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, entitledDid 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
A letter from “The Birthday Project” in 2006. Photo: Dhanraj Emanuel
“Would you like to write a postcard to the President?” This was an initial prompt artist Sheryl Oring used to engage the public on the street in her Creative Capital-supported project, I Wish to Say. In 2006, Sheryl dressed as a 1960s secretary, set up a portable public office complete with a manual typewriter in public areas across the country, and typed birthday cards to then President Bush as dictated by passers-by. The originals were mailed to the White House. Since then, the project has grown exponentially and she has enlisted a number of volunteer typists to take dictation. On April 26, she will bring the piece to Bryant Park as part of the PEN World Voices Festival, and anyone can dictate a letter to the 2016 presidential candidates. We spoke to Sheryl as she prepared the piece for New York.
Alex Teplitzky: Can you describe the project, and specifically the history behind it. How did it come about?
Sheryl Oring: I had been thinking about the idea of doing what ultimately became I Wish to Say for a while. It grew partly out of my experience in newspapers—the idea of the person on the street interview. But there’s a more personal connection as well. My grandmother was a secretary in the Political Science Department at the University of Maryland. She was the kind of secretary who always went to work dressed to the nines. When I was a kid, she let me go into her closet and into her jewelry boxes, her many jewelry boxes, and dress up when I visited. I think that is also one of the sources of the idea for this work.
In 2003 I had been living in Berlin for six years and came back to the country and I felt completely out of touch with the American public and what people were thinking about politics. Many things came together for me when I thought about going out onto the street with a typewriter and asking people what they’d like to say to the President.
I should mention that I Wish to Say also came to be partly because I saw the movie Central Station. There’s a woman sitting in the central train station in Rio taking dictation for people who are illiterate. I was drawn to the idea of a typist taking dictation of letters from strangers in a public space. It also stems from my own biography. I grew up in a very liberal family in North Dakota, which is a pretty conservative place. We were used to interacting with people with different political view points because we were the minority in my hometown.
Stephanie Rothenberg’s “Garden of Virtual Kinship” at ZKM Center for Art and Media
Stephanie Rothenberg, like many corporations, is interested in what you’re doing online. But unlike those companies that are collecting data for monetization, Stephanie uses API, virtual worlds and online transactions as a platform to make art and critique. Her project Laborers of Love/LOL took advantage of the recent phenomenon of crowdsourcing to have workers abroad cull images of sexuality and desire in order to create a collaged pornography; it was a critique on desirability as much as it was about digital labor. Her Creative Capital project, “Reversal of Fortune,” is a series of installations that both depend on and critique crowdfunding that happens between affluent Americans and developing countries. Elements of the project are premiering this fall in international exhibitions at The Lowry Contemporary Gallery in Manchester, England, and at the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Germany. We spoke to her just before her Manchester exhibition opening.
Jenny Gill: This work is really layered and complex—it’s making virtual transactions visible, it’s translating digital human interactions into organic plant growth. Can you talk a bit about the development of this project and the metaphors at work here?
Stephanie Rothenberg: I have always been interested in using art to raise awareness about particular social issues. Before this project, I had been creating interactive artworks that explored both the benefits and exploits of new forms of online digital labor. These performances and installations leveraged what is known as crowdsourcing—outsourcing work to a so-called online “crowd” of global Internet users. The majority of these online workers were, and still are, in developing countries. They perform online work tasks for little money.
Through these earlier artworks I became aware of a new online phenomena that was becoming more popular and was somewhat of a reversal of crowdsourcing. It is known as crowdfunding. Here the online crowd funds a project or business venture that someone wants to pursue. The most familiar example is Kickstarter, which is mostly used for cultural projects. But crowdfunding is also widely used by charity organizations as a social media platform for raising money to assist people in the developing world with small “micro” loans. Rather than cultural projects, these loans are for small-scale local initiatives such as purchasing animals for a farm or paving a village road.
Aphasia is a little known disorder that, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 1 million people suffer from in the United States. The disorder does not affect a person’s intelligence, but rather, causes difficulties in speaking, listening, reading and writing—though the symptoms are largely unique to the individual. Kerry Tribe (2012 Visual Arts) has spent her career examining notions of memory and subjectivity through art works, and was naturally drawn to aphasic community as a way of continuing her practice. After receiving support from Creative Capital, Kerry spent time with and interviewed three individuals who struggled with aphasia and turned their story into a powerful video and installation. This series of works, called The Loste Note, will debut at 356 Mission in Los Angeles April 10. We spoke to Kerry about her upcoming exhibition.
Alex Teplitzky: Can you describe the manifestation of the project a little more in depth?
Kerry Tribe: TheLoste Note includes a number of works that have been percolating since I received a grant from Creative Capital in 2012 to make a body of work about a communication disorder called aphasia that makes it difficult for people to understand or produce language in its many forms.
The central work in the exhibition is a three-channel video installation called The Aphasia Poetry Club. It is roughly half an hour long and plays across a massive wall constructed to bifurcate the 10,000 square foot warehouse-turned-gallery. Much of the film was shot at 356 Mission, and the space makes a series of increasingly surreal and spatially confusing appearances over the course of the film.