Five Questions for Kevin Cunningham
Name: Kevin Cunningham
Title/Occupation: Director/Writer/Designer—Executive Artistic Director
Organization/Company: 3-Legged Dog Media and Theater Group/3LD Art & Technology Center
1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?
I grew up in Colorado and moved to Texas when I was 12. After working in high security mental hospitals for eight years in Austin, I moved to Mexico to follow my dream of becoming a sculptor. I ran out of money after a couple of years and returned to Texas intending to raise some money and move to NYC. I met James Surls and started studying sculpture at the University of Houston. Bored with my work, I began writing an idiosyncratic list of the junk in my studio which I ended up turning in for a lit course. The day after I turned it in, Donald Barthelme appeared in my studio and took me to his grad writing seminar. I studied with him for six years until his death. In a desperate attempt to avoid a poetry workshop, I sent a short story to Edward Albee who offered me a slot in his production workshop. Don and Edward both sat on my grad committee and urged me to move to NYC. After graduation I met the Blue Man Group on a PS 122 Field Trip at Diverse Works (where I ran an artists bookstore) they offered me a job as their Production Stage Manager at Astor place theater putting up Tubes. I accepted and moved to NYC. I worked as a designer, stage manager, technical director and production manager for Bang On a Can, the Kitchen, Lincoln Center, the Signature Theater, Ron Vawter and finally Richard Foreman. Foreman offered me a slot at the Ontological in the Summer of 1996 to produce my play, House of Bugs: A Biological Tragedy. The experience was very satisfying and the team (which included Mike Taylor, Jill Szuchmacher, Scott Gillette –later of Radio Hole) Morgan Pecelli ended up designing lights I believe. We kept working together. Mike, Jill and Scott have moved on since but the company has been producing work ever since. We built and now operate a 12,500 square foot center for experimental art below Ground Zero. The space has hosted 2300 artist from 32 countries in its first 3 years of existence. It was built in response to the destruction of our company on 9/11. Just before 9/11 we had put together a software company called Wet Electrics. We had secured $5.6 in investment and had 28 employees in the company. I learned during this venture about the importance of scale, scope and about bringing business methods to bear on the creative process without compromising artistic vision or criteria. We are now mostly focused on a creative strategy that may or may not end in a theatrical work. Our last piece and our next piece (both collaborations with Chuck Mee) are large completely immersive performance/installations.
2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?
Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass opened me up to the idea that an artist could build a hermetic world and that allowing natural processes to do their work could be an intentional part of artmaking sort of reinforced by watching Richard Foreman create My Head Is a Sledgehammer. The work of Donald Barthelme showed me that an artist could work in a stubbornly experimental mode but that if that artist paid attention to craftsmanship and quality at least some of the experiments can be successful even though they are accessible and even entertaining. In the same vein I have really only been stunned by one work: Ron Vawter’s final performance of Frank Dell’s Temptation of Saint Anthony at the Performing Garage which gave me a goal that I have yet to be able to achieve of creating artwork with unabashed and uninhibited joy regardless of circumstance and being able to share that work intimately with the audience.
3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?
The ability to unselfconsciously vomit complex ideas into physical/temporal reality spontaneously.
4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.
I create and produce large-scale multi-media artworks. I spend about 75% of my time raising money and gathering resources in preparation for 2-4 month long stretches of intense physical creation.
5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?
Whenever that choice comes up, I opt for art and just deal with the consequences. In 1998 I reached a point at which it became obvious that it made more financial sense for me to concentrate on fundraising for my art than on continuing my fairly successful freelance practice. I have had some very hard times since, but I have not regretted my decision.