The Present Tense is pleased to begin our series of extended interviews with artists who participated in our recent exchange between Boston and Chicago, ROUGH TRADE II! To start us off, Sandy Huckleberry (Boston) and Adam Rose (Chicago) share their thoughts. Enjoy!
TPT: Your last few performances have been collaborative but this one wasn’t, how does your work change when its just you?
SH: I think my response in collaboration is a little like when I’m talking to someone with a strong accent and I just can’t help but start falling into the rhythm of that speech and doing it myself a bit. Either that, or I become a little more intensely the opposite of whatever’s happening. When working with Jeff, for example, I tend to get a little butch. Working with Mari, I tend to react to her intensity and slowness by becoming very quick and flighty. Working with her recently brought this to my awareness. I was almost like a dog shaking off water, trying to get through the task of the performance so quickly.
When I first started performing, almost 30 years ago, I had such a self-assured sense of “presence” (from being a dancer, singer, actress, etc.) that it kind of annoyed me. It almost seemed hackneyed, or something, so I wanted to throw it away. I oriented my work toward doing tasks, and got used to talking to the audience as if I were chatting with guests in my kitchen while I cooked. Working with Mari, and then seeing your performance at Defibrillator, I realized that (in comparison to your sense of presence) I had thrown my own “presence” so far away that it had gotten lost and it almost seemed like I’ve been hurrying through performances to get them done, as if they were the slightly less interesting items on a long to-do list. What they really are is a sacred opportunity to come into communion with myself and others. So I wanted that back, and for this performance I decided to give myself the time to try, and quite possibly fail, to do something almost impossible.
When I’ve just been working with others, and then work with myself, I’m still resonating to a sense of challenging/emulating an “other”, and so I think I look for the “other” in myself. This particular performance, I was trying to figure out some aspects of a recent experience that were obscure to me. So I was searching (or “fishing”) for something to be learned, something I knew was there but I couldn’t figure out.
TPT: You mentioned this performance came from a childhood ritual, can you tell us about that?
SH: When we were kids, my mom used to make this game for my sisters’ and my birthday parties. She would hang a sheet over the chin-up bar that spanned the doorway to our bedroom, and each kid would hold a “fishing rod” (a stick with a string attached) and “fish” over the sheet and pull over a little treat or toy of some kind that they could keep.
TPT: It was quite a difficult task to catch an object, was it that difficult when you were young?
SH: Not at all. My mom was on the other side, tying the treats onto the string!
TPT: You had two distinct parts of this performance, one part on the ground with your objects and one above. Can you tell us about why you chose to have two different approaches to the same action and what they symbolized to you?
SH: Well, I think this goes back to the sense of searching for something. I needed an alternate place to get a perspective on what I was searching for. I didn’t know whether the forest or the trees would be more helpful. In the end, it was the forest.
TPT: Many of the materials used in this piece were things you got while in Chicago, what went into the process of choosing what objects you wanted to use?
SH: Well, I went into the thrift shop open to what I might find. I was looking for things I might, or might not, be able to catch on my hook. (Practical.) Other than that I just found things that I might be interesting to look at, or catch the light. (Formal.) I also hoped there might be some things that would resonate with me ( I found some goblets that reminded me of my grandmother) and some things I really disliked (a detached, broken plastic holder for speaker wire with a bit of wire trailing off of it). (Content.)
For the stick and stones, I went foraging on a lovely walk in a park and around the neighborhood. That’s always a huge pleasure for me, and an important part of the performance.
I borrowed the string.
I purchased the wig (my one “souvenir”).
“Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” Good for weddings, good for performances…?
TPT: Why the blue wig?
SH: That was actually the first clear image I had for the performance. Although I brought the emotional content of the performance with me, I waited until I got to the space to figure out the particulars of the action. My eyes were drawn upward (such wonderous high ceilings) and I saw the corner of the partition, that looked like I could climb up there. I got an immediate picture in my head of wearing a blue wig and looking through binoculars down at the crowd. I liked the sense of distance the wig gave me… distance from the “other” me that was toiling down below. I guess the wig was “she” (the forest) and the one below was “me” (the trees).
If I think about it now, where that image came from, I guess I think of two things.
