“Go with your gut…every single time.” an interview with EJ Hill

Back in October, I had the pleasure of meeting and seeing the work of LA based artist EJ Hill.  We both were representing Defibrillator Gallery at the MDW Art Fair in Chicago.  In the midst of the bustle of the art fair, EJ stood as still as possible for 3 hours.  I instantly fell in love with his piece and his demeanor.  The Present Tense is thrilled to share a recent interview we did with him!

"Drawn" 2011- EJ licked every wall of the exhibition space. After a few minutes, his tongue was rubbed raw and left a trail of blood. photo by Matt Austin

TPT: Who are you?
EJ: Ah! Such a big first question! I’m still working on that one. I haven’t quite resolved that one yet…

 

 

TPT:  How did you find live art?  How did live art find you?
EJ: I guess I’ve always sort of been interested in extraordinary experiences or circumstances but I didn’t really come to understand those as art until I found myself hanging out with other weirdos at Columbia College in Chicago. I thought I was going to learn to draw and paint when I got to art school, which, you know, was definitely there, but once I figured out that other things could be art, that experiences could be art, I hit the ground running in a different direction.

 

 

TPT: Tell me about one experience that has influenced, inspired or affected your work.
EJ: When I was about 6 or 7 years old, my only neighborhood friend was the kid who lived next door. He was about a year or two older than me and his family pretty much gave him free reign. My family was the exact opposite; I was so coddled and sheltered growing up that I wasn’t even allowed to go past our driveway onto the sidewalk alone. So I never really got to venture out and play with the other kids. Because of that, my friend knew a whole lot more about things than I did but he was always getting into trouble for one thing or another. So one day we were playing in my backyard and he told me that if I put my mouth on his penis that it would feel good. So not knowing what any of this was about but curious to try it, he pulled out his penis, put it in front of my face and I did what I always did when things entered my mouth… I bit down. Hard.

"Suck and Blow" 2009 blow dryer, vacuum with hose attachment, performance duration: 7 minutes, photo by Tannar Veatch

TPT:  In October 2011,  you made a piece where you stood still for 3 hours for the MDW Art Fair in Chicago. Can you talk about the intention behind this action?
EJ: I think I was just tired of performing at that point. I felt that when people showed up to see one of my performances, they expected me to make some intense, hyper-aggressive, balls-to-the-wall piece where I sweat and cry and freak out. And I don’t ever want my work to become predictable. Ever. So I was thinking about ways to perform, without actually performing. So I thought, “What if I just stood still and did nothing for as long as I could?”

 

TPT:  Can you describe your process for realizing this work?
EJ: Yeah, so after the “What if…” thought, I decided to try it. The fist time I tried it, the plan was stand still for 24 hours and see what happens. I was working late in the studio one night and I asked my friend Dylan Mira to take one photo of me on the hour every hour. So I set up the tripod and camera and just stood about 20 feet away from it. That night, I only made it to 4 hours, but those 4 hours were so crazy! By the end of it, snot was running from my nose, my shoulders sagged by about a full inch, my feet were swollen, and I couldn’t really see because my eyes had been tearing up for the last hour or so.

 

TPT:  What were some of your expectations/ hopes (if any) of your audience?
EJ: I had hoped that whatever meditative, out of body, mindfuck that I was experiencing could somehow be transmitted from my body to anyone else who encountered me. I wondered if whatever energy that was flowing through me while I was in that altered state could be felt by others.

 

TPT:  Were there any moments that surprised you?
EJ: I think it was somewhere around the last hour where another piece in one of the other booths at MDW sent me flying somewhere else! It was a sound piece that could be heard throughout the entire floor. It was a continuous low drone that layered and got louder and more complex with time. I noticed that the whole time I was there, no one really engaged with me for longer than a few seconds but when the sound piece started to affect me in this hypnotizing way, people started to gather around and just watch. I’m not sure what I looked like but I think it was at that moment that I tapped into whatever I tapped into that first night in the studio. People stood around, and just watched. Just watched me stand.

