Kara Feely / Francesco Gagliardi: January 30 2011, part two

Kara Feely: I'm interested in the relationship between this kind of developed specialized virtuosity and your acting training in Italy.

Francesco Gagliardi: "Specialized virtuosity" I like that.

KF: It is uncommon for someone of your training to switch gears like that, yes?

FG: I suppose so... I don't know - I never really wanted to be an actor - I trained as an actor because I was interested in directing and I wanted to know how things "felt" from the "inside"... if you see what you mean - it was always instrumental to creating pieces with performers in them. I enjoy performing immensely - but it never had that thing of "I want to be an aktoor". I guess I was always very attracted to virtuosity in acting and in singing - opera, that was a big influence believe it or not (which is something we should also talk about in relation to your work, at some stage).

KF: Was that motivation related to you getting involved with film? It's interesting that your work as taken so many forms, and that translation has been a major theme throughout, translating ideas from one medium or practice to another. It makes me think of a lecture I heard from Rosalind Krauss about 70's artists and the idea of a 'technical support' running through their work rather than medium specificity.

FG: Oh yes, Krauss - she has things to say about medium specificity… I’m not sure I fully understand it though.

KF: Me neither. Except that it has to do with Ed Ruscha and cars.

FG: I must re-read that book about Broodthaers.
But anyway yes, translation - that’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I suppose I first began to use video to do something I wanted to do and couldn't do otherwise: the Short Sentences project. I just wanted to realize that play, and there was no other way.

KF: I've always felt that Stein was writing for the digital age...

FG: Then, after a rather long time, I began to think about video again in relation to performance documentation - and those video performances came about. And really there I was working very consciously for the first time with the idea of translating - translating performance into video, rather than representing the performance through a video. I think that to conceptualize the relation between performance and documentation in terms of "translation" rather than "representation" really changes things entirely. In "representation" you have an ontological hierarchy: original - copy. In "translation" the two terms (two languages, two mediums, etc...) are equal. It's a completely different situation. Also translation goes back and forward: you can't really translate a performance into video without re-thinking what performance is. So if you think about it as translation, documentation turns out to be a process, to be open-ended, and to have an impact on your way of thinking about the live piece itself...
This really makes me want to go back to making videos.

KF: Did the translation films begin as performances, and become translated, so to speak? I'm thinking of the one with the German translator and the Chinese dinner...

FG: They were actually performed in front of the camera. That's partly why I wanted the videos to have that real-time structure: no edits. It's one single slice of time. I should send you the whole pieces - did I ever give them to you? The dinner is 48 min long, the German translation 35 or so.

KF: No, please do.

FG: I hesitate to call them "performances for camera" as that seems to conjure up a very specific type of work. All those highly produced "performance films" and "dance films". I generally really dislike that stuff.

KF: They're more about representation as you say, rather than translation- which is active, progressive, productive.

FG: They just use the conventions of narrative film and apply them to dance or performance: close ups, shot/ reverse shot, little tricks. They try to make it “interesting” - it always feels like they don’t trust the work. “This is kinda boring, but we’re going to make it exciting!”. I’m trying to re-think the structure of the film in relation to the timing and structure of live performance.

KF: You made some films of invisible mental tasks- I'm thinking about the logician at the chalkboard. The movement of her hand really becomes the focus, the Barthesian "punctum" maybe.

FG: With those performances of mental tasks there is again the same idea of translating performance into video - live into digital. But also the joke of "showing" these mental, private performances. It all began with a video of myself doing one of my reading pieces: I read the first chapter of Moby Dick skipping every second word, and of course it's just this long shot of me sitting and reading silently. I was interested in the idea of authority- the artist's authority. You have to believe that that's what i'm doing (silently reading Moby Dick according to these pointless rules) because I say so. It’s like: You have to believe that this is art because I say so.
I was very satisfied with the title. It was called: Call Ishmael.

KF: Excellent!
Sorry my cat is going bonkers here.

FG: Is it still freezing in NYC?

KF: We are in an ice age, apparently.

FG: Ugh.

KF: I'm trying to figure out a way to characterize the different experiences of watching these mental tasks on video and live in performance, and failing at the moment... But somehow it seems that my focus goes to different things- more focused in the videos on the particular actions relating to the tasks, and in person to the aura of the experience, the feeling present in the room, and the objects themselves...

