News about Eiko & Koma, Brian Stewart and KaWa Hula

First, I want to thank everyone for enlivening this blog with your opinions about the work that you’ve seen at the Center for the Arts over the past month.  All of us at the CFA appreciate your comments…keep it up!  There’s nothing better than an engaged audience!

I had a wonderful trip to New York on Saturday to see the latest iteration of the Eiko & Koma Retrospective Project at New York’s Baryshnikov Arts Center.  Sam Miller ’75, the producer of the project, and Program Director of Wesleyan’s new Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance, introduced the work and two members of ICPP’s faculty (Judy Hussie-Taylor, Danspace Project and Doryun Chung, MOMA) gave an introductory talk and then we were ushered into an adjacent studio to view the installation.  If you saw Raven at Zilkha in November of 2009 or at the CFA Theater last summer, you would see how Naked has grown out of that work.  The scorched canvas pressed with rice and salt now surrounds the work and the audience.  Eiko and Koma lie together on another canvas laden with earth and raven feathers.  To me, the work is about life and death, aging bodies, memory, dreams, proximity and distance.  It is visually stunning and completely captivating.  The New York Times thought so too.

I saw Evelyn Israel ’10 and Julia Cheng ’08 in the audience and chatted with them after we saw the piece.  They, too, were moved and excited to see the long line of people waiting to get in.

Those of you who attended the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange’s Time Has Set the Table for Tea in February will remember Brian Stewart, Professor and Chair of Wesleyan’s Physics Department, who hosted of the tea alongside the character of Edith Warner.  You’ll be interested to know that after his highly acclaimed performance, Brian went on tour with the Dance Exchange!  The company performed The Matter of Origins (which includes the stage work as Act I and the tea as Act II) at Montclair State University in New Jersey last week, and Brian reprised his role as host of the tea for three sold-out houses.

KaWa Hula: Hula Through Time
KaWa Hula: Hula Through Time

Finally, please don’t miss KaWa Hula: Hula Through Time on Friday night.  This is the first time we have featured traditional Hawaiian music and dance in Crowell Concert Hall.  The group of glorious dancers and their jovial master Kawika Alfiche are from San Francisco and received a wonderful write up in the Times for their performance at Symphony Space last week.

Our own Kehaulani Kauanui, Associate Professor of Anthropology and American Studies, gives the pre-show talk at 7:15pm.

Click here for more information or to purchase tickets online.

Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts

Spring Season at the CFA Announced

Dear Friends of the CFA,

This spring, when you travel to the CFA, you’ll see the world. Well, some of it, at least. Vincent Mantsoe will bring his Paris-based company to perform a work that features South African dance traditions infused with contemporary street dance forms. California-based companies Viver Brasil and Hālau o Keikiali‘i will bring the music and dance traditions of Bahia and Hawai‘i respectively, and DanceMasters Weekend will feature Guilford’s-own Andrea Miller’s Gallim Dance. The company was a sensation at the Spoleto Festival last June and Miller is the winner of this year’s Emerging Choreographer Award.

Jazz figures prominently on the schedule with a concert by the legendary Charles Lloyd and his quartet in January and Sherrie Maricle’s DIVA, an all-female concert jazz orchestra, in April. Lloyd is best known for his seminal album Forest Flower, and his quartet will also feature Jason Moran, who recently won a MacArthur, on the piano. The Music Department will bring its Gamelan Orchestra together with the Wesleyan Ensemble Singers and University Orchestra to celebrate the music of legendary 20th-century composer Lou Harrison. In February, the Theater Department brings its alumnus Michael Rau ’05 to direct Sarah Ruhl’s contemporary farce Melancholy Play, and the playwright herself will be in residence early in February to meet with the cast and give a public talk.

The Zilkha Gallery will host a major exhibition of sculpture, photographs and video by Professor of Art Jeffrey Schiff. His exhibition, Double Vision, will explore how unconscious projections from America’s colonial origins shape perceptions of its current reality.

