Deb Sokolow Interview

March 15, 2013 · Print This Article


I have known Deb Sokolow for some time and I can say with frank honesty if I ever end up with extra cash I will buy up her book pieces. Not only do I see her career on a well-deserved upward trajectory, she hits many of the themes that tickle my fancy: paranoia, information, books, systems, and an eye to detail that I stand in awe of. For me her work is that rare culmination of fun, thought provoking, serious (particularly in the technique), and the result of much hard work and thought. Take a listen to our interview with her where she talks about her process.

I received a notice the other day that she has a new show at Western Exhibitions (who is home to lots of other artists I enjoy and admire, and BAS hasn’t managed to make Scott angry in years now, so a visit to WE is a love fest for me), which opens Friday the 15th of March. You should go check it out! In anticipation of the exhibition I did a brief online interview with Deb to talk about the new show and it goes a little something like this:

RH: So Deb, we’ve interviewed you, followed your work, like it greatly. I’ve heard you have an exciting new show opening the 15th at Western Exhibitions; can you tell us about it?

DS: The show comes from a story I wrote while at a residency in Norway this past summer. The story is loosely based on the residency’s environs and I wrote the residency’s administrators and the other artists there into the story as characters. I won’t get into too much of what the story is about here- I don’t want to reveal too much- but the idea for it comes from this feeling I had about the place. The entire two months I was there, I kept thinking, “What’s the catch?” Because the place is an artist’s fantasyland: Each artist receives a monthly stipend, a travel stipend, a beautifully designed cabin and a large, gorgeous studio with a whole wall of windows looking out on the most beautiful Nordic forest scene ever, and there is a significant amount of uninterrupted time to work. Everything about it just seemed too good to be true, so I thought that maybe the place could be a front for something else.

When I came back to Chicago, I took the story I wrote and made it into a 28 foot-long, text-and-image drawing, plus a few other ancillary drawings and books that relate directly or indirectly to the large piece or to my time spent there. For the show at Western Exhibitions, I decided to put these ancillary items in the front room so that they might function as a sort of precursor to the large drawing in the second, back room. I’ve been reading Thomas Pynchon and
Joseph Heller lately and thinking about how in their narratives, certain characters and organizations and locations are continuously mentioned in at least the full first half of the book (in Pynchon’s case, it’s hundreds of pages) without there being a full understanding or context given to these elements until much later in the story. And by that later point, everything seems to fall into place and with a feeling of epic-ness. It’s like that television drama everyone you
know has watched, and they tell you snippets about it but you don’t really understand what it is they’re talking about, but by the time you finally watch it, everything about it feels familiar but also epic.

RH: You say you spent two months in Norway on a mountain top. What was that like?

DS: The residency is on a small mountain above the small town of Dale, which has a population of 980 people and a few waterfront areas alongside a fjord. The next largest town is about an hour away. It’s fairly isolated, but luckily there is a pub that opened recently and makes its own IPA. The brewer there tells me his IPA is modeled after Indiana’s Three Floyds’s IPA. Small world. Also, one of the best parts about that mountain in the summer: the wild berries- all kinds, and picking and eating them for breakfast. So good.

RH: Berries and beer, the breakfast of champions! Was it easier to work in the relative silence or harder? I sometimes find that when I am away from the base level din of urbanity I find the lack of it distracting.

DS: It was hard. I usually make work about people, and so it was strange to be in a place with so few people. The beauty of the place also ended up being pretty distracting. I kept saying to myself, “Why am I making art when there is the most beautiful landscape out this window that I could look at for hours and hours.”

Looking back on the experience, though, it was incredibly productive in that I came back to Chicago with so many ideas that had been generated by those two months in Norway.

RH: Was there lutefisk?

DS: I think there was, but I never had it, and they weren’t serving it in the café in town. Mostly, I remember eating a tasty, creamy fishball soup and having a reindeer stew, which was delicious.

RH: So wait, the main protagonist in this piece is a disgruntled Art Institute security guard, I was one of those once (both 1st and 2nd shift), are you writing my unauthorized biography? Your unauthorized biography?

DS: I should have talked to you before I wrote the piece. I’ve never been a security guard at an art museum. Maybe you could have given me more insight into the Art Institute’s security set-up, such as whether there are any one-way mirrors in the place or whether there might be any particularly vulnerable masterpieces in the joint. What a missed opportunity!

RH: I don’t know, it was a seriously unexciting job. The highest drama I ever experienced was the demographic of the guards largely women post 50 who were serious about the religion and clean living and I was like 20 and hung over most of the time. I got lectures a great deal. They were very sweet, they wanted me to clean up my lifestyle. Their heart were in the right place.

Your work is often very narrative, with an overarching trajectory, examining events, conspiracies, the lives of drug lords, and now art thieves. Do you write prose works as well? These tales strike me that they would make great novels too.

