TPT: How did you find performance art? How did performance art find you?
M: We are both studied theatre in school, but when we started working as Mothergirl, our ideas started moving farther and farther away from the definition of traditional theatre, and we realized that we were doing something else completely.
TPT: How did you meet? How long have you been making work together?
M: We met in college in 2005. We started working together in a found space experimental theater company, Balls Deep Theatre Theater in 2007. It began as the most tentative friendship and transformed into the strongest one either of us has ever formed. We have tremendous power over each other.
TPT: Can you describe your process for collaborating?
Our ideas evolve out of a lot of pointless discussion with occasional moments of clarity. We joke a lot, then we tell ourselves to get serious and make work. There is a long stage of building our objects and during that we have a lot of time to enhance and fine tune the idea. Frequently the objects we build inform the performance as much as the idea does. Most performances we do are the result of (at least) a month of gradual work.
TPT: How did the context of the Pozen Center inform your work?
M: We had to consider what the piece could look like in a gallery setting and how to get isolated audience attention in that context. Something that was visually arresting from afar and from inside. The largeness of the room definitely affected the way that we were heard when we spoke.
TPT: You had performed What You Look Like before for Out of Site Chicago. Can you talk about this experience and how it informed the version created for Rough Trade II?
M: When we performed What You Look Like at Out of Site, the audience had to stick their head into a large freestanding box in a public place, one at a time, and we performed separately from each other (in two different boxes). In the context of a gallery, we didn’t think the boxes would be as effective as the viewers were already aware that it was a performance event. Mirrors and reflection are a big part of the piece so we decided to physically represent that theme. Audience risk and payoff is also very important to us. In the Out of Site performance, the audience had to risk their personal safety by sticking their head into some mysterious room, but in end their curiosity was rewarded. For the Pozen Center, the audience had to be the center of attention in the performance, and by doing that they got to sit on the pillow, hear what we were saying, etc. In both we found the pictures to be a big incentive.
TPT: How did you decide on the words and images that you used in this piece?
M: We wanted to create a home for the characters, which is why we made the nest. We wanted the pillow so it was clear for the audience that they should sit. The words were chosen to be approachable and funny, like “woah” and “yeah”, but also to be sort of blank and contextless to further the naïve nature of the flower beasts.
TPT: Your synchronized whispering was impressive! Did you have to practice a lot?
M: Our work uses a lot of unity and synchronicity in different contexts, so we’re used to it. We are also quite familiar with each other’s speech patterns in daily life as well as in performance, so it was relatively easy to match cadence and tone. We tried to anticipate possible responses from the audience, so that we could react in unison, but there were a couple of instances where we were caught by surprise!
TPT: Did you feel like you were the same flower creature when you were in the performance?
M: Yes. It felt a little like a trance.
TPT: Can you talk about the intention behind the actions? Did that intention change once your were in the piece?
M: We were trying to channel the feeling of the moment when a person realizes that they are a subject, and that the rest of the world, including their own image, is impenetrable to them. It’s magical but also a little scary. Actually, the intention felt even stronger in performance than when we were just talking about it.
TPT: What were some of your expectations/ hopes (if any) of your audience?
M: We expected the audience to be patient, and to adopt the same pacing in their actions and thoughts as the Flower People. We expected people to follow the implied rules of the performance, (sit, speak nicely to the Flower People, etc.). These expectations weren’t set to control the audience member, but to guide them to the small revelation of self that we set up when they have to sit and watch their own image appear in the instant photographs.
TPT: Were there any moments that surprised you?
M: Because we were mirroring, we had to follow each other’s movements, which led to some fun discoveries, like fluffing the pillow, which looked amazing and we seriously could have done for hours.
TPT: How was performing in Boston different from making work in Chicago?
M: We were struck by how so many of our experiences during our short time in Boston were affiliated with institutions of higher learning. Neither of us went to school in Chicago, and the majority of our performances there have been outside of colleges and universities.
TPT: What imprints did Boston leave on you?
M: It felt very safe, there was a great coop, really wonderful people.
TPT Why did you choose to create this work over the duration of 3 hours?
M: Only one audience member at a time can experience the work, and our goal is to encourage participation, so we stayed as long as there were people interested in participating.
TPT: What is inspiring you at the moment?
Katy: The house I just started renting, it is huge and falling apart. I keep relating it to those dreams where you are in a room or a place that you are very familiar with, but then you discover another room inside of it, and you’re like, “Oh! This room would be perfect for_______!”. I really like fashion blogs, and find them a bit more inspiring than art books, mostly because I think fashion shows are often about world creation and storyline. I am very into persona musicians, and the concept of persona in general—which is probably why I am also really into trashy two-dollar magazines and reality television.
