This all started with a Facebook notification by CAR: “Fill in the blanks: I dance thanks to you, _________________, because _________________. #chicagomentors”
I replied: “Love this. I dance thanks to you, Lin Hixson, because you gave me company, permission to direct, and confidence in my vision.”
Subsequently, I got the call from CAR to flesh this out into an article for you folks, and I began to think about what I had written in that fill-in-the-blank – Was it accurate? Was I the right representative for this? If Lin read the article, would she consider that she mentored me? Insecurities all.
It’s just that Lin Hixson is this amazing director, you see. From a 21 year run with Goat Island to her now thoroughly established performance project Every House Has a Door with Matthew Goulish, not to mention teaching for years at the School of the Art Institute and running this amazing summer program called Abandoned Practices – Well, let’s just say, many people could call her their mentor
Lin says, “If I react to what I see or hear, it comes from not as attentive a space as listen/respond.”
My experience with Lin was short but sporadically intense and oh-so special in that way that helps things make sense, that way that gives more meaning to one’s practice and life. I took a class with Lin while in my MFA program at SAIC called, “The Art of Collaboration.” It was exactly what I wanted – thought-provoking puzzles of assignments requiring different levels of action and interaction each week. One week was an outright directorial experience, another week, “accidental collaborations” – exploring how two separate bodies in the same space might perform together unintentionally. One morning before class, Lin met with me and I showed her a video that I had put together from the documentation of an assignment – I called it a “sketch,” she called it a “piece.” She reminded me not to underestimate my vision and I’ll never forget the confidence I gained from that moment.
I spoke with Lin recently to touch base and reflect on this question of mentorship. First, I wax on a bit with her about possible different types of mentorship, how someone like me could consider her a mentor, but so could someone who has worked with her for ten or twenty years. I ask if she considered her teaching a path to mentorship… “So much of my teaching is in dialogue with the students,” she says. “I don’t even like using the word student.” She puts an emphasis on listening to the people she teaches. "Mentorship is caught up in being present and listening and responding even in a group situation or class to what a individual needs. A lot of that is giving permission. And a lot is listening to whomever I’m working with.”
“It’s key that the person you are mentoring becomes able to listen to their own voice, separate from you."
“We come to each other with knowledge,” Lin continues. She says we have to be aware of and careful with that knowledge. Perhaps it’s in deference to that knowledge that she remarks on there being no “Lin Hixson methodology” for teaching or mentoring. It’s more of a dance of listening and responding. “Reacting is different,” she says. “If I react to what I see or hear, it comes from not as attentive a space as listen/respond.”
I point out that through her non-method she seems to yield a lot of great things, other mentors, in fact, as these group situations breed a lot of growth when permission is given. And somehow mini-mentorships pop up inside the overarching mentorship/teacher-to-student structure. She agrees and remarks that these things happen no matter the age difference too. “Of course, there are people who have experience from age,” she admits.
I ask her specifically about mentorship not just in her teaching practice – which is what I had experienced – but also in her performance practice. Both Goat Island and Every House are collaborative projects where she directs. She says in these situations, say if an old student from SAIC begins performing with Every House, the mentorship has to fall away. It’s a “tricky transition.” The teacher has to be killed or slayed. She goes on, “It’s key that the person you are mentoring becomes able to listen to their own voice, separate from you. Like parenting… it’s really complicated this way. And really important. The most satisfying thing is that the person stands on their own two feet separate from you in the end. That they become artists on their own. You become peers.”
“You must see the person always as an artist — from the beginning.” In her over twenty years of teaching, she’s been validated over and over again in this process. In this same way, Lin loves to be taught. “It’s important for me to have mentors. Rachel Rosenthol, Simone Forti. I can be mentored by books, by following someone else’s works. I look for others to mentor me.”
Lin does tend to think of herself as a teacher in all situations, in all her relationships, trying to come from her best self. A way of being in the world. It helps her be more responsible in her words. “It’s not always a ‘passing on of knowledge,’” she says. “And when I drop that idea of teaching, I get in trouble.” Why? Because, for Lin, the ethics of teaching is a way of being in relation with the entire world.
Lin Hixson co-founded Goat Island in 1987, and Every house has a door in 2008. She is full Professor of Performance at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and received an honorary doctorate from Dartington College in 2007. Goat Island created nine performance works and toured extensively in the US, England, Scotland, Wales, Belgium, Switzerland, Croatia, Germany, and Canada. Her writing on directing and performance has been published in the journals P-Form, TDR, Frakcija, Performance Research, Women and Performance, and Whitewalls; and included in the anthologies Small Acts of Repair – Performance, Ecology, and Goat Island, Live Art and Performance, Theatre in Crisis?, and the textbook Place and Placelessness in Performance. Hixson has directed two films, Daynightly They re-school you The Bears-Polka and It’s Aching Like Birds, in collaboration with the artist Lucy Cash and Goat Island.
Lin Hixson and Matthew Goulish, after a twenty-year collaboration as co-founders of Goat Island, have formed Every House has a Door to create project-specific collaborative performances with invited guests. This company seeks to retain Goat Island’s narrow thematic focus and rigorous presentation, but to broaden the canvas to include careful intercultural collaboration, and its unfamiliar, even awkward, spectrum.
Victoria Eleanor Bradford is an artist and arts administrator working between Louisiana and Chicago. Her current work involves pursuing a rigorous studio practice, spearheading contemporary cultural programming in Louisiana, directing programs for Chicago Dancemakers Forum, contributing editorials to Chicago Artists Resource. Victoria received an MFA in Performance from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her recent work has been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago Artists Month, Open House Chicago, Chicago Artists Coalition, and Design Cloud Gallery.