DS: I’ve never written a novel, and the thought of doing that scares me. I have enough trouble focusing on writing a short story! Also, I think I would have some difficulty telling a story without the use of images.

RH: You work often has a set of complex sub-theme weaving in and out of the narrative. The movie Rocky comes to mind in one of your prior series. Are there various threads worked throughout this work? If so, what, if not why not?

DS: There are several sub-themes in this work: A certain fascination with the machinations of crime syndicates, the strangeness of being an artist and the strange relationship that I think any artist working in an art museum might have with that institution. I was once an intern in an art museum, and while my immediate boss was great, in general I felt like I was a tourist or sometimes an intruder in the place. Later on, after the internship, I ended up exhibiting at this museum, and the relationship this second time around to the place and to the people I had once known as an intern was very different. There are also multiple mentions of
different food items that I find humorous and have appeared in past works (i.e. noodles, sandwiches and pickles). Sandwiches in particular, I think, have this comedic potential that other foods just don’t have.

RH: I am a big fan of your book projects, do you have any planned in the near future?

DS: There are two artist books in this show- one is called “A Short History of Unconventional Ingredients Found in the Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich” and the other one is called “A Walk in Nature or the Faces of Former Bosses.” I also just wrote a short book called “The Truth about David Copperfield” (the master illusionist) which isn’t in this show, but it’s up in a concurrent exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Connecticut. I saw him perform once when I was a kid and have been fascinated with him since. I mean, seriously, the guy made the Statue of Liberty disappear. How cool is that?

RH: I think he was just in the news proclaiming himself the greatest magician who ever lived. What is on the horizon, what is next for you? A life of crime? Have you considered a side-line as a private detective, you have that investigative drive to chase down all possible paths.

DS: Well, Richard, I’d rather be a detective than a criminal, although criminals lead much more interesting lives. Art-wise, I’m in the brainstorming phase with a narrative that relates to my cousin Irving’s real-life connection to Lee Harvey Oswald. Irving had been a mentor to troubled youth in NYC, Oswald being one of them. It’s a story that I’m trying to flesh out and connect to other things, but I’m not really sure where it’s going. This will be a project for a Drawing Center show this fall. And after that, who knows? I’ve considered starting up a business in which people hire me to pay regular house calls to their cats to come and
entertain them… I’d wear a tool belt with all kinds of different cat toys on it. There are a lot of lonely cats out there, so I actually do think this could be a viable career option.

RH: Like a cat superhero, or cat ninja!! I love it! Thanks for talking with me Deb.

March 15 to April 20, 2013

In Gallery 1 + 2


For her second solo show at Western Exhibitions, DEB SOKOLOW will exhibit a 28-footlong drawing as well as a selection of separate but tangentially-related items inspired by a recent two-month stay at the mountaintop artist residency, Nordisk Kunstnarsenter Dalsåsen, in Norway. The show opens on Friday, March 15 with a free public reception from 5 to 8pm and runs through April 20, 2103.

Full press release:

Deb Sokolow’s concurrent MATRIX166 show “Some Concerns About the Candidate” at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, up now through June 30, was recently reviewed in THE NEW YORK TIMES and HARTFORD COURANT. See the reviews here and here. Her work in the just-closed group show “How I Wrote Elastic Man” at Invisible-Exports in New York City was discussed on ARTFORUM.COM. See the review here.

Western Exhibitions
845 W Washington Blvd
Second Floor
Chicago, IL 60607 USA
(312) 480-8390
Gallery hours: Wed-Sat, 11am-6pm

Salt and Bladders: An Interview with Rachel Mica Weiss

March 13, 2013 · Print This Article

Rachel Mica Weiss, Engulfing the Elusory, (installation view), 2013. Industrial nylon net, paint, epoxy, wire, string, plastic bladders, water, dye, LEDs, salt, dry pigment.  Installation space: 11’ x 18’ x 22’.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Engulfing the Elusory, (installation view), 2013. Industrial nylon net, paint, epoxy, wire, string, plastic bladders, water, dye, LEDs, salt, dry pigment.  Installation space: 11′ x 18′ x 22′.

To be blunt: It’s been quite difficult to write about Rachel Mica Weiss. Her seemingly simple artwork of woven fibers, heavy rocks, and large tapestries of knots deliver moments of considered contemplation. For me, that contemplation reduces my chances of finding something to write about. It’s like taking a really wonderful bubble bath, and then realizing that you’ve just been soaking in all your grimy dirt, so you have to get up and take a shower. With Rachel’s artwork, I enjoy my purposeful visual wandering around the surfaces of her objects and the physical game of hide-and-seek with other viewers around her stationary large sculptures. After an experience with her artwork, the last thing I want to do is sit down and write about it.

