Artist Spotlight: Emily Johnson
Performing Arts intern Julia and Marketing/Public Relations intern Elizabeth team up for a chat with our artist-in-residence, Bessie-award winning choreographer/performer Emily Johnson (founder of Catalyst Dances) to discuss Johnsonâ€™s artistic background and the inspiration for her new work Niicugni (Listen).
Describe your dance and artistic background.
I grew up in a very small town in Alaska. I was an athlete growing up, mainly basketball, long distance running, and softball. Those were my absolute loves. Either sports instilled a love of movement or I had a love of movement going into it.
Dance was not in my life until I got to college. There was a great confluence of teachers at the University of Minnesota when I got there with a heavy focus on improvisation. I loved that suddenly there was movement that wasnâ€™t connected to the game or the race. I could move fully; I could be feeling and thinking. My thoughts could change my movement and my movement could change my thoughts.
What inspires your movement vocabulary?
Movement always comes from an internal thought or feeling first. Iâ€™m always trying to get it out of my body, past the skin. In a way, I donâ€™t care if people watch me or my dancer’s arm moving. Itâ€™s about what can be communicated between my arm movement and the audience. What is communicated in that space?
There has to be such intentionality in the movement. Itâ€™s not that any moment is more precious than the next but, in every moment, we have to know where we are in our story. We have to stay connected with that story and that effort in order to communicate it.
What were the conceptual seeds of Niicugni (Listen)?
A few thoughts crossed paths when I was looking into beginning a new piece. I saw an exhibit at a gallery in Homer, Alaska. It was an exhibit of work made entirely of fish skin. Salmon has always been part of my familyâ€™s life but I had never worked with the skin before. This image of 50 fish skin lanterns hanging in the stage and in the house, creating this secondary diagonal, was the first visual image of this piece before I even knew how to work with the skin.
Around the same time, my dad laid out a map on the counter in my parentsâ€™ house in Alaska. He had just received land from the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Though the Settlement Act was created in 1970s, his land just finally came through. It just really very suddenly struck me that we would have to figure out how to build a relationship with that land.
I was struck with â€śWhat does this mean?â€ť This land is now my fatherâ€™s. It will eventually be passed to my brothers and me. How do we get to know land that is ancestral land? I was looking at this piece of paper that did not give me the information I needed. Maps tell us how to get somewhere, not how to live with land and whatâ€™s really there or who has been there before or who will be there after. This piece really started with all of those questions.
What about the vocal storytelling that is woven through the piece? How do those moments connect to the choreography?
To me, itâ€™s all part of the dance. The stories are as much the dance as we are. Making these lanterns is as much the dance as anything. Itâ€™s not that they are just parts that are important; they are dance.
I like to work with the similarities and differences in how bodies and minds respond to stories and movement. What happens for someone listening to a story? How does a body take in a story? What images are created in your mind? Where does your mind go with that story? Then, how does your body take in movement? Itâ€™s the conversation between those two forms of communication that I find really interesting.
How your work evolved during your residency at MASS MoCA?
Very specifically, being here has allowed us to work on our rigging. We were able to work with all the crew here and our crew to create two improvements and a whole rigging system. That will have a profound impact on this work in terms of its touring life.
In a broad sense, the piece is always informed by the place weâ€™re in because we think very specifically about the building and imagine feeling the ground beneath our feet. We think about how the ground moves in all directions. Itâ€™s the support for us here. Itâ€™s a new kind of mapping as we work to experience many places at once.
See Niicugni (Listen) in the Hunter Center at MASS MoCA on Friday, November 16 at 8 PM. Find tickets here.
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Meet All-Star Tribute Band The Loserâ€™s Lounge
Ever wanted to hear a cover of one of your favorite songs by another artist just as famous? The Loserâ€™s Lounge is a New York nightlife institution that pays homage to great pop music. Since their debut in 1993 (a tribute to Burt Bacharach), the tribute band has covered over 50 beloved bands and artists. ABBA. Carole King. Dolly Parton. The Bee Gees. George Harrison. Michael Jackson. Rod Stewart. The Smiths. Prince. The Mamas and Papas. David Bowie. Neil Diamond. The list goes on and on.
