Byron Au Yong and Aaron Jafferis Explore Entrapment and Immigration in “Stuck Elevator”

Byron Au Yong and Aaron Jafferis (2009 Performing Arts) will have the world premiere of their Creative Capital project, Stuck Elevator, at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, April 4-28. Stuck Elevator is an eclectic music-theater work based on the true story of a Chinese deliveryman in the Bronx who was trapped in an elevator for 81 hours. Sounding the alarm would open the doors to freedom, but calling for help also means calling for attention—with dire consequences for this undocumented immigrant. Suspended between the upward mobility of the American dream and a downward plunge into an empty abyss, he delves into memories of his past and into nightmares of his present predicament, all within the confines of a 4’ by 6’ by 8’ metal box.

I connected with Byron and Aaron while they were in rehearsals at A.C.T. to learn more about the development of this unique project.

Jenny Gill: I love the concept behind Stuck Elevator—using the true story of a deliveryman stuck in an elevator to tell a larger story about the difficulties of an immigrant’s experience. How did you hear about this story and how did you begin to envision a theater work around it?

Byron Au Yong: In 2005, I was a student in New York City and saw news articles about a missing deliveryman. Because several Chinese food deliverymen had been killed for the cash they carried, people assumed the worst. When they found the man, alive after 81 hours trapped in a Bronx elevator, the news reported he’d paid $60,000 to be smuggled here, had a wife and son back in Fujian Province, and rode a bicycle to work. This resonated with me because I was also in New York City with a $60,000 debt (grad school!), my grandparents left Fujian Province, and I was the same age as this deliveryman. Continue reading

LaToya Ruby Frazier Presents Intimate Portraits of Family and Community at the Brooklyn Museum

0012grandma-ruby-and-me  LaToya Ruby Frazier, Grandma Ruby and Me

LaToya Ruby Frazier (2012 Visual Arts) has been photographing her family and her hometown of Braddock, PA, since she was 16, bearing witness to Braddock’s decline from a booming steel mill town to a “distressed” municipality with widespread pollution and increasingly scarce jobs.

This Friday, LaToya’s first solo museum exhibition opens at the Brooklyn Museum. Through the 40 photographic works presented in The Haunted Capital, Frazier offers an intimate portrait of the effects of deindustrialization on the lives of individuals and communities.  Continue reading

Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s “Leviathan”: A Visual Poem to the Sea


Official trailer for Leviathan

This Friday, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel (2012 Film/Video) celebrate the theatrical premiere of their Creative Capital-supported project, Leviathan, beginning with a run at IFC Center in New York and followed by a national release. Shot off the coast of New England, in the very waters where Melville’s Pequod gave chase to Moby Dick, Leviathan captures the collaborative clash of man, nature and machine in the harsh theater of long-haul commercial fishing. Castaing-Taylor and Paravel shot the footage over the course of a year on a dozen cameras—tossed and tethered, passed from filmmaker to ship crew, swooping from below sea level to astonishing bird’s-eye views in the sky. Entirely dialogue-free, but mesmerizing and gripping throughout, Leviathan presents a visual meditation on the sea and a cosmic portrait of one of mankind’s oldest endeavors.

In the New York Times, Dennis Lim raved that Leviathan “looks and sounds like no other documentary in memory.” The film was an official selection of the New York, Locarno and Toronto Film Festivals, among others, and winner of the Los Angeles Film Critics Circle’s Douglas Edwards Award. After seeing it at the New York Film Festival, I can attest to what a truly stunning, immersive sensory experience Leviathan is. Continue reading

In Focus: Lisa Sigal’s “Riverbed” at LAXART


LA><ART entrance with Lisa Sigal’s Park Avenue, 2013. Photo by Michael Underwood.

Lisa Sigal (2012 Visual Arts) has a solo exhibition, Riverbed, on view at LA><ART in Los Angeles through February 23. Sigal’s installation brings together plein air landscapes, abstract geometric paintings, and architectural materials like drywall and window screens. I connected with Lisa to learn more about this new body of work and how it developed:

Jenny: Your work centers on architectural spaces, and some of your recent projects have been outdoor installations or “interventions” on existing architecture. Can you talk about how the work in the LA><ART show relates to that past work?

Lisa: The work I made in LA is part of an ongoing body of work responding to architecture and the built urban environment. For the most part, I am a studio artist who would like to push a painter’s concerns out onto the street. I am interested in responding to the particular qualities of a place—the studio, an exhibition or a public space—and what influences come to play.

My earlier works were large-scale paintings that responded to interiors and the details of how a room was constructed. When I started experimenting with working outdoors, it was exciting to leave the traditional canvas support and paint on the walls instead. They had their own history and texture. Each wall painting expanded my thinking about content and its source. For example, when I painted Women’s Balcony, on the drill hall wall of the Park Ave Armory, the painting felt like a quiet protest. When I painted a line that traversed NYC buildings and rooftops [for the New Museum project Line Up], the line connected properties and mapped a view of the neighborhood.