FG: Mmmm... It's a good point. I guess I’ll have to send you the pieces in their entirety.
I don't know either. I think it's hard for me to think about it in terms of experience... I’m rather thinking about it in terms of what kinds of different objects they are - in ontological, rather then phenomenological terms, in other words. Also in the videos I guess all sorts of random background stuff comes to the foreground: noises form outside, a fly on the wall, etc. In performance, no matter how boring, the focus tends to remain tighter, no?

KF: Hmm, that 's interesting. There's a flatness in the video that places all the other distractions on an even plane. While live performance is so much about emphasis. Emphasis that is willed into existence.

FG: I like that, yes. What Gertrude Stein would have called "insistence" I suppose.

KF: Yes.

FG: Which is what brings life and energy into repetition, and what makes repetition not actually repetitive. Yes: that is very very central in live performance.

KF: I think quite a bit about the different experiences of time that can be witnessed in performance- rapt attention, boredom, distraction... I think they are all valid and interesting.

FG: Absolutely.

KF: Convincing actors of this is difficult sometimes though.

FG: Yes yes yes. Vanity.

KF: Because if they feel like they are losing the audience they get very upset.

FG: One always feels the need to be in control. There is this need to "control" the audience. I struggle with that too. It's tricky - because the audience sometimes looks like it WANTS to be controlled.

KF: I think that's mostly true. But we can't just give them what they want, right? That's too easy for everyone!

FG: It's comfortable to relinquish oneself to someone else for a while and get carried along. All the while being "interested".

KF: So when you frustrate those expectations then you get called am amateur.

FG: Yes - but don't you think that's very specific to THEATER performance? I mean, in ART performance it's a given that it's going to be a mess. In theater, even in experimental theater, there is always the expectation that the director (or performer) will control the audience’s reactions - it's a totally different game.

KF: Yes, but do art world audiences really want to watch things? Do they enjoy the experience of performance, or just the idea. I wonder about that sometimes.

FG: You mean in visual art performance - the kind of performance that gets written about on Artforum? Performa performance?

KF: Yes, I guess I'm referring to that. Because sitting through a performance and its ups and downs, transitions- being interested in THAT is a very particular thing.

FG: Well, I think here we're getting at something that is very crucial for both of us, and it's the way in which our practices are positioned in this kind of no man's land: it's not experimental theater, but it's definitely rooted in theater, and it's not quite visual art performance... in a lot of "performance art" the whole point of the experience seems often to be purely social: re-enforcing a sense of belonging to a group of connoisseurs. People react to what happens in the piece in order to signal to one another that they "get it", that they are insiders.... I see this a lot at Performa - a lot in this now very popular genre of lecture-performance.

KF: And not about the experience of the performance, which will be entirely different for different people, which uses temp and pace as variables, highly studied variables.
temp temp tempo
Problem with my o key.

FG: This is a huge topic, and crucial. It also has to do with amateurism and professionalism - in art performance being too "professional" often seems to be a liability - in theater it's the other way around. This is very badly put, but don't you agree? In art circles, an amazing performer like Fulya Peker would be considered kind of uncool - whereas they love Ann Liv Young. Well, she’s not the best example, perhaps, but I was just reading about her. It’s is something about control and technique, and about "not giving a shit"

KF: Yes, and Fulya is a great example. She's a gem with a highly developed, individualistic practice, and it's a joy to watch her work, to prepare, even, for a performance. It is integrated into her life in a very holistic way. I feel that way about several performers I've worked with (present company included.)

FG: Fulya is amazing. I remember noticing her in Foreman's shows well before I knew who she was - the performer of one’s dreams. Like Elena Russo Arman, whom you met in Italy last summer.

KF: But I think it comes back to virtuosity somehow, and time, and the willingness of audiences to give up time, and to enjoy, seek out, radical experiences of time. And that's partly why I think I always wind up working in theater.

