This exchange was put together in conjunction with the production of “I Lost Something In The Hills Or A Painting Of Blue Roses”, a play staged at U.S. Blues (Brooklyn, NY) on Dec. 12th and 13th, 2015. The dialogue took place over email during December 2015and January 2016.
What was your role in this production?
Terry Hempfling: Amanda described my role as an “apparition”. I found definitions of the word apparition to explain it’s meaning, generally, as an unusual or unexpected sight, a ghostly figure, the act of becoming visible or appearing, a manifestation. A demonstration of emotions contained by a space in time. With these thoughts I performed the part of the Magic Flier using choreographed movement and structured improvisation.
Kayla Guthrie: I was the “keychain” character.
Scott Roben: I was asked to create a “sidewalk” set piece on top of which the funeral procession scene would take place.
Sophy Naess: I was asked to create textiles for the dancer to accumulate through contact with the characters in the play. I made one piece representing the dead cat, and another for the love poet.
Amanda Friedman: I wrote and directed the piece. I also helped make set and costume elements.
How did you develop or interpret the prompt you were given? How (if at all) did this relate to your studio practice/general headspace of working?
TH: I approached this piece from a different angle then I usually do. I was incited to interpret an emotional space that existed somewhere outside of my body. I wanted to bring this space into my body, digest it, and put it back out as an offering. I do not know whether I was successful but it was an interesting task. It reminded me of the process of becoming a character in a play.
I used the opportunity of interpreting an “apparition” to think on the meditative experience of performance. My time in the studio became more about the task of staying inside a contrived mental and physical space and less about making specific movements for a set piece of choreography.
KG: The thing I noticed about my approach to the role was just that it was not “me”. It sounds obvious, but actually, in all my previous experience of performing (as a solo artist), I always appear as “Kayla Guthrie” and there is a sense of wanting to create and delineate that image and representation of myself. The keychain, in comparison, was much more neutral. I felt little pressure to fit into a role, strangely.
SR: I had recently been thinking about the second season Lisa Kudrow’s HBO series “The Comeback” in which she plays Valerie Cherish, a middleaged Hollywood actress who is producing a reality television series that exposes her personal life at the same time that she’s shooting an HBO series in which she stars as Mallory Church, a degrading caricature of herself. As all these frames within frames that are inflected with embarrassment in different ways, I guess it seemed to relate to thoughts I’d been having recently about frames but also certain kinds of shame in relation to painting. I thought a sidewalk, which is meant to be walked all over, might be a good place to deposit some of that! I love one scene in the show where Valerie is forced to perform in front of a camera in a green screen suit, so I tried to match the color of the fabric I used as closely as possible to Chroma Key green so there’s potential for some kind of postproduction.
SN: I've been working on a loom for the past year, painting on the warps to create figurative imagery that becomes embedded in the textile through the process of weaving. I was excited to approach weaving from a very different angle in my response to the invitation to make a piece that should represent the spirit of a dead cat, and be performed by a dancer. The framework of the play prompted me to work more sculpturally, to consider the possibility of working with disparate materials to create an object that would be activated “in the bigger picture” in a specifically theatrical setting — in terms of its relationship to lighting, to a dancer’s body in motion, the duration of its appearance, etc. It had been said of the cat : “a skittish runt, she died peacefully.” I thought of an animal that comes and goes without ceremony, and yet is resplendent in the simplicity of its relationship to its surroundings. I started collecting gnatty, coarsely spun wool and jagged scraps of leather and suede, as well as very fine and shimmering metallic threads, to structure this dynamic. My garment for the love poet was a more straightforward painting of stars and felt like less of a departure from other painted fabric works that I’ve made in the past.
AF: I put it to myself or more dared myself to develope the production and make it happen. This fall I had written a script by planning out scenes through making paintings. The paintings helped me imagine the places I was writing about and the writing helped me focus the paintings as places in time or scenes think miseenscène. These play paintings are all titled after different scenes in the script and done in relatively different styles from one another. This is the first time I have made paintings and or a play using this method.
Did your expectations of the project change as you continued with it?
TH: Things changed drastically when, near the end of my process, the wearable paintings were finished and I was able to work with them. Working with these materials added a new element of movement and shape that really opened my mind. There is the body. There are the paintings. There is a revealing of the paintings, an obscuring of the body, collaging, recomposition, a revealing of the body. I have never done work like this before. Working with the paintings was very exciting.
KG: I drew from my existing experience of being in front of audiences, which made it easy for me to be the person to open with the intro, for example, or just feel comfortable sitting in the tableau formations and being exposed for periods of time onstage. In terms of expectations, I was surprised by how subdued and minor my lines and scripted movements were, in comparison to Amanda’s detailed character description for the keychain that she initially shared. I realized that a lot of the energy of the play came from the unspoken.
