Lessons in Sustainability: Five Questions for Sharon Louden

Sharon teaching at Chautauqua

Sharon Louden teaches at the Chautauqua Institution.

Sharon Louden needs no introduction. A successful artist, editor, author and advocate for artists, Sharon’s transparent and earnest approach to sustaining professional connections has made her four-part webinar, How to Approach and Engage with the Gatekeepers of the Art World, one of Creative Capital Professional Development Program’s most sought-out offerings. Back by popular demand, Sharon will be leading her series starting January 31st.

We were lucky enough to sit down with Sharon Louden and ask her five questions about how she manages to sustain her own practice, and what she’s learned along the way. If you want to learn more about how to communicate and build relationships with art world professionals, don’t forget to register for Sharon’s webinar.

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Travis Wilkerson Explores Contemporary Politics By Investigating a 1940s Murder

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Filmmaker Travis Wilkerson (2015 Moving Image) has made a career out of creating works dedicated to anti-oppression causes, so when he learned that his own great-grandfather played a role in murdering a black man in rural Alabama, he was devastated. As he set out to unravel the story of the murder, he only encountered further obstacles. Using archival footage, documentary and a live performance, Wilkerson explores the way the past continues to haunt us today. His Creative Capital project around the tale, entitled Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?, premieres at Jan 20 & 22 at Sundance Film Festival as part of their New Frontier series. We spoke to Wilkerson about the project.

Alex Teplitzky: Can you tell us more about the film and how it unfolds? How does it relate to the performance you’re preparing for?

Travis Wilkerson: The story basically circles around an incident involving my family in the 1940s. My great grandfather, S.E. Branch, was charged with first degree murder of a black man. The charges disappeared somehow. It’s really just a family legend at this point. I wanted to try and sort out what actually happened all those years ago. What documents still existed, perhaps any living witnesses or relatives (of the victim or the perpetrator). It just seemed like a story of this time in this world and I wanted to find a way to make it live here and now.

Of course, it’s all so incredibly fraught. My family is the family of the murderer. My relative was a racist. A thug really. I’m a white male college professor. All these things are really troubling and complex to navigate. So, how to do it?

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Through Many Platforms, Yara Travieso Interprets Medea as Infinite

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Medea is the Greek mythological character who kills her own children. Hers is a storyline that has so resonated with us that nearly every generation has had its own adaptation or interpretation of her. In her adaptation of the myth, Yara Travieso (2016 Performing Arts), does not provide the audience with one version, but a multiplicity of interpretations simultaneously. Her Creative Capital project, La Medea, premieres this weekend as part of PS122’s 2017 COIL Festival. True to the concept of multiplicity, there are a number of ways to experience the work: either live at BRIC on January 20-22, where the audience will watch and also take part in the making of the film;  livestreamed online; or, eventually as a film produced by Dance Films Association. Amid preparing for the performance, Yara joined us at our offices to talk more about the project.

Alex Teplitzky: Ok, start with a run down of the project. What is La Medea?

Yara Travieso: La Medea is essentially a made-for-camera, Latin-disco, pop musical that is simultaneously a show, and a livestream feature film. It’s based on Euripides’ Greek tragedy of Medea. I’ve readapted, rewritten the work to fit inside a musical composed by Sam Crawford and to exist as a live-television special tell-all, all surrounding this one myth-character Medea. It’s a portrait of her more than anything else, and it takes on many forms: it’s a musical, it’s a dance-theater work, it’s a feature film, it’s a live-television special, it’s a concert. It takes on many lives.

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Rule Your Universe: Dread Scott on Marketing Your Work

Dread Scott's "Burning the US Constitution."

Dread Scott’s “Burning the US Constitution.”

We all know that an artist’s work doesn’t end with her time at the studio. Artists are their own creators, and also their own cheerleaders. It is their passion for their art making that can get other people—be it viewers, curators, critics, or collectors—involved and interested in their practice.

Artist Dread Scott knows this better than most. The revolutionary potential of his own work—including installations, performances, and paintings—feeds off of the attention and participation of his community. On January 19th, he leads Creating a Marketing Strategy, our upcoming webinar that covers all aspects of marketing your work, including defining your goals, developing effective communication tactics, and building your support community. We asked Dread what artists need to know about MailChimp and how we can be rulers of our own universe. RSVP today!