Many of our majors are creating original works for their theses, and we encourage you to attend their performances and exhibitions as well. We invite you to meet the next generation of art-makers and participate in their visions.

It’s all here in the heart of Connecticut.

Pamela Tatge
Director, CFA

For complete details, visit the CFA website.

Eiko and Koma Continue Their “Living” Installation at the Walker Art Center

For those of you who were at the opening of Eiko and Koma’s Retrospective Project at the Zilkha Gallery last November, or saw Raven at the CFA this past July, I wanted to write to tell you that the Retrospective continued its journey last week with the opening of their installation, Naked, at the Walker Art Center in the Twin Cities on Tuesday, November 2nd. Naked is a living installation that Eiko and Koma have been working on for the past six months during their residency at the Park Avenue Armory. Eiko and Koma will perform Naked throughout the month of November, six days a week for an unbelievable six hours a day (with only a fifteen minute break)! The piece explores themes of nakedness, desire and the elasticity of time.

This is the first time that Eiko & Koma have created a living installation since Breath at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1998. Unlike the single body that was present in Breath, both Eiko & Koma will always be on view during Naked, in much longer exposure and closer proximity to audiences than they have ever allowed themselves.

Eiko and Koma described Naked in an interview with Walker Performing Arts Director Philip Bither:

“By coming back to live and move in a gallery, we hope to collapse the time passed since Breath, a time in which we have lingered as much as we have aged. We are inviting a close look at another one-month period of time in our bodies, saying to our audience: Linger, stay here with your eyes, live and kinetically observe how our bodies move towards death.” –Eiko & Koma on Naked, 2010

For more information, see these links…

A description of the project on Eiko and Koma’s Website

An write-up in Minneapolis’s Star-Tribune

From the Walker Art Center’s Blog

Studio Art Theses In Conversation

Alexandra Provo ‘10, the CFA’s Arts Administration Intern, interviews Studio Art majors whose senior theses are being shown in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery March 23-April 11.

The second week of studio art senior thesis shows opens today. Each week, the work of 4 to 6 artists is installed in the Main and South galleries of the Zilkha Gallery. A wide variety of media are represented, from plaster sculpture, painting, woodcuts, photography, and even eggs. The first week of shows by Nicolina Baxter, Patrick Serr, Eric Bissell, Gregory James and Lorena Estrella has closed, but there are still opportunities to see this week’s and next week’s exhibitions. I sat down with a few of the artists to find out how the thesis process has been going for them.

Though the students I spoke to indicated that while for the most part crafting a studio art thesis is a solitary procedure, in a liberal arts setting there is ample opportunity for conversation and dialogue, both among artists and academic disciplines. “I’ve been trying to balance this academic requirement and just wanting to make things,” says Angus McCullough, an architecture student whose work, Dormant, goes up in the third week of exhibitions, “but I think that’s been really fruitful—I’ve definitely come up with a lot of ideas I’m not necessarily going to use in my thesis, but could use in the future.” His work, a large-scale sculpture-room, deals with latent architectural spaces. Rachel Schwerin, who is presenting work this week that tells the story of a Chicago superhero named Red Hot Chicago, says she was inspired by both her courses at Wesleyan and her summer experience taking courses at Northwestern. “I think all of my art history classes have been really influential in terms of the way I intellectually think of the art I’m making,” she says. Eric Bissell noted that his coursework in Buddhism and anthropology—specifically ethnography—has been instrumental for his process.

For me, the most exciting part of this series is getting to see the work of people I know—both personally and academically. In the first week of shows, I found myself noticing ideas and patterns that I remember several of the artists discussing in class or working through in the studio. For example, both Eric Bissell’s HERE IS EXPANSIVE and Gregory James’ SATISFIXATION dealt with themes I’d seen them working with in Professor Jeffrey Schiff’s course, Topics in Studio Art, the former exploring our understanding of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the latter using eggs as a medium to explore human contact and sexuality. I also remember seeing an earlier series of Nicolina (Nyki) Baxter’s work related to her thesis show, Flay, our sophomore year at her Sculpture II show.

