Looking Back on Culturebot’s “Ephemeral Evidence”

Jessica and Lily duet from written evidence of Aretha's solo at Culturebot's "Ephemeral Evidence" at Exit Art. Photo by Maura Donahue.

A little more than a month has passed since the closing of Culturebot’s first foray into the gallery world, with “Ephemeral Evidence” at the now departed Exit Art, a fantastic non-profit art space that served the community for over 30 years before choosing to close on its own terms. It was a remarkable experience, and we covered it a great deal at the time, but with some perspective following the close of the event, we returned to our artists to ask a few questions to try to suss out the exploration of performance and context, as well as our first proper execution of “embedded criticism.” Here are their responses. –Jeremy M. Barker

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Rebecca Davis.

Rebecca Davis, who presented NEWS, a “durational performance that yields a large-scale drawing. Wearing shoes constructed from newspaper, performers walk continuously in a circle on a large sheet of white paper throughout the day until the gallery closes. Over time, the newspaper ink rubs into the white paper, leaving a visual presence of the path walked by the performers.” Programmed by Aaron Mattocks.

What differences did you notice between developing this project for a visual arts setting vs. a conventional dance or performance space?

The main difference is in shaping the density and the pacing of the material. When making work for a conventional dance space where the audience stays from beginning to end, I go on tangents, picking up and dropping ideas throughout the work.  But in a visual art context with the audience coming and going, I simplify the action and number of ideas so that the viewer, no matter what time they come, will essentially see the same thing.

Did having a writer involved with you on this project have an effect on either process or outcome?

Yes. I felt incredibly supported by having another perspective and presence invested in the work. I can’t emphasize enough the value that Aaron added to my thinking. By reviewing my work to write the profile, spending the entire day on site, and discussing all over dinner afterward, he built a substantial understanding of my work.  As a result, he made connections between aspects of my work that were new even to me.
Our dialogue will definitely influence future iterations of the piece.

Do you feel that the object(s) made over the course of the day acquired an inherent value through the process of creation? Or are they simply evidence that an event occurred?

Once an object or piece of clothing has performance history, I attach an emotional value to it, which basically means I can never throw it away. They serve as portals into my memory.

* * * * *

Aretha Aoki, who presented The Solo Project, a “personal story that attempts to reach beyond the personality of the solo dancer, and will continue Aretha’s interest in the formation of narrative through choreographic structure.” Programmed by Maura Donahue.

Aretha Aoki's feet.

What differences did you notice between developing this project for a visual arts setting vs. a conventional dance or performance space?

When I first arrived at the gallery on Tues morning and found myself surrounded by the work of so many incredible artists, I felt a responsibility toward all of that. At first, I thought everyone involved in the project should spend time looking at the art, taking it in, consciously responding to it…but something about that felt forced. So, I chose to stay within our designated white wall space and focus on the day’s experiment rather than the specificity of the gallery. I did however, spend a little time by myself in the morning taking sound recordings from all around Exit Art–the offices, the bathrooms and the main exhibit space–which fed into the final sound score. As I took these recordings I took in some of the art in a light way and perhaps it’s like when you go into a dance studio to rehearse, you are making work in spaces that so many dance artists have occupied, and somehow all of that work feeds into your own dance-making time. We don’t see the work on the walls but I believe we are somehow are taking it in.

Also, there was of course the obvious difference of being able to ‘destroy’ the space. We didn’t have to worry about getting the walls dirty or making marks on the floor…all of these things would serve the documentation. And I refrained from my typical hour-long warm up of lying around on the floor. The cold concrete wasn’t very inviting!

How was this creative process different for you? 

I was able to fit a lot of research into one day–research that under ‘normal’ conditions could take months to engage in. I had the support of the CB writer, Maura, as a witness to the day’s work and an integral voice in the process as I felt our conversations throughout the day allowed for moments of simultaneous conceptualization and creative execution. The Exit Art staff were there to provide technical support which helped speed things up immensely. And I had the concentrated focus of five fantastic artists. I could respond and react to ideas almost immediately, so things progressed very quickly. Ryan was literally at his computer the entire time, editing sounds and rendering them. I very quickly had a product on my hands. This is very unusual.