FG: Absolutely. But don't you think that that kind of command of one's practice would be considered somehow "uncool" in performance art? Interestingly enough that is not so in painting, for instance. In other media attitudes keep changing and shifting: one day technique is conservative and a bad thing, but then it’s “in” again, and so on. In performance art, on the other hand, this sort of deskilling seems to be a defining feature: if the person looks like she knows what she’s doing, it’s not performance art. Unless we’re talking of that quasi-mystical “thing” that people like Abramović always go on and on about. I’m exaggerating of course, but you see what I mean.

KF: Well, I think that's what's so mystifying about this whole Performa/performance art situation, to performance people like you and me.

FG: It's really a different set of rules. And that's what makes your practice "difficult" I think: that it refuses to fully play by either... and what makes it really compelling too.

KF: So the question becomes what is the best apparatus to funnel myself through, or what is best for the work itself...

FG: It is a hard thing to negotiate.

KF: To be continually disappointing people and their expectations! Or happily overturning them.

FG: It's harder and harder to break the rules as more and more rule-breaking rules (rules about how to break rules) get codified and sanctioned. "Breaking rules is good" (but only if you do it in ways we can recognize: i.e. if you break them according to the rules). So in theater you're an amateur, in performance art you're too theatrical.

KF: Yes, yes. that's me.

FG: Go stand in the corner!

KF: I think that balance and fluctuation is incredibly interesting, that's a central idea in most of my pieces, or perhaps a central methodology. Putting Doug next to Fulya for example. Then things start to get interesting. I heard comments like... "who was that guy that invaded the stage?"

FG: Ah that's a great comment! Also "control and release" - or wouldn't you put it like that?

KF: I would say different modes of performance- or methods. Task-based, actions, alongside theatricalized activity.

FG: Yes, I like that.

KF: Side by side, in an inconsistent universe.

FG: Inconsistency is also a big thing for you, it seems to me. You're much bolder than I am, on this account. I feel the attraction, but often step back.

KF: Ah, well, perhaps that is a good impulse.

FG: Ahahah, I don’t know.
I think it has to do again with the difference between personal, solo work, and ensemble work. But it's very interesting to occupy those inconsistent spaces, as a performer. It is difficult for a lot of people, I suspect - like we were saying earlier. Perhaps it's another aspect of that issue of keeping the audience interested at all times, being in control.

KF: You can occupy them as a performer, but not really embody them, yes? And that is how a diverse ensemble creates the possibility for those kinds of ruptures. And the individual performers provide the life raft, so to speak. They give you something to hang onto- several, individualistic life rafts.

FG: I’m thinking about the rafts...
I think the joke is that there has been no shipwreck. That's what makes the multiplicity of life rafts so utterly puzzling and exciting. I like this!

KF: This is perhaps the greatest metaphor for my work that I can conjure. Well done!
Where's the shipwreck!?!

FG: Aftermaths of a shipwreck that never happened. Or even Rehearsals for a shipwreck.

KF: So what will you be performing next week?

FG: I’ll finalize the program over the next few days and will let you know. "I want o to use masonite boards" How's that as a title for the program?

KF: Perfect.

FG: (without the random "o') (or maybe I should leave it)

KF: And sometime I can perform "I want to use chalk line reels."

FG: Ah, yes! I want to see that one! Anyway, we should talk more about performance! And shipwrecks, and inconsistency. This was very productive for me.

KF: And for me. Signing off now- thanks Francesco, and see you soon!
(ninja) (ninja) (ninja)

FG: Thank you!
(dance) (dance) (dance)

conducted over internet chat January 30, 2011, Brooklyn, NY and Toronto, Canada


Kara Feely / Francesco Gagliardi: January 30 2011, part one

Francesco Gagliardi: (dance)
(dance) (dance)
(dance) (dance) (dance)
(dance) (dance) (dance) (dance)

Kara Feely: What's happening with these little dancing men?

FG: Aren't they great? They're like Craig's Ubermarionette - they're perfect. Wouldn't you love performers like these?

KF: Yes, absolutely. They are like a virtual manifestation of one of your silent mental pieces... like the exercise one, which I read for the first time last night.

FG: Oh, the one about crying?

KF: Yes! That seems to me to be a much better acting exercise than thinking about your dead dog.

FG: Ah, yes - a perverse re-instatement of the Method...
Anyway - how are you doing? It's great chatting, finally! It's been a long time!

KF: I know! This is nice. I like this...

