Rough Trade II Interviews: Mothergirl | Jeff Huckleberry


Mothergirl “What You Look Like, Too” 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

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?

M: Painstaking.


Mothergirl "What You Look Like Too" 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

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.

Mothergirl "What You Look Like Too" 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

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?

Mothergirl "What You Look Like Too" 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

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.




Jeff Huckleberry “Fourth Rainbow” 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

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.

Jeff Huckleberry "Fourth Rainbow" 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

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.

Jeff Huckleberry "Fourth Rainbow" 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

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.



Interview with Jeff Huckleberry

This past November, MEME featured an exhibition of work by Boston performance artist Jeff Huckleberry. We’ve known Jeff for a few years now, seen his work many times in many different places, but never in the white cube exhibition format. You can see more photos of the show in the MEME Vault.

Sandrine: Who are you?
Jeff Huckleberry: I am a 40 year old white male living in Boston. I have spent 8 years total in art school, 23 years as a professional bicycle mechanic, 14 years as a father, (so far…If I can just keep him out of that car full of drunk high school friends doing 100mph on Rt. 2) and 15 years as a husband. I have had many cool but hurtin’ cars in my life, the most current is a slowly dying white VW Jetta from 1996. My father in-law collects Buick Roadmasters.

S: Where are you from?
JH: Originally, Loveland Colorado (0-17) though now, Boston. (17-40)

Phil:  How long have you been making performance?
JH: Fall of ’89…wow, 20 years.?

P:  I’ve noticed that in most of your performances/installations you have a similar set of materials that you work with. What brought you to these materials and what compels you to continue working with them?
JH: There are a few materials that really stimulate the brain/body/art/ connection for me: wood (especially saw dust), loud/low/abstract sound, some aggressive liquid that hurts when you pour it on your self, paint and dangerous tools. Those materials have become, over the years, things that I would be very sorry to be without.

I started working with lumber when I was working on my thesis show in 2003. I was exploring some of the “characters” that were/are directly involved with my development as a person, namely my Dad, his father (a master carpenter), and my Scout Master. Sometimes when I see my shadow on the street I get startled and think that my Dad is standing next to me. That shadow is often represented by pieces of lumber, or by the activity of cutting boards, or by the smell of saw dust, or most directly, by the sweat dripping off my nose while bent over some impossible task. The lumber, if it represents anything other than itself, is the hard work of making work. The lumber is also very much a kind of minimalist art project that could be viewed as separate from its possible meanings and interpretations (impossible?). Lumber, in all shapes and sizes has the potential for any number of possible physical relationships. Wood is one of those materials that will accept me no matter how ineptly or masterfully I interact with it. So, I keep using it.

I also often use paint and other authentic “work” and “art” materials in performances. One of my earliest performances in school involved painting myself different colors with acrylic paint, so I have been doing that for a long time. Using paint in performance (usually by painting my body or pouring it over myself) has a twofold utility; on the one hand, it visually joins (big P) Painting with (little p) performance by providing an entry point into a conversation about the location of art making, surface and object. It also has the added and not insignificant effect of feeling really great: this “feeling”, or physical sensation is a primary ingredient in structuring my physical and mental space to accommodate the process of performance. (I also think it looks really cool!)

P: In the last few pieces I’ve seen you perform, black and white paint?has been incorporated in a variety of ways. It seemed to reference some form of duality that you take on in the work, is that even remotely correct?
JH: Yes. And no. It is kind of an attempt to collaborate with myself (splitting myself into two people and then uniting again in the shared task of the performance) and also to have a conversation about grey. With respect to the activity of performance, it visually describes the “liminal” space of performing, though, to be fair, I don’t think it is doing a very good job of that so I am trying to figure something else out. The black and white paint primarily goes with my most recent performances, “broken(a.)” and “broken(b.)” and “Expected Outcomes” which will eventually become one larger performance.