The group visited MASS MoCA in 2003 with the original Off-Broadway rock opera People Are Wrong! and again in 2004 with a sold-out concert with music from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weberâ€™s masterpiece Jesus Christ Superstar.
The Loserâ€™s Lounge returns Saturday, October 20 at 3 PM with a family-friendly tribute to the Muppets musical oeuvre. What inspired a tribute to the Muppets? As founder Joe McGinty told The Brooklyn Paper, â€śI think if youâ€™re in a certain age group, you definitely grew up loving them. I consider myself a fan, the original movie is still a classic.â€ť
A talented, star-studded cast has made The Loserâ€™s Lounge a tribute band that is famous in its own right. The show is like karaoke nightâ€¦but the singers are actually good. Letâ€™s meet a few of the members.
Performed with: The Psychedelic Furs, Ryan Adams, The Ramones, Nada Surf, Martha Wainwright, Die Monster Die, Devendra Banhart, Ronnie Spector.
Other projects: Musical director for a variety of New York theaters, including the Vineyard Theatre and the New York Theatre Workshop.
Fun fact: Founded The Loserâ€™s Lounge in 1993 and currently serves as Musical Director.
ROBIN â€śGoldieâ€ť GOLDWASSER
Instrument: Vocals, ukulele, cello, drums.
Performed with: They Might Be Giants, Mono Puff, The Last Car.
Other projects: Co-wrote rock musical People Are Wrong!.
Fun fact: Robin is a talented knitter and crafter and is the founder of the Deeply Felt Puppet Theatre.
CONNIE LYNN PETRUK
Performed with: David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Perry Farrell, Moby, Joan Jett, Ian Hunter, Ronnie Spector, Sarah Brightman.
Other projects: Lead singer for her own band The Tall Pines (NPRâ€™s Top Ten Best CDs of 2007).
Fun fact: Her voice has been featured on many TV shows including â€śThe Daily Show,â€ť â€śNo Reservations with Anthony Bourdain,â€ť and â€śBored To Death.â€ť
The Loserâ€™s Lounge will perform a Muppet Music Extravaganza in the Hunter Center on Saturday, October 20 at 3 PM. Buy tickets online here.
Posted October 15, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Artist Spotlight, Music
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Artist Spotlight: Jerry Gretzinger
Long before Minecraft and Sim City, there was Jerry Gretzinger
Marketing/Public Relations intern Elizabeth sits down with Jerry Gretzinger to discuss the evolution of his monumental mapping project and his exhibition at MASS MoCA (Oct 5-14 in the Hunter Center).
This must be really exciting for you. The whole map is going to be laid out for the first time, all together.
It is exciting! The first time in 30 years. Â When it was last laid out, because itâ€™s always growing, it was only 578 panels. Now weâ€™re going to do almost 2,700 (panels). Itâ€™s five times as big.
How do you hope visitors will experience the map? Is there anything they should look for?
Theyâ€™re going to have several options. Theyâ€™re going to see the object itself; theyâ€™re going to see me working on it. With a camera Greg (Whitmore, the director of a documentary about Jerry) has set up, theyâ€™ll be able to see close up what Iâ€™m doing. And then, Greg has an elaborate plan for hands-on manipulation of the details, projected on a big screen. Everyoneâ€™s fascinated with the random card process so weâ€™ll have some of the cards up on the screen.
I wanted to ask you about the cards. How did that process develop? When did you decide you wanted to have structure and rules to govern this world?
Before the cards, I had a stack of panels and I would go through the stack one panel at a time and work on every single one. That became unwieldy and started taking me way too long to get through the stack. I wanted a way of just randomly jumping ahead. A deck of playing cards was a simple solution. A Jack is 11; I would go down 11 panels.
Does a card or direction ever come up and youâ€™re a little bit sad to see the change that has to be made? Do you ever feel attachment to one of the panels that looks particularly interesting?
You know about the Void (The Void card covers a panel with white paper, blocking out whatever was previously on it). When that comes up, if itâ€™s just any old panel, thatâ€™s fine. But when itâ€™s a major city, which happened recently, that makes me nervous. I wish it didnâ€™t happen. But I stick to the rules.
