ERIN PEISERT & ELENA KATSULIS
Elena Katsulis and Erin Peisert 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.
TPT: How did you meet? How long have you been making work together?
E&E: We were once co-workers. We bonded over a mutual love for performance and decided that we should collaborate. We’ve been working together for about a year and a half.
TPT: Can you describe your process for collaborating?
E&E: Most often, it starts with an interesting image, concept, or material that we’d like to explore. After some discussion, we realize that there is usually an implied subject to which we both relate; in a general way. Then we share our personal impressions and individual experiences in relation to the subject and these are what form the more specific intentions behind the piece. In terms of collaborating on durational work, we’ve discovered a previously unexperienced level of investment and accountability. It is very different from performing solo. As a duo, you find it’s necessary to find that general commonality and put your specific differences aside.
TPT: Do you have individual practices? Can you talk about them?
Elena: I have done a few solo pieces, and also work with a performance trio called KEN. We use movement, music, hand-made objects and sculptural costumes. I also write.
Erin: I practice butoh dance, movement, some 2D visual stuff, and sounds.
Elena Katsulis & Erin Peisert 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca
TPT: How did the context of the Pozen Center inform your work?
E&E: More than the Pozen Center itself, it was our relation to each other and those around us in the space that informed the piece. In the space of the Pozen Center, we decided to position ourselves in the front doorway; with intent to disrupt the expected pattern of foot traffic.
TPT: Why rope?
E&E: Physically, the rope functioned in binding us together; externally. It allowed for added dimension in negotiating our release. Aesthetically, it seemed like the simplest, most raw material. Visually this reminded us of a Chinese finger trap. Unable to successfully separate until both committed to doing so.
TPT: How did you communicate through your piece?
E&E: We could sense subtle energetic and physical shifts; intuition. One would initiate and the other would agree.
Elena Katsulis & Erin Peisert 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca
TPT: The audience became concerned for you as the piece evolved. Elena was visibly cold and your fingers were turning blue. Some came over and touched you. How did this inform the work for you?
E&E: It definitely broke the traditional audience/performer unspoken boundaries. We were no longer just objects to be looked at. The fact that our physical well-being was a concern for those around us certainly brought a compassionate quality to the piece that we weren’t expecting. The viewers became actively invested. The people who came to warm our hands had the courage to step outside of, not just the traditional artist/viewer relationship, but possibly their own hesitation, in terms of breaking that barrier. That was particularly inspiring.
Elena Katsulis & Erin Peisert 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca
TPT: Can you talk about the intention behind the actions? Did that intention change once your were in the piece?
E&E: We wanted to explore how two people relate to each other and how that relationship changes over time. One person’s actions and desires undeniably effect the other. When there is mutual investment, and over the course of time, one change will eventually effect the dynamic of the whole either by transformation or dissolution.
The intention didn’t change once we were in the piece, but once we were actually bound and laying on the floor, we became less focused on the intention behind the piece and more on the present situation. For me (elena), I had a hard time separating myself from the physical aspects of the action and surroundings. I was freezing, and shaking uncontrollably. When I could sense people standing over us and witnessing that, I started to shake even more. I became aware that people might be concerned about us.Visually this reminded us of a Chinese finger trap. Unable to successfully separate until both committed to doing so.
TPT: What were you thinking about during your piece?
Erin: I feel like my body-awareness is heightened when I’m at ground level. I try and be as present with every aspect of my physical condition as possible. I often think of Elena and how she’s doing. Sometimes I observed the space, the people in it, sounds, shapes, and light from a different perspective; the floor.
Elena: My mind was wandering. Like a graph that starts small, curves upwards, then slopes back down again. I was thinking about the smallest things: my toes, the temperature, etc., to observing the surroundings and what I could view of the people, to Erin and what she might be experiencing; and to larger concepts…then back down again.
TPT: What were some of your expectations/ hopes (if any) of your audience?
E&E: We didn’t have any expectations, but by obstructing the open doorway, we hoped that the audience would be engaged in a way that they weren’t expecting and that they might reconsider boundaries between audience and performer.
TPT: Were there any moments that surprised you?
E&E: Yes. One time was when we were treated us as, not art, but people through the warming of our hands. Another time, we both noticed that people had started to congregate around us; waiting patiently for what seemed like us to “do something”. After the piece ended, we talked about that moment and discovered that, while it it, we each had the initial impulse to move our bodies as if to satisfy a perceived desire for entertainment, but consciously resisted.
TPT: How was performing in Boston different from making work in Chicago?
E&E: In Boston, most of the audience we performed for had very little preconception of our work as artists or of us personally. Elena was interested in how that informed their perceptions of the work, compared to some of our peers in Chicago who know us in a different way. We also noticed a great willingness by the Boston audience to wait out the duration.
TPT: What imprints did Boston leave on you?
E&E: In Boston there was a strong sense of community. It opened our eyes to a world of artists who initiate events; previously unknown to us.
TPT: Why did you choose to create this work over the duration of 3 hours?
E&E: We wanted to become part of the structured event as a whole more than an action to be watched from beginning to end. Even when we remain relatively still, as time goes by, there are many external variables which end up demonstrating that passing of time. By remaining for three hours, we hoped to show this change physically.
TPT: What is the role of repetition in this work?
E&E: Most often our performances do use very clear repetitive actions, however this happened to be one of our most static. Despite that, we did still experience similar changes in energy as we do in our more clearly repetitive work.
