“Let’s mess it completely up”: a conversation with Barbara Adler

 

Carrying over from our last artist, Ileanna, who is working with cooking in her piece, I asked Barbara for a favourite recipe. Her answer was this Grapefruit Pudding Cake:

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She said it’s “a bit of work but completely worth it in every way.” She also recommends adding bitters-infused whipped cream for an extra touch.

 


I met Barbara at the Gold Saucer studio on a Tuesday evening, just before she began setting up for Sawdust Collector, the weekly performance series she co-curates there. This felt quite fitting because, as she put it, “Sawdust Collector is all about making connections between things,” and I would soon learn that this is a theme that runs through all her work. Her work spans event making, which she sees as a practice in itself, literary performance, and music. She is very active in each of these disciplines. Barbara told me that even after doing an MFA in Interdisciplinary Studies, she doesn’t think there is an answer to the question of what interdisciplinarity really is, but that personally, it’s very clear that engaging in many things at once is important to her practice. This shows up in her creative process, and also on a more broad level, in her views on art and on how to be in the world.

Reaching into disparate source materials is a big part of how she creates, and this is especially true for the piece she is working on for Shooting Gallery, which draws inspiration from such wide ranging subjects as fashion forecasting and decoy ducks used in duck hunting. I was curious to know how these will come together in the piece when it is performed, but also curious about what that process looks like for her. How does she do the bringing together? Barbara said that despite working in many mediums, she tends to “see the world most as a writer,” so her approach is to think in terms of metaphor, where difference is what provides the opportunity to make connection. She also said that she uses “metaphor as a way of doing work” because of the mental effort required to link disparate ideas, and this effort is a practice that for her extends beyond art making as well:

“I think being in better relationship is kind of a worthwhile goal as a human being . . . the practice of attention, and care, and respect that you (ideally) bring to the process of putting together connections between material[s] is, I think, something that you could practice as a human being, how you exist in the world. Which is not to say that I achieve this every time — but that attentiveness to where things come from, respect[ing] where things come from but then also see[ing] how they work together, is kind of a good way, I think, to be, as a human. To have respect for boundaries but also see commonality.”

I was interested in this sense of responsibility to materials that she described, and when I asked her more about it, she told me that part of her initial inspiration for this piece was a quote from Marxist theorist Alexander Kluge: “All things are enchanted people.” She explained:

“Every object has memories of people in it — that’s a really nice, present sort of surface metaphor, but [Kluge] is also talking about how commodity objects kind of congeal human labour and human experience.”

This idea allows objects much more complex histories than we might typically assume. She told me that another early inspiration for this piece was a bag of decoy ducks that she acquired, which came to her from the son of the original owner, in a bag that had never been opened by him. She spoke about attempting to deal with the history of these objects, how they came to her, and what it means for her to use them in a performance (which centres around a fictional narrative). This brought up the implications of telling stories that are not one’s own, and I found Barbara’s take on this particularly interesting:

“It’s really present in the air right now I think, people thinking about telling a story from a different culture or a different life experience, but I think I’m also interested in having more sensitivity about telling a story of someone who’s close to you. . . family is usually thought of as fair game or friends are thought of as fair game, or people you encounter in your everyday life are usually thought of as people you could talk about but . . . you’re still kind of setting something for someone that they didn’t necessarily have a choice in.”

Barbara pragmatically explained this complicated, probably impossible to resolve question without pretending to have an answer. But she is troubling these ideas, questioning the purposes of telling stories, of making the personal public, and truth vs fiction (among other things). She told me very honestly: “The truth in this particular story is I bought something from someone whose father had died, and now I’m making work about it and I have no connection to them. And that’s already like, it’s not the grossest form of appropriation, but it is.”

One approach she is taking in response to these questions is “paying attention and putting work into material, and trying to write in response to [these] objects.” She told me, “I don’t want to stop telling stories, but I think having a little anxiety about [it] is good maybe.”

Another one of Barbara’s approaches to making work (she was speaking specifically to writing here) is to be “as fine-grained as possible,” her aim with language being to “make the abstract sensible.” She also said, “I admire people who can leave things hanging for longer, I have kind of this tendency to want to touch it with words all the time.” (As someone who often has difficulty expressing things in words, I felt that there was something admirable in that drive towards specificity.) But Barbara also told me she finds it very enjoyable when work gives a certain level of uncertainty, which she described as “slipperiness.” She said:

“I like it when you don’t quite know what you’re looking at, I like it when you think you know and then are misdirected, I like having a question about whether the person speaking to me is totally earnest, or playing a trick, I like that kind of shiftiness, like things that don’t really resolve themselves. I think maybe that’s part of why I also like taking all these different kinds of materials and trying to put them together: because they don’t perfectly fit. So there’s always a shifting and a readjustment between all of them at any point.”

