Seattle-based artist Jennifer Zwick has a new installation, “I’m Pretty Sure This is Exactly Right,” up until June 28th, that has quietly infiltrated a public street space with a window into a private realm — that of the divided human consciousness. This piece is a part of the Storefronts Seattle program that seeks to “revitalize neighborhoods” by putting art and art experiences into empty storefronts, keeping the vibrant neighborhood culture alive while businesses try to heal from this recession. To me this is a perfect fit for her work, a tiny peek into a flip-flopped world where art helps out business, and the divide between multiple states of being is not really as clear as it may first appear. Though primarily known for her photographs, this little constructed world — of a dark jungle scene on top and a domestic interior mirrored and suspended below — reflects much of what I feel when I see most of her work.
It’s like almost being able to touch the slightly off-kilter images of nature she presents, but still keeping us confined behind glass. The anxiety it makes me feel is like a subtle itch, but then her anxiety slides up beside and takes the hand of my anxiety and we all skip off together with hell in our hand-basket. I’m sucked in because I know the ship is going down, but her work lets me know it might just all be okay with one tiny flip of perspective. I did a free-association cherry pick of her work I felt drawn to, and when looking at the pieces all together like tea-leaves I found my own concerns reflected back, that of the anxious human standing on the threshold between wanting to vanish into nature and wanting to be a part of polite society, of losing self but also wanting to. Our big brain and vulnerable bodies give us the ability to compartmentalize and separate ourselves from even our own bodies and desires, in order to survive.
But it is these compartments that Zwick teases apart with a self-deprecating tomfoolery until the divide only seems like a shadow of the same thing. It will (never) get better, unless and especially if you break through and dive into the other side of yourself, outside of yourself. The installation is at 409 Maynard Avenue South (the lower space, looking onto Maynard Ave), in Seattle, Wa. until June 28th.
I have been thinking a great deal lately about learning and sharing during the process of making art….I’m working on the planning stages of an interactive residency at The Project Room in Seattle, where I will be doing my very first stitch on a project, then will show the results more than a year later. It has me pondering/picking apart what is it like, how does it unfold when we begin without knowing how to do something or be something or reach something within ourselves that we aim to share with other people, and then there is this process we go through where something that was once unknown becomes a part of us. These thoughts bring me again and again back to Haruko Nishimura of Degenerate Art Ensemble, and these images of her shot by photographer/architect Rex Hohlbein for her Red Shoe Butoh Journal.
They were made at the very beginning — more than a year ago– of a project , “Red Shoes“, that now in the next few weeks approaches its end. I like to think about what Haruko didn’t know then and what she does know now. She began doing her Butoh training outside in parks rather than a rehearsal space, mainly because she was broke after a huge show….and now “Red Shoes”, the final production created with DAE and the Frye Art Museum, is a multi-sited performance that will spill out onto those streets.
Did this early beginning of solo practice in the midst of the bustle of real life in parks and public squares lead to staging this fairy tale in the streets? Red Shoes will be a transformative experience for those that get to see it….it sold out within hours of tickets coming online (a testament to the impact and devotion that DAE inspires in its fans). It will be a HUGE multi-disciplinary, multi-artist, multi-location collaborative beautifully terrifying experience, but I wanted to just harken back and call attention to those quiet, solo moments of Haruko in the park two winters ago, where the spark of something began…it’s like she put on the red shoes then and has been dancing for her life ever since.
I also love Rex’s images because Haruko is wearing a dress that I made for her character Shiro from the “Sonic Tales“. I spent more than 100 hours on the whole costume, bringing little bits of leather glove with me to stitch together when I watched my son swim or play in the park. Those tiny stitches where remnants of quiet moments in my day to day life. I like how, through Rex’s images, something I began, that then moved through life with Haruko, is reframed through Rex’s process and eyes and seems to have a life of its own. The dress bodice also has a linear thread all the way back to another piece of mine from 1999, “Skin Tight”, that Haruko saw at the Bellevue Arts Museum when they did a survey of my work in 2008.