The familiarity and consistency that arises out of working in a setting like Wesleyan is also important within the community of art thesis students. Eric, who has worked with Professor Jeffrey Schiff for all four years, remarks, “To have someone watch your progression as an artist is a really interesting thing; it allowed him to know when to really step in and give me advice. I really respected that.” Rachel noted that for the printmakers, who share one space unlike other thesis students who typically share a studio with two other students, “it’s been really interesting working in one big room. You’ll see a lot of common images and themes across our work, despite the fact that we’re working in very different styles. That’s something you get out of a shop mentality, which is cool.” Even in the smaller studios, though, thesis students are in dialogue with one another. “I’ve been going around as much as possible…it’s important to [look at each other’s work] because you look at your own work every day, until you can’t see it anymore,” says Angus. Nyki notes, “I think we’re always a sounding board for each other. You’ve established a little bit of a style or a conceptual vein they’ve seen in your work, [and] even if you don’t have a specific question to ask, being in the studio late at night and just having a conversation—even off topic—will lead you back to where you need to be.”

Remaining shows:
Tuesday-Sunday, March 30 – April 4
Reception: Wednesday, March 31, 4-6pm
Sarah Abbott, Julian Wellisz, Rachel Schwerin, Megumu Tagami and Yang Li

Tuesday-Sunday, April 6 – April 11
Reception: Wednesday, April 7, 4-6pm
Genesis Grullon, Lily Bushman-Copp, Ray Brown, Angus McCullough, Anna Mendes, and Josh Lederer

CFA Student Profiles: Mark McCloughan ‘10

What follows is the second in a series of profiles of Wesleyan students by Alexandra Provo, ‘10, the CFA’s Arts Administration Intern. These students all have one thing in common: they became deeply engaged with one or more artists presented by the CFA. Sparked by the artist’s workshop, performance or exhibition on campus, they began a lasting relationship that affected the trajectory of their academic exploration. We hope you will send us your comments about these and future interviews.

Last week, after the Eiko and Koma opening reception, I sat down with Mark McCloughan ’10, a senior double majoring in Theater and SISP (the Science in Society Program) who has been working with Eiko and Koma as an assistant and archivist since last spring, to find out more about the character of his relationship with the artists and how it developed.

How did you first hear about Eiko and Koma?

I didn’t really know who they were—at all—and then I saw Eiko’s class [Japan and the Atomic Bomb] on WesMaps when we were freshman, and I just remember thinking it sounded so weird and cool. I was attracted to the inter-disciplinarity. I was really lucky to get one of the four spots for freshmen the first year—I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was until the first class when there were something like 75 people who weren’t registered trying to get in. Over the course of the class I started realizing [Eiko] was a working artist, but it still didn’t really hit me until maybe last spring when I started working for them and looking at their archives, seeing the work they’ve done over almost forty years.

Are there specific aspects of the course that you feel affected you the most?

I always find it sort of difficult to talk about the movement and the course because it’s so encompassing of many things…first of all I think the courses [Delicious Movements and Japan and the Atomic Bomb] are important because both are truly inter-disciplinary. For me that was a big realization—that the arts can be really rigorous and very productive, not in a purely aesthetic sense but also productive of real knowledge.

Definitely, I agree. So you were in the courses; how did your relationship develop further?

Last spring they were beginning to speak with Sam Miller ’75 and conceptualize [the Retrospective Project], and it just so happened that they were trying to pull together their archives, a lot of which are at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. They had all these photos and stuff there that no one had really organized, so Eiko asked me if I was going to be home—because I’m from Minneapolis—over spring break.  I was, so I spent three or four days there. Organizationally it was crazy but also it was amazing to begin to get a sense of their whole career. All these photos of pieces; pieces I had never seen or really heard about…to get a sense of the chronological progression [of their work] was really illuminating for me as someone who is really into the movement, because you can begin to see where some of the exercises come from, or you can see them exploring some of the stuff Eiko helps us explore in class. That led to an internship there last summer.

