Five Questions for Travis Chamberlain
Title: Public Programs Coordinator at the New Museum, member of The Fabulous Entourage, burgeoning video artist and dancemaker
URL: http//www.newmuseum.org/events and http://www.fabulousentourage.com
1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?
I grew up in Fairmont, NC, about 10 minutes away from the tourist trap known as South of the Border–the first place south of the North Carolina border where you can buy fireworks. There’s a big tower there in the shape of a gigantic sombrero, and you can ride up in an elevator to the brim of the sombrero and almost see my house from the observation deck. (True story.)
2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?
I often think of my influences in the live arts in terms of communities of influence. When I first arrived in New York nine years ago as an aspiring director, I was drawn to the work of the Wooster Group and their immediate descendents (Radiohole, Elevator Repair Service, etc.). Radiohole, in particular, continue to inspire me with their combustible mixtures of high brow and low brow, personal and intellectual, pop and esoterica, high tech and low tech. They never play it safe. Sometimes they get hurt, literally. It’s a spectacle to behold, and I respect them deeply for their dauntless courage and goofiness. More recently, I have been inspired by New York City’s contemporary dance community, which I’m just beginning to discover, really. I am encouraged by the extremes of experimentation that I see coming out of that community, and I am impressed by its eagerness to collaborate and explore new dialogues across art forms (including theater, visual art, performance art, film, and music). I see great potential there for building audiences and sharing, merging, and inventing new aesthetic languages.
In my video work, I have been deeply influenced and inspired by Kenneth Anger, Ken Russell, Ryan Trecartin, Charles Atlas, Takashi Miike, Richard Lester, MGM Musicals, Adam Bernstein’s music videos for They Might Be Giants, Missy Elliott’s videos, and, recently, many of the more outlandish videos by Russell Mulcahy (“Total Eclipse of the Heart,” “Video Killed the Radio Star,” etc.). In my music and also more generally, I have been most influenced by Brian Eno, whom I consider a role model of sorts. I have a great deal of respect for his ability to cross through the extremes of experimental and commercial work without ever compromising or betraying his artistic integrity.
3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?
Two things. (1) I wish I could play piano brilliantly, and (2) I wish someone could just download the After Effects user manual into my brain. The piano–because it would make songwriting so much easier sometimes (although I enjoy poking around and finding things on my own, too). After Effects–because learning new software causes me physical pain, but I need to figure this thing out…
4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.
I coordinate and occasionally curate public programs for the New Museum–everything from panel discussions and lectures to screenings, concerts, and performances. I spend most of my day doing contracts, writing and editing blurbs for events with microscopic attention to detail, putting together eblasts and other promotional materials, coordinating artists and technicians, balancing the budget, and navigating bureaucracy. When we have an event, which is generally the case three nights out of every week, I switch into “show mode.” I set up the theater, which could mean anything from throwing out some tables and chairs to doing a light focus and rearranging the space. I coordinate with box office, welcome the artists, oversee their tech needs, house manage, usher, and then sometimes even run tech for the event. At the end of the night, I’m responsible for archiving all of the material that was recorded during the event. We do approximately 150 events a year.
5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?
I have been balancing my work as a producer/curator with my artistic practice since I first arrived in New York. I try to think of my work in the arts and the art that I make as going hand in hand. The artists I work with nourish my own art practice. And, I feel like my art-making influences the work I am drawn to as a curator. It can be a struggle to keep those things in balance, but I try not to stress out about that any more. I generally follow the opportunities that arise, and when there are no opportunities in front of me, I find ways to make new opportunities happen. Right now, I feel very lucky in very many ways that my job requires me to investigate new ideas in contemporary art. I am constantly challenged, provoked, and inspired by the art I encounter these days.
Travis Chamberlain premieres two original dance/music videos at Center for Performance Research (361 Manhattan Ave. in Williamsburg) on November 20th and 21st at 8:00pm as part of a shared bill curated by Jack Ferver. In HI HO (2009), a sinister werewolf transformation sequence turns into a midnight cuddle party, featuring a dancing lumberjack, two mischievous Daisy Dukes (cloned fromThe Dukes of Hazzard), music inspired by Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and a tribute to the strangely endearing world of plushy fetish culture. In FEEL THE BURN (2009), Judi Newton Missett Mephistopheles and her five masked minions lead you through the workout from Hell–the invocation of your demon personal trainer. His video/performance work HEAD VI + 2(X)IST, inspired by the work of Francis Bacon and men’s underwear ads, is also premiering at Danspace on November 14 at 8:00pm as part of Food For Thought, curated by Enrico Wey.