One is that the idea of being up above the crowd, on that little partition in the corner, makes me think about an experience I had when I was about 15. It must have been 1978 or 9 and I was at a club in New York with some friends. It might have even been called the Triangle club. It was a tiny little place, a loft in the shape of an isoceles triangle. 60 feet at its longest, with a teeny stage in the sharpest corner. We’d gone there to hear an electric violinist called “Nash the Slash”. I guess it was what would now be considered a hipster place, because I remember Debbie Harry was there (she threw up in the elevator, as I recall) and so was David Bowie. He took a turn with the DJ, who was perched in the dark above us all on a tiny little platform at the top of a very similar partition against one wall, and began spinning tunes of his own choice for us all to dance to. Great memory. (I loved to dance!)
Anyway, the second thing was that I saw “Moonrise Kingdom” this summer and the girl in it reminded me of me at that age. Really into dressing up and being somebody else, somebody who wouldn’t be caught dead in the time and place in which she actually found herself.
So, yeah, I think that’s why the blue wig.
TPT: Is there anything else you’d like us to know about this piece?
SH: Jeez! I’ve already said a lot. I never write this much about a piece! Mostly, I just do them and then they’re done. I sometimes tell people about what happened, if they seem interested, but that’s it.
I will say that I was able to feel more present and less rushed than I have in a while. Maybe it was because Marilyn’s piece was durational and Daniel’s was brief and in a “lecture” format, that I felt I had the opportunity, or even the responsibility, to take my time and allow the piece to be a longer one. The crowd was very kind (by which I mean attentive and enthusiastic) and it was only after that I worried I might have bored some people. (That’s always a speed-inducing thought if it occurs in the middle of the performance.)
So maybe I did find some of the elusive stuff I was fishing for…
TPT: Your work explores the interstices of dance and performance art. Do you feel that this has made your work more or less accessible to certain audiences?
AR: Dance and Performance Art audiences tend to have different expectations, and I encounter different obstacles in each context. Where as a dance audience might question my technique or level of training, or be confused and put off by the imagery I employ, a performance art audience might be disappointed by seeing something that’s ‘just a dance.’
I think dance and performance art are two contemporary manifestations of a more primordial performance tradition that underlies them both. I learn from performing in both contexts, and any confusion or misunderstandings that might arise are ultimately productive.
TPT: Do you have an ideal context that you like to make work in?
AR: No, no context is ideal–not dance, not performance art, not butoh. They each have their unique obstacles and expectations. I enjoy the chance to perform in every context.
TPT: Can you talk about the role of personae in your work?
AR: I don’t believe in the idea of a single self or single self-identity. Anyway, I think it would be boring to perform as just me. So I try to push self-expression to the point where the different aspects split off into separate characters with their own lives. “My name is Legion, for we are many,” (Mark 5:9). But basically I have two personas, a male persona and a female persona, Elena.
TPT: Who is Elena?
AR: Elena is my goth girl persona. I’ve been performing as her since 2007. She is a witch and acts as a channel for my more purely gothic obsessions. She’s a little more than just a character though–I’ve had several dreams in which I was a woman, or looked in a mirror and saw a woman’s face. So she definitely is a strong part of my psyche, and is with me even when I’m not performing in drag.
TPT: In Neu Iconoclasts: Wig Party, you used sound in an interesting way. Can you talk about this choice, how you created the pre-recorded sound pieces, and the choice to use your voice as you exited the space at the end of the piece?
AR: In dance performance it’s pretty standard to use pre-recorded sound coming from a single sound source–you have a moving body that’s very present, and then a kind of distant layer of sound that seems almost arbitrary. That can be frustrating, so recently I’ve been trying to make the sound more embodied.
In Neu Iconoclasts: Wig Party there’s the sound of Elena’s (my) voice coming from a portable speaker tied around my neck, guitar samples playing from a guitar amp, and the overhead in-house sound. I distorted my voice for the vocal track using auto-tune software, and created the rest using samples and a MIDI keyboard.
Using my own, live voice at the end of the piece was not the original plan. The pre-recorded vocal track was supposed to continue till the end, but I had transferred the wrong file so it ended early. I had to improvise and it seems to have actually worked out better that way.
TPT: You used the majority of the space in this piece. Even if your body wasn’t present in all of the nooks and crannies of the space, your shadow or sound was. Was this intentional?
AR: The Pozen Center is such a big space, I was determined to not be overwhelmed by it and instead conquer it in some way. I’ve also lately been working with imagery related to Nyx, the Goddess of the Night Sky. As the Night Sky, she is also the Goddess of Space. She embodies what appears to be empty, and so using the totality of the space would be an aspect of her expression.
TPT: Do you consider your work to be site-specific?
AR: Not especially. Although I do consciously plan and try to think about the space I’ll be performing in, and make last minute changes once I’m in it. I’ve noticed that if I don’t consider the space enough, the piece is more likely to fail.
TPT: Something I was struck by was your use of facial expression in this piece. Can you talk about this?
AR: I naturally make facial expressions when I dance, and I wasn’t taught to suppress this in my dance training, like in more classical forms of dance where the face is not expressive. Of course in Butoh, using the face as an element of the dance is very important. I’ve learned to use my facial expressions more consciously, as organic masks, as a way to both engage or manipulate the audience.
TPT: What is Antibodycorp?
AR: Antibody Corporation is a non-profit organization specializing in mind-body and occult research. Antibody uses the specter of the Evil Corporation as one aspect of its sorcerous work. Biotech is currently impacting our everyday lives in many ways, through the foods we eat, the drugs we take, expanding the range of mutations that are available to the species. Antibody takes a DIY approach to epigenetic mutation, on the premise that the body may actually be able to mutate itself by mental effort alone.
TPT: Can you talk about your use of goth imagery?
AR: In terms of the classical dichotomies of light/dark, male/female, left/right, and day/night, Western civilization has almost exclusively favored the right, light, male, and solar. In Western culture, darkness is represented by the Gothic. Gothicism emphasizes everything on the lunar and left hand side of the equation, and that’s what makes it worth paying attention to.
Horror and goth may be considered low and adolescent forms, but it’s also possible to consider horror as a discipline. There’s a discipline involved in continually turning towards what horrifies. The longer you stay in negative affective states like anger and fear, the less human you become. This can be seen positively as an evolution towards the alien, the above-human.
TPT: Can you talk about the intention behind your piece? Did that intention change?
AR: Neu Iconoclasts: Wig Destruction is part of an ongoing investigation into the mythology of Nyx and her children, including Nemesis, which was a piece I performed over the summer. Since civilization has obliterated the night sky with light pollution, making the stars invisible, Nyx exists as a strong adversarial current, opposing everything light/male/solar and right. It was my intention to align myself with her.
TPT: What were some of your expectations/ hopes (if any) of your audience? Were there any moments that surprised you?
AR: I try not to have too many expectations regarding the audience, but I was pleasantly surprised when I heard people laughing during the performance. I always like to hear people laugh. My favorite audience reactions are fear and laughter.
TPT: How was performing in Boston different from making work in Chicago? What imprints did Boston leave on you?
AR: If I were to compare Boston and Chicago, I would say that Boston has these winding streets and Chicago is built on a grid pattern. So maybe Boston is a more intuitive and organic place than Chicago. Chicago is a very rational and productivist city, and that makes it crazy.
I will remember most the conversations I had with Boston artists and audience members. The atmosphere in Boston was serious, but also open-minded, generous, and not cynical.
TPT: What is inspiring and influencing your work at the moment? What’s next?
AR: The entire Midwest is inspiring me right now. What’s next is Mistake on the Lake, a project I’m undertaking with Antibody ally Andrea Peterson. Mistake on the Lake is Antibody’s response to the Midwest–what happens when the midwest reflects on itself, turns it values and symbols back in on itself?
There is a tremendous aggressive energy hidden there, barely hidden behind a polite reserve and friendly smile. You might say we Midwesterners are Children of the Corn–something strange and terrible is being birthed from these fields. Mistake on the Lake will be performed in Chicago, Detroit, Columbus, OH, and at Antioch College in November.
What I’m studying right now in relation to this project is a book on Chicago’s history, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West by William Cronon. I’m continuing my occult research with Lords of the Left Hand Path by Stephen E. Flowers, a comprehensive history of sinister occultism. And I’m reading Artificial Hells by Claire Bishop to figure out why participatory art makes me so uncomfortable.
TPT: Any words of wisdom?
AR: The World does not need to be saved, and neither does Dance. Beware those who force Dance to Speech. Beware the Word.