This shifting and readjustment lives in Barbara’s process until almost the very end, as she keeps things unfixed until quite close to showing a new work, and allows each element to change in response to the others changing. Speaking with Barbara I got a strong impression of constant and thorough questioning. She told me that one thing she has learned from working in many disciplines is the value of having a “curious stranger’s eye.” She also loves coming into new processes with the attitude, “let’s mess it completely up.” Sounds great to me.

Sawdust Collector runs every Tuesday at the Gold Saucer Studio starting at 9:30pm. https://www.facebook.com/sawdustcollector/

“Let’s mess it completely up”: a conversation with Barbara Adler

Being ready to accept blushing: a conversation with Ileanna Cheladyn

 

Ileanna’s answer to the question:

What song are you currently most likely to play as soon as you get in the studio?

was Daft Punk’s “Instant Crush”.

I put it on as I started going through my notes, and it struck me as having a quality to it that connected with a sense I got of what Ileanna is working on. Something which I find a bit hard to put into words, but which I would fumble towards with words like personal, like pleasurable, like generous, like honest, like gets you somewhere deep.

 


Screen Shot 2018-10-15 at 12.33.43 AMAt one point we were speaking about preparation, and Ileanna said, “You take notes to prepare for when you’re going to do the thing, but really, for you, the notes will forever be what remains.” So, in that spirit, the above are the notes I took while she and I spoke. Below is another version of what talking to her was like.

 


Despite knowing each other peripherally for quite some time, last Friday was the first time Ileanna and I ever really had a one on one conversation. I was welcomed into her home, served a delicious meal, and given the pleasure of hearing about her thoughts on dance and other things, as well as her practice, which currently centres around recipes and cooking.

“I’m super interested in cooking but also really interested in ways of making dancing; because I don’t feel super interested in the ways of making dance that I was taught, I suppose, or the ways I was exposed to in dance school. And so I started thinking of recipes as a way of making dance, and finding choreography that way. Because they are generative through their structure, and I really appreciate that.”

There is a thread of temporality, which I found interesting, to the way Ileanna sees recipes. Using them as scores which can be meticulously followed, or (her usual cooking method) used as a loose guide, this generative nature relates to the future; but she is also interested in the traces they leave after the fact, as a certain kind of archive, often notated again and again with different adjustments made.

We also spoke a bit about the problems and complexities of our collective and personal dance histories, and the myriad things, aside from technique, that are inevitably inherited by students of western contemporary dance. She told me that after a long journey of studying different forms and at different institutions, she has come to treat training in dance as a means to “feel more alive.” And that while she’s still “really invested in all the structures and intricacies, et cetera et cetera, of dance . . .  it’s sort of being pushed out by [her] interests in just being human, and not trying to be a super-human, or an abstract human.” She is not interested in the body as metaphor:

“I just don’t want to be this abstract thing making shapes onstage, pretending that I’m not, you know, paying bills.”

In that spirit, she is approaching this piece with a welcoming of the anxiety she experiences being in front of big crowds. Asking herself, “what do I need to do in order to do this thing that I do in private (cooking), in front of a large audience?” she has come to invite awkwardness, silliness, shaking, blushing, and all the other things that for her come with performance nerves.

“Maybe because I get so uncomfortable with myself onstage, I just sort of imagine people taking pleasure in my discomfort in this way of like, I’m okay with them watching me get uncomfortable, probably blushing really hard and maybe shaking a little bit. But I do that so they don’t have to — maybe?” 

When I asked her how she works when she’s alone in the studio, she said: “What it usually comes down to is very very physical tasks. When I want to be dancing, or engage my body in any way, I’m like, ‘Oh, sagittal plane! Vertical plane! Push ups!’ These are things that are really successful for me to find a new state to then start working from. So it’s like perpetually warming up.”

Again we had arrived at a theme: that the preparation is ‘the thing.’

Regarding this perpetually warming up she also said:

“Maybe it’s this place of being ready to accept blushing, and shaking, in front of people. And [being] prepared to take that on. Because through the warming up process I can become aware of myself in a proprioceptive sense, to then start inviting the gaze.”