She wanted to feel what it would be like to have the skin tight leather stretched over her spine, like it was stretched around the laurel stump in my piece. The piece for me, was a way to create a fetish of the tree stump, to anthropomorphize the muscular forms of the wood, while at the same time “animalize” the women’s kidskin gloves (so recognized as a symbol for purity) by boiling them, making the leather shrink tight around the stump and turn back into a thick rawhide texture.
Both stump and gloves (skin) where leftovers from something that was once alive, now very dead…so it was only fitting that the Shiro character Haruko inhabited was a ghost. I loved having her show me something new about my own work.
Haruko is one of the most determined and dedicated artists to the development of her own practice, and it shows when she performs — a thousand expressions and lives pass through her body and face. With the sheer weight of the talent she carries around with her, she might have licence to be a diva, but she never carries herself that way. I’ve had the honor of working with her several times and seeing the way she works with her collaborators…always as a student, always learning, observing and present. I’ve likewise learned a mountain of infinite things from her, watching her performances and getting to participate at times. I’m a bit gleeful about the impending experience of “Red Shoes” and what sort of delightful rubbed-raw emotions I will feel coming away from that, and what it might reveal about the intensity of the desire to create, and how that just won’t let us go.
Here’s another view of Haruko performing captured by long-time DAE collaborator Bruce Tom, who has frozen her astounding movements in my costume for “Shiro” in “Sonic Tales”! Please go see ‘Degenerate Art Ensemble” at the Frye Art Museum, Seattle, until June 19th, 2011.
Seattle-based, world-touring, kick ass dance visual art company Zoe|Juniper need your help funding their latest adventure “A Crack in Everything”. I’ve known Juniper and admired his visual performance-based multi-media work for years, and when he teamed up with his wife Zoe Scofield, I could just never get enough. Many have described Zoe’s choreography, probably much better than I can, but when I see her perform, my eyes water because I just can’t blink I don’t want to miss anything.
“Feral Ballet” has been used again and again to describe her….she’s tiny and giant at the same time, androgynous and feminine, vulnerable only enough to let you see the ferocious strength of vulnerability. I always feel like she has a direct line to some kind of elemental human magma when I see her perform, something boiling up from the ground through her legs and exploding out. Anyway…words aren’t really what it is about.
I had the great privilege of getting to collaborate with Zoe on the performance aspect of my project Mater Matrix Mother and Medium in 2009, and it left me wanting more and more of her and Juniper. Zoe would do anything I asked of her, anything…(“here… wear this 50 pound costume tied to 200 feet of yarn, of and pull these hundred pounds or so of rocks out of a pond“….no complaints). She was game for anything, humble and tough as nails and created something that literally made the people around me gasp. And I will always be grateful to her for her generosity of fitting me into her and Juniper’s very packed performance/residency schedule.
They do so much on such little amounts of money. As with most artists who produce big things, the financial burden usually falls on their shoulders even with grants, etc. They’ve now teamed up with United States Artists to raise money for their newest production “A Crack in Everything”. They haven’t yet met their financial goal, which means they won’t get any of the money pledged so far unless they do. So please, check out their work, spread their work around and donate a few buck or a lot of bucks. Donate here!
You also can see Zoe|Juniper perform at On the Boards on January 27th, 2011 as part of the A.W.A.R.D. Show, along with a flurry of other Seattle movement/dance/performance innovators, and vote for who gets the money (hard!).
You can follow their blog here: zoejuniper.wordpress.com
Also grab a copy of their book ‘White Teeth’
All images by Juniper Shuey
…..I know I do. FFFFOUND never fails to find me something new and familiar, that hits me in the gut. Okay, we have mirror images, on skin, of roots….it’s like a check list of everything I’m thinking about, yet nothing like what I am thinking about. What a lovely back…
This reminds me of the wall painting I do in my installations…and to see this just when I am beginning a body of work on the bodies of friends and family…thrilling. It also reminds me in some small way of “The Tonto Woman”, a short film that’s one of my favorites.