SR: I didn’t have many expectations or plans for the particular form of my set piece before I improvised it in the gallery in the days before the play. I was (pleasantly) surprised, though, by the extent to which it was deranged by the audience and performers walking on it during the two performances it got completely covered in dusty footprints, and parts of the fabric got pulled out of the arrangements I had deliberately set them in beforehand, neither of which I really foresaw. I’ll also say that one of the exciting parts of contributing to this production was the fact that Amanda really generously set very few expectations. And I also wasn’t so aware of any of the components other than my own, so it was nice to arrive on the evening of the
first performance and be as surprised as anyone else by what was happening.
SN: I discovered some interesting new materials in my quest for shiny things to weave with. I became a magpie.
AF: I gave up much control (more than I would’ve imagined at the onset) as the project progressed. I had to fall into it because there were too many moving parts to really know what was going on with all involved at every moment. I had to trust it would all come together. This made me feel like the project was something bigger than myself, which was exciting and unexpected.
Do you associate painting with performance or dance? If so, how? Please put forward an artist, artwork or other example that relates to this conversation re:painting/performance.
TH: I associate dance with a larger composition (larger than the body). I create performances within a frame. Being influenced, a lot I think, by film and photography, I have generally thought of this framing as being associated with those forms. I can see how this framing could just as likely be compared to painting. A painting, a film or video, a photograph, a piece of music, a dance. I don’t think there is much of a difference. Editing is important all around. Painting can be very performative. I have always been attracted to paintings that have a lot of movement in them, when I can see the artist’s body and gesture in the paint. I tried to capture this in a piece I made called The Chair is Pink in 2014. I had two illustrators stand at the front of the stage behind two panes of 6’x3’ clear plexiglass. Throughout the 30 minute performance they covered the plexiglass with drawings, trading places every 15 minutes to draw on top of the other’s illustrations. Dancers performed behind them. The illustrators were tasked with filling as much space on the plexiglass as possible within the performance time. This sped their movement. The focus of the illustrators was also very interesting. There was a juxtaposition of the illustrators’ focus, on the plexiglass, with the more traditional audiencecentric focus (focus where?) of the other performers in the piece. Focus is an important problem in performance. Trisha Brown makes drawings with her feet, maps. Pina Bausch directed a film called Die Klage der Kaiserin (The Complaint of an Empress). Bausch’s compositions on stage and film often remind me of paintings. I see dance in graffiti and sandpainting. Joan Jonas uses her body as an easel.
As a student of dance I have been encouraged to illustrate my movement as a tool in composition. I wonder whether painting students perform their paintings?
SR: There are so many ways you could answer this question... but since I already mentioned embarrassment with regards to painting, I’ll just say maybe that could be one kind link between painting and performance ? — in the sense that you could think of embarrassment as a symptom of the discrepancy between who you think you should be on the one hand, and the way you present (perform) yourself on the other.
SN: I recently came across a citation of Mary Wigman’s description of her “Witch Dance,” where her objective was to reach an ecstatic state, to dissolve into the physical elements of the room, to give herself over to an almost lustful destruction of the physical being through the process of performing this dance. Michaela Eichwald’s paintings seem to me to come from a similar place; they convey with such immediacy this kind of self abnegation that comes through engagement with an intense physical/material process.
AF: I link up painting with performance, dance in particular, while in my studio headspace. The inthemaking gesture movement of expressive (though I hate to use that word, I don’t trust it) marks is not confined to movements of the hand. Instead it comes from a more holistic, bodymindspace for me. Abstract Expressionist painters such as Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler could
embody this physical gestured messiness. However, this can be hard to decode if you are not in front of the piece in person or take the sometimes removed macho modernist language around this work as fact. Also, while making paintings in the studio I’m often in a self conscious mood, part of me is always looking over my own shoulder. I could become too automatic in the making so I am not present and able to get lost in time. Or I could hold a programed hands off approach and the marks I make are a performance of moves. Maybe all types of performers have these issues. Silke Otto Knapp makes paintings of dancers gleaned from past performances by such artists as Joan Jonas. This practice is important to me and relates to this discussion. As is Sarah Michelson’s choreographic work. I took a workshop with her in early Jan. through Movement Research Center. Through an experiential structure we (the participants) weeded out something of what her ideas/interests are re:directing, dance, and movement I connect them to painting space but am not sure how to articulate further.
Why make a play as a painter? Could you imagine thinking of a play as a painting? Do any precedents in dance, performance and or art history come to mind that relate to this notion of a playperformancepainting?