Ileanna told me that she works with improvisation “in part because I don’t know how to choreograph steps. Like I just don’t know how to do that. But I know how to choreograph feelings…? Yep. So improvisation comes in handy a lot for the end.” I couldn’t help but smile at the idea of choreographing feelings. Remembering her previously saying, regarding audiences, “Don’t give them what they want,”  I asked her what she thought about manipulation on the part of the performer. She said:

“I think we all have desires when we watch performance, and [so] people can have those, and I can’t control them — but maybe I just want to interrupt things.”

After I stopped recording and about an hour after our conversation had been straying further and further away from the ostensible purposes of our interview, I asked her something about what’s next for her, or what her plans are down the road, or some other impossible to answer question. She said, “I’m prone to abstract things, especially my future.” And I thought, what a delightful way to approach the unknown: abstractly.

 

Francesca Frewer, guest curator

Being ready to accept blushing: a conversation with Ileanna Cheladyn

Post Show Response

ShootingGallery_March2018_CARATENCH_(20_of_1)Luciana Freire d’Anunciação is a performance artist working across disciplines including video, installation, photography, movement and sound. Her work ‘Vocation/Vacation’ sets out to address work and leisure though playful interaction with the audience. Sourcing words from viewers feelings about their jobs and free time, the artist then asks the audience help to choose costume and music options before embarking on her movement improvisation. By beginning this conversation with the audience as they settle into the theatre with the house lights still up, the work is divided into two sections, a collaborative discussion, and then a more formal performance for which the house lights are dimmed and an audio track accompanies her dance.

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By allowing this access to the preparatory stage of the improvisation, viewers are invited directly into the creative act and are able to contextualize the subsequent movements using their own experiences and contributions. The points of inspiration are defined in collaboration with the viewer, making tangible the choreographic process happening in the moment. Freire’s movements oscillate between abstract and vaguely mimetic allowing for a variety of access points especially for those new to contemporary dance practices. She is a captivating performer and her improvisation easily slips into moments of humour, seriousness, introspection and sincere connection with her audience.

 

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Katherine Neil is a visual artist just beginning to explore performance, though you would never guess this from her stage presence and natural sense of timing. Her work ‘Signs of Explosion—Essentially Dependent, Necessarily Incomplete’ utilizes floral fabric, cotton batting and unfired clay to pull apart and reshape the trappings of femininity through time based manipulation. Following a lineage of female artists working with materials typically associated with craft or the decorative arts, Neil seems to be breaking down and reassembling not only the expectations of being a woman, but specifically a female artist. Wearing a modest long sleeve dress, she dissects a pillow of the same fabric, and then removing her dress, fills the garment with the pillow stuffing to create a kind of life sized headless doll. She then proceeds to fill the pillowcase with clay, clawed from a large block one handful at the time.

ShootingGallery_March2018_CARATENCH_(35_of_1)The performance ends with the artist sliding herself into the bottom of stuffed dress, inserting herself underneath the clay filled pillowcase, and eventually poking her feet out the neck hole. Coming to stillness, she lays serenely on her back, the clay filled pillow perched on her chest and cotton floating gently around her like pollen. After the physical effort of material manipulation, she comes to stillness and breathes deeply, slowly. The clay rises and lowers on her chest, something that she clearly has the strength to bear, but a burden nonetheless.

 

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Jessica Wilkie and Laura Avery are both accomplished dance artists and perform often in the work of local dance companies. Their new work ‘ISO’ is their second collaborative piece and demonstrates the breadth of their interest in performance practices utilizing text, vocalization, and pedestrian and dance based movement.

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Shown through vignettes separated by blackouts, many of the scenes are accompanied by Wilkie making a buzzing or humming noise; a drone that grows gradually louder as the performance progresses. This sound is at times out of place, for example, while they are looking through receipts, moving their hands in an eerie unison. At other times, it fits perfectly within the scene, as when Wilkie takes on the form of a vacuum cleaner which Avery pushes awkwardly around the stage.
In one scene we see Wilkie seated downstage, with Avery laying on the floor next to her, gently prodding at her partner’s legs with the dainty balls of her feet.