 

TPT:  Why did you choose to create this work over the duration of 3 hours?
EJ: I planned to go for longer, but shortly after the low drone of the other piece ended, I just didn’t want to continue. After the sound stopped, I felt like I was doing that thing where I was performing. I was only continuing for the sake of the audience and it began to feel really insincere.

 

TPT:  How did the piece evolve for you over that time?
EJ: It was painful. Ironically, standing still takes a lot of hard work, tons of stamina. The soles of my feet were killing me, my back and shoulders were hurting from the weight of my arms. Physically, it wasn’t very pleasant but psychologically, it was almost euphoric.

 

TPT:  How was performing in Chicago different from making work in other places?
EJ:Well, I went to school in Chicago so I had a few years of developing a practice or a working method. I was comfortable. And I think toward the end, other people were comfortable with what I was doing and expected me to deliver a certain type of work. So any time I got the opportunity to travel and make work somewhere else, it was exciting. I could go and make my work with an entirely new audience who didn’t go into it with any preconceived notions. Chicago also has this very impressive “get off your ass and make it happen” kind of attitude. If it’s not being done, and people want to see it happen, someone will make it happen. People are grinding hard and not so much because of market pressures as is the case in some other cities, but because they really believe in what they do. It’s phenomenal. It’s beautiful. It’s so fucking REAL.

 

TPT:  How did the context of an art fair inform your piece?
EJ: I knew it was going to be busy. There was going to be a lot of people, a lot of action, a ton of art. I wanted to contrast the usually overwhelming nature of art fairs.

 

TPT:  Do you have an ideal context for your work to be experienced in?
EJ: Yes. That moment when you’re least expecting it.

(photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America)

TPT:  You were one of the performers who participated in Marina Abramovic’s piece for The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles’ annual Gala. How did this situation challenge your perception of stillness?
EJ: That one was weird because there were so many other things going on at the time (the Debbie Harry performance, the tiff between Yvonne Rainer and Marina Abramovi?) so it was really difficult to even think about stillness with so many distractions on and off court. And we were all supposed to rotate on lazy Susans beneath the tables so we were still, but only kind of.

 

TPT:  How has this experience informed your creative process?
EJ: The MOCA performance itself, the action, sort of left as quickly as it arrived. But I still find myself asking questions regarding power dynamics in the art world. I haven’t unlocked any secrets or answered any questions definitively, but I’m thinking a lot more about work ethic, compensation, celebrity/art stardom, creative impetus, the role of the wealthy in the production/consumption of art…

 

TPT:  What are you currently studying?
EJ: Love.

 

TPT:  Who/What is inspiring/ influencing your work presently?
EJ: Mark Aguhar, Frank Ocean, Anderson Cooper.

 

TPT:  Any words of wisdom?
EJ: Go with your gut. Every single time.

Stillness Series- Marilyn Arsem

Stillness is defined as a state or an instance of being quiet or calm.  It is also defined as the absence of motion.  Although stillness suggests inactivity, it can provide opportunities for focused movement and heightened sensation.  When contemplating these concepts in relation to contemporary art practices, Marilyn Arsem is one of the first artists that comes to mind.  Arsem has been conjuring thoughts about stillness in her work for over 3 decades, challenging her audiences to consider human and environmental impermanence.  Arsem works with a site-sensitive process, designing each piece for the place in which it occurs.  Arsem takes into account a myriad of contextual information that builds even the most minimal actions into site and time-specific experiences layered with complexities of meaning.

