Five Questions for Yanira Castro

1. What is it about the wilderness that prompted this work? Or was there something else?
It is hard to remember now what prompted the work. I had been playing with the word “wilderness” for a while. I had written it down on a piece of paper and had it tacked up on a board. I thought it might make a good name for a piece and thought I was mostly in love with just the sound of the “w” and the “ld”. At around the same time, I was watching a lot of Kurosawa–and was especially struck by Ikuru–and I had come across this film by Reygadas called “Japon.” And the connection for me in both films was this theme of men coming to the end of their lives and how in preparing for that crossing they completely rearrange their relationship to their own lives, their own actions/work, selves. And so, I was thinking about boundaries and crossings and transformation–and that began to be attached to this word I had tacked up on my board. I had also just finished premiering a piece at DTW called “Center of Sleep” that took place within an immersive sound and set installation, and I was really curious about creating a situation in which the performance environment was not only unfamiliar for the audience but was also, in important ways, unknown to the performers. To create a meeting ground… where the performers had to “read” the audience to make their way through the piece. These themes of crossings/boundaries/unknown situations seemed really pertinent to me about the essence of live performance–the audience walking into an unknown situation, the spaces between performer and audience, performer and space, audience and space, etc–and Wilderness became a way of talking about this in a formal, structural way.

2. What excites you most about making interactive work? I read the DTW blog about the Coffee and Conversation talk which suggests to audience members to let the notion of the ‘fourth wall’ go.  For “Wilderness,” were you intentionally removing the ‘fourth wall’ or were you thinking in different terms? I don’t think of the work in those terms: interactive or fourth wall. The Fourth Wall for me is a theatrical term that I don’t feel I have a relationship with right now–mainly b/c “fourth wall” is flat and square and picture-based, and I have been dealing in relationships. I think my questions very early on when I made Cartography in 2002 at The Old American Can Factory were about proximity. I wanted the audience to be close to the material. I wanted to change the physical relationship to the performer. So we played with great distance and with close proximity. And later it became a question about perspective, a freedom to relocate and reframe. To be active in how as an audience member you structure your experience by where your attention takes you. Not just by what you notice in the space but how physically close you place yourself and how you engage with it with your own presence and how that alters everything in the room for the performers and the other audience members. I wanted to create a situation, a scenario and to be clear about what that was.

3. What are essential aspects of a successful collaboration for you? For me, collaborations have been about discovering people and then finding a language. I tend to work with people b/c there is something in their approach or their way of thinking and making that I am attracted to or find infuriating or I am curious about. I like being challenged and I am often most curious about my negative reactions. My process tends to be to pile everything on, be pretty accepting of all input and then go about severely weeding. So, I suppose I need to work with people who are not too precious about what they make and who can talk about it incessantly. For me, it is all about the editing process and I am slow at it b/c I really like to consider every aspect of it. I think that can get exhausting but that is how my mind works. I never want to say “no” right away. I am interested in the possibilities I have not considered until I am absolutely convinced of a choice.

4. You went through a kind of, for want of a better word, “identity” change not too long ago. Or your work did. Or your working name did. What prompted a canary torsi? Is there something about new media and/or new mediums that serve you better?
There were a few things that prompted a canary torsi… I was having a very visceral reaction to what I felt was a pull to institutionalize: to have a 501 (c) 3–to have a company. I didn’t want a company. I so wanted to divest myself from all of that baggage on the work. I love the people I work with and I didn’t want to be their boss. I had called the group Yanira Castro + Company for years out of laziness. It seemed like that is what you did and I was young. I was at a point where it just made no sense to me anymore…I had a real aversion to it… so I decided for a name change. Only to get on the other side and feel: what the fuck! A name! The responsibility of finding the “right” name was clearly impossible… so like a good post-Judsonite… I took to the roll of the dice. And hence the name. I wanted it to be absurd b/c it felt like a ridiculous situation. But like all experiments, it came to have meaning: The Canary was a popular dance style in the 16th Century ( and one of the meanings of “torsi” is a “truncated or unfinished thing.” It was completely chance but also fortuitous… a canary torsi… an incomplete social dance.

About new media or mediums… it wasn’t so much that they serve better but that I had an interest in them, and I was interested in how encapsulated performances are in time and space and I wanted to find a way for the work to seep out of those boundaries a little bit. The fictional Twitter feeds of two lovers for Dark Horse/Black Forest served as a way to access the piece outside of the performance space and time and to have a relationship to it prior to coming into the work. It also meant that someone anywhere could have a lense into it. With Wilderness, we wanted to create a video game to accompany it. We ran out of time and sources, but I am dedicated to the idea of creating alternate worlds for a work that can be differently accessed.

5. How has your view of yourself as an artist changed in the past 10 years? 20? When I started making work I was young… right out of college… and I think my attitude was to try as many things as I could. So, I dabbled and made many 10/15/20 minute dances as experiments in a style or form. I can say that now looking back, but at the time… I was just responding to what I was seeing. It wasn’t a conscious “education”, but in hindsight… that is how you go about honing a craft. Because I was not really trained as a dancer and I was not very interested in dancing for anyone… I was just fascinated by how dances worked. I feel like my first 8 years in NYC was 101. And then at a certain point, I got bored and I think that was when I started asking better questions. And in many ways, that is when I feel I really started making my own work–in 2002 with Cartography. The work, after that, was not so much a reaction to what I was seeing but to my own questions. With time, those questions get more and more specific and personal. I am sure there will be a time when I am bored of my own questions as well and I don’t know what the next thing will be after that… what propels after that. But I trust that is the nature of making work for an extended period of time…constant relocation.

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