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Wilkie reads from Virginia Woolfe’s ‘The Waves’ with an intentionally ridiculous English accent. This reference to a sweeping and surreal survey of the intertwining lives of six friends may give us insight into the origins of these off-kilter scenes that the two artists are showing us. The bittersweet nostalgia of Woolfe’s prose always made me feel immensely sad about the fleeting quality of the quotidian, of childhood being over, and the absurdity of summing up a life in any possible way. During one transition, Wilkie obtains a pair of red satin gloves, but this addition of glamour makes no change to her blasé demeanor. A feather boa also makes it’s way to Wilkie’s neck during some blackout, again having seemingly no impact on the movements that she is executing. This creeping incongruity may hint at some secret ‘otherness’ that lays in wait and is somehow intertwined with these seemingly banal moments, only coming to fruition at the end of the piece when Wilkie has fully transformed into a human sized fly. Sporting a black bomber jacket she wears a mask with large sparkling insect eyes and sitting casually center stage, her droning gets louder and louder.
When her voice cannot increase in intensity, the buzz becomes amplified through the sound system, drowning out all else, and continuing even after the lights have faded to black.

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Daniel O’Shea is a theatre artist, film maker and lighting designer. His work, ‘are we not drawn onward to new era’ is a solo performance incorporating custom made lighting and audio fixtures which act as his set and scene partners. With the house lights still up, O’Shea addresses the audience. He begins his work by warning the viewers of triggering content, at which point an ominous voice interrupts him from nowhere, mocking his caution. As the voice speaks, we see a small picture of an eagle behind him lighting up with a single red eye, but seemingly unfazed by this supernatural interjection, he continues. He lays out two life paths, the first goes smoothly in an idyllic 1950’s tradition: job, girlfriend, house, promotion, marriage, kids, etc. and the second is riddled with loneliness, job precarity, and financial struggles, each unfortunate decision being compounded by the poor decisions of a character without the support or emotional stability to do better. The lights fade and O’Shea seats himself at the small table, donning a hoodie and a pair of black gloves wrapped with a mess of tiny wires. We see our unfortunate character surfing reddit, uploading conspiracy theory videos on youtube and chatting with other similarily minded individuals. His environment shifts through subtle lighting changes and the introduction of other characters; a tin foil head and two coat racks clad in trench coats and ray bands, all voiced by cassette players. We follow O’Shea’s character as he is recruited by a shady agency and becomes a pawn in a power struggle which ends with everyone being double-crossed. It is not entirely clear whether this whole drama is all in our unstable protagonists mind, though an audio collage near the end of the work hints at this.

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It may not be readily apparent to audience members that the set is being impressively controlled by O’Shea himself. Wires wrapped around his work gloves and looped through the inside of his hoodie allow him to trigger each lighting and sound cue by placing his fingertips on different points on the table in front of him and his own body. This intricate setup allows the performer the control over his environment that his character seems to be so desperately seeking.

This work treads some dangerous territory and O’Shea manages to address controversial subjects with careful consideration. Creating a work based in identity politics as a white man, he puts himself in the role of an angry and isolated individual identifying with the alt-right and ultimately turning to violence, while portraying the absurdity of romantic ideals of manliness. The piece ends as it began, with the lights up, and O’Shea as himself, describing talking a stranger off the train tracks. He reflects on his guilt at handing the man over to the police and posits that ‘in a different life, it could have been me.’ Our eagle interjects again here telling O’Shea that he isn’t like that other man, that he is one of the good ones. ‘Not all men,’ echoes the seductive voice of individual exceptionalism, ‘not all men.’

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Antonio Somera Jr. is a dance artist beginning to explore choreographic practices. His work ‘see me by the way that I feel’ was created in collaboration with Joshua Oncol and Joanna Reyes. The three performers, young, beautiful and Filipino, explore identity, self doubt and ultimately self-expression through text, movement and a drag inspired lip-sync number. The piece begins with Reyes telling the story of a prepubescent moment of self-consciousness. She delivers her at times humorous story with a gravitas that hints at something more traumatic that the incident being described. The men improvise movement loosely in time with her monologue, at times playing off of each other’s actions but primarily lost in their own introspection.

