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.
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.
Picture a slice of Neapolitan ice cream with its three separate bands—strawberry, vanilla, chocolate. The three flavors—made separately—are only considered Neapolitan when they unite.
This is how DD Dorvillier conceived the collaborative work Extra Shapes. For the project, Thomas Dunn, a lighting designer, Sébastien Roux, a composer, and dancers Katerina Andreou, Walter Dundervill and DD herself, worked on their individual mediums together in the same room, but autonomously. This process is continued through to the performance itself, which takes place at The Kitchen beginning March 25.
Michelle Ellsworth (2013 Performing Arts) is an artist unlike any other. Her quick, anxious speech dares you to keep up with her, and her art practice is just as ingenious and prolific. The premiere of her Creative Capital project, Clytigation: States of Exception, is a perfect example. A multi-media performance that allows the visitor to wander a theater space at will, Clytigation injects a dose of technology into the Greek myth of Clytemnestra. Writing for Artforum, Claudia La Rocco said that Michelle is “doing some of the most engrossing explorations of how the body and technology coexist and collide.” Suffice it to say that the performance must be experienced in person to really get a sense of how she’s actually accomplishing this; and luckily for New Yorkers, it’s coming to the Chocolate Factory November 11-14. We caught up with Michelle on the eve of her premiere.
Alex Teplitzky: Can you describe Clytigation and how it relates to Clytemnestra, a Greek mythological figure noted for her troubled relationship with Agamemnon?
Michelle Ellsworth: Clytigation is the sequel to a piece I made several years ago called Phone Homer. Phone Homer is a feminist remix of Robert Fitzgerald’s translation of The Iliad. I moved some language around with my sister Ann Ellsworth to explain what motivated Clytemnestra to kill Agamemnon. The language is arranged around Skype calls between the homebound Clytemnestra and her husband Agamemnon, her friend Penelope, her sister Helen and her lover Aegisthus. In between calls, Clytemnestra navigates her custom-built world wide web with a kinetic alphabet looking for peace through materialism. Clytigation picks up after the murder. Post murder, Clytemnestra is identified as a terrorist (for killing the king) and begins to develop over-the-counter counter-terrorism protocols to avoid surveillance, interpersonal drama, and death. In performance, I demonstrate several of Clytemnestra’s protocols—including hiding in furniture and art, an interpersonal drone and attempts to complicate her identity and location.
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.