 

 

 Wintering Over

From durational performance “Wintering Over” By Marilyn Arsem At the National Review of Live Art Glasgow, Scotland, UK. February, 2007. Photo by Sally Maidment

For eight hours, Arsem lay inside of three tons of rich, fragrant organic soil.  She was in a greenhouse, ‘wintering over’ in the Hidden Gardens at Tramway in Glasgow, Scotland, UK for the National Review of Live Art in February 2007.  Speakers positioned at the entrance of the greenhouse amplified her breath and occasional whispers.  As people walked deeper inside of the space, these transmissions of Arsem’s live sound became inaudible.  Near the pile of earth, the curious noticed a slight rising and falling of the soil, an indication of the body lying beneath the surface.  If they drew nearer they could hear the sound of Arsem sporadically whispering her fears under the mound.  It was a quiet encounter.

 

“Underneath it was pitch black.

The earth was heavy on me, shifting, settling in to increasingly constrict my body and my breathing whenever I moved.

The air seemed too warm, too still, too thin.

And it was terribly silent.

I don’t remember much.

I had to enter some kind of altered state to stay underneath,

in order to keep at bay the fear of being buried alive.” – Marilyn Arsem


 

 

The action of listening carefully for Arsem’s muffled sounds intensified the sonic landscape inherent within the site. The duration of the performance passed through twilight hours into the night, bringing a heightened awareness of natural life cycles.

 

From durational performance “Wintering Over” By Marilyn Arsem At the National Review of Live Art Glasgow, Scotland, UK. February, 2007. Photo by Sally Maidment

 Undertow

from durational performance “Undertow” by Marilyn Arsem in Ex-Frigorifico at the 1st International Congress of Performance Art, Valparaiso, Chile. November, 2005 photo by Sofia De Grenade

Chile’s International Congress of Performance Art took place in Valparaiso, an active port city on the Pacific.  The festival had access to an old refrigerator warehouse known as the “Ex Frigadator”.  Arsem chose a small room with a trough style drain running down the center as the context for a durational piece.  Inspired by an encounter with a vendor selling bundles of dried seaweed, Arsem decided to fill the room with fresh seaweed collected from the ocean.   Arsem filled half of the floor with seaweed and blocked the trough at both ends so that it would hold water and mounds of salt.  Arsem laid in the seaweed, and allowed her feet to dangle in the trough.  For hours, she rolled through the visceral material that began to engulf her form.  She paused for long periods of time in between the action of rolling, creating an opportunity to witness her body engaged in a moment of stillness.

from durational performance “Undertow” by Marilyn Arsem in Ex-Frigorifico at the 1st International Congress of Performance Art, Valparaiso, Chile. November, 2005 photo by Sofia De Grenade

 

In both Wintering Over and Undertow Arsem’s body creates images that suggest the ultimate state of stillness.  She engages in various states of burial, addressing the ephemeral nature of being.  As she breaths and whispers with a mound of earth heavy on her chest, she conjures ideas about the afterlife.  The image of her body tangled in seaweed, brings forth sensorial responses that remind us of the shared experience of facing mortality.  Arsem’s work uses stillness as an opportunity to bring forth difficult and complex ideas surrounding the transient cycles of life and death.

 

 

 

Marilyn Arsem has been creating live events since 1975, from solo gallery performances to large-scale, site-specific works. Arsem has presented work at festivals, conferences, alternative spaces, galleries, museums and universities in North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Most recently she has focused on creating site-specific performances, often in the context of festivals. These works are not planned in advance, but made in response to a location that is selected on arrival.She is a member (and founder) of Mobius, Inc., a Boston-based collaborative of interdisciplinary artists. As a full-time faculty member at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, she heads the Performance Area and is a Graduate Advisor.

Stillness Series- Philip Fryer

Wall Melody from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

In September 2011, I was invited to be part of an exhibition titled Time Body Space Objects, curated by Alice Vogler. For this exhibition, each artist was allotted an hour of performance time, on the theme of ‘commitment’. I wanted to create something that challenged me to commit to an action for the full hour allotted to me. I had been thinking a lot about John Cage at the time, and about his experience in the anechoic chamber at Harvard. Expecting to experience the ultimate silence, Cage was confronted by the sound of his own blood flowing in his body, and thus the impossibility of silence. I wanted to make a commitment to the omnipresence of sound, by way of introducing a single tone, generated by a keyboard. For one full hour, I stood in a corner and held one note. The chosen note mimics the drone of our blood flow, and gives us the opportunity to meditate on our own audio output. The commitment of this performance is its stillness.  Like Cage’s anechoic chamber, this stillness provides an access point for the nuances of the sound, which present themselves over the course of the hour.