TH: Some thoughts: Dadaism, traditional European Ballet, Cirque Nouveau, Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown’s collaborations with Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham and Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds, Keith Haring painting on Bill T. Jones and Grace Jones, JeanPaul Goude, fashion, Sergei Tcherepnin’s recent show at The Kitchen, Erte’s music hall spectacles, Butoh, Ping Chong, Basil Twist, Julie Taymor, Richard Hudson and so many music videos.
SR: For me personally, I’m not sure it matters if a play can be a painting or vice versa. I don’t think of painting as such a fixed category to begin with, but that’s just me I know not everyone feels that way. I’m hesitant to say the same thing about theater because I don’t think about it as much. When I watched the performance, though, I enjoyed noticing some of the components they share perspective, staging, duration, layering, illusion, etc and the particular ways in which they twisted together. For example, I couldn’t tell if Ryan’s painting hanging on the back wall which he made using a fauxwallpaper paint treatment was supposed to signify a painting hanging on the wall of the imaginary apartment, or, in a theatery way, to signify a wallpapered wall. In a way it was doing both at once, which felt like a direct effect of the framing of the piece as both painting and theater. Arthistorically, the first thing that comes to mind is Hiroshi Sugimoto’s longexposure photographs of movies screening in ornate movie theaters. Instead of painting and theater, it’s film and photography linking together through a stage.
SN: i have a distinct memory of seeing an opera at the Met a long time ago, called “The Inivisible CIty of Kitezh” by Rimsky Korsakov. The stage design was very minimal and expansive, meant to evoke the broad Russian steppes I guess, and there were moments where there was no action there, just extended passages of music and changing light that emphasized certain features of the set. This very dynamic landscape “painting” made a strong impression. I have always wanted to see the Met’s production of Turandot, because my color teacher in undergrad frequently cited a breathtaking moment in it where the people on stage, wearing silver costume in a backdrop of silver, suddenly turn up the brims of their hats, their umbrellas, etc, to reveal a totally new world of bright color. So I have these opera references. There are others which I have only seen artifacts of, like the Ballets Russes, or “Victory Over the Sun.” I was very amused to learn about Malevich’s involvement with theater and to think about how the “zero point of painting” might have an alternate history as related to stage design. I like to think of the Black Square as literally a sketch of a dark stage. Painting for me has for a long time related to the making of backdrops and garments as well as to more traditionally contained “pictures,” so the question about making a play seems to me to be a question about the limits of the stage and the
duration of the production.
AF: While working on this production I imagined the scenes and or tableaus of performers as painted places come to life. I was thinking about lighting, layers, atmosphere, color, texture, different forms interacting with one another, timing, composition and space. These are all things I try to keep in mind while making a painting. The 1948 film, “The Red Shoes” was a reference point for my conjuring of a playpainting zone. It has extremely vibrant colors and surreal lush landscapes. And it’s playwithinaplay plot resonated with my desire to make pictures within pictures, the self consciousness I mentioned before and a self reflexivity re:artworld/institutions I am interested in. Also, I have been reading essays by Richard Foreman, the founder of the OntologicalHysteric Theater, he speaks of “filling the space with the idea” and his malleable and expanded definition of a play coincides with mine of a painting. And then there is the direct notion of a painting as a stage. I interpret this in the work of such painters as Jutta Koether and Karen Kilimnik. I am literalizing this in a sense by staging a painting.
Can you articulate anything particular you took away from participating in this project?
TH: It was interesting to work in a new collaborative structure. Unlike most other collaborations I have experienced, often beginning from scratch with myself and whomever else, this project felt more like a curated collage of artists. Amanda offered us thoughts and prompts and we worked somewhat alone on our respective element until each part came together as the final production. I have never worked like this before. It is always good to find new approaches. Dancing with paintings!
KG: The play environment was hypnotic but didn't feel for me as charged or demanding as my solo concerts, where the pressure is on me to create, compose and deliver all elements. Not to mention that the way emotions were handled in the play (withdrawn) was quite different than how they are handled in my songs (experiential). I realized that I can exist/contribute without necessarily trying so hard, that simply showing up counts for something.
SR: There was something exciting about being asked to make a piece that was auxiliary to something else I want to remember that.
SN: I have the pieces I made for the play hanging on my own wall again, and they have come away with this embedded history, a relationship to everyone else who was involved. That is a very important part of their content for me.
AF: I was reminded of how generative working with a group of people can be. Although I created the ideas and through line for this production it couldn’t have happened without the works and participation of many friends (old and new). It also made active opportunities for others and connection between people. In my mind, these are some of the best things artmaking can do. Susan Cianciolo is an artist whose output blurs genre lines and seems to create community while doing so/being itself, I admire these aspects and her process much.