What did it mean to be tasked with having an object as a result? 

At first, very daunting. As I prepared for the day, I find myself prioritizing the object–trying to twist and bend an ephemeral form into and object-based one–over the process, though I tried not to give this notion much energy. I suppose luckily for me, in terms of this particular project, I’m interested in working with artists of different mediums. I chose to work with Kim Hennessy and Miranda Huba and Ryan MacDonald, all of whom made object-documents of some kind. It surprised me how much I had to work to not endow these objects with too much preciousness. At one point, Kim had to remind me to destroy her installation through my dancing and really it was only when I did do this that we could have any semblance of true documentation.

What aspects of this experience might influence future projects or the way you work?

This experience is the foundation of the piece I’m now working on, a small beginning seed of which is showing at Catch this weekend. Kim is both making an installation in the moment and somehow I roped her into dancing in it as well. We use parts of Miranda’s play. And Lily Gold and Jessica Ray wrote versions of my initial solo, which I have interpreted and put into the dance.

 * * * * *

Sarah Rosner and the AO Movement Collective

Sarah Rosner, whose AO Movement Collective presented barrish: the scores, as an open rehearsal and developmental residency. The piece invited participants “to wrestle with unleashing hysteria and becoming ‘skinless,’ navigating the intimacy of being sewn to another performer for ‘the string score,’ queering notions of masculine certainty and female acquiescence by ‘glaciering,’ or to simply bear witness to the practice and discussion surrounding these scores as they are translated by new bodies.” Programmed by Alyssa Alpine.

What differences did you notice between developing this project for a visual arts setting vs. a conventional dance or performance space?



I think the main difference was the visibility of the process. Much of what we are working on relies on working within a ‘safe space’ to give oneself the safety to get to the states we’re exploring (be it the hysteria of skinless or the intimacy of the string duet). Knowing that our space was instead transparent and open gave it a different texture, one that was both less safe and somehow more daring to make up for it.

How was this creative process different for you? What did it mean to be tasked with having an object as a result?

What aspects of this experience might influence future projects or the way you work?

I’ve always loved the artifacts of process, so for us having to find something to leave behind was more a question of “which thing?” than how to produce an artifact. This type of open-rehearsal and workshop process was a nice reminder how helpful it is for the dancers to have to teach scores and material. In teaching it, they have to assume my role of the outside/directorial clarity, which is a mindset that brings up different things for them than being inside the scores does. I could see us using that as a more regular tool in piece-making as we move into new work.

Do you feel that the object(s) made over the course of the day acquired an inherent value through the process of creation? Or are they simply evidence that an event occurred?

I tend to only think of them as artifacts, but that’s because the dance world doesn’t attach material value to it’s process and artifacts like the visual art world does. It was interesting to think about if we were making the shirts more valuable by moving in them and tearing them up (or rather: how valuable our use was making them) and what that value measured: effort? content? agenda? celebrity? aesthetics? I find the artifacts more valuable than they were in their original states, but as a sentimental reminder of process – I’d be surprised (but hugely pleased) if someone outside the process wanted to consider them valuable.

Did having a writer involved with you on this project have an effect on either process or outcome?

Working with a writer made me want to be more articulate, and put a foreseeable consequence on moments of murkiness or unquestioned uncertainty. Though this was probably more my pressure than anyone else’s, I felt a desire to be as clear as possible in our instruction and execution of the scores, as well as the way we were talking about them. It felt like to preserve the vast amorphous web of the piece’s content, we had to be as clear as possible so nothing was misunderstood, so nothing superfluous was added to the already massive collection. Amorphousness always gets lost when words intersect movement work, because of inherent narrowing down of the possibility of what could be to the actuality of what is. A work can contain a million possibilities of how it is experienced, but each experience is singular. I became more aware of this working with a writer, and appreciated the clarity it pushed me to strive for.