TPT: What is inspiring you at the moment?
E&E: Push/pull, initiate/allow, finding interest in the mundane, accepting not knowing the unknown, time, idiosyncrasies, reduction, bare essentials vs. excess, discipline (within reason) self-observation, ‘obstacles’
TPT: What are you studying?
Philip Fryer “TREE/POOL/SKY” 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.
Sandrine Schaefer: How did the context of Defibrillator impact this piece?
PF: Since sound is such an essential part of this performance, the noises I found within the space really dictated how the piece was performed. The movable walls and the metal attached to the wall helped to lay out how and where I did each action.
SS: What was your inspiration for this piece?
PF: The lyrics of a Mount Eerie song titled “Summons”. It’s about a pool of water formed by the roots of a tree being pulled out of the ground when it fell over, reflecting the image of the sky. The visual of this in my head made me think about how these things are seemingly separate, but at that moment are connected. I aim to do the same in this piece, to find hidden things within a space and imagine what else might lie behind walls or under the floor.
SS: This was the 3rd version of TREE/POOL/SKY. How has it evolved?
PF: The first version in Boston was much more paired down, partially because it was in a small space. It felt unfinished so I decided to perform it again. A few months later I was in Montreal, where it really took on a life of its own. Many actions were added in that version, including sounding the space, peering at audience member through the black portal, and recording and playing a cassette loop live. I had anticipated doing the same actions as I did in Boston but once the performance started I felt the piece wanting to fill the space (which was enormous). The third version in Chicago didnt really see any actions added, but they certainly altered based on where I was and who I was with. Rather than interacting with audience members I didn’t know like I did in Montreal, I chose to acknowledge people I did know (Sandy Huckleberry and Marilyn Arsem). Marilyn was the first person to take the interaction a step further and put her hand through the portal and touched my lip. I can’t explain why, but this interaction makes me feel like this performance is now complete.
SS: Can you elaborate on the sound that was present?
PF: I like to think of it as a heartbeat. A heartbeat generated by the space that is unique and omnipresent. It is one of a million possibilities.
SS: Talk about portals…
PF: This is a new element to my work that is yet to be really explored. I have a feeling that the next things I work on will delve further into what a portal is to me. In TREE/POOL/SKY, it is simply something that can swallow a being or alter its form.
Phil Fryer "TREE/POOL/SKY" 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca
SS: Can you talk about the intention behind your actions? Did that intention change once your were implementing the piece?
No, the piece has stayed pretty true to what I set out to do. It’s the first time that I’ve had an idea that I’ve felt the need to explore until it feels completed by performing it several times.
SS: Can you talk about the extension?
PF: The extension came to me more as a visual than as an idea. I really liked the image in my head of a body extension that erases identity and creates something that looks almost non-human.
SS: What did it feel like to engage in such an intimate action with the audience (eye contact through the portal) then to be cut off from them? When you couldn’t see or hear were you scared or did you feel that that first action cultivated a sense of safety in the space?
PF: I like the idea of an experience transforming over the course of time. Initially, this experience with the audience is an intimate one and only a few have it, which makes it kind of sweet. Later in the performance, the portal changes its tone and takes away my senses. It was very scary in this performance, however, I did a different piece titled “APOCRYPHA” there I stood on the edge of a shipping container for 3 hours wearing the extension. It was really scary because I was only a few feet away from a 10 foot drop, and the sensory deprivation made it so that I could tell how close I was to the edge. That was pretty scary.
SS: Talk about Xfiles and John Cage.
PF: I recently came out of the closet as an x-files nerd. It’s really had a big impact on my work. I just really enjoy the fact that each episode is its own rhetorical question, and challenges the viewer to question things in our realities that we take at face value. I wish they had done an episode about John Cage, that would have been awesome.
SS: What are some of your expectations/ hopes of your audience?
PF: I really just hope that the audience gets something out of the performance. I hope what I’m trying to convey is coming across but I really like hearing interpretations as well. Marilyn push my expectations a bit because I don’t get a lot of unsolicited interactions with my work, and it was really nice to have that happen. It really makes you check in with yourself about what your doing and how your doing it. If someone is moved enough to interact in an unexpected way it forces you to evaluate why it happened.
SS: How was performing in Chicago different from making work in Boston?
PF: It’s always something I think about when I don’t perform in Boston, that different cities have different influences and histories. Therefore, your work is going to be read via that lens.
SS: What imprints did Chicago leave on you?
PF: The most American city I’ve ever been in. Looking at the Sears tower from an empty lot. Triumph and tragedy.
SS: What is inspiring you at the moment?
PF: Lucky Dragons “Ouija Miore (A Wave That Interferes)” synthesizer. An interactive, sonic and visual synthesizer that utilizes both chaos and order. So. Fucking. Cool.
SS: What’s next?
PF: I’m searching for the “Tonybee Tiles” that are in Boston. These tiles are from some sort of bizarre personal mythology that led someone to embed into the streets and sidewalks. I’ve seen them before in other cities but didnt really take note until I say the documentary (Resurrect Dead) about them. They seem to be disappearing and deteriorating rapidly so they might not be viewable much longer. I love the idea of chasing a decaying idea and it feels important to what is coming next for me.
SS: Any words of wisdom?
PF: “If you understood everything I said, you’d be me” -Miles Davis