How do you feel your contact with them has informed your own practice as an artist?

It’s been pretty hugely influential, I would say. The big thing that I love about Delicious Movements is that nothing is right and nothing is wrong. I think it taught me how to just do and not worry…it’s been very freeing.

Can you tell me some of the things you’ve been doing? Some of your projects here or elsewhere?

Me and Miles Tokunow ‘10 were in the class together as freshmen and both got into the movement—I remember we moved a lot together in class—and then the next fall we did a piece together called Falling, that was on Foss Hill [yeah, I remember I saw that, it was cool]. I’m also one of the founders of No Face Theater. We work collaboratively, so without a director—everyone has an equal voice, which is…it’s horrible and also wonderful. But going back to Eiko and Koma, they work in that way, they negotiate the piece together…it’s neither one of their visions; it’s something that happens because they’re working together and there’s all this tension and disagreement and negotiation.

Actually, Miles and I are working on another dance for the spring. So that partnership has been ongoing. I’m really excited about that one.

Could you say, in a sentence or so, a lesson or insight that you’ve taken away from working with Eiko and Koma?

There are so many…I’d say that I’ve learned to be in the present moment in my body, which has been really helpful for me as a performer. I feel like since I’ve met Eiko and worked with her and Koma my focus in performing has changed. Now I’m really interested in the body…not just as a vehicle for representing a character but the body as a thing.

How much has this been a factor in your Wesleyan experience?

It’s pretty much changed my life. Working with Eiko, I feel much more sure that what I want to do is going to be what I really want to do, it’s going to be mine…that sounds so possessive.  It’s given me a confidence to figure out a path that’s what I really want.

Discovering The Skriker and The Eiko and Koma Retrospective Project

I’ve just wandered over to the CFA Theater where the Theater Department is preparing to open THE SKRIKER, by Caryl Churchill. Some of you may remember the department’s call to campus and community members for donations of items from attics & garages: the setting for the play is entirely created from found materials. Old toys, garbage bags, wood remnants, furniture and “stuff” of all kinds fill over half of the seating area. The audience sits on the stage–facing out: are we being asked to reflect back on ourselves and our trash? Robert Bresnick, the play’s director, describes the work as a cautionary tale–a confrontation of our relationship to the environment. As Bresnick said, “The piece remembers a time we took solace in nature…‘nobody loves me but the sun is still shining.’ But in the world of this play, the sun burns and there is no refuge.’” The story centers around two women: one pregnant and one who has committed infanticide. They are haunted by the Skriker, an earth spirit whom Churchill refers to as “ancient and damaged.” They are joined onstage by a shape-shifting bunch of earth spirits, extraordinary puppets by Leslie Weinberg (many of you will remember her puppets from Don Quixote and her masks from Oedipus Rex.) Sound design is by California-based Marco Schindelmann and Michael Raco-Rands and lighting is by Professor John Carr (who also co-designed the set with Weinberg.)

And downstairs from my office, the Zilkha Gallery has become a laboratory for the Eiko and Koma Retrospective. The experiment? How do you create a visual installation about the artistic legacy of performing artists whose work is time-based and often site-specific? As Eiko puts it, “What does it mean for living, active performing artists to have a retrospective? Is putting our heads into a creative closet a creative thing, or a nostalgic thing?” Working with a team of student assistants, many of whom have studied with Eiko at some point over the last four years, Eiko and Koma are creating mini-environments that allow audiences to contemplate their artistic values and inspiration. These are presented alongside video installations and a visual timeline of photographs that date back to when they first met in Japan. It’s amazing to see their faces and bodies when they were in their twenties just beginning to develop their movement vocabulary. You may remember their first performance at Wesleyan in the Zilkha Gallery in the summer of 2002 when they presented Offering, their 9/11 a work about mourning; in 2006, they brought Cambodian Stories, their masterwork performed alongside young people from the Reyum Art Center in Phnom Phen; in the summer of 2007, Quartet and Grain. What you may not know, is that Eiko and Koma have sent both of their sons to Wesleyan! Yuta graduated in ’07, and Shin graduates in ’10.