P: In your most recent show at the MEME gallery, you started using color paints in addition to the black and white, why?
JH: They’re colorful! All of the drawings I had made of those little 2×2 frames had color paint in them. I just wanted them to be active and “beautiful”. When I went looking for paint at the art store, I was most attracted to the fluorescents, so I used those, and to that construction orange. Which by the way is the same color for the robes the Buddhist monks in Laos and Cambodia wear. Work = Worship? ?

S: How did the work evolve in “A beautiful Art Show for you”?
JH: It started by just bringing all of the materials I was interested in using down to the space, plus the usual assortment of performance materials I usually bring to events. Then I started to get involved in making a bunch of wood objects that I have had in my sketchbooks over the last couple of years. For some reason, I made a bunch of things that were roughly 2’x 2’. I worked on some video in the space, which I eventually decided did not really make sense with the rest of the show. I knew at some point that I would want to put paintings on the wall that would drip down onto the floor, so I made a bunch of those. I started concentrating on objects that would have some use, or be active while people were at the opening/closing and I worked out a couple of actions that could be used if I decided I needed to do something in the space while people were there. Then I brought that old black and white video camera down thinking that I could have a live feed of some of the boxes projected onto the wall. I think that worked to join some of the ideas I had together, especially the early 70’s style of performance and minimalist sculpture I was experiencing making myself.

S: Who was the Beautiful Art show for?
JH: You. (and me.) And Rose Hill.

S: At the closing, you created a performance that had a “soundtrack,” from the B-movie, “Bucket of Blood”.  How did you arrive at the decision to use this sound for your piece?

JH: I had run through a lot of sound options, and I was listening to some movies that I had recorded the audio from that I have used in sound performances in the past. I was listening to “Bucket of Blood” and laughing to myself about how it was so appropriate, especially considering I was really trying to be a real artist and make sculptures and paintings. So that just sort of happened during the opening/closing, I knew it went with that action.

P: Tell me about one experience that has influenced, inspired or effected your performance work.
JH: Watching my dad (and helping him) work hard on the weekends in the back yard. This is fundamental.

P: What is your favorite performance you’ve ever seen?
JH: Here is a list in no particular order:

• That Grey Wolf (Survival of the Fittest, 2007) performance by Marthe Fortun and Yoonhye Park at Contaminate2

• Julie Andre T. at One Gallery with the tea kettles screaming and her rolling on the floor and the buckets of liquid and all of the awesomeness, or her climbing the carpet up to the ceiling in Beijing, or any performance really.

• Persephone and Hades with Mari Novotny-Jones and David Miller, Directed by Marilyn Arsem, where I fell asleep and woke up thinking I was still dreaming
• A David Miller performance at Mobius in the 90s. (I can’t remember the title)
• “The Painter” video/performance by Paul McCarthy (one of my all time favorite pieces…)

• Some performances by Andre Stitt that I will never see in person, but would really like to.
• Three Ulay and Abramovic performances: where they walk into each other repeatedly, where they move the walls by walking into them, and where they stand naked face to face in the doorway of the gallery.
• A performance by Jamie McMurry that I have only seen on video where he topples three huge plywood pillars onto himself.
• Most bike races, but especially the spring classics.
• A performance by Arti Grabowski where he gets onto a chair and chops the legs out from under himself with an ax. Brilliant!
• Anything Alastair MacLennan does. I just like paying attention to him.
• There are more! I don’t have room and I am leaving people out! Sorry! I’ll make a longer list…Deva Eveland controlling all of us from the trunk of the car in the IBC parking lot. Anaise Nadair destroying that couch at TEST. Paul Waddell in anything he does, Kid Epicene making me scared for her life by crawling across a busy street in the middle of the night in a black plastic bag…And on and on and on…Travis Fuller Ghost Killa! Ahhhh!

P: Favorite death metal band?
JH: Cannibal Corpse, Kataklysm, Amon Amarth, a couple of Agoraphobic Nosebleed “songs”, new Celtic Frost…I tend to like it fast and aggressive. Sorry.

S: Final words/thoughts GO!
JH: WORDS!!!!!!