FG: (dance)

KF: (ninja)
Now our virtual manifestations are dancing together.

FG: Yes, the ninja guy too. He seems a little too purposeful, though, don't you think? He kicks. He does something. The other is just fooling around.

KF: He does do something, he is accomplishing things. Unknown, secret things.

FG: And do we like that? Accomplishing things, I mean?

KF: Maybe not on a Sunday...

FG: Yes - unless they are very secret...

KF: But we are industrious artists, yes?

FG: ... yes?
Speaking of secret things, I would like to perform (a variation of?) your map piece in my performance on February 11. Do I have permission?

KF: Of course.

FG: Excellent. I still don't know what to do with it - but I want to start with (something like) it.

KF: There is a variation of it in INNOVA- which is interesting.

FG: I sort of guessed it from one of the photographs...

KF: I think we will move it back to the floor for the May premiere.

FG: It was quite compelling to see it on both sides of that sheet of plastic - a sort of layering of people's disjointed recollections.

KF: Perhaps you should perform it with a chalk line reel... I'm getting obsessed with those lately.

FG: Yes, chalk is good. I like the sound of the tape, though. Also, after spending so much time thinking about Joan Jonas, I think I cannot do chalk...

KF: But these are awesome....
I saw Peter Ksander using one and can't stop thinking about it. What's wrong with me?

FG: Oh wow, these do look great. But don't you sometimes start with one of these stupid tools - and build a whole piece around it? I know that when I need inspiration I just have to go to Home Depot, and I see stuff and I buy it, and then have to find ways of using it. Home Depot is a treasure trove.

KF: It really is. I'm teaching a class on this right now, incidentally.

FG: On Home Depot?

KF: "Designing from Home Depot"

FG: No way! That's great!

KF: Actually, the real title is "Designing for New Performance Modes: Environments, Mixed-media, Object-based Theater, and Home Depot"

FG: Beautiful.
It's interesting though how differently you think about objects when they're mass produced and available in large quantities, and when they are ... I don't know. Think about the kinds of objects you'd find in a junk shop. They may all very well have been mass produced, but each has gone through a history that has made it somehow unique, even if there are thousands like it – it’s a completely different thing - to work with an Ikea table fresh from Ikea and one that you find in a junk shop.
KF: I have really confused a whole slew of hardware store salesmen, let me tell you...

FG: Oh, yes - I had that with glass cutters... asking for pieces of glass, and agonizing over the thickness... and they would ask: "But what is it FOR?" And I would have to answer: "Oh, nothing, I just have to HOLD it."

KF: I remember that! I've had that with sanders...

FG: Sanders?

KF: Yes, Eric Magnus used a sander to distress his own suit in INNOVA.
And I was really interested in the color of one, but it turned out not to be a sander but a grout smoother or something, but I bought it anyway. The salesman was really confused.

FG: Ah. I couldn't tell from the picture if it was Eric or Doug Barrett - but I noticed a picture of someone sanding their ass...

KF: Yes, that was Eric. He did it really well. A sander with a yellow handle works much better than a piece of sandpaper.

FG: But back to this thing about objects - I think this has a lot to do with both your practice and mine, no?

KF: Yes, yes...

FG: And I mean… Your name of course: "Object Collection". How did that came about? Anything to do with objects?

KF: I think Travis and I both liked the separate words "Object" and "Collection", so we put them together. At first it seemed like a mouthful. But now it suits us, with all the crap we collect on stage. A self fulfilling prophecy.

FG: They are very good words - I like the idea of a collection - of putting stuff together and then it's a collection. It can be a collection of objects that have nothing to do with one another, but it's still a collection: you make it one by calling it one. It's an interesting compositional strategy.

KF: Yes- that reminds me of a Matisse painting I saw last year at the Met that struck me...

FG: What was it?

KF: Let me see if I can find it.

FG: I’ll put the kettle on...

KF: That's funny, most Matisse paintings fall into this category.

FG: What category?

KF: What I am about to describe... it was a still life, a collection of objects on a table with a very solid blue background which was a window perhaps. But the choice of objects was strange, bizarre, like this was a very random collection of distinct things that had nothing to do with one another... except that he owned them, and liked them, and decided to put them together on a table at the same time.

FG: Yes. That's exactly it. And it becomes this very unique collection, this specific unified “thing” -whether it's actually based on a set of personal, secret criteria, or completely random, like free association, or pure chance

KF: Yes, I think for that painting the collection was sort of incidental, like, well I have to paint something today... so how about this, and this...thing? Which made it all the more striking to me.
You have a kind of treasure trove of objects that you use for performance. Has this been growing since the move to Toronto?

FG: Not really --- I haven't been performing very much since the move... still working with the same table and pieces of glass and cardboard panels...

KF: New pieces with these objects?

FG: More like variations on older pieces. I’ve been a little stuck - I’m just beginning to feel the juices flowing again. Writing has been a bit draining. I find it hard to concentrate on two things at once...

KF: It's difficult to move, and difficult to switch gears between the critical and creative. I could never write in two modes at once.

FG: But it's getting better - actually, a trip to the art supplies store yesterday did the trick... I bought lots of masonite boards. They are quite beautiful.

KF: Hmmmm... masonite. Material fetish.

FG: But back to what we were saying before: do you feel you prefer to work with found objects that are somehow unique (like a special hat you find in a second hand store, or your grand mother's lamp, etc.) or with generic mass produced shit - like home depot steel rods, whatever --- I mean - do you work with these different kinds of objects in different ways or not, and if you do, is there one kind you prefer? Do you know what I mean?

KF: Yes. Most of the objects are generic. I like the distancing of them, or you could say the detourning of them. I used to use some "special" objects that I found, but then I became attached to them, and worried about breaking them in rehearsal (which happens.) And now they just sit on my shelf and come out when I'm bored, or at parties.

FG: Yes, I know exactly what you mean. If you overload them with meaning, if you overinvest in them, you literally can't use them anymore...

KF: Yes, but also the audience is not in on the situation. It makes sense for you and your solo performances, where the relationship between you and object is personal, perceivable, and performative. But assigning it to other people, actors, is different. Your relationships don't carry over, so it seems arbitrary, so why not make the objects arbitrary, or generic, in a sense.

FG: That's very true. Even in solos though I’m moving away from this over-investment in specific objects.

KF: But for you, the object is also a place holder for an idea, or memory, yes? So, any object (once properly invested) can work?

FG: Absolutely: I like to be able to identify a KIND of object that can be replaced and still serve as a trigger for that specific association, yes. What I am after is a sort of ... how shall I put it? I like the memory to be triggered in a more "abstract" way - or rather, by way of a more abstract chain of associations: it's not: grandma's handbag... poor grandma she's dead.

KF: Yes, in other words- this masonite board: poor grandma she's dead.
That would be a good performance I think.

FG: I go from grandma, to her way of walking, to the streets of the seaside town where we walked when I was a kid and she would carry her handbag in a very distinctive way, to translating that movement, or that space, etc. But yes: masonite - handbag - seaside - 1983 - grandma dead -- something like that. It goes through layers of translation, so to speak. And every time you're responding not so much to the original memory, but to the correlate object, so it becomes more and more removed and abstract and ultimately about something else entirely. You really respond to the memory of the swaying of the bag, to THAT movement itself, to its quality as a movement - it's not grandma walking anymore. Does this make sense? So in the end the performance is not about poor grandma - that's just the fuel or something. The performance is not about anything really... it's just these patterns of movements - this arrangement of objects in space, through time.

KF: It's also about a perceived rigorous practice... this is what is palpable to the audience. A very specific rigorous practice. And watching you negotiate that practice with the objects is utterly fascinating.

FG: I like the idea of virtuosity applied to absolutely gratuitous tasks. Like developing a very specific skill for turning stupid light bulbs on and off for those performances I do with the lightbox.

KF: It's good to be specialized. I'm quite good a rearranging army figurines in tableaux from Arthur Miller plays.

FG: Yes! Create your own constraints and then learn how to operate within them with beauty and perfection (… or something). It's very exciting to see.

KF: Have you written anything for the light bulb rig yet, or are you still improvising with it?

FG: Nothing yet - it's sitting on a shelf, looking at me....


conducted over internet chat January 30, 2011, Brooklyn, NY and Toronto, Canada