This month's Luce Artist Talk is on Saturday, April 18th at 1:30 p.m. and will feature four multidisciplinary artists who are participating in the Source Theater Festival's Artistic Blind Date project, organized by CulturalDC. These artists, Bruce McKaig, photography, Alison Waldman, dance, Carmen Wong, theater, and Ashi Day, music, are collaborating on full-length plays for the Artistic Blind Date project. Recently, Eye Level sat down with these artists to discuss their work and collaborations. Luce Artist Talks are presented in collaboration with CulturalDC.
EL: How does collaboration impact and influence your work?
BM: I sometimes teach workshops in the business of art, business strategies, funding, marketing, sustainability. At one such workshop in 2012, after working with 15 artists for 2.5 hours, I asked everyone to think and then state one need they have right then: one resource that is missing and thus some part of their work is on hold. We went around the table stating each person's need, and five minutes later 30 per cent of those resources had been met. All of those timely resources changed hands in just a few minutes. I believe the most powerful thing about collaboration is how it opens our eyes to possible resources already at our disposal. Collaborative ventures maximize the return on these resources.
AW: Every dance, even a solo, is a collaboration, because it relies on the energy of an audience. Because it's a performance, the viewer's presence is important - and I have to consider them in everything I make. Otherwise, the piece becomes masturbatory and an invaluable piece of work. This thought always keeps me in check. And of course when I add the valuable time, energy, and creativity of others' work as a part of a process, there has to be a reason why each of their elements is there, a part of that work, just like I think about viewers. It keeps me in check by constantly asking myself "WHY?". And to answer those questions, there is always a lot of trial and error in the beginning: lots of ideas thrown out, tested, and discarded. And you get used to that quickly.
CW: The work I do (via banished? productions, and increasingly in my conceptual food-art practice) is almost entirely collaborative but I steer the project's aesthetics and try to make the most informed decisions (advised by my clever collaborators!) on the thousands of arbitrary open-ended questions that need to be made. These fellow-artists teach me so much during and after the process of working together.
AD: All of my work as an artist —a singer, a composer, an improviser— is on some level collaborative. When I compose a piece, I generally create sheet music to be performed, as opposed to creating a finished recording. Like a script of a play, the thing that I've created is incomplete without others taking it up and adding their own artistry. I often see different, even opposite ways that a performer or ensemble could portray a particular musical phrase or idea. And the challenge is to write the piece, as well as the markings for tempo, dynamics, etc., in a way that will encourage performers to find various ways of performing it that are in fitting with the underlying ideas in the piece and yet their own. While I may have my own artistic ideas to express, I can go further and to more exciting places when I work with others.
EL: What excites you about the Artistic Blind Date (ABD) project?
BM: My ideal ingredients for collaborative projects are inclusive, innovative, and educational. Inclusive: facilitate the inclusion of diverse participants, revisit archaic relationships that divide rather than unite artists, public, and funders. Innovative: don't participate in the discussion, reframe it. Educational: celebrate the challenge of innovative works by exploring how people learn. I think history, personal and collective, is the glue that binds inclusive, innovative, and educational. Historical frameworks, whether repeated or rejected, provide a Rosetta Stone of sorts, helping me to blend historical and contemporary themes using a vast array of media to develop experiential works that mix exhibition, installation, and performance.
AW: It's so easy for artists to get tunnel vision and forget what other approaches there are. That's why collaborations are so powerful. The ABD project not only gives me the opportunity to pull ideas from fellow creative brains, but it encourages me to step outside of my routine and play in their sandboxes and learn from them. It gives us the chance to make something totally unique. I think it's also a good representation of how important it is in life to be open-minded and give yourself over to the possibility of new pathways.
CW: I've been learning a ton about score-creation from a dance and aerial-dance perspective, which is hugely different from mine. The vocabulary has indeed been helpful in incorporating these ideas within my practice. This ABD process has also made me very aware that a different work mode can happen, and because it is low-stakes, I feel I don't have to claim ownership in the same way. This is truly refreshing.
AD: I have always been inspired by other art forms. For better or worse, I tend not to write absolute music. I need a text, character, dramatic situation, visual, or some other medium to serve as the source or content that the music is expressing, translating, commenting on, etc. Theater is wonderful, because it is a natural place for combining various art forms. The ABD project was intriguing to me because I would have a chance to work with other kinds of artists that I otherwise may not meet, yet alone collaborate with, in an extensive way. The experience is giving me the opportunity to go outside of my zone of comfort —normally creating a choral score, or maybe singing a piece— and to explore all the different avenues of possible things I can do with my imagination, resources, and skill set.