* * * * *

Arturo Vidich

Arturo Vidich, who presented Nobody is Perfect But You Come Close, a day-long performance investigation of the process of creating  “a statement both for and against the uncollectable nature of performance,” in which he  “will address the septic time bomb of a roadkill victim as a live art object, and fellow performer. The roadkill will absorb the emotions and thoughts of the performer, like a morbid piggy bank, as well as stand in for other objects and people. The gussied up roadkill will be entombed in a sphere of clear resin, along with a light source, where it will unobtrusively rot as a functional floor lamp. The lamp has a functional expiration date of whenever the electronics fail.” Programmed by Jeremy M. Barker.

What differences did you notice between developing this project for a visual arts setting vs. a conventional dance or performance space?

Besides the obvious differences of unfinished concrete versus a delicate wood or marley floor, the choices I made within the space were influenced by the historical context. When working in a conventional dance or performance space (I’m thinking proscenium, or at the very least, a bunch of seats facing a designated front) the history at my heels breathes in 3/4, and I’m tasked with using or going against the mores of light, sound, masking, and so forth. The visual art setting proposes an “empty” space, but this too is an illusion. Neither space is free of behavioral edicts, or political underpinnings. Both spaces are functional and can be distinguished from other work spaces, the street, the home. These spaces are where dreams are re-enacted, images concocted, stories told. As an artist I tend to work in unconventional spaces, or create my own environments. So yes, the main difference I noticed was the concrete floor.

How was this creative process different for you? What did it mean to be tasked with having an object as a result? What aspects of this experience might influence future projects or the way you work?

This was the difficult part. Normally when I make physical stuff–as opposed to a straight up performance–the process does not have temporal boundaries besides the ones described by materials. Resin, for example, must be poured in layers or bubbles and excessive heat can ruin the work. It takes 10 minutes to warm-up, 3 minutes to mix, and several hours to set and cool down. It takes 8-24 hours to fully harden, after which you can begin sanding and finishing. For this performance I was given 7 hours of prep time in the space to create the conditions for the performance, or, whatever I wanted. Given the time-sensitive nature of the materials I chose, including the frozen squirrel, the majority of time went into preparing for the prep time. This isn’t very different from how I normally work when installing a show, just more compressed. However, having an object as a result was different. For the last 5 or 6 years I’ve been making performances that resulted in a video document that also worked as a video piece, time-based and light-emitting. The object resulting from Nobody’s Perfect But You Come Close is also light-emitting, and time-based in that the functionality as a lamp will cease when the irreplaceable (but highly efficient) electronics eventually fail. It’s almost geological. Unfortunately the power of the decomposing carcass outstripped the electronics; the resin cracked under the strain of gasses and filled my studio with putrescence. For the future, perfecting the process of encasing carcasses in resin, as ephemeral evidence, would certainly be a good idea.

Do you feel that the object(s) made over the course of the day acquired an inherent value through the process of creation? Or are they simply evidence that an event occurred?

The event was aimed more at making the lamp than the other way around. I didn’t feel like the lamp had more value because of the way it was created during the day, if anything the quality of the lamp suffered from the fact that I had to rush portions of the process to adhere to the strict schedule. I’d say the value was more the experience of arriving at the space with a bunch of stuff and an idea, systematically laying it out and dipping into it, and then improvising the actual performance.

Did having a writer involved with you on this project have an effect on either process or outcome? 

Working with a writer added a bit of a dramaturgical edge to the work. Rather than being proscriptive, Jeremy was really good pushing the work forward by questioning motives and choices I was making. I’ve had a taste of this kind of process before, last year, with Body Island (I worked with writer, Ashley Rawlings). Working with a writer is like writing a grant; ideas are proved on paper before committing. Writers make you honest.

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