Each panel itself is a work of art. The panels are so richly detailed with many different materials. Â I think I spotted a cereal box and a crossword puzzle on one? How did you choose collage with found objects?
The first step, leading into where I am now, was to take old pattern pieces. My wife and I had a business of making womenâ€™s clothing and we had leftover patterns. Pattern paper is stiff and itâ€™s manila colored on one side and green on the other. I started cutting up old patterns. That led me to using the cereal boxes, beer cartons, pretzelsâ€¦ Youâ€™ll see lots of Snyderâ€™s pretzels!
Recently, in the process of moving from New York to upstate Michigan, we were going through boxes in our attic.Â I found letters that I wrote in the 1960s.
How great! Will those make an appearance soon?
Yeah. Iâ€™m slitting them. There are strips of old letters and envelopes. Iâ€™m putting them on the blank panels, the ones I start painting on. Iâ€™m hoping Iâ€™ll get to them while Iâ€™m still here (at MASS MoCA). Theyâ€™re in the middle of a big stack of blanks; I donâ€™t know when Iâ€™ll get to them. Thatâ€™s one of those things that keeps me going!
- Â The artist’s materials. Can you spot the Future Predictor card deck?
How did you find out you had a sort of â€ścultâ€ť following among the gaming community? Are you into those worlds at all?
No, not at all. I did, years ago, play the old Sim City. I played it a few times and had fun with it but I never even owned a version of it. But on my blog, I can see the sources of the hits. I saw the Reddit thread come up. I read and I thought, â€śHoly cow! Wow.â€ť
Then there was reference to the Jerryâ€™s Map modÂ (or modification) of Minecraft. I didnâ€™t know what Minecraft was but my young cousin, whoâ€™s eleven, showed me Minecraft last year. And heâ€™s building things, blocks are flying aroundâ€¦ Which is what prompted me recently to write a segment on the blog called â€śSlow Map.â€ť I know you guys are all into things happening instantaneously and (my map) is something that just creeps along.
Itâ€™s true. Yet even though your project is so different than virtual world-building, both reflect an innate human desire to build and construct. Itâ€™s like Legos and Lincoln Logs when youâ€™re little but on a much, much larger scale. Can you speak at all to the pleasure in creating your own world?
Iâ€™ve met other map-makers in this process and Iâ€™ve heard them sayâ€¦ itâ€™s an escape to create something, to build something. Iâ€™m a big time gardener when Iâ€™m out at the farm. And thatâ€™s the same process. Put a seed in the ground, water it, watch it grow. Thatâ€™s so human, I think. Itâ€™s been built into us through the millennia.
We encourage visitors to take pictures of the exhibit! Share your best shots with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (massmoca). #JerrysMap #MASS MoCA
Jerry’s Map will be on display, Oct. 5-14, in the Hunter Center at MASS MoCA. Admission is $5 and FREE for members.Â
Posted October 5, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Artist Spotlight, Exhibitions, Interns
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Artist Spotlight: Here Lies Love Director Alex Timbers
MASS MoCA Marketing Coordinator Emily Evans sat down with Here Lies Love Director Alex Timbers to find out what itâ€™s like being a director, working with artists like David Byrne, and making theatre at MASS MoCA.
Director Alex Timbers
I was a dance major at Conn College, my mentor being that wonderful dance maker David Dorfman, and I know youâ€™ve co-directed some of his work. How is directing dance different than directing theatre or musicals?
Davidâ€™s great â€“ Iâ€™ve been a dramaturg for a couple of his pieces. I think dance works in a more abstract, less narrative way. Thereâ€™s a sense of pacing and scale and variety that I think is also true to directing a musical. [With dance] youâ€™re working much more with a sort of principal nature of the elements, because youâ€™re serving a story and emotional palette that is much more visceral and abstract. In a musical, youâ€™re trying to get that richness, but you ultimately have to serve a prescribed script and set of songs.
Do you have a preference, a favorite thing to direct?