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Wakka Wakka’s ‘MADE IN CHINA’ at home in the USA

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A scene from “Saga,” from Wakka Wakka Productions and the Nordland Visual Theater. Credit Jim Baldassare

These people may be geniuses. –The New York Times 

The Obie and Drama Desk-winning performance group Wakka Wakka produces puppet shows. The company tackles relevant social and political issues like climate change, financial crisis, consumerism and human rights. Creative Producer, Gabrielle Brechner, answered a few questions about the evolution of Wakka Wakka since its founding in 2001 and the development of MADE IN CHINA.

Baby pandas, dancing appliances and romping middle-aged lovers populate Wakka Wakka’s universe of tiny-to-huge puppets, belting out original songs. As with climate change in Baby Universe (2010) and the global financial crisis in Saga (2013), the company spins issues of our times into a vastly entertaining tale with surreal dimensions, lots of laughs and powerful take-aways.

MADE IN CHINA features 30 puppets, seven puppeteers, music inspired by both American and Chinese traditions, and animated video. MADE IN CHINA premieres Off-Broadway in January 2017 at 59E59.

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In Examining Catastrophe, Jeff Becker Creates a Spectacular Performance

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Poster for “Sea of Common Catastrophe.” Photo by Melisa Cardona.

Jeff Becker is a director, designer and sculptor based in New Orleans—a fact important to note before reading about his Creative Capital project Sea of Common Catastrophe. The performance follows four companions as they wander through a continually changing landscape of upscale living and chic restaurants built upon the fragments of their own displaced communities. It’s not inspired by fantasy, but by Jeff’s own experiences and observations as he lived through Hurricane Katrina. The performance premieres in New Orleans in January and in February at 7 Stages in Atlanta, Georgia. We caught up with Jeff just as he was preparing to launch the performance.

Alex Teplitzky: Setting seems to be a huge inspiration for Sea of Common Catastrophe. Can you describe the setting of New Orleans and the personal state of mind you were in when you began creating this work?

Jeff Becker: New Orleans after Katrina was surreal in the truest sense of the word. Parts of the city clearly showed the devastation caused by the storm: cars haphazardly deposited on top of houses that had floated off their foundations and butted up against other homes in a bizarre traffic jam; people’s belongings were hanging in trees deposited there by the flood waters. In other parts of town where the water rose slowly, the effects were less pronounced; houses seemed intact, only displaying this ominous brown line at the same height that marked the level the flood waters.

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Congratulations to Stacey Kirby on her ArtPrize 8 Win!

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Excerpt from Stacey Kirby’s “The Declaration Project”

What would you do with $200,000?

That’s the question facing performance installation artist Stacey Kirby who recently won the $200,000 grand prize at ArtPrize Eight for her interactive performance piece, “The Bureau of Personal Belonging.”

Visitors to The Bureau engage with Kirby and other performers in the designated areas of the Bureau of Personal Belonging: the Department of Declarations, the Civil Validation Department and the Board of Elections and the Facility Permit Office. Each is occupied by a performer in the role of a government official and evokes an office setting tailored to represent the governmental process it critically examines – from issuing bathroom permits (in direct response to the infamous House Bill 2 passed in Stacey’s home state of North Carolina) to determining the validity of individual lives and experiences. The work culminates with participants’ handwritten responses being processed and mailed to public officials. President Barack Obama, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, various North Carolina Legislators and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder are among recipients of Kirby’s work.

You can visit The Bureau remotely through the video of her work below:

It’s easy to treat massive wins like this as though they happened overnight and miss the hard work and learned lessons that make them possible. To this end, Stacey Kirby was kind enough to share 4 lessons she learned that helped pave her path to the ArtPrize grand prize.

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Brittany Nelson Upends Tradition By Misusing Dangerous Photographic Processes

Nowadays, photography is perhaps the one artistic medium with which literally everyone has some experience. And that’s what makes Brittany Nelson’s work so important. Her Creative Capital project, Alternative Process, opens November 5 at David Klein Gallery. Typical of her process, the work shows the various way in which Nelson has been able to playfully experiment with and trouble outdated photographic processes to create abstract work. Unlike other mediums, photography, in particular, has a long history of perpetuating tradition. By experimenting with processes, Nelson challenges these traditions, which, as she explains, is a white male dominated art form. We caught up with Brittany to find out more about her work.

Alex Teplitzky: Can you talk about the show at David Klein Gallery: what are the themes that tie the work together?

