Talking about Outside/Input

Culturebot contributor Katherine Steinberg is a writer based in New York.

Among the promises of the Outside/Input program at the Ontological Hysterical Theater is a “stimulating laboratory environment.” My interest was piqued. I was lucky enough to get an inside look at the program by talking to the curators, Daniel Nelson and Morgan Pecelli, as well as a participating artist from the 2005 series, Kenneth Collins. They told me everything I ever wanted to know, but was afraid to ask about the program–including their interest in the art of the blog.

Can you tell me a little bit about how the program got started?

Morgan: Well, I Started here in august and so did Daniel. I wanted to think of ways to revamp the programming in general for emerging artists. It was something that Richard wanted and something that we’d talked about in my hiring.

Were there specific new things you wanted to do that weren’t being done?

M: Basically it was to get production value up to a level higher than it had been. That was my main goal. To get interesting, challenging things going on with a higher production value.

Daniel: For me, the idea for Outside/Input came from an amalgamation of several projects I had worked on or workshops I had participated that were really cool. I wanted to keep the ball rolling with that kind of work and see what could come out of that.

For the most part most of us who work here are multidisciplinary. I sort of wear whatever hat is needed for the particular project. Or if it’s my own work I tend to end up doing a little bit of everything or a lot of everything. The idea was to do something that would cater to those types of artists. Also, a few years ago I worked in a puppet lab called lab-a-palooza. It’s a whole durational process of seven months and it’s similar to Outisde/Input in that it was a weekly lab setting in which people would bring in and either present parts of their work or they would come in and sometimes just talk about it. So [the idea for Outside/Input] came out of that setting, because as a participant and co-creator of a project I was amazed how things that I normally would have obsessed about for months or weeks and thought “oh how am I going to make that happen” would be met with so many different ideas. People would jump in and be like, “you could do this” or “you could do that” or “don’t even worry about making it fly because you could approach it form a totally different angle.” I just thought it was so great and so resourceful.

So in approaching this–and these were all sort of puppet/object based works–I thought what would happen on a larger scale where somebody who normally works in one sphere is suddenly infected by the ideas of somebody working in digital media. So that was one of the things we talked about that really excited us.

How have the artists involved been responding to the program?

D: We had a kind of wrap up session a couple nights ago and one thing that we noticed was that it seemed like there were two major identifiable things that happened: One being artists that came in with a concept expressed in their proposal and what wound up being created or produced had a kernel of the original concept, but in its final form was quite a bit different. Then there were others where it became a distillation process. It was like “oh, let’s see what happens if…” So what we gave them was an opportunity to try new things–figure out if it worked, figure out how it could be woven into the structure and then certain ideas were discarded. And it really was about 50/50.

M: Both of which were exciting and produced different things.

D: It was also interesting how it worked out 50/50.

Did this feedback jibe with the initial goals of the program?

M: When Daniel and I were originally talking about it and putting people together from different places it was so that different people would feed off each other and push each other in different directions. It was built in that the artists would affect each other and I think they did. There were little things like that every single piece had an eye in it.

Did you find that a type of artist was more likely to diverge from the initial idea or not?

D: I think people who were using their proposal or project as a means of exploring something they hadn’t necessarily done before diverged the most.

M: Because I think the people who didn’t deviate so much it was more a specific thing about their project that they wanted to tweak. It was more a specific thing about their own process about their own way of working that they wanted to play with. And that’s what the new thing that they were trying to explore.

How do you see the program growing in the future?

D: Well we sort of had the idea and it was trial by fire, but next time around we have a little bit more time built in, which would give us an opportunity to meet with the prospective artists before hand. With the other way we got submissions and then we emailed out some probing questions. Next time around we’d want to set up interviews so we could actually have a discussion with people. That way we could say in retrospect well here’s how it worked last year in the first month people were kind of here and we can really talk about it more as a cohesive thing.

M: And then ideally these guys are learning along the way different stepping stones towards self-production. So then the following summer they might be part of our curated rental residency and their next show then has this whole process and also it’s building this community.

What were the selection criteria and what were some of these probing questions?

D: Well it’s tricky because we almost wanted polar opposite things from people. We wanted people to have a really firmly developed, cohesive concept and the resources to make it happen. So we were looking for experience self-producing or the resources or all of it.

So a degree of self-sufficiency?

D: Exactly. But then we also wanted to look for people where their project wasn’t so evolved or developed where they would come in with this fixed thing and just try and use it as an opportunity to get something produced. It also had to indicate a level of fluidity so that it could maybe change or shift based on this duration, this process. And depending on what point people were at our probing questions went one way or the other.

M: There was some also some aesthetic choice going in to it. We have been discovering that we feel similarly about a lot of work.

D: And each project–depending on the nature of the project the proposals were so vastly different depending on what the starting point of the work was. A lot of time we got segments of a script—some people sent us portfolios of scanned or photocopied images.

M: The applications were all over the place.

D: And there are those we could see were just trying to get their work produced and we’re one of probably a dozen people they’ve sent this to. So a lot of it was seeing who was tailoring their proposal to fit in with what we’d articulated the program to be. People who wanted to address the duration and the nature of getting feedback seemed like a really good match. It wasn’t really that hard to identify.

M: It took us less than a week and I think there were only two projects where we debated which one would make it.

Any advice to people reading this who want to submit for next year?

D: I really want to encourage artists to use this sort of lab setting to develop pieces that have some performance element to them but are not something that has to be presented on a stage to an audience sitting on chairs. That would be my dream, come next year. It’s more work for us in actuality I think…but that’s alright.

M: In an ideal world where we have lots of money and people who really knew what they were doing in terms of the web and web-streaming I think that could be another source of feedback. Maybe someone doing live streaming of a piece or a piece developed for the web. To me that would be interesting.

D: The web can also be used as a really great resource for text composition or for text construction–like the blog format. All of a sudden you get people joining in and you get this instant collaboration happening. And so you can get dramatic compositions that happen like that and then it could be performed immediately.

A Couple of Questions for the Artist:

What do you think was most helpful in getting you to distill your ideas?

Kenneth: Well the thing that I’ve always found frustrating is that, with the type of work that I do is really hard to read in an audience and see how they’re seeing the work. Not necessarily if they’re liking it or disliking it, but if they’re reading it the way I’m intending it to be read. I just want to see how clear I’m being or how effective the techniques that I’m trying to employ actually are. And this process has been great for that. Not only was I able to get that kind of immediate feedback in a conversation form from the small group of artists that were part of the program, but since we did these monthly presentations for the public downstairs I was also able to get it in mass quantities from people with various levels of knowledge of this type of work.

Do you think that’s going to impact your work going forward?

Kenneth: I would hope to do something like this in the future. There are few and far between terms of opportunities to do this kind of thing. Certainly trying to build some of this type of thing into my process– maybe if it only involves inviting a couple outsiders who are not familiar with my work to some rehearsals to do the same type of thing.

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