I love to direct theatre, and Iâ€™ve really enjoyed working on shows like Peter and the Starcatcher and The Pee Wee Herman Show, that are kind of what I like to call â€śplays plus.â€ť They have all the attributes of a play, a sort of naturalism and an emotional hook, and yet they also have song elements and dance and movement and a certain heightened design. They feel inherently and richly theatrical, instead of the type of play that could take place in a living room or a kitchen. They are sort of epic in scale and yet emotionally more grounded than more traditional or conventional musical theatre.
How did you get into directing? How did you discover you had this passion?
I was in college and I was doing a lot of improv and sketch comedy. I had acted a little bit (just sort of in the way that everyone acts in college or high school) and I got very interested in the mechanics of comedy, so I decided to direct a farce, and then another farce, and I got really into directing. I started running the college theatre company, and then I snuck into graduate school classes at Yale School of Drama and started learning about the management side.
When I graduated, I worked as an intern at Manhattan Theatre Club, and I realized no one ever tells you that in the real world, people donâ€™t hire young directors â€“ it just doesnâ€™t happen. [If youâ€™re young,] no oneâ€™s gonna hire you to direct Thornton Wilder or Shakespeare because theyâ€™re entrusting you with a lot of money, and they donâ€™t trust you. In film and TV, youâ€™re trying to appeal to young people as often as older people, so it makes sense to let [a young director] be the voice. But in theatre, youâ€™re not going after really young audiences, so why would you ask a young director or playwright? So what I did was create my own opportunities. I created a company â€“ thatâ€™s where Les Freres Corbusier started.
How did you get involved with Here Lies Love?
I had done a show for The Public Theater called Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, that was sort of a classic example of the shows I was doing with LFC â€“ sort of about historical figures but done in an irreverent, post modern way. It combined pop and rock music and big visuals. The Public Theatre was also developing Here Lies Love, and the artistic director Oskar Eustis put me in contact with David [Byrne]. I think there were a couple of directors that interviewed for it, but David and I hit it off pretty immediately, and I think the impression I had of what the piece should be in 3 dimensions, more than just an album, was similar to what David always had in mind for it.
Can you tell me what Here Lies Love is about in 4 sentences or less?
Sure. Here Lies Love is a fully immersive club musical that tells the story of Imelda Marcosâ€™ rise and infamous fall. Itâ€™s told entirely through song, without dialogue and without seating. It takes place all around you â€“ itâ€™s what I call a sort of 360 degree theatre piece. It refuses to glorify Imelda and is examining the politics of power and the psychology or pathology behind a person that so desperately wanted to be loved and yet was thrown out by her own citizens.
Whatâ€™s it like working with this particular cast and crew, and with David Byrne and Annie-B Parson?
In terms of the cast (David and the choreographer and the crew), itâ€™s really fantastic, because these are people who Iâ€™ve for years looked up to! I had seen Annie-B Parsonâ€™s Big Dance Theatre shows for many years. Â Iâ€™ve been listening to Davidâ€™s music and reading his writing for years. So to collaborate with these people is phenomenal. And the design team is this great mix of downtown and uptown people â€“ they are downtown theatre artists but they have Broadway experience. Thereâ€™s a really exciting mix (just as the show is) between a kind of left of center sensibility and a delivery of the great pleasure principles of musical theatre.
How has MASS MoCA and this particular space impacted the development of the piece? Is it different from where you guys have been before?
Absolutely. Iâ€™ve been coming to MASS MoCA for about 7 years now, and Iâ€™ve always been mesmerized as much by the art at MASS MoCA as by the architectural surroundings of this place. When the idea came up to develop the show outside of New York, one of the questions I had was, â€śCan we not do it at a place where it will feel like a musical?â€ť (Which itâ€™s not.) So this idea came up to do it at a museum as a sort of art installation. I think that sets up your expectations for the piece better.
I have a long history with Williamstown Theatre Festival, and [artistic director] Jenny Gersten has been an incredible friend and advisor, so the idea of triangulating The Public Theater and WTF and MASS MoCA started to feel like a really exciting convergence of great arts institutions. The thought with the residency at MASS MoCA was that we could really build the piece â€“ it wasnâ€™t that weâ€™d be delivering some sort of finished product, but we would have the space and staff and collaborators here to create a 360 degree art environment.