Brittany Nelson: My Creative Capital project has really been a series of solo exhibitions this year leading up to “Alternative Process.” It was perhaps an unusual situation because I have been showing the work as I develop it. Starting with “The Year I Make Contact” at Morgan Lehman in NYC, “Controller” at Patron in Chicago, and landing in Detroit in November at David Klein Gallery; all new work was created for every exhibition, and each show centered around its own sub-theme. “The Year I Make Contact” centered around themes of evolution. “Controller” focused on the idea of mirroring and movement with ties back to very early astronomical photography, and “Alternative Process” is being created around ideas of time (as a physical quantity).

All of these exhibitions and the body of work at large center around major themes of communication/transmissions, future artifacts, abstraction as the philosophical ideal, and of course the history of photography. Alternative Process features a collection of tintypes on brushed silver aluminum that contain various recreations and reinterpretations of science graphics. I have been flipping through a large quantity of books on astronomy and theoretical physics, specifically looking at the graphs and charts that have been created as an attempt to communicate very complex sets of knowledge as simply as possible. I have been very interested in these modes of communication by both how succinct they are, but in the ways in which they fail to cause a comprehensive understanding. This segues into the thoughts behind designing the Golden Record that went out on the Voyager spacecraft, and how you design something for a brain and logic system you can’t comprehend. I think of the tintypes this way: as an alien or future artifact. In this instance, though, the aliens I’m trying to communicate with are the gallery patrons.

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The Artist as Activist: Planning for Impact

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Sonic conceptual artist Abby Dobson. (Courtesy of abbydobsonsings.com)

“It felt like I had been sort of treading water AND going around in circles”

Abby Dobson came to the 2015 Artist Summer Institute with an impressive resume; she had already taken her brilliant songs and sound—a kinetic alchemy of R&B, soul, jazz and classic pop to legendary venues like The Kennedy Center, The Apollo Theatre and The Tonight Show. Still, like many artists at a certain stage in their careers, she worried about stalling.

“I wanted to jumpstart myself creatively and build an infrastructure around what I do. I wanted to give myself a better shot to continue doing music, continue creating and not doing what so many of us do – stop.”

She sat down at the Introduction to Strategic Planning workshop expecting to spend a few hours thinking about her future, but was still surprised by exactly how far ahead the program prompted her to think.

“One of the tasks was to write our own obituaries, and it was a really interesting thing to do. I was challenged, in a new way, to think about what I would want said about myself and what I want to have done before I leave this earth.”

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Complex Movements Honor Decentralized Networks and Resilience

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Complex Movements on stage

“How do we build movements where there are many leaders?” wonders Carlos Garcia in a recent interview. That’s just one question at the heart of Beware of the Dandelions by the Detroit-based collective Complex Movements. The Creative Capital-supported project is a traveling, video installation pod which is activated through community and audience engagement, hip hop and science fiction narrative that mutates depending on where it’s performed. The collaboration started out of a conversation that stemmed from dissatisfaction that live hip hop was limited to the usual on-stage performance. The group—made up of Invincible/ill Weaver, Waajeed, Wes Taylor and Carlos Garcia—decided to explore social injustice they experience in Detroit and critical theory they were reading about through a multi-disciplinary project. Beware of the Dandelions has traveled to Seattle and Dallas, among other cities, but it premieres Oct 6-31 at Talking Dolls, as part of a “homecoming” to their native Detroit. An album by the same name is also available for sale. To get a better idea of what the project as a whole is, we caught up with the group.

Alex Teplitzky: Beware of the Dandelions places audience members in the middle of a science fictional dystopia. You’re from Detroit, a city I have read a lot about but have only visited quickly. To outsiders, the connection between reality and science fiction doesn’t seem far off. Is that a misguided judgment on my part?

Complex Movements: Many of the story elements of the science fiction parable Beware of the Dandelions are based on recent stranger-than-fiction events in our city and state, such as mass land grabs by billionaires speculating hundreds of acres of land under the guise of apple orchards (and tree farms), water being shutoff and poisoned, state of the art surveillance systems run by corporate moguls, and life extension seeking cryogenics facilities to name a few.

One of our project’s inspirations, (Detroit philosopher and activist) Grace Lee Boggs used to say “Detroit is what the country has to look forward to” partly because many of racist/colonial capitalism’s practices were piloted here, and subsequently, many of the community led strategies to address the crises created by those practices were also ingeniously created and innovated here.

Detroit is also a science fiction mecca including techno legends Underground Resistance and Drexciya, authors like adrienne maree brown and Saladin AhmedIngrid Lafleur’s Afrotopia project, and beyond.

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