The Retrospective opens this Thursday, November 19 from 5-7pm, with a performance at 5:30pm followed by a reception. Eiko and Koma will be working on the installation over the course of the next month, so feel free to come by and see how the exhibit evolves.  The Retrospective will have future iterations at Danspace Project in New York, the Walker Arts Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

The Skriker, by Caryl Churchill will be performed at the CFA Theater, November 18-22

Eiko & Koma: Time is not Even, Space is not Empty will be at the Zilkha Gallery, November 19-December 20

Great Musicians; Good People

Rani Arbo and Scott Kessel ’88 and their beautiful son, Quinn, are regulars at the CFA. I remember when they sat in my office years ago talking about whether or not to live in Middletown or Northampton. I was so thrilled when they picked right! They are world-class musicians whose artistry is equaled by the generosity of their spirit. They were founding faculty members at the Green Street Arts Center, performing at Macdonough School when the Center was still only a dream. They did a fantastic outdoor concert for us in the summer of 2003; Scott, a Wesleyan studio art major, is not only a musician, but a fine artist. His work graces Kidcity among other Middletown locations and he designed the community mandala that was built in Olin Library when the Tibetan monks were here….the list goes on. In between all of their work in Middletown they manage to give 60-70 concerts per year with their band, Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem at venues across the country. Hailed by The Boston Herald as “one of America’s most inventive string bands,” The Vintage Guitar Review has said their work “explodes with energy and relaxed good humor…” We are so fortunate to have them in our midst and are delighted to present them (minus Quinn…but I get the feeling he could be onstage soon) with band-mates Anand Nayak ’97 and Andrew Kinsey this weekend. They will be performing selections from their first-ever family CD, Ranky Tanky, at Crowell Concert Hall at 2pm on Saturday, October 24.

Rani told me that this was a natural progression for the band. They are all parents now, and were interested in taking their original sound and turning it to younger audiences. Also, it will allow them to do more in the communities where they tour by providing a family concert option. “Ranky Tanky is very upbeat and fun,” she said. “It has a solid set of roots in older music: the sounds of the 30s to the 70s. It’s the kind of music that parents and grandparents will relate to. Kids seem to really love it. I had a pack of neighborhood kids in my car last week and they were all singing along.”

So call some friends, bring your kids and grandkids and come be charmed by this wonderful band…I can guarantee their warmth and energy will uplift you.

P.S. please take a look at their website…the writing is fantastic, the images are engaging (how can you resist the one of them jumping in the air by the side of the Connecticut River?). It’s a fine example of how artists should put themselves out there on the world wide web: http://www.raniarbo.com

Some Responses To Emergency Response Studio

From time to time, I’ll be inviting various faculty/staff/students to write for my blog. Nina Felshin is the curator of exhibitions at the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery. When she told me about meetings she’s been having with various students about her current show, Emergency Response Studio, I asked her to write about it. She and I invite your comments:

The first time I learned that a group of students had raised questions about the show was when Argus writer Sarah Lamming ’13 came to interview me in the trailer on September 22. One week later her thoughtful review appeared in the paper.

I was actually delighted that she didn’t beat around the bush. Right off the bat she told me that certain words like “privilege” and “classist” had been used to characterize the artist and the project. “Privilege” in reference to artist Paul Villinski, perceived as a rich white guy who could afford to create the trailer, and “classist,” referring to a perceived insensitivity toward the community that suffered the most in New Orleans, many of whom are still living in formaldehyde-ridden FEMA trailers.

Alexandra Provo ’10, this year’s CFA intern, also shared with me that she, too, had some initial concerns before learning more about the project and the artist’s intentions. Alex, an Art History major with a special interest in environmental issues, proposed that we organize a student forum near the trailer, a little “dejeuner sur l’herbe” sans lunch and nudity. At Alex’s suggestion dessert would be on the CFA.