Philip Fryer is a performance, sound and video artist living and working in Boston, Massachusetts. His work is a meditation on mortality, chaos/order, and the body as a circuit. His recent exploration has been focused on using lo-fi technologies such as circuit bending and cassette tape loops, both as individual pieces and as elements of performances and videos.

photos by Sandrine Schaefer


Stillness Series- Sue Murad

For multi-media artist, Sue Murad, stillness is a way to experience rest, both in life and in art.   Murad describes her work as an intuitive engagement with form, disregarding notions of usefulness, common meaning, and prescribed narratives.  Much of Murad’s work operates in the territories of slippage between experimental dance, performance art, and visual art.  Having the opportunity to experience her work live, Murad accesses a mindfulness with every micro-movement of her body.  After reviewing her work for the Stillness Series, it was clear that Murad has successfully applied the same intention that she employs corporally to her utilization of objects.

"OJ Disk" 1998, Frozen orange juice, melting, installed at Massachusetts College of Art & Design 1998

Murad elaborates further on the concept of stillness:

“It ushers in quietness, regardless of the environment. Stillness has magnified moments of both peace and isolation. It has punctuated a work’s rhythm, and noted the finality of death. It has emphasized an inner human world and, in my installation work, has been interrupted by time and gravity.”

"The Tape Room" 2007, time based installation, as adhesive releases, tape unrolls at varying intervals and speeds over the duration of 9 days, installed at Arthouse, Boston

Through this series, The Present Tense has observed that stillness is a concept that evokes viscerally physical responses.  Is this possible to achieve a similar reaction when applying this concept to an inaminate object?  After looking at documentation from Murad’s installations  “The Tape Room” and “OJ Disk,” I believe it is.  Murad approaches these objects with a sensitivity that seems reserved for the human body.  The tape is subject to the effects of gravity while the Disk of orange juice sweats from the heat.   Through her experimentation, Murad turns the common objects, tape and orange juice into living beings.

 

 

Sue Murad is a multi-media artist working in visual and performing art. She teaches at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and runs Orange, an art, design & video studio. After 4 years with the performance art band, U.V. Protection (2004-2007,) Sue was a recipient of a 2008 Massachusetts Cultural Council award in Choreography. Starting in 2012, Murad will be an Artist in Residence at Children’s Hospital Boston. She lives and works in Boston.

Stillness Series- Daniel S. DeLuca

Sitting With Cloud Gate


October 21st, 2009, 7am- 5pm

Chicago, Millennium Park

On October 21st, 2009, Boston-based artist, Daniel S. DeLuca sat in front of Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor in Millennium Park in Chicago from the hours of 7 am-5pm.    This was part of a series of actions in response to public art that DeLuca was working on at the time.  Concentrating on the action of deep breathing, with eyes half closed, the artist observed his thoughts and bodily sensations.  DeLuca considers this a process of stillness.  This is a process that involves only the essential movements.  He states “Physically, we will never be still, although we may perceive moments of slow and subtle movement, the world underneath us is moving, and the world is in yet another movement orbiting the sun, and so on and so forth. Striving for the physical concept of stillness is a way to access acuity of sensation, observation, and experience.  This acuity is important for most of my work; it focuses me on my actions and environment.”