I’m interested in making connections between the work that I make outside and things I make in the studio. For the show at LA><ART, I wanted to respond to the architecture of Los Angeles—in particular, more marginal or precarious environments in the city.  Continue reading

In Focus: Daniel Sousa’s animated film “Feral”

Daniel Sousa, still from "Feral"
Daniel Sousa, still from Feral

This week, Daniel Sousa (2008 Film/Video) premieres his Creative Capital-supported project, Feral, in the Shorts Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, with screenings on January 19, 21, 22, 23 and 26 (full screening details). The 13-minute animated film tells the story of a wild boy found in the woods by a solitary hunter and brought back to civilization. Alienated by a strange new environment, the boy tries to adapt by using the same strategies that kept him safe in the forest.

The structure of Sousa’s film is associative, abstract and poetic; the animation includes 2-D, graphically animated characters and hand-painted frames. I talked with Sousa to learn more about his approach to storytelling and his animation process:

Jenny: What is your approach to storytelling? How did this story about a wild boy struggling to adapt to society develop?

Daniel: I have always been interested in the duality that seems to exist between our intellectual and our physical selves, between our thoughts and our urges. I explored that literally in my film Minotaur (1998), about a half-man, half-animal creature. And to a certain extent, that struggle between conflicting instincts is also present in Fable (2005), where two people are trying to find each other, but are stuck in a cycle of love and hate. With Feral, I wanted to ask what it is that defines us as human beings and separates us from the other animals. If we were raised without the benefit of human contact, culture and education, would we still behave like humans? Or are we more like mirrors that reflect whatever environment we are exposed to? Does a child raised by wolves become a wolf too?

As I started to research the idea, I found that in almost every documented historical account of feral children, if the child is re-introduced into society after a critical formative period has elapsed—during which language and other cognitive skills are acquired—he or she is never quite able to adapt to the new environment. They are stuck between two worlds—not quite human, and not quite animal. I thought this state of limbo was both heartbreaking and impossible to illustrate without resorting to a poetic medium like animation, where the internal lives of characters can be externalized through visual metaphors. Continue reading

In Focus: Kelly Heaton’s “The Parallel Series”


Short video of Kelly Heaton’s Restless Bird Chatters, Still Bird, 2012

This is the last week to catch a fantastic exhibition of new work by one of our Emerging Fields grantees: Kelly Heaton‘s The Parallel Series at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts (closing October 27). An M.I.T.–trained artist who uses original software and found objects in her sculpture and installations, Kelly received the Creative Capital grant in 2002 for her project Bibiota, in which she dissected Tickle Me Elmo dolls, sewing them into a vibrating, bright-red, ankle-length coat.

With her latest work in The Parallel Series, Kelly has created an immersive experience of sight, sound and soul within a painterly context. Heaton’s new images literally come to life with pulsing, chirping, breathing and heartbeats. What’s truly remarkable about this work is that the noises that intermittently fill the gallery—responding to movement near each piece—are not recordings. The sounds are made by analog electronic circuits, painstakingly tweaked by the artist to reproduce sounds in nature and then attached to the surfaces of the paintings. Each piece also includes the artist’s drawings diagramming the circuitry. Continue reading

In Focus: Robert Karimi’s “28 Days of Good Energía”

Mero Cocinero serves guests at ¡Viva las Roots!, Intermedia Arts, 2011

Robert Farid Karimi premieres his Creative Capital-supported project with 28 Days of Good Energía, a series of events and performances in the Twin Cities celebrating culture, well-being and the revolutionary act of eating together (October 19 – November 15, 2012). Drawing on the rich tradition of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), 28 Days of Good Energía features ¡Viva la Soul Power!, a live performance and culinary experience, and Feed & Be Fed, an interactive art exhibit, both at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis. Additional happenings in Twin Cities neighborhoods include community potlucks, workshops and public performances.

28 Days of Good Energía is the newest episode of The Cooking Show con Karimi y Comrades, which uses the framework of a live cooking show to raise awareness about Type 2 Diabetes in communities of color in an engaging, culturally relevant way. Performing as the dynamic revolutionary Mero Cocinero, Karimi encourages audience participants to use the power of their cultural stories, rituals and recipes to curb the rising tide of this disease. Check out Karimi’s videos from The Cooking Show project below! Continue reading

In Focus: Mark Shepard’s “Sentient City Survival Kit”


Mark Shepard’s “Quick Start Guide for the Sentient City Survival Kit”

This week, Mark Shepard (2009 Emerging Fields) presents the Serendipitor iPhone app in Spontaneous Interventions, the U.S. Pavilion exhibition at the 13th International Venice Architecture Biennale (August 29 – November 25, 2012). Designed for the “near-future,” when finding one’s way from point A to point B will no longer be a problem, Serendipitor is an alternative navigation app that helps you find something by looking for something else. Serendipitor is part of Shepard’s Creative Capital-supported project, Sentient City Survival Kit, a series of prototypes for electronic artifacts that subvert marketing and surveillance technologies encountered in everyday urban life.

Shepard contributed an essay, “Notes on Minor Urbanism,” on how the practice of “parkour” can guide our view of the city, to a special issue of Architect magazine dedicated to the Spontaneous Interventions exhibition. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission.

Notes on Minor Urbanism, by Mark Shepard

Consider the contemporary form of urban mobility known as Le Parkour. Practitioners of Parkour, known as Traceurs, appropriate the space of the city as platform for exercising gymnastic skill. Here, the city becomes an obstacle course through which one moves from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Understood not as a competitive sport but as a form of physical and mental training, Parkour helps one develop a spatial awareness of specific affordances of urban structures and the ability to overcome mental and physical obstacles with speed and efficiency. Continue reading

In Focus: Nancy Davidson’s “Dustup”


Nancy Davidson, Dustup

Nancy Davidson (2005 Visual Arts) premieres her Creative Capital-supported project, Dustup, with a solo exhibition opening the fall season at Betty Cuningham Gallery in New York (September 6 – October 6, 2012). Davidson is a sculptor and video artist known for making larger-than-life inflatable sculptures in an ongoing exploration of American icons and Feminist issues. Dustup offers a humorous, absurdist critique of the American cowgirl depicted in popular culture. With this massive inflatable sculpture, suspended in midair and measuring 21 x 16 x 16 feet, Davidson presents the iconic cowgirl as a spectacle to admire, a tall-tale fantasy of western legend. I recently spoke with Nancy about how this unique project came to be.

Jenny Gill: How did you become interested in making work about the myth and image of the cowgirl?

Nancy Davidson: Growing up in the 1950s, I was introduced to the “cowgirl” character through Hollywood films, television and country western music. I found these characters exciting and empowering. Many women, like myself, imagined themselves as cowgirls. She was a can-do kind of gal. After I was awarded the Creative Capital grant in 2005, I was doing intensive research on western women’s history at the Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth. I began to wonder, Who were the real cowgirls? While in Fort Worth I also attended the Women’s National Finals Professional Rodeo Competition. Rodeo was absolutely new to me and I was immediately fascinated with the ritual of the rodeo and the women who participated. The rodeo related to other forms of spectacle I’d focused on in my work, so I began video taping rodeos to observe and understand the interactions of the people and animals in the space of the rodeo ring. At the same time, I continued to research western history, western novels and films. I began to understand the distorted perception of cowgirls in popular culture as over-scaled, over-sexualized comic/tragic characters. Continue reading

In Focus: Julie Wyman’s “STRONG!”


Trailer for Julie Wyman’s documentary STRONG!, which will broadcast on PBS on July 26.

This month, Julie Wyman (2008 Film/Video) celebrates the premiere of her Creative Capital-supported project, the documentary STRONG!, with a national broadcast debut on PBS’s Independent Lens series on July 26. Leading up to the PBS broadcast, STRONG! will be touring major cities throughout the country from July 18-25, using the new crowdsourcing platform TUGG to book one-night theatrical events in cities like Los Angeles, New York, San Diego and Atlanta, with more screenings to come. Last month, the film screened to wide critical praise at Silverdocs in Silver Spring, MD, and at the Frameline36 Festival in San Francisco.

STRONG! is the story of Cheryl Haworth, an Olympic weightlifter who has competed in three Olympic Games and held the title of National Champion for 11 consecutive years. I spoke with Julie about this remarkable new film about bodies, strength, expectations and contradictions.

Jenny Gill: How did you meet Olympic weightlifter Cheryl Haworth and decide to follow her story?

Julie Wyman: Cheryl’s image in the mainstream media captured my attention in 2000 when she medaled in the Sydney Olympics. I was captivated by the power I saw in this image of a confident 300-pound, 17-year-old girl who was an elite athlete. Her very existence flew in the face of so many of the assumptions we have about what girls can do, and what types of bodies get to be considered powerful, competent and masterful. An internet search connected me with her coach, and I instantly found her warm, open and quirky.

In 2004, I decided to make a short trip to her home in Savannah, Georgia.  When I started filming, Cheryl was recuperating from a massive elbow injury and preparing to head to the Athens Olympic Games. I wasn’t sure whether this film would develop into a short portrait or something longer. But when I met Cheryl, her affable, easy-going persona and her sense of depth and intelligence compelled me to get to know her better. We were of two different generations, from disparate geographic and cultural origins, from opposing political camps, and these differences intrigued me more. It became clear that the image of the heroic champion that had initially interested me had some cracks and complications, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to find out what would happen. I wrangled a flight to Athens using my mother’s frequent flyer miles, found a friend of a friend’s couch where I could sleep, and I was off. Continue reading