Claudia La Rocco’s lectures on criticism and consciousness

If someone told you that you time travel frequently throughout the day, would you believe them? As part of the 2011 Honors Lecture Series sponsored by Barrett, the Honors College, the New York Times performance critic Claudia La Rocco was invited to discuss time, criticism and the nature of consciousness.

From the beginning, the audience knew this was going to be a different and interesting kind of lecture. Thinking that I would be a passive audience member for the next hour, I comfortably sank into my seat, only to hear that La Rocco wanted everyone in the audience to find a space anywhere in the studio: a corner, a stair, another person’s seat or even onstage.

Once everyone found his or her spot, we were told to find a content position and to be as silent and still as possible. Knowing the lecture would be centered on conscious thought, I actively tried to be as aware of the moment as I could during the four minute, 33 seconds duration. This proved to be a challenge. La Rocco’s point was proven: for the most part, people are afflicted with scattered attention.

As a critic for The New York Times, La Rocco understands what it means to be an engaged audience member.

“Even if you’re not part of the show, paying attention is participating,” she said. “A passive audience member doesn’t make sense to me.”

La Rocco is heavily involved in many art scenes and communities in addition to being an editor-at-large and dance editor for the Brooklyn Rail, on the faculty of the School of Visual Art’s graduate program in art criticism and writing and a poetry author for Off The Park Press.

With all her experience in the art world, she commonly sees disengaged viewers. From time to time she’ll notice a person sleeping at the ballet or another staring blankly at paintings in a museum. La Rocco’s lecture addressed what it means to find meaning in our surroundings, why we should and how to do this.

La Rocco aptly provoked insight and thought among the crowd through the lecture structure she fashioned.

“It grabbed my attention more than just a typical speech. She made me think about my state of consciousness, and how crucial it is to stay conscious as a writer,” said Gabi Nelson, an audience member. “Oftentimes we walk around as zombies. Even between last night [of the lecture] and this morning, I have felt myself thinking more about my state of mind.”

Along with the talk, a ten-minute video was shown of dilapidated buildings in the desert. The jumble of concrete slabs exemplified how little the buildings do but mark the passage of time — a direct correlation to what happens to the human condition if we’re not proactive in our current place.

People often subconsciously choose to avoid the present. La Rocco believes that paying attention to our current existence is to “practice a particular type of consciousness.” People forget “how rich and floating the minutes” are if they “spend their time divorced from the present.” By sifting through our troubling pasts or contemplating our hectic futures, we allow ourselves to live in a “false sense of knowing.”

According to La Rocco, zoning out is a tempting option, which is why we must engage instead of “slipping out the back window of the mind.”

“We’re not good at sitting with ourselves,” she says. “This is why our thoughts jump into different scenes and places.”

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