“Most people who visited the sculpture would behave in similar fashions; they would be seduced by the brilliant reflective quality of the sculpture and proceed to take pictures of themselves in it. Most interactions only lasted a few minutes before viewers left. I interpreted the sculpture quite literally. For me it indicated both inward and outward reflection: reflection on the individual, and reflection on the whole (city).  I wanted to encourage the idea of spending more time with Cloud Gate and to do what I felt like it was asking its audience to do. I spent a full working day, sitting with my eyes half open, reflecting on and observing, my mind, sensorial systems, and the context of cities like Chicago.” – Daniel S. DeLuca

 

Daniel S. DeLuca is a Boston based artist, and current Mobius member, who uses formal techniques from performance/conceptual art to realize his work. His projects explore structures and concepts related to politics and globalization, art, and psycho-geography. His work has been shown nationally and internationally in the context of private and public spaces, galleries, and performance art festivals. Daniel is currently developing artistic research projects that investigate semiotics and the creation of new language, and large-scale reoccurring events around the world.

all photos by Celia Marks

 

Stillness Series- Kid Romance

Terror of History 2009  is not a piece that The Present Tense would normally show.  It isn’t performance art, it is a song and video created by Kid Romance on the subject of time passing and historical memory loss. The video is a compilation of still images that are glimpses of a time that have long passed in Kid Romance’s life.  Romance states that the images by themselves are not important. “It is what is between the images that is meant to protrude. Everything that is not there that makes up a life. The undocumented history that is obliterated and the documented history that becomes something new in each new present is the subject of this piece.”

The purpose of this website is to create a resource for contemporary live art practices.  We attempt to  document art that is essentially impossible to capture though documentation.  Kid Romance’s approach to understanding documented and undocumented histories spoke to us.  Romance’s answer is stillness, providing a moment amongst the visual and audio chaos to consider what is unseen.

Kid Romance aka Lucy Watson is an artist based in Allston MA. Lucy attended high school at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston Salem. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Tufts University in partnership with SMFA, Boston. She is involved currently with a vibrant DIY community that exists in Allston and has ties to international music communities. Lucy is working on her first feature film.

Stillness Series- William Skaleski

William Skaleski’s practice centers on the idea of being alone.  An aspect of loneliness that fascinates Skaleski, is the human instinct to seek comfort and feelings of safety in places or objects.  Skaleski creates performances that bring situations of loneliness into a public setting. Skaleski also uses movement as a way to externally convey internal emotions.

In his piece Anticipation, 2011 Skaleski presents an intimate struggle of getting from one side to another.  The piece includes live action and a video projection that allows this action to be viewed from multiple perspectives.  This composition challenges witnesses to consider whether or not the artist is succeeding or failing in his task, or are both perspectives equal to eachother?

There are few moments of physical stillness during Anticipation.   However, the piece requires a level of patience that can be equated with stillness.  Although Skaleski’s intent is to seek comfort,  this piece can be uncomfortable to watch.  The artist is engaging in an action that seems simple, getting from one point to another.  His process of doing this is anything but simple.  Skaleski’s gestures are so physically vulnerable that there are moments he transforms into a child engaged in an act of learning how to move his body.  This exercise in embodiment presented with the inverted projection of the act, brings to mind a quote from Stan Brakhage:

“How many colors are there in a field of grass to the crawling baby unaware of ‘Green’? How many rainbows can light create for the untutored eye? How aware of variations in heat waves can that eye be? Imagine a world alive with incomprehensible objects and shimmering with an endless variety of movement and innumerable gradations of color. Imagine a world before the ‘beginning was the word.”

Anticipation, on a basic level seems to be an attempt to unlearn what is known to unlock possibilities for new understandings of the complexities of the human psyche.

William Skaleski is a working artist in Brookfield, Wisconsin. He has earned a BFA in Art & Design concentrating in Digital Studio Practice in the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His practice centers on being alone, being able to perform concerning both positive and negative aspects. Both the concepts of performing and being alone is a fascinating combination to him; bringing the situations of loneliness in a public setting can always make for an interesting experience to bring the two opposites together. He has exhibited around the Milwaukee area as well in New York.