Later, the performers address the audience directly, one person at a time stepping away to don flamboyant articles of clothing. It is clear that there is some kind of game at play here, with the performers attempting to speak to the audience in unison while improvising the words. Having seen this piece several times, I know that this section is always different; asking or begging the audience for their input, deriding or complimenting individual’s fashion choices, and often devolving into some kind of unfortunate one sided romantic conversation. 240318_ShootingGallery_CARATENCH_(30_of_1)This text all seems to relate to questions of self worth, social interactions and public persona with the performers attempting to put themselves in a position of power, passing judgment on the audience that watches them. Receding into romance induced melancholy, Reyes recites the lyrics from No Doubt’s 1995 hit ‘Don’t Speak’. The dancers, both incredibly adept at a variety of movement techniques, break their contact dance flow with complicated waacking style flourishes of the arms, eliciting more giggles from audience members at this uncommon meshing of styles. The men maintain a serious demeanor and as movement builds there is more violence in their interaction, manipulating each other’s bodies until Somera is thrown to the ground again and again, Reyes shouting the last line of the song with unselfconscious anger and frustration. Reyes abruptly changes the scene by addressing the audience: ‘If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love anyone else?….. Can I get an amen?’ ShootingGallery_March2018_CARATENCH_(114_of_1)And with a few cheers from the crowd, a disco track blast from the speakers and the performers break into choreographed number complete with confetti, a disco ball and pulling audience members on stage for a mini dance party. Like many elements of this work, this deus ex machina ending could read as immature in the hands of less skilled performers, but these young dancers approach each moment on stage with such sincerity, it is impossible not to be charmed. In a work that is about overcoming anxiety in order to express how you truly feel, it seems to be exactly what Somera has done.

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Words by Julianne Chapple
Images by Cara Tench
https://www.caratenchphotography.com/blank-mpvle

Post Show Response

Meet the Artists – Luciana Freire D’Anunciação

 

Vocation/Vacation is a dance piece based on a game structure in which artist and audience will engage in a brief conversation about the concept of work, pleasure, labor, vocation and vacation. These conversation will inform the way Luciana will perform her task: make a playful dance improvisation that will deconstruct and translate her own take of the words to her body movements. 

Gathering her interests in game theory, dance improvisation, language/speech/literature in performance, D’Anunciação will prepare a conversation structure and make available options of dance intentions, states, costumes and songs in order to build a score to be achieved. The idea is to create a challenge for herself and test her own capability to the specific labour of fine-tuning to time and space in order to embody language and improvise with dance movements. 

Trigged by the radical changes the current (and illegally elected) Brazilian government made on the labour laws, D’Anunciação reflects upon the value of work – and of course the value of her own chosen career as a artist. According the the new rules, workers need to complete 49 years of labour in order to have the right to retire, which means Luciana will only do it when she turns 83 years old! Those changes buzzed heated discussions in the country regarding work as a dignifying life purpose and the misjudgement around art making as a vagabond occupation, hence the interest in the words vocation – relates to occupation, work, divine call for a specific activity; while vacation relates to des-occupation, free time, suspension, leisure. Considering this topic is not an isolated phenomenon in the world currently, Luciana brings her own local political and cultural experience to a dialog with Canadian audience into a playful performance.

Meet the Artists – Luciana Freire D’Anunciação

Meet the Artists – Antonio Somera

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This piece began with no meaning. Just had a bunch of thoughts that I wanted to play with. It is simple ideas, simple games I like to play with myself, in my mind mostly. But then I realized that sometimes the simplest things have the most deep complexity in itself.

Some of my inspirations came from binge watching netflix and youtube such as:
-How I met your mother
-New Girl
-Ted Talks
-waacking dance battles
-soundtracks to video games like Kingdom Hearts
-Studio Ghibli films
-Rupaul’s drag race

I wanted to combine my knowledge in waacking dance style, integrating it with physical contemporary movement, and adding the drama and emotional content from these videos. And just giving it a try to see if all these elements can work together or not, but you can tell me if it did after the show. 🙂

Throughout this process, it seemed like I was able to discover more personal realizations about myself and was subconsciously integrating my own mental world into this piece. Which I like to believe is a sign that I am becoming an artist (yay!). A big thanks to Joanna and Josh for going through the trials and tribulations with me, and I am also thankful that I am able to share some vulnerabilities to you.

Falling from grace, when there wasn’t any to start with. Falling because the leaves outside are doing it.
Falling in and out of mind, hindsight, fist fights. Falling into me and into you.
Falling like we’re kids, innocent and carefree.
Falling without inhibitions, with ambition.
Falling with the burden of my insecurities.
Falling because I just like the adrenaline
Falling is intuition, and sometimes we don’t catch ourselves. Falling is okay.

Meet the Artists – Antonio Somera