Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Research partner.

The big exciting news in my world this month has been that this little guy - or girl - has decided to live on our back deck.  Much to the chagrin of Sansa and Asha, I've been slowly getting him/her to trust me by sitting out on the back deck in the evenings while he/she eats.


We are slowly getting there.  And, as you can see, I have plenty of research and reading to be doing while I'm out there, building trust.


I am absolutely addicted to books.  Travis has made half-hearted attempts in the past to get me interested in having a Kindle, but honestly, I just want the actual, physical BOOK, the pages in my hands.  And an upcoming show involving a culture about which I know very little is the perfect excuse to add to my collection.  Uqalurait: An Oral History of Nunavut arrived today, and I'm waiting on others.

Call it multitasking - reading and research for a show while getting a kitten to trust me.  I hope that if he/she has a home, I'll be able to find the owner, though having this ritual time to read and be quiet & still has been a great way to start each evening.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Marfa Adventures.

When I was in graduate school at UT Austin years ago, I was constantly hearing about how awesome Marfa was for seeing art.  It took nine years of living here for us to finally journey all the way out there to check it out.

Driving there all day on a Friday, it seemed like an unlikely place to see art, but having spent 99.99% of my time in Texas in the bigger cities it was great to finally see what other areas of this gigantic state look like.  After arriving on Friday we drove out to the McDonald Observatory to see whatever stars and planets they could show us that night (we saw Saturn!), and it's just stunning what getting away from light pollution and experiencing true darkness will do for your view of the night sky. 

On Saturday we took the full collection tour at the Chinati Foundation, which went from about 10:30am-4pm.  What struck me the most about this experience was the site-specificity involved in this collection - there was an intentionality to the placement of THIS art in THIS space.  Some of the pieces in the collection, especially those by Donald Judd, were not works that would normally resonate with me, but within the context of the space - the buildings in which they were permanently installed, the view of the desert that could be seen through the windows - they were arresting.  This was most true, for me, of Judd's 100 untitled works in milled aluminum.  I sat on the floor of that room looking out at the desert through the sculptures, enjoying how it reflected in the aluminum, how the light coming through the windows affected the pieces.  Had I been looking at these pieces in another gallery, I'm not sure I would have lingered as much.

The highlight for me was the Dan Flavin installation, which covered six separate buildings.  Travis and I went from one building to the next, exploring the hallways and frequently being surprised by what we found in each (despite the fact that they were nearly identical).  Upon entering each building, you would see two hallways branching off at the end of the room, with a different colored light washing the walls of each hallway.  Approaching the hallways, you could look down to see the source of that colored light, and there were times when we were both actually surprised - in that Christmas morning kind of way - by what we saw.
Running through empty hallways of six buildings in the desert, discussing color mixing.  That's how I spent that Saturday.

I also loved the immersive installation School No. 6 by Ilya Kabakov.  This was probably helped by my current interest in the immersive theater phenomenon (and my love of "Sleep No More").  I love walking through a space, multiple rooms, where there is a narrative to discover.  I love having to figure it out, and I love never being sure that I have figured it out because the entire story hasn't been told to me overtly. 

By the end of the tour, my brain was full.  I couldn't handle any more art.  This was unfortunate because one of the final stops on the tour was a display of poetry by Carl Andre, and I couldn't do anything more than look blankly at the poems and acknowledge that they were EXACTLY something that would fascinate me, but mentally I was out of disk space.  Looking at them I wondered if Mark Z. Danielewski had seen these, or something similar, when writing House of Leaves.  The Chinati Foundation should offer a backwards version of this tour so that the pieces seen at the end can be better appreciated by people who have not been walking through the desert, bombarded by art, for hours.

Of course we couldn't go all the way to Marfa without the visit to Prada Marfa...
It's unclear in this picture just how "middle of nowhere" this installation actually is - it's not in Marfa, it's about a 35 minute drive from Marfa.  I read in the comments on Foursquare that the artist's intention was to allow the piece to degrade/disintegrate over time without repair into the landscape, which means I need to return to it in 20 or so years to take this photo again.  The most frightening thing about this trip happened at Prada Marfa - when we went to leave to head back to town, our car wouldn't start.  I highly recommend possibly being stranded at Prada Marfa.  Thankfully, the car eventually started and we headed back to civilization.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On Caring.

We recently held our first design meeting for “Sila,” which is being produced at UNH in February 2014.  Early design meetings equals a lot of discussion of themes, imagery, and this conversation went on for over two hours with a lot of material being discussed and ground being covered. 

“Sila” by Chantal Bilodeau deals with Inuit issues surrounding climate change.  Instead of just dealing with climate change from a western perspective, or even a purely scientific one, as I am used to, it delves into how the issue and the conversation surrounding it affects those living closest to the Arctic.   I was studying to be a scientist before I became a theater artist, and probably would have gone into conservation biology had I stuck with it, so when it comes to dealing with this and many, many other issues I am extremely pro-science.  Does the science support it?  Are there peer-reviewed papers in reputable journals on the subject?  Where is the information I’m currently receiving coming from – the media?  A politician?  A scientist?  These are questions that are important to me when dealing with some of the more “controversial” issues.  To my thinking, the fact that 97% of climate scientists support the theory of man-made climate change should be enough for the rest of us to accept this as fact and work to change it.  That should be enough.  In “Sila,” it isn’t.  Several Inuit characters in Bilodeau’s play express frustration at the unwillingness of climate scientists to work in conversation with them – they feel talked AT, and not included, in this global issue that currently affects them the most.  In our meeting (held via Skype, since I am not in New Hampshire) we talked about this and the issue of caring, the role that acts of caring play in broader issues like this.  Tragedies occur and lives are broken, but in “Sila,” healing and real change occurs when people listen to each other’s stories and forego preaching facts in favor of showing empathy and working to understand another human being’s life, how it has been affected, how it can be healed.



This discussion resonated with me because of the recent events in the Texas legislature, which I witnessed first hand.  I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time when Senator Wendy Davis filibustered an extremely restrictive abortion bill.  I was not there when she began, taking my seat in the gallery around 5:30pm on June 25.  I stayed in that seat (or standing in front of it) until about 12:30am the next morning and was part of the incredibly moving, powerful experience of shouting the bill to death.  Earlier in the day, Davis read letter after letter from Texans about their personal experiences with abortion, and she (and I, and many of my friends who were watching the livestream) began crying during one particular letter about a woman’s experience seeking a late-term abortion.  I find myself beyond frustrated when it comes to the right’s insistence on legislating abortions after the 20 week mark because there is a marked lack of LISTENING to women who require this medical treatment.  Women attempting to obtain an abortion at this stage of pregnancy are often vilified, and the discussion always centers around how five months should be “enough” time to decide what to do about a pregnancy, instead of centering around the heartbreaking reasons that women frequently need late-term abortions. There are many, many other stories that have surfaced on the website 1 in 10.  Read them.  And, as I should have expected in a political debate, this one letter and these many stories and the facts surrounding why a small percentage of women seek an abortion after 20 weeks did not matter.  There was a lack of listening, a lack of caring.



These are huge issues.  Action and inaction on them affects many.  How do we incorporate those human stories into the ongoing discussions?  How do we listen to the actual experiences of others, and not just the information being fed to us by the media, politicians, or even science?