Last month, I attended the opening reception of Rachel’s newest work of art at the San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries Window Site — a site-specific sculptural installation titled Engulfing the Elusory. That same night just down the block, Swedish House Mafia was playing a giant electronic dance music concert. As perplexed and hypnotized as I was by the intricacies of Rachel’s artwork, I was happy to be distracted during the opening reception by all the cool raver kids in neon shirts walking around outside. What a coincidence for us, as Rachel was always such a good instigator of a late night living room dance party back in our grad school days. Now that she’s picked up and moved to Brooklyn, it’s so exciting to have her exhibit in San Francisco for a few months.

Jeff: I visited your website, and I noticed that there were already plenty of hyperlinks to different press media in the area. Did you know you were going to get all that press?

Rachel: No, not at all.

J: Would you consider this your first solo show?

R: Yeah, I would, but it takes a really weird format in that it’s a window show. The viewer can’t enter the space or move around the three-dimensional objects.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Engulfing the Elusory, (installation view), 2013. Industrial nylon net, paint, epoxy, wire, string, plastic bladders, water, dye, LEDs, salt, dry pigment. Installation space: 11’ x 18’ x 22’.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Engulfing the Elusory, (installation view), 2013. Industrial nylon net, paint, epoxy, wire, string, plastic bladders, water, dye, LEDs, salt, dry pigment. Installation space: 11′ x 18′ x 22′.

J: Did Meg [Shiffler, Gallery Director for the SFAC] tell you that there was going to be press?

R: I knew about the San Francisco Chronicle article because Pat Yollin and I did an interview before it was published. But I didn’t know that the show would be mentioned in 7×7 or the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

J: Those are great publications — really popular. Did they interview you, too?

R: Well I think the SFAC press release that went out in mid-December of 2012 got people really excited about it. 7×7′s article mentioned the event as one of five big openings to attend and the Bay Guardian just kind of wrote a review — it was in their “Best Picks” section. They looked a little bit at my website too and wrote about my past work.

J: On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the hardest, how hard or easy is it for you to write about your own work? Because I have to say — writing about your work ain’t easy!

R: Ugh, uhm… Probably right in the middle. It gets easier as pieces get older and I’ve talked about them more, but I had a really hard time writing about this work because I was taking risks I hadn’t taken before and using processes that were new to me. While I have been working with fibers and textiles for a while, this was my first time using industrial nylon net, which I made into rigid panels by coating it in marine-grade epoxy — also new to me. I had to do this in such large quantities that I loaded it out the window of my Bed-Stuy apartment to work in the brownstone’s backyard. I also carted a load to D.C. to work in my father’s garage — you make things work. Since everything was constructed in batches and pieces and had to be shipped, I never saw the installation as a whole until it was finally all together the night before the opening. So it really wasn’t until then that I knew what it really was.

J: Whoa, that’s crazy to think about writing about your own work before it’s actually completed, but I guess artists have to do it all the time. And to make things worse, you’re writing about the work for a press release that is informing the news media, and then they are basically promoting the work that doesn’t exist yet!

R: Yup. But I also think that that’s the way things go at this stage.

J: What do you mean by that? This stage, like, as an emerging artist?

Rachel Mica Weiss, Engulfing the Elusory, (detail), 2013. Industrial nylon net, paint, epoxy, wire, string, salt, dry pigment. Dimensions variable.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Engulfing the Elusory, (detail), 2013. Industrial nylon net, paint, epoxy, wire, string, salt, dry pigment. Dimensions variable.

R: Maybe. The SFAC is an organization with a citywide presence and the press takes an interest in the shows it produces. I think that showing at venues like these means that having something published before the project is complete becomes more and more important. I’m not trying to compare myself to someone famous or anything, but take Ann Hamilton for example: she had a huge performance installation at the Armory this fall and banners were made to hang around New York City long before the project went up. I would have to imagine that the details were not all finalized when those banners went to print.

J: Speaking of Ann Hamilton, she’s obviously got to be a huge influence for your work.

R: I’m definitely inspired by her “antique aesthetic” and the way she deals with how politically charged textiles are. I was looking at a lot of her work while making the big rope installation, Torqued Ellipse (After Richard Serra), but I’m kind over that whole thing. For the SFAC installation, I really wanted to change things up. The new work was definitely inspired by Katharina Gross’ huge MassMOCA installation from 2010, One Floor Up More Highly. I’d love to work as large as both of them one day.

Katharina Gross, One Floor Up More Highly

Katharina Gross, One Floor Up More Highly

J: Can you share some ideas that were present from the start of the project and then some that emerged post-press release?

R: I guess this project, like a lot of my work, started with the idea of self-containment. I’m thinking about the ways in which we place limitations on ourselves.

J: You mean like self-control?  “I’m only going to have one more cupcake.”

R: Sure. This project in particular kind of took on a more global or geologic perspective. It was definitely informed by human practices around climate change, but in a more general way, it’s talking about our attempts to contain that which doesn’t want to be contained. These crates — or what should I call them — these box forms are trying to hold on to pounds and pounds of salt, but it’s a ridiculous task because it’s pouring out of the net. It’s futile. I guess the other side of the installation deals with the opposite extreme: trying to hold on to something so tight that you lose access to it, like the plastic bladders of water that are wrapped in net, and then wrapped in another layer of net — it’s this precious resource nobody can even get to.

J: Just like the space — no one can get inside.

R: Yeah, I think that’s sort of a cool thing about it.

J: That I can’t go inside?

R: Well, that the installation is all about limitations and barriers with its human-sized net “cages” and that the whole viewing experience makes you very aware of the fact that there is the barrier of the window right in front of you. A lot of my past work dealt with that — restricting viewers from moving around the work and making them very self-aware. So I kind of think it’s cool that the structure of the show does that for me.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Engulfing the Elusory, (detail), 2013. Industrial nylon net, paint, epoxy, wire, string, plastic bladders, water, dye, LEDs.  Glacier/figural form: approx. 70” x 36” x 40”.  Install view: dimensions variable

Rachel Mica Weiss, Engulfing the Elusory, (detail), 2013. Industrial nylon net, paint, epoxy, wire, string, plastic bladders, water, dye, LEDs.  Glacier/figural form: approx. 70″ x 36″ x 40″.  Install view: dimensions variable

J: Once you did get into the space to install the work, what new ideas started to emerge? Like, what were some things that you could have included in the press release if this weird statement-deadline-before-art-is-completed-issue wasn’t an issue?

R: There were a lot of surprises. I had totally misremembered how the ceilings were.

J: Uh oh!

R: Well, you have to be prepared for unknowns, and I was. But, I had to hang each of the elements individually with string, and so the strings became a major part of the piece.

J: Whoa! I thought that was such a signature Rachel Mica Weiss moment — funny how that happens.

R: The shadows also became really interesting. I adjusted the lighting to try to amplify them. Usually I find intense shadows to be kind of gimmicky, but I felt like they really worked in this space because the shadows made it seem like the net was taking over the room and climbing up the walls.

J: So a lot of surprises regarding technical specifications. Were there any surprises regarding concept or theory or philosophy? Did you discover the meaning of life?

R: Well, I think that the addition of the strings added this layer of precariousness to the whole installation, this sense that everything in the room was sort of artificially held in place and could come crashing down at any moment. During the public conversation about the work, someone commented that they were really anxiety-inducing, so I guess I viewed that as a plus. Hurricane Sandy also happened while I was in the process of making everything back in Brooklyn and so that added a new dimension to the concepts around self-entrapment and vulnerability.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Engulfing the Elusory, (detail), 2013. Industrial nylon net, paint, epoxy, wire, string, plastic bladders, water, dye, LEDs. Glacier/figural form: approx. 70” x 36” x 40”. Install view: dimensions variable

Rachel Mica Weiss, Engulfing the Elusory, (detail), 2013. Industrial nylon net, paint, epoxy, wire, string, plastic bladders, water, dye, LEDs. Glacier/figural form: approx. 70″ x 36″ x 40″. Install view: dimensions variable

J: With a project that big, I gotta ask: did you have any help?

R: Ha, my God, yes. I really have to give a shout out to my fiancé, Taylor, who is a tireless studio companion.

J: That’s so sweet!

R: He actually made half of the black forms. And then when I was in San Francisco installing, Pete Hickok, Josh Band, and Evan Adams — who makes awesome music by the way — all helped out and I couldn’t have done it without them.

J: That was a beautiful Oscar acceptance speech.

R: Thanks.

J: What was it like to work between New York and San Francisco?

R: It really defined what I made. In the past, I’d been working with really huge, heavy material but I knew I had to fill this 400 sq. ft. space and had to be able to ship the work. I had to think from the beginning about working with something light and airy.

J: Exactly the opposite of a lot of the work I’ve seen you make when you lived in San Francisco.

R: I couldn’t be pushing around shopping carts full of granite rocks. But I still love working with heavy material. Once I landed in San Francisco for my install, I was able to pick up 500 pounds of salt at Costco and fill up the water bladders which I had custom-made in Australia, so I got my heavy fix.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Cloak Somewhat Soiled, (closet installation), 2012.  Granite, cotton rope, soil.  76” x 50” x 30”.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Cloak Somewhat Soiled, (closet installation), 2012.  Granite, cotton rope, soil.  76″ x 50″ x 30″.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Cloak Somewhat Soiled, (closet installation), 2012.  Granite, cotton rope, soil.  76” x 50” x 30”.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Cloak Somewhat Soiled, (closet installation), 2012.  Granite, cotton rope, soil.  76″ x 50″ x 30″.

J: How did you get chosen to show at SFAC in the first place?

R: Meg saw this huge rope/cave/sculpture I made for the Murphy and Cadogan Fellowship show in 2011. So when she saw that piece, she thought that something thematically similar would work well in the window site.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Sagging Ellipse, (After Richard Serra), 2011. Hand-woven manila rope and sisal twine. 87" x 52" x 46”

Rachel Mica Weiss, Sagging Ellipse, (After Richard Serra), 2011. Hand-woven manila rope and sisal twine. 87″ x 52″ x 46″

Rachel Mica Weiss, Sagging Ellipse, (After Richard Serra), 2011. Hand-woven manila rope and sisal twine. 87" x 52" x 46”

Rachel Mica Weiss, Sagging Ellipse, (After Richard Serra), 2011. Hand-woven manila rope and sisal twine. 87″ x 52″ x 46″

J: Oh right, I was not nominated for that fellowship, so thanks for bringing that up.

R: Oh, sorry Jeffrey. People fly you around the country to hear you talk though, so that’s something.

J: Touché.

R: This show coincides with the last show in the SFAC’s main gallery space before the Veteran’s Building undergoes a huge renovation. I thought it would be appropriate to keep working with ideas around loss and transition.

J: Because you’re my friend, I know I can say this to you: when I hear about an artist working with “loss, and transition,” I get really sad and I want to know how bad their childhood was.

R: [laughing]. Um, if you want me to say my childhood was bad, I can say that, but it was actually really good, though I did grow up in two homes.

J: Damn it, I thought I knew everything. But really, those are some intense concepts! Do you think your audiences read those broad ideas?

R: I guess I don’t usually talk about my work in such broad brush strokes but the piece does deal with that transition between two states — the gallery is literally divided into two camps — and I think that the black crates, emptying their salt onto the floor definitely address loss in a broad way. I guess the work is really about so many intertwined concepts.

J: That’s the curse of media, right? In a way, one wants to be written about, but there’s so little information in text when it’s supplementing a visual work of art.

R: What I strive for is for a piece to have multiple resonances with the audience. Those themes happen to be the general themes that underlie the past three years of my artwork, but a lot of different bodies of work were made during that time period. They all have specific complexities.

J: No pun intended but do you see any specific string that ties everything together?

R: String!

J: Do you have a signature thing you like to work with?

R: Oh, totally. I’d say that most of my work involves fibers of some kind, or it uses or refers to a textile process.

Rachel Mica Weiss, Absence/Presence, 2011. Yarn, wire mesh, fabric. 51" x 66” x 37”

Rachel Mica Weiss, Absence/Presence, 2011. Yarn, wire mesh, fabric. 51″ x 66″ x 37″

Rachel Mica Weiss, Leaning Wood, (Installation at Phoenix Hotel, San Francisco), 2012. Handmade cotton rope, reclaimed wood. 180” x 66” x 83”

Rachel Mica Weiss, Leaning Wood, (Installation at Phoenix Hotel, San Francisco), 2012. Handmade cotton rope, reclaimed wood. 180″ x 66″ x 83″

J: Do you make scarves?

R: Yes, but generally not.

J: Have you heard of Etsy?

R: Yeah, that’s not really my jam. Even though I started getting into textiles through weaving, I’m probably a horrible weaver. My work now just kinda messes with that process — interrupts it somehow.

J: Okay, and the cohesive string in terms of themes. Are restriction and emptiness everywhere in the Rachel Mica Weiss oeuvre?

R: Not necessarily.

J: Loss?

R: Pause.

J: Pause.

R: Pause.

J: Pause.

R: Pause.

Rachel Mica Weiss exhibits her artwork, Engulfing the Elusory, at the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Gallery at 155 Grove Street through April 27, viewable 24/7. You can view her other artworks at

A Little Red Book

February 14, 2013 · Print This Article

This is quick, but I wanted to repost a great interview I came across in BOMBlog, wherein a writer set out to interview Sophie Calle and, for various reasons, failed.

Microsoft Word - Calle.doc

Sophie Calle’s controversial project, The Address Book, was recently translated in English as a proper, purchasable book by Siglio Press. The book itself is based on a real-life address book of Pierre D. Calle found the book, and (after xeroxing ever page) returned it to its owner. With the facsimile at her disposal, Calle contacted everyone inside this stranger’s address book and interviewed them about the address book’s owner. When Pierre D. discovered what the artist was up to, he was outraged. “Eventually Pierre D. stumbles onto Calle’s plan and, as you may have guessed, was outraged. He threatened to sue the artist and bizarrely demanded that Libération publish nude photographs of Calle in return. To resolve the turmoil, Calle agreed not to publish her complete findings until Pierre D.’s death, which occurred earlier [in 2012]” (Huffington Post). This mode of inquiry gave Calle a means to understand certain things about this stranger, through the experience his contacts relayed. Like much of Calle’s work, there is an intensely voyeuristic aspect, what is now furthered by her now-totally-public findings. The interview I refer to doesn’t actually ever present Calle’s answers to any questions. Instead the artist remains remote as one of her subjects.


excerpt from “The Address Book,” Sophie Calle.

The interviewer is left with unanswered questions that nevertheless offer insight into the project. I have included an excerpt below:

I thought Sophie Calle was blasting Van Morrison in her studio when I called for an interview. A few minutes later she told me to turn my music down. The hold-songs were a comically misread sign that the third party conference-call site was not in fact recording our conversation. We ultimately forfeited to the mechanical obstacles that foiled our attempts to start over. Had I understood the technology, had we had more time, had “Born to Run” not drowned out our brief interaction, I would have interviewed Sophie about The Address Book—her project from 1980 newly translated into English and published by Siglio Press.

The controversial project has attracted a sizable viewer/readership, but for those who aren’t familiar: it is a compilation of text and images that documents Sophie Calle’s encounters with the acquaintances listed in an address book she found on Rue des Martyrs. Before returning the book to its owner, known to us as Pierre D., Sophie photocopied its contents in order to build a portrait of a missing subject by contacting his contacts. Each documented encounter yields a new impression with a new valence; overlay them all and a figure may start to take shape. Toward the end Calle reflects, “The descriptions merge together. The picture gets more defined and exhausts itself at the same time.” Some examples: Paul B. characterizes Pierre as “a child forgotten in an airport;” Jacques O. remarks on his “well-mastered incongruity;” and Marianne B. describes him as “a cloud in trousers.” Other encounters yield nothing besides Calle’s reconsideration and doubt concerning her work. Pierre’s brother, a psychoanalyst, declined the invitation because the project was “too inquisitive.” The accompanying photos—a chair Pierre liked to sit in, his building’s peeling ceiling, the crotch of an informant—are equally inquisitive, and quietly illustrative. (read more)

That said, if you’re like me and still curious, I also found the following youtube video where Calle talks about her approach to editing (among other things)…



Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People – And lose the name of action

January 31, 2013 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Jane Jerardi

Miguel Gutierrez comes to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago this weekend with one of his newest works, And lose the name of action.  The evening-length piece features a striking cast of note-worthy performers – Michelle Boulé, Hilary Clark, Luke George, Miguel Gutierrez, K.J. Holmes, and Ishmael Houston-Jones. Inspired by Jørgen Leth’s film The Perfect Human, the elusive logic of dance improvisation, philosophical quandaries about the brain, and the 19th century spiritualist movement, the piece draws connections between the analytical and the unexplainable, grappling with the limits of language and the ever-present spectre of death. It features music by Neal Medlyn, lighting design by Lenore Doxsee, and film/text by Boru O’Brien O’Connell.

KJ Holmes in Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People's "And lose the name of action," Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

KJ Holmes in Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

Often cited as a provocative voice in the contemporary dance and performance scene, Gutierrez — like many in his generation — works across mediums.  His poems appear as published performance texts and he designs solo performance works as well as projects with collections of performers and collaborators under the moniker the ‘Powerful People.’   A Guggenheim Fellow, his work has appeared as such venues as the Festival D’Automne in Paris; the TBA Festival/PICA in Portland, OR; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN; UNAM in Mexico City, and ImPulsTanz in Vienna, among others. Equally admired as a teacher, he has built a following for his improvisation/choreography classes as well as his ‘DEEP Aerobics’ workouts. In mid-January, I met Miguel Gutierrez at the Abrons Arts Center amidst the first weekend of the American Realness Festival – an annual festival of contemporary dance and performance in New York. We chatted in a quiet spot near the dressing rooms about his upcoming engagement at the MCA – including the powerhouse cast performing, the ghost hunt they went on during a residency to build the work, and the limits of language when it comes to dance.  Here are some excerpts from our conversation…

Abrons Arts Center, New York, NY, January 13, 2013

Jane Jerardi: Maybe first we should start first with you just talking a bit about the genesis of the project you’ll be performing at the MCA, And lose the name of action?

Miguel Gutierrez: Sure.  I think I’m going to paint my nails as we do this [pulls out two shades of blue metallic nail polish] if that’s okay with you.

JJ: Sure.  Talk about mind and body…!