Later that same day a sign went up near the ERS declaring it to be “Classist,” “Condescending” and “Useless Art”. It was definitely time to plan the forum—hopefully one in which students would feel comfortable expressing their views in the presence of the curator, yours truly. It took place the same day the Argus article appeared. Thirteen students showed up in addition to me and Alex.

Our conversation reminded me that it’s critical to see things in context and not assume anything without first digging deep. Paul Villinski, for example, like most other artists in the world, is not rich. At 50 he is just now beginning to survive off the sale of his work. He had to raise every penny that went into the trailer whether it was through grants or through in-kind contributions. Interestingly Paul’s trailer cost approximately $86,000 to complete. Each no-frills, off gassing FEMA trailer in New Orleans cost $85,000. As for rich, white male artists: relatively speaking, only a handful of artists get rich from their art. And yes, while most of them are white males, to assume that Paul is one of them is just that, an assumption.

I was probably most deeply moved and disturbed by the characterization of “classist.” In my view, Paul’s work is as an attempt to demonstrate that in post-disaster settings those who are left homeless deserve humane and respectful treatment and that if an artist could design and produce a truly livable and sustainable space for the same price as a FEMA trailer, why isn’t the government planning in advance for future natural and unnatural disasters? Could it be that planning for poor people, especially poor people of color, is not a priority in this country? If the trailer is classist how come FEMA trailer inhabitants wondered aloud to Paul why the government didn’t hire him as consultant?

At the forum, students shared their perspectives with me and I hope that more students will take advantage of the opportunity to discuss their points of view. Art at its best should provoke and inspire. I look forward to continuing the dialogue.

Nina Felshin
Curator of Exhibtions, Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery

Welcome to the new CFA blog

Welcome to the new CFA blog and to the opening of our 2009-2010 Season. We are hosting this blog to further connect the campus and community with the work on our stages and in our galleries. For those of you who come to the CFA from outside the campus, we feel that there should be some “value-added” in subscribing to/attending events on a college campus. So we’ll invite you to enter into stimulating dialogue about the works we present by reading the thoughts of some of our faculty, students and visiting artists. You’ll see interviews with some of the artists who are coming to campus and reviews of work that has toured here and has gone on to other cities. You’ll catch up with news of artists who have made the CFA their artistic home over the past few years, read about what our faculty and students are doing on and off-campus, hear about continuing connections between our students and visiting artists, etc. Please send us your comments and suggestions as this is a new venture for us!

My office overlooks the CFA courtyard, and as I write, the Emergency Response Studio has just arrived. Yes, an artist’s studio will be parked in our courtyard until November 8. The artist is Paul Villinski, and he has brought this completely sustainable, off-the-grid trailer to Wesleyan as the core installation of curator Nina Felshin’s upcoming exhibition, Emergency Response Studio, which opens this Friday, September 11 from 5 to 7pm. Inspired by what he found in post-Katrina New Orleans, he transformed a FEMA-type trailer into an artist’s studio/living space. It has a bedroom, a bathroom with a shower, an eat-in kitchen and a workspace. Villinski believes that artists should have the opportunity to “embed” themselves in post-disaster settings and be able to make works that respond to the setting so that the artist’s voice is heard. Nina had heard about the premiere of the exhibition at Rice University, and then happened to have dinner with the interior designer of the bedroom space who told her she had to see it. What she found was an installation that is every bit as beautiful as it is functional…an exhibit that has a great deal to say to those of us interested in living sustainably without sacrificing aesthetics. The exhibition also ties into Wesleyan’s Feet to the Fire program about climate change, which continues this year with a focus on the water crisis and the availability of clean freshwater. I do hope you’ll join us for the opening on Friday and have the opportunity to meet Paul and take a peek at this magnificent trailer.

Best wishes for the new academic year,
Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts