounded bodies. The procession will be transported to Woodstock, where it will turn into a wake, becoming part of the Woodstock Poetry Festival. Finally, on Saturday, August 23, the public may meet performers at a fundraiser for the children and hospitals in Iraq, held at Stubblefield's home in Mt. Tremper, with food and dancing to the music of two bands, Circus Amok and Paprika.

The two-day performance ritual had its roots in the months preceding the Iraqi war, when Stubblefield - ordinarily not an Internet user - began spending four hours a night on the web, trying to find out what was really happening. On a Pentagon website, she found a study done for the first Gulf War on "how civilians would be affected by taking out the infrastructure of water. If there's no water for two weeks, would cholera set in? If it's polluted, what kinds of diseases would result? And that's what they did," she said. "They bombed the dams and the water systems with bombs made from depleted uranium, and the water was contaminated. Children being born in Iraq now are severely monstrous."

She located websites with photographs of deformed Iraqi infants. The American Gulf War Veterans' Association reports that babies with high rates of birth defects are also being born to American veterans of that war. "The same thing will be happening in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan - anywhere we've bombed in the past ten years. Depleted uranium, nuclear waste, is getting into the soil, the water, people's skin."

Once the war began, Stubblefield continued her nightly research. "I would go online and read newspapers from around the world, and discovered that Americans are not seeing or hearing about civilian casualties in Iraq. Then I went to get that day's casualties, so I knew there were lots." After nights of digging through websites and looking at photos of wounded Iraqis, she said, "The next morning I would go down to the post office and everyone would be walking around as if everything were normal, and I would want to scream, 'Stop what you're doing! Do you know what's going on?'"

To the people telling Stubblefield that her piece is unpatriotic, she says, "Our biggest problem is that we're not educated. I don't want to offend people, but I feel this story needs to be told." Her search for a suitable performance site took her through several towns, some of which were not sympathetic to her efforts. "Ed Sanders, bless him, welcomed us into the poetry festival. I want to thank the people of Woodstock for letting me come with such a sad story."

Despite the obstacles, many people have been supportive. Herbert Leber of Screen-Tech gave her a low price for printing the Internet images for the dolls' dresses, which will be created by Susie Darrow. Stubblefield has been consulting with Manna Jo Greene, the local activist who recently visited Iraq, regarding the typical diet there under the economic sanctions. Performers will eat like Iraqis, with restrictions on the types and amounts of food they receive.

Stubblefield is in the midst of raising the $5,400 she needs to stage the event, which requires portable toilets, food, costumes, film for documentation and other items. A few participants need airfare. Many of the out-of-town performers - from New Zealand, Malaysia, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Israel, Denmark and California - have worked for years with Stubblefield and her mentor, Anna Halprin, who conducts exploratory movement and theater retreats in California. Also involved will be Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver of the world-renowned performance duo Split Britches. Co-directors are David Greenaway, a former Jim Henson puppeteer, and Helene Vosters, a cultural anthropologist on the core faculty of New College of California's Activism and Social Change Program. Photographs and videos of the performance will be exhibited in the future to fundraise for the children of Iraq.

The piece is still evolving and will continue to change right up through its unfolding. For times and places in which viewing will be permitted, check the Thursday, August 21 issue of Alm@nac or look out for posters. Tentative viewing schedule:

• Thursday, 8/21: Preparing the Ground, Woodland Valley, Phoenicia, 3-7 p.m., $10 donation. Call (845) 679-7943 or email for reservations and directions.

• Friday, 8/22: Gathering the Bodies, along Herdman Road and High Street, Phoenicia, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Traveling with the Dead, from Phoenicia to the Comeau Property, Woodstock, 5 p.m.-7 p.m.; The Wake, throughout Woodstock, 7-8:15 p.m.

• Saturday, 8/23: Reception

© Woodstock Times 2003



Article 3. 'Deaths' march with us


By Bonnie Langston , Freeman staff 08/21/2003

Phoenicia-to-Woodstock ritual memorializes Iraqi casualties

People in Phoenicia witnessed a curious sight in the streets three years ago - about 30 women in black shrouds and crimson gowns walking silently with chairs, a performance piece created by Eeo Stubblefield of Mount Tremper that was named, aptly, "Women Walking with Chairs."

Another group of Stubblefield walkers are out and about again today, preparing for a two-day performance that starts in the Woodland Valley section of Phoenicia and ends at a cemetery in Woodstock.

This performance piece uses black shrouds in the form of burkas, head-to-toe garments worn by traditional Muslim women, in a work called "These Are Our Deaths," a remembrance of dead and wounded civilians in Iraq.

Two dozen volunteer performers are spending today in a grove in Woodland Valley, preparing themselves as a community to travel Friday to Woodstock, performing certain rituals on the way.

Members of the public are welcome to visit the "community," Herdman Road in Woodland Valley, between 3 and 7 p.m. today, making a donation at the entrance.

Funds raised today and at a reception Saturday at Stubblefield's home in Mount Tremper will go directly to injured children and hospitals in Iraq through the humanitarian aid groups Voices in the Wilderness and Bridges in Baghdad.

Friday's events will be broken into various segments on the trip to Woodstock, starting with "Gathering the Bodies," a ritual doll-making using grass and other ma-terials, including pictures of dead Iraqi men, women and chil-dren, that will take place along Herdman Road and High Street in Phoenicia from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The next segment, from 5 to 6 p.m. Friday, is "Traveling with the Dead" from Phoenicia to Woodstock by bus, the "Walking in the Dead" from 6 to 7:30 p.m. from the Comeau property off Tinker Street to the center of Woodstock and, finally, "The Wake" outside a cemetery on Rock City Road.

All events will take place rain or shine.

The volunteer performers will in-clude local people, other Americans from as far away as California as well as representatives from Denmark, Israel, Malaysia, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, England and New Zealand.

Besides Stubblefield, organizers in-clude David Greenaway of England, the puppeteer for Yoda's eyes in the movie "Star Wars," and Helene Vosters, an activist, teacher and journalist from the San Francisco area.

Stubblefield said she realizes not everyone will be happy with the piece. Several businesses and funding groups have balked at associating their names with it, and Stubblefield suspects some in the public may find the performance piece unpatriotic. But she said she means no disrespect to soldiers killed in Iraq and their families.

'I don't distinguish between their dead and our dead - but there is one difference," she said - that is, the U.S. government chose to enter into war and the Iraqi cit-izens did not. About 10,000 of those civilians were killed or wounded, she said.

Stubblefield also is concerned about symbols such as the burka that have taken on a negative meaning to some Americans. Three years ago, somebody threw bot-tles at one of Stubblefield's shrouded women.

'Their (Muslim women's) dress is getting so confused, misunderstood, feared. It's almost as if women in burkas are terrorists. The dress frightens people."

Stubblefield was at a collective in northern California when the terrorist attacks took place Sept. 11, 2001. She started talking with other art-ists at the collective, many of them from other countries, and started rethinking the role of the United States in the global community.

Then came the war in Afghanistan followed shortly by the war in Iraq.

"I started to feel socially irresponsible as an artist that I wasn't speaking," she said.

Now she is, not that it is easy.

"This has been the hardest piece I've done yet. People do not want to attach their names to it. It is an incredible reflection of what the piece is about," she said.

Because of lack of sponsorship, Stubblefield for the first time is requesting financial assistance from the public. So far, $1,900 of the total basic costs of $2,500 is still needed, Stubblefield said. All artists, including people documenting the event, and support personnel are donating their time and providing their own transportation.

Saturday's reception at Stubblefield's home, begins at 6:30 p.m. Visitors are asked to bring family, friends and food to share and to enjoy dance music with Paprika, an international group from New York City. Donations will be accepted at the door.

Stubblefield hopes the performance ritual will be a consciousness-raising, educational event as well as art. The research she did, and the photos of Iraqi citizens mangled and dying, broke her heart and moved her to action.

'It's my way of telling them we do care," she said. "There are people here who do care."

To contribute to the performance event or to children and hospitals in Iraq, send checks to Eeo Stubblefield, PO Box 283, Boiceville, N.Y., 12412. For information, call Stubblefield at (845) 679-7943, e-mail

©Daily Freeman 2003



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