MG: It feels like the right question to paint your nails to…  Well, the piece really came out of a couple of things.  In some ways it was an extension of Last Meadow [Gutierrez’s previous piece], which is unusual for me, because usually when I finish a piece I want to change gears.  But, by the time we got around to finishing Last Meadow, I realized I was only beginning to understand what I was doing.  Towards the end of the project, I was introduced to this book The Meaning of the Body, by Mark Johnson, which calls for getting rid of the mind/body split, once and for all.  It’s beautifully stated, but reading it as a dancer, there was a moment where I thought, “This seems fairly obvious.”  For a person who has any kind of relationship to somatics, you of course recognize that the mind and body are connected; that perception is an embodied practice, and that all contexts are experienced through a sort of corporeal interaction. I thought to myself, This sounds like a contact improv class. And I thought, why is this new? I think it was that initial indignation that led to the piece. I felt like why isn’t this something that is known?  The second impulse for the work, was my dad.  My dad had a series of neurological problems in 2008.  He had a series of blood clots in his brain that were note properly diagnosed for several years. He had stroke-type things and then seizures, which then progressed during my research for And lose the name of action.

JJ: That sounds scary.

MG: Aside from the fact that it sucked, I think a couple of things came out of it. Here was a person I knew in a certain way, and suddenly he was changing. It sounds sort of basic, a basic experience of change. I say basic, but it was a quite radical. Suddenly, I was subjected to doctors telling me, This is what’s happening, This is what’s not happening – but no one knows what’s happening. Everyone is guessing.  You start to see that that the way we constitute a sense of self and reality are deeply subjective. And, out of your control. You’re in the hospital with your dad and there’s nothing you can do, aside from being present.  At the time I was thinking, “What is it that I can offer here? As a dancer? As a person with some naïve study of somatic practices?” I can be present.  I can be an emotional support. I can be resonate and present in a way that is specific to what I do. It felt clear, but I felt very conscious that I don’t share a language with these doctors.  I can’t assume they know of specific somatic practices or say, “Hey, have you heard of the Feldenkrais Method?” or “Do you know about Body Mind Centering?”

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

JJ: You realize how marginalized some of these movement practices are.

MG: Absolutely. I mean marginalized isn’t even the word.  They’re invisible. I started to see how when people talk about brain, they are talking about mind. Lots of words are being used interchangeably.  There’s a lot of lack clarity in definition between disciplines.  How is it that we have the same vocabulary but we aren’t using words in the same way?  I started to examine the value system around my teaching and practice.  What is valuable about an improvisational performance practice?  It is a kind of knowledge and a way of knowing, but quite different than other modes of knowing.  And I though about Why am I so invested in this ‘unknowing knowing’?  Why am I so mistrustful of alleged truths? That was all the stuff that led me into And lose the name of action. Then, I started thinking about ghosts and the paranormal. What about an immaterial body?  What about a discipline of study that doesn’t even presume that the body has to be tangible anymore? When we had our first residency we went on our first ghost hunt.

JJ: Tell me about that.

MG: We went on this ghost hunt with paranormal investigators–crazy ladies in Tallahassee, FL…  which sounds funny, but are these ‘paranormal investigators’ wrong?  For them, it is true.  If they see a ghost or hear a voice, if they’re having that experience, then that’s their embodied truth.  That’s what’s going on here in this conversation of perception and truth. If I experience my father as my father even if he’s in a coma, is he not my father? If I feel that this is blue [pointing to his nail polish] and this is a lighter blue than the other blue [pointing to another bottle of darker blue nail polish] and I have a certain feeling about it. Am I wrong? Because there’s actually no way for me to definitely know how blue this is.   It’s all these kinds of…

JJ: Big questions.  Really big questions.

MG: So, yeah [laughing] that’s what the show is about.  [Joking] It’s just about a couple small things…

JJ: So how did this all play out in your explorations in the studio?

MG: A lot of talking, a lot of improvisational exploration… In the piece, the bodies are the proof of themselves.

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

Because of the way that the piece exists – even though the audience is onstage, even though people are really close to us – it feels like something is at a distance. I had originally thought it would be really great to make a piece that didn’t involve bodies at all.  I mean why do there have to be bodies?  It’s so weird and silly – why are there bodies on stage at this point in history?  Can’t we just go…

JJ: Totally virtual?

MG: Yeah – not even virtual or holograms – but… there are people that are doing that – work that’s about post-human bodies – but, I am still invested in the interpersonal dynamics of being in the room with people. That’s what keeps me interested in my work.

JJ: I think it goes back to the value thing.  What’s at the core of what you do?

MG: And where do you build knowledge? Where do you build a sense of how you understand things and how you perceptively locate yourself in the world? When I look at dance, I can understand it. What does that mean? Not one specific, concrete meaning.  Rather, as I’m watching the dance, I am understanding it and grappling with comprehension.  And that perceptual act becomes a way to construct meaning.  That doesn’t necessarily translate easily into language. I mean I like words. I can talk. But, dance actually offers another perceptual experience in time. I don’t think this is exclusive to dance, either. Mark Johnson argues that reality is actually an aesthetic experience. He doesn’t use this exact language – but we’re choreographing our way through our lives. And, that feels really powerful in relationship to what performance or a body in action can do. It doesn’t always happen. Most of the time, dance is written about exclusively as a visual rendering but, that’s not the whole picture…

Working with Deborah Hay was pretty instrumental for me.  Something she would say is, “The movement is just a costume for perception.”  And, I feel that’s really true. That’s my experience of dancing actually…  So much of what intrigues me about dancing is about contending with myself in the moment.  And all the fucked-up-ness of that question.

