Q. Last spring you completed a month of performances at Parkerís Box, an artist space in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, working solo and with your group. What made you decide to feature your work in a small gallery rather than at one of the theater and dance venues in New York?
A. The director of Parkerís Box, Alun Williams, a supporter of my work since the 90s, offered me the opportunity to be in residence for the month of June. In addition to performing myself, six young dancers with whom Iíve worked the past years came at various times in the residency to perform works I made for them.
Iíve performed in galleries since I began in 1979 and Iíve always enjoyed the intimate, less theatrical environment they provide - as well as the fact that admission is generally free and the public can stay as long as they like. There is often the possibility of a serendipitous encounter. At Parkerís Box we kept the door to the street wide open all the time. Sometimes this led to awkward situations, but generally speaking our visitors were quite open and curious; I was surprised at the response. The response from passersby outside was always unexpected. It was especially interesting when people were inside watching and outside watching as well.
Q. You presented a new interactive piece for individual viewers called On the Balcony. What is it about?
A. Recently I read Rilke's 'Duino Elegies' again in an excellent new English translation. The Eighth Elegy is about the difference between human and animal consciousness, what he calls the Open. The animal lives without concept, facing out in a now of bare perception with no future and no past. The human lives with something or someone always opposite, and hardly ever looks beyond this object of attention.
I thought it should be interesting to evoke that sense in a performance. I wanted to make something live that engaged in a different way, open and without a specific object of attention. It seemed important for it to be a personal experience, so I made it for the individual viewer.
'Averted vision' is an interesting term from the world of amateur stargazers. In order to identify a dim star more clearly, it turns out one should not look head-on at it, but to the side. The rod cells toward the periphery of the retina gather more light in those conditions than the cone cells at the center. On the periphery it's difficult to see color or fine detail, but at least one knows something is there.
I wanted to do something with this averted gaze in performance. I had the thought that if viewers were willing to concentrate their vision in one suggested area, then I could create an interaction with them by performing only Ďperipherallyí.
In the Metropolitan Museum in New York I got inspired for a way to present a peripheral performance by the trompe líoeil ornamental wall decorations in the bedroom reconstructions from villas near Pompeii, including in one room a small painted balcony. It seemed an artificial space where one could imagine a view.
Q. How did people respond to the work?
A. It was great - they were very trusting. By keeping the piece short and simple in structure but still vague and Ďjust unidentifiableí I had hoped viewers might have their appetites whetted and be seduced into constructing their own five-minute stories. And during our residency, judging by the many reactions we received when they were finished, imaginations were certainly freed. A number of people felt like they were underwater, or flying. One lady compared what she saw with the illustrated marginalia in medieval manuscripts.
The dancer or dancers who present the piece to the individual viewer operate more as agents or messengers than as direct objects of attention. They are free to develop an intimate relationship with each trusting individual instead of being a display piece for an audience.