Every day there have been new songs coming in, weâ€™re changing staging on the fly, and just today before we started talking I saw new choreography for the opening number! Weâ€™re assembling it here in a way you couldnâ€™t do with the pressure of New York or youâ€™d go crazy. The space here is unbelievable â€“Â itâ€™s huge! â€“ and there are 2 things weâ€™re examining: how can we make the best possible performance here at MASS MoCA, and how can we honor the spatial limitations Here Lies Love will confront when it eventually moves to New York?
Whatâ€™s next for Here Lies Love?
After this it will go to The Public Theater in New York, and it starts performances in March 2013 at the Luesther, one of the five theatres of The Public â€“ itâ€™s a downtown space.
Yeah, I think itâ€™s pretty cool.
Alex Timbers and David Byrne at opening night of Timbersâ€™ Peter and the Starcatcher
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Alt Cabs: Where Are They Now?
Our Alt Cabaret series presenting work by emerging performing artists has exposed Berkshire County to lots of unique talent over the years. Beyond bringing unconventional originality to MASS MoCA’s Club B-10 or Courtyard CafĂ©, these artists come away from their performances here with more fans and a clearer path toward greatness. (And so many of them have truly ascended to greatness!)
So the question is, where are these artists now?Â
Living Colourâ€™s Corey Glover played a Valentineâ€™s Day weekend show at MASS MoCA on Saturday, February 15, 2003, focusing on songs of love and yearning. His hard-rock edge combined with soulful vocals simultaneously soothed and energized the audience that filled Club B-10.
So where is Glover now? In 2006, he started co-headlining a national tour of Jesus Chris Superstar, a rock opera by Andrew Lloyed Webber, where he assumed the role of Judas with rock and roll drummer, singer, actor, composer, and record producer Ted Neeley. In 2008, he rejoined Living Colour; the band released their fifth album, The Chair in the Doorway, in 2009. A year later, Glover toured with Galactic, a funk and jazz jam band, and in 2011 he recorded his second solo. This year, Glover has been on tours and on the Conan Oâ€™Brien TBS show with Galactic and Soul Rebels Brass Band.
Glover as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar
Glover with Living Colour
NewÂ York City-basedÂ Antony and the JohnsonsÂ broughtÂ orchestral popÂ to MASS MoCA on Saturday, March 8, 2003, in conjunction with the opening of MASS MoCAâ€™sÂ FantasticÂ exhibit, which explored fantastic and outlandish utopian ideals. Antony’s captivating alto voice, along with a velvety combination of strings, bass, piano, and drumsÂ took the audience’s breath away. The bandâ€™s melodies seemed other-worldly in themselves, making it the perfect partner forÂ Fantastic.Â
After their visit to MASS MoCA, Antony and the Johnsons produced several more albums. In 2005, their album I Am a Bird Now won the Mercury Prize for the best UK album. In 2006, they pitched TURNING, an autobiographical film about their journey as musicians. Their third album, 2009â€™s The Crying Light, ranked number one on the European Billboard charts. The band toured through North America and Europe, concluding the trip at the 2009Â Manchester International Festival. Antony and the Johnson’s 2010 album Swanlights received high praise â€“ Stereogum ranked the album eighth in its Top 50 Albums of the Year. The band has performed on Later with Jools Holland andÂ The Late Show with David Letterman. Click here to watch their performance.
Antony performing at the Manchester Opera House
Canadian-American singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright brought her unique style of folk-rock to MASS MoCA on Saturday, August 21, 2004. Wainwrightâ€™s success in the Berkshires foreshadowed her ultimate breakthrough as a performing artist.
In 2005, Wainwright released her self-titled debut album, and in 2008 she released her second album, I Know Youâ€™re Married But Iâ€™ve Got Feelings Too, both produced by Brad Albetta. Her brother Rufus Wainwright and her mother Kate McGarrigle, also a Canadian folk singer-songwriter, contributed to the album, along with The Whoâ€™s Pete Townshed, Steely Danâ€™s Donald Fagen, and The Bandâ€™s Garth Hudson. Wainwrightâ€™s performance at Leonard Cohenâ€™s tribute concert was featured in the film and album, Leonard Cohen: Iâ€™m Your Man (click here to watch her live).Â In 2007, she performed at Bonnaroo and Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, collaborated with her brother at the Hollywood Bowl, and partnered with over twenty female artists to create Sing, a single released on World AIDS Day to raise awareness about the transmission of HIV.
Wainwright in concert
Wainwright and her brother Rufus
Brooklyn-based comedian Eugene Mirman brought his wit and silly humor to MASS MoCA on July 3, 2009, leaving his spectators with full-fledged smiles and aching bellies from laughing so hard.
He is known now for his roles on Flight of the Concords, Conan O’Brien, Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, and much more. In 2009 the Village Voice recognizedÂ Mirman as the Best New York City Comedian, and Paste Magazine ranked him as one of the top ten best comedians in the lastÂ ten years. Eugene has released three comedy albums, and published a book titled The Will To Whateva.Â Every Sunday night, Mirman, along with Julie Smith and Caroline Creaghead, performs a comedy show calledÂ Pretty GoodÂ Friends. These three jokesters also created the annual Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival, which both celebrates and mocks such events.
Providence, RI’s The Low Anthem came to MASS MoCA on Saturday, March 5, 2011 and hypnotizedÂ the public with their vintage instruments and warm melodies. Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowski formed the band in 2006, and now they have four singles andÂ four albums. Indie folk enthusiasts are calling them the next Bon Iver.
Since their enchanting performance at MASS MoCA, The Low Anthem hasÂ partneredÂ with British folk rock band Mumford and Sons, toured with folk rock singer-songwriter Iron and Wine, and hosted the Newport Folk Backstage BenefitÂ (July 30, 2011) with Deer Tick’s John McCauley to support the Newport Festivals Foundation. They also performed at Jazzfest in New Orleans and at the first Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire, UK in 2011. Â TheirÂ cover Stories of the Street was featured on the tribute CD The Songs of Leonard Cohen. The band also collaborated with T Bone Burnett on Lover is Childlike, for the soundtrack of 2012â€™sÂ The Hunger Games, a film based on the eponymous novel by Suzanne Collins. The Low Anthem recorded a self-produced soundtrackÂ for Arcadia,Â an indie film by Olivia Silver, which won a Crystal Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in February. The Low AnthemÂ alsoÂ appeared on the Late Show with David LettermanÂ (click here to watch)Â and opened for Bruce Springstein and the E Street Band at SXSW in March.
Newport Folk Festival (2010)
The Low Anthem
Part concert, part performance piece, and part electrifying call to action, The Love Show appeared at MASS MoCA on Saturday, October 1, 2011. Featuring five of New Yorkâ€™s most powerful and soulful vocalists, including 1999 Grammy Award nominee Carla Cook and internationally acclaimed singer and WNYC/WQXR/Q2 radio host Helga Davis, The Love Show offered MASS MoCA a riveting and sublime celebration of the concept of love thy neighbor as thyself.
New York-based artist Helga Davis co-starred in The Temptation of St. Anthony, directed by Robert Wilson, from 2001-2006. Since 2007, starred in The Blue Planet, written by Peter Greenaway and directed by Saskia Boddeke, and appeared in VOX, the Contemporary American Opera Lab run by the City Opera of New York. She earned a leading role in the iconic Robert Wilson/Philip Glass production of Einstein on the Beach, and performed in Elsewhere with cellist Maya Beiser and Oceanic Verses by Paola Prestini. Jazz singer/songwriter Carla Cookâ€™s debut album, Itâ€™s All About Love (1999), received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Performance. In 2000 she won the AFIM Indie Award for Best Jazz Vocal, released two more albums, and recorded a rendition of Roberta Flackâ€™s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, which appeared on jazz percussionist Steve Kroonâ€™s album, Without A Doubt (2011). She formed The Carla Cook Quintet, and digitally recorded her voice for Sony PlayStation games.
Carla Cook in concert
Written by Hannah Schiff
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Artist Spotlight: Chatting with Victoria Palermo
In honor of the opening of the Bus Stand on Main Street in North Adams, Â Kidspace sat down to chat with the artist, Victoria Palermo. Palermoâ€™s work will be installed in mid-June 2012… But make sure to check out the festivities and the ribbon cutting with Mayor Alcombright on June 28 at 6 PM.
Kidspace: You have exhibited in museums and galleries (including Kidspace!) in the past, but your Bus Stand is a public work of art designed to be a permanent installation on Main Street in North Adams. Do you approach a project differently depending on the different audiences? If so, how?
VP: In a public work of art, the artist has the chance to catch the viewer by surprise.Â Go to a museum, you expect to see art.Â Wait for a bus, expect transportation.Â In this case I hope to transport bus patrons in an additional wayâ€”as if they had entered a three-dimensional painting.Â Looking out from inside the shelter, familiar streetscapes will appear in blocks of color.
I love the idea that someone might have an aesthetic experience while engaging in a mundane necessity of lifeâ€”waiting for a bus.Â I think that color has a tremendous impact on state of mind.Â Â We are a secular society, but people used to spend more time in cathedrals, churches, and got a spiritual uplift from seeing the colored light streaming through stained glass windows.Â If sitting in the bus shelter gives someone an emotional lift, makes the day a little bit better, Iâ€™ll be happy.
Kidspace: Do you have a preference for which kind of project you would rather do?
VP: I think the idea of communicating to a large diverse audience is the most exciting, but also the most scary.Â I think of it as a reality check.Â Hopefully people will respond on a fundamental level.Â The work is about visual perception; appreciation requires eyes, not a knowledge of art theory.Â I love it when small children, in particular, respond positively to my work.
There are practical considerations to be considered in a project like this; I am very mindful that the shelter must function from a practical point of view.Â I hope that North Adams folks will see it as a gift that belongs to them; something to be taken care of and preserved.Â Within a museum or gallery, the artist has certain assurances that the work will be protected.Â In the case of a public work, all bets are off.
Kidspace: As I understand it, the inspiration for the Bus Stand project started with a residency you did with North Adams public school students in spring of 2010. How did working with these kids influence your decision to start this project, or the evolution of the project design itself?
VP: Kids respond in such a genuine way.Â Againâ€”terrifyingâ€”because they are savages and feel no compulsion to respond politely. Yet, they came to the project with open minds with no negative preconceptions.Â I had already been working with the idea of creating an â€śartâ€ť shelter that could have a practical application.Â Â I worked with several groups of junior high students during their last week of school.Â I was afraid that they would rather be playing outside, but they were great and made an array of structures that could function in a public arena.Â Their energy and responses were very confirming.
Kidspace: As a professional artist, what do you gain from doing a residency project in the schools?
VP: Itâ€™s good practice to learn to communicate ideas in the most directÂ (no bull—-) way.Â Students respond to authenticity.Â Theyâ€™re not worriedâ€”â€śis it art?â€ť, but react on a gut level.Â Thereâ€™s no tougher audience.Â Â Â This is my second residency project with Kidspace; both have been very energizing, confirming experiences.Â One could sayâ€”a blast.
Kidspace: How do you think artist residencies influence students?
VP: Hopefully, the students begin to see the experience of art as a part of life, not just an isolated experience. I think also that students come to realize that artists are not so very different from them, and that important work may be achieved through a sense of play.
Kidspace: Whatâ€™s next on the horizon for you, after the Bus Stand?
VP: Perhaps more public works in a similar vein?Â I have ideas and models.
More about Victoria Palermo:
Victoria Palermo, a sculptor residing in Queensbury, New York, holds a Bacehlor of Science degree in Art from Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Bennington College, Bennington, Vermont. She is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art at Skidmore College and previously was a scenic painter and art department director for Adirondack Scenic, Inc., in Glens Falls, New York. In addition to Kidspace at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, her work has been in solo and group shows in such galleries and museums as: Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts; The Arts Center in Troy, New York; The Tang Museum at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York; Pierogi 2000, Brooklyn, New York; ART/OMI Sculpture Park, Ghent, New York; and Galerie Du Tableau, Marseilles, France. She is represented by the John Davis Gallery, Hudson, New York.Â
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