Sophia: Social justice issues in urban education; online drag makeup tutorials; dada; nail art; Adam Rose; the Cauleen Smith: A Star Is A Seed exhibition that was recently at MCA Screen—it included a mirror maze; Real Housewives of anywhere; Twin Peaks/Blue Velvet (always); the Fall slip into dreary weather; Buckminster Fuller’s geometry of spheres; thinking about what I would say to Rahm Emmanuel if we got to talk; cats with human emotions.
TPT: What are you studying?
Katy: I am teaching myself the guitar, which I attempted once when I was very young and gave up too quickly. I am reading about psychedelic art and pairing that reading with novels that have some loose connection. Incidentally, I am studying household maintenance, which has a lot to do with the new house and my desire to take a warmish shower.
Sophia: Currently reading: The Transformative Power of Performance by Erika Fischerlichte; A Year From Monday By John Cage (on loan from Phil!); Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch; and The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore. Learning to speak Greek. I’m also making a bike generator, which is proving to be a steep learning curve in electronic components!
TPT: What’s next?
M: We’re doing a piece that will likely incorporate video at Happy Collaborationists in February.
TPT: Any words of wisdom?
M: We’ll share with you our personal collaboration mantra. It’s helped us through some rough times. Okay, here it is:
Hype up when you get down.
TPT: We’ve interviewed you before when you had a show at MEME, what’s happened in your work since then?
JH: I’m not sure. That was a few years ago so everything has changed and everything is more or less the same. Clowns are new, and so are making rainbows. Actually, I think all of the colors I am thinking about and using now come from that show.
TPT: Why Rainbows?
JH: Again, I’m not really sure. These started when I went to Marseilles last year. On the way over, I started thinking about rainbows and the color wheel, and the pursuit of the unattainable. From the very first time I tried to make one (a rainbow) it hurt me; or at the very least it hurt to make it the way I was trying to make it, and I thought that that was really interesting and powerful. Of course I like the failure/success aspect of the attempt, and I am surprised each and every time I try to make one. I “made” two rainbow performances in Marseilles and the second one found a purpose. My location for performing was this big broken fountain in the middle of this really busy, small little square. I wanted to christen the fountain as the fountain of the artists, (the fountain didn’t work, which I thought was appropriate.) so I wanted to try to make it work again. I believed so hard in that piece, and in the power of each color, and in the end I think I got the fountain to work just a little. That was the first time I felt the alchemy of the rainbow, which intrigued me even more. As for what they mean, or “why” I am interested in making them, I don’t really want to know right now. It is a process of discovery, and each time I do a little research on rainbows it leads me down some other interesting performative path. I do like many things that have happened; like the little rainbows I made emerging from piles of dog shit on the street, or the way the one rainbow managed to eat the finish off of the floor at BU, and how funny the last one was in Chicago. That was really enjoyable. Funny is becoming more important as well.
TPT: You used smaller planks in this performance, why?
JH: Shoulder shrug. Smaller than what?
TPT: Do you feel that humor is an important part of your work and why?
JH: Yes! It has become more important lately, especially after a collaboration with my friend Julie Andree T. We did a performance together called Two clowns and a death, in which we tried to “die” in as many different ways as we could. I really got to be a clown for the first time and it was wonderful. It just made so much sense. My wife and I did a series of performances last fall that was using one color of the rainbow for each night of performance. It was amazing how each color really effected the actions we did and our relationship to each other. ( I think 3 people total saw those performances. Now that’s funny!) We both had a great time working together and the performances were very often funny, and we laughed at each other through many of them. I like the way it opens a door to and for the audience. In fact in Chicago I was trying to ask audience members to go out on a date with me – like let’s get to know each other here, but this is completely awkward. After all, I am going to be naked in front of you, and I am going to compromise and embarrass myself so we are going to have to get to know each other pretty quickly in order for this to succeed.
TPT: What were you trying to do when you were writing on your body in this performance?
JH: In this instance I was trying to ask the audience out on a date. In other performances it has been a one sided conversation with someone in particular; my uncle Douglas, some kid who went to the high school I taught at, my mom etc.
TPT: Can you talk about the choice to have one empty chair that you treated as an audience member?
JH: That chair is for Bob Raymond. I might as well give him something to do, maybe he’s bored.
TPT: Have you considered patenting your tightie whitie tool belt idea?
JH: Uh, there is a patent ©HUCK
TPT: That was a cool hammer. Not a question just saying.
TPT: Anything else you would like us to know about this piece?
JH: That would spoil the fun.