SHIFT 2015/16 INTERVIEW: MARISSA PEREL
Alex Lee & Nick Witchey (EFA Project Space Interns)
How did your work develop over the course of the residency?
When I started the residency, I was trying to imagine how a person could have an embodied experience within EFA Project Space. This is connected to an ongoing inquiry into artistic contexts for me, namely what kind of intimacy can be achieved in a project space or Künsthalle vs. a proscenium theater. The intimacy I'm describing here is between the artist and the space, the artist and her work, the artist and her collaborators, the artist and her audience, and the audience with one another. In August 2015, I performed somatic exercises in the space, danced, and did these things with fellow dancers and visual artists. It meant that I ended up spending time lying on the floor, and eventually that experience resonated for me throughout the year such that it stayed in my mind when I was planning for my installation in June 2016.
Did the experience of working alongside the other SHIFT residents affect your approach and final work?
Yes, I felt that what was unique about our group was that we wanted each other to come forward with what we wanted from our work. So, it wasn't just about whether or not iterations of our projects were successful, but whether they brought to light the issues and aesthetics that we wanted to pursue most. Much of my artistic context is in the experimental dance, performance and writing worlds in NY, so it was important to hear from artists with different areas of focus. The perspective on my work that this afforded gave me insight into what was possible to create beyond what I had been working with before.
The books in your installation are unconventional: Gregg Bordowitz’ Volition is made up entirely of questions; Maggie Nelson’s Bluets defies traditional definitions of poetry and prose; the third, Emily Roysdon’s Uncounted: Call and Response, is a collaboration between many artists. Is there a common theme that led you to choose these three specific books?
Yes, each passage of each of the books that I selected for display relates to physical experiences of sickness and pain. Corrine Fitzpatrick's poem in Emily Roysdon's collective book describes and compares "sick time" to normative time constructs. Maggie Nelson describes the lifting process that is required for her friend to get in and out of a wheelchair. Gregg Bordowitz interrogates cultural values of the body, of our illusions of control, and the impetus toward pity. I read from these specific passages in a previous performance entitled "despair solo," which explored the language or absence of language for disability vs. the lived experience of it.
Would you describe your performance on June 16 and how it activated your installation?
I collaborated with dancer and healer, iele paloumpis, to move within the installation and find ways of performing the texts described in the previous question. The timing of the performance was very difficult as it was just days after the Orlando shootings. The installation I had made, composed by low-hanging lights, a shag rug, pillows, and marley dance flooring, was a place for comfort and rest in order to be receptive to texts describing pain and despair. It then very quickly became a place to mourn and to be vulnerable in the face of a devastating event that left many feeling unsafe and enraged. What started out as an experiment between two queer and disabled bodies became a series of propositions toward tenderness, caring, and that space between what we can know about one another and what we can't, that space of witnessing and reverence of other people and their stories.
Your installation offers a variety of options for audience interaction; there are a number of different ways to sit in the space or use the books. Do you hope your audience will feel or understand the art in a specific way?
I hoped that people felt they could relax in the installation, whether or not they felt the desire to read the opened passages of the books. I think it's valuable just to be able to breathe and lie down in a soft, dim space, especially given that the space is in a building adjacent to Times Square. I think that creating this alternate possibility for embodied experience is the most I'd want someone to get from it. If a person could give into the quietness of the space and could focus on the texts, then I'd hope that something about the content of each text would touch the reader. I'd want that person to be able to acknowledge the complexity of the body, the slippery experience of the body as subject, object, both and neither.
Which artist(s) or cultural producer(s) would you cite as a major influence for you?
This past year the SHIFT Program at EFA coincided with a phase of my career that involved new collaborations, teaching and travel. Gregg Bordowitz and I were commissioned by the Chicago Humanities Festival and the Americans with Disabilities Act to create a work that coincided with the 25th Anniversary of the ADA. Our conversations about the changing yet ever-problematic truths of identity politics and how they come to bear on aesthetics and representation were extremely influential. I was invited by Emily Roysdon to teach my "Touching into Text" workshop to her students and perform at Könstfack, Stockholm, and this was the first time I started to work with her book. I also ended up on stages and rooms with disability scholar, poet and artist, Petra Kuppers, whose writing and performance opened me up to greater investment and exploration in/of a crip aesthetic.
In what way is the title NO ATLAS reflected in your work?
I think that the most direct way the title of the exhibition relates to my work is that it proposes a concept of deterritorialization that is central to my thinking about the body. I want to create a space and live in a place where ownership of the body by oppressive structures is no longer a tool for power, violence, and exploitation.