JJ: “Contending with things in the moment” is the way that people talk often about improvisation. You’re working with a pretty incredible set of improvisers as collaborators performing in the work.  I wondered if you wanted to talk a little bit about that?  I mean it’s a very diverse, powerhouse group of people.

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: Boru O'Brien O'Connell.

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: Boru O’Brien O’Connell.

MG: Yes.  I wanted to have a group – well first, that weren’t all young 20-year olds.  I wanted a diverse age range for this piece.  I hadn’t worked with a group of people who were older than me before.  And, I wanted a group of improvisers who could own themselves in a very clear way. I wanted to work with people who seemed restless or curious.  And, I feel like that’s pretty true of this group!

JJ: So, you’re working with Michelle Boulé…

MG: Hilary Clark, Luke George, KJ Holmes, and Ishmael Houston-Jones.  At first, I was a little like – oh my god, who am I to tell these people what to do? It really did feel that way.  Which was great, because I wanted to be challenged directorially.

JJ: It seemed to make a lot of sense to me because you’re dealing with a kind of big existential topic – life and death, philosophical truths such as ‘person-hood’ and ‘being.’ It requires a certain maturity.

MG: Yes.  It feels important that the audience is looking at people who have contended with things. I also think that I was going through something about casting in general. This thing that often happens in the dance field is people don’t take into consideration the representational value of the bodies that are there.

JJ: Which is kind of saying, maybe the visual does matter.  The way that we read bodies matters.

MG: Absolutely.  Bodies come marked. But, it feels like often the problem with the visual rendering thing is that people ignore it in the most important aspects in some ways.  Because they think “I’m dealing with abstraction.” Or, something neutral. I know that when I first went into dance as an adult, I was excited about how it contrasted to theater, because I didn’t feel like I could get type-cast in the same way. I didn’t have to audition to fulfill just one thing. It wasn’t like – “Oh, I’m that Latino kid.” So, it’s funny to have come full circle and now become hyper-conscious about who is on the stage.  But also, I think now more than ever – the way artists work – you’d be hard-pressed to find a choreographer whose not working explicitly collaboratively with their dancers. Although, I sort of suspect that’s always been true.  There’s a real thought around how you have people involved in your process.

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, And lose the name of action, National Center for Choreography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo: Chris Cameron

JJ: I wonder if we could talk about some of the other collaborators involved and, some of the sources because in a way you could think of sources as collaborators.

MG: Somewhere towards the beginning of the process I read Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. I realized that writers give themselves permission to do so much.  You really can go there.  You can interrelate different things.  A novel – or that kind of novel let’s say – doesn’t aspire to be minimalist. Certainly there’s editing. But it doesn’t see reduction as the only compositional value to explore.  As someone who has struggled with living in an aesthetic climate where minimalism is privileged above all else, I’m excited to encounter work that deals with interrelating or association. I started to realize that what we were making – in a sense – was a novel. For example, each dancer wears multiple costumes in the piece – I’d never done that before.  Or, even having people leave [the stage space].

JJ: By having people leave and re-enter there could suddenly be chapters.

MG: Yes, I really feel like the piece does unfold in that way.

JJ: Even though a lot of the piece comes from the idea of embodiment, you’re also using text in the piece. Could you could talk a little bit about how the text figures into the work? What drew you to using text?

MG: The bulk of the text it written by Boru O’Brien O’Connell (who also collaborated to create video projections).  Some of the text is an appropriation of George Berkeley’s writings.

Text is often used as the locator of meaning. And, if it exists in a performance – that’s when we’re like – there’s the meaning!  That definitely happens in this piece. But, it also functions as a texture. It functions…almost like a kind of perfume….

JJ: That’s a nice image.

MG: …A kind of experience that’s not even exclusively about it being attached to understanding.

And lose the name of action appears at the MCA, Chicago January 31 – February 3, 2013.  For more information and tickets: This performance is part of the IN>TIME Festival.

Jane Jerardi is an artist working in the media of choreography, performance, and video installation.  Currently based in Chicago, her work has been presented at such venues as Transformer and The Warehouse (Washington DC), Defibrillator (Chicago IL); Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church and the LUMEN Festival for Video and Performance (New York), among others.  She is one third of the cohort that runs Adult Contemporary, an alternative art space in Logan Square.  She teaches at Columbia College, Chicago, where she is also on staff at the Dance Center.



Episode 338: BenPR

February 21, 2012 · Print This Article

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This week: Special guest contribution magic from Ben Peterson of BenPR!

BenPR is an interview series created about people doing creative work with a public or social dimension.