Lauren Marsden is a “recovering performance artist” with roots in Trinidad who now acts as a collaborative director of her projects. She has a Visual Arts BFA from the University of Victoria and an MFA from CCA in Social Practice, and currently teaches at Emily Carr University. While she was a graduate student, performance began to take a more integral role in her work, whether she was making photographs, videos or collaborative works. There was a marked shift in her practice where she transitioned from being a performer to a director. She felt that she couldn’t get her performances to a level that she was satisfied with, and suffered from exhaustion and boredom with her own ideas. The isolation she felt with being the sole practitioner of her work began to wear on her, and as she matured as an artist she “wanted to expand my perspectives and my world…I didn’t want to only be dealing with my obsessions immediately with my body or my voice, so that led me to collaborate with other artists”. Lauren feels this shift allowed her to gain more control over the work, and has led her to bigger ideas and bigger projects.
This way of working brings up questions around authorship, something that Lauren is very conscious of. In the film world, authorship around certain aspects of a work is very clearly defined, whereas contemporary artists don’t always give credit where credit it due. This is something that Lauren doesn’t agree with, and she “gives as much credit and authorship to my collaborators as I can, which is important to me, but then you still have to maintain control, so it’s a difficult balance”. As a former collaborator of Lauren’s on her project “Birds of Paradise”, I can attest to her ability to allow the performers the freedom to develop the work in a way that holds meaning and significance for us, while also maintaining a vision for the overall work. This is a skill she has honed over years of working this way, and for her new work for Shooting Gallery called Logo-man-see, she is collaborating with dancers Alyssa Amarshi and Sophia Gamboa to explore ways you can shape dance to text.
Logo-man-see is a phonetic spelling that means “The Power of Words”, and she is working with the dancers to develop new moves using a series of cultural appropriation terms that are trending online. The texts are the starting point of the work, and from those texts the dancers respond choreographically, drawing largely from Street Dance, although there are multiple styles of movement embodied in the work, all of them holding a local or cultural meaning. Lauren was initially inspired by the way that Dancehall moves are named, stating that they are “very literal, and there’s something so funny about that, and I wanted to take that approach that Dancehall takes, and bring it to a different context” says Lauren. She relies heavily on the dancers to develop the choreography, while she acts as a facilitator, giving prompts and encouraging the movements that work, all while maintaining control over the final piece and developing the visuals that will be projected behind the dancers as they perform. The piece uses online dance video tutorials as inspiration and structure, with the performers “teaching” the moves to the audience in much the same way that a dancer on Youtube would. The dancers “break down the move physically, but then also talk about why the movement is named the way it’s named, and what the relationship is between the title and the movement is”. The relationship between the heavy terms used as a starting point and the more playful moves that are being developed is at the core of the work; “I wanted to find a way to take those texts and not give them more power, but in a way transform their power or even take their power away by putting them through the body. That can make it funny, it can make it a commentary, it can also make it purely physical, almost to release it from it’s status…which I hope is not an unhealthy thing to do. But that’s one of the risks of this project” says Lauren.
This tradition of using text to structure movement has been used by artists such as Tino Sehgal as well as Gerard and Kelly. Lauren is very conscious of the fact that many contemporary artists now use dancers in their work, which she often laments because she believes that a gallery is not the correct context for dance in most cases. Lauren feels that “dance needs to be treated respectfully in all cases, and there is so much that just isn’t ideal about museum and gallery venues” when presenting these types of works. In fact, she sometimes feels conflicted about working with dancers, but she has a dance background herself, which lends authenticity to her work. “I want to articulate that I am not just using dancers because it’s so compelling. I work with dancers because it’s the best medium for a particular idea. And then I might have another project that has no dancers at all…it’s not a thing that I will keep doing because I like it so much. It’s not always the ideal platform for an idea” she says.
Lauren allowed the dancers to choose the terms that resonated with them so that their movements would hold more meaning for them in their bodies. The dancers chose cultural appropriation terms, which she admits is a touchy subject because of “the internet…which has provided a platform for every type of voice…I think that it has really proliferated extreme progressive, radical and also conformist views…I think it’s become more complicated. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that now when you think of terms of cultural appropriation, everyone has an opinion about it and all those opinions are different”, which leads to a lot of conflict and shaming. With the proliferation of online dance videos, there is now a lot of visibility around this style of dance, but it also raises the question of who gets to make it. Lauren herself is from a mixed family, but her experiences as a white presenting woman are very different from those of the dancers, who are women of colour, and she is very conscious of this fact while exploring the sticky terrain of this piece. Lauren expressed that she was a bit nervous about exploring this topic because “it’s not really a topic that I would have chosen, but I did open the door to this topic. But I was glad that the dancers chose it, because I do think that it is a very current issue, and it isn’t being resolved through online chatter, it’s not going to be resolved through dance, but I feel like there is something meaningful about bringing it back down to earth and taking it offline. It might be funny, it might be shocking, we will see”. The reception of the piece will depend largely on the audience and the context of their own personal experiences, and this question of interpretation is an exciting facet of the work.
Alyssa and Sophia are members of Immigrant Lessons and Her Tribal roots, which are dance groups that are interested in their relationship to politics and place, which is why Lauren thought they would be perfect collaborators for her piece.
Come see Lauren Marsden’s new work Logo-man-see as part of Shooting Gallery Performance Series #7 at Left of Main on March 28, 29 and 30.