The below post is the tenth in a series of 13 texts related to NOW-ID's 2019 Rite of Spring taking place on June 22 in Salt Lake City, loosely following the 13 episodes in Stravinsky's score. Ritual Action: Dark Beauty is by Kate Mattingly, Assistant Professor at the University of Utah. Get your tickets to the performance here.
Looking at costume designs by Mallory Prucha for NOW-id’s Rite of Spring alongside drawings by Nicholas Roerich for the 1913 version, there are striking similarities: the red, black, and white palette, the angular poses of dancers’ bodies.
And there are differences: instead of intricate patterns around the hem, Prucha’s pants for the dancers appear worn and shredded. They suggest that these dancers have already been through the exhausting ritual and are now performing the dance for a third or fourth time. There’s a compelling tension between the durability of the fabric––which Prucha calls “Monk’s Cloth”––and the wear and tear created by dancing. Instead of peasant-like blouses, dancers in NOW-id’s version will wear body-paint. The deterioration of the paint as dancers sweat and partner one another adds to a sense of disintegration.
Instead of a ritual that begins with pristine garments, NOW-id’s Rite of Spring presents a more somber view. Costumes by Prucha enrich this atmosphere. Charlotte Boye-Christensen says Prucha is her “aesthetic-soulmate,” and multiple times during our conversation, she repeats how grateful she is to be working with Prucha.
Rite of Spring marks their first collaboration, starting with the version performed in February of 2019 in Lubbock where Prucha is an Assistant Professor of Costume Design at Texas Tech University. This summer Prucha is working with Utah Festival Opera in Logan and continuing the collaboration with NOW-id for the Salt Lake City iteration of Rite. “There’s something really valuable in starting a conversation, and then continuing that conversation,” says Boye-Christensen of their collaboration. “It is unusual, and a luxury in creative work, to see a first iteration, then a second, and a third.”
When Prucha and Boye-Christensen return to Lubbock this fall, they will present the third iteration on a much larger cast for three nights in mid-October in a cotton gin shed. Prucha’s decision to use the cotton, “Monk’s Cloth” material for the costumes will be apt for this setting.
This fabric also adds to the industrial setting of the performance this month. It is functional and heavy, suggesting a worker’s attire or pagan costume. There’s also a long history of the material being used for embroidery and associated with “women’s work.” The sturdiness of Monk’s Cloth was attractive to Prucha because it symbolized the strength of women who have produced textiles for centuries. Referring to a book by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, called Women’s Work: The first 20,000 Years, Prucha adds that women have been at the forefront of fabric manufacturing, in part because they could make textiles while cooking, taking care of homes, and raising children. In contrast to the narrative of the 1913 Rite, that a woman must be sacrificed for a community’s well-being, this version foregrounds ideas of female empowerment.
As she created the choreography, Boye-Christensen found that she was inspired by the voluminous pants by Prucha: “The costume designs are feeding the choreography. When I saw the pants I started creating these low walks that made the costumes look like a skirt.” She adds that she loves how the costumes suggest both dresses and warriors’ garments.
Instead of making the dancing look smooth or streamlined, Boye-Christensen is intentionally keeping the movement “awkward.” She likes how this alludes to pagan rites that are performed by a community of people rather than by trained artists. The body paint contributes to this idea of ritual action by disintegrating as the dancers perform: in other words, the ritual generates its impact by being lived and experienced. The blurring of paint leaves traces and residues, much like the patina that covers most of the surfaces under the overpass and in the foundry. This layering makes visible the dancers’ labor, and their exhaustion.
When she is not designing for opera, dance, and musical theatre, Prucha works on composite drawings for law enforcement, and recently completed a sketch for the Lubbock Police Department. She talks about this part of her research as connected to her theatrical productions because both are about understanding archetypes and aesthetic frameworks.
“Costumes speak about identity and communicate ideas about character traits,” says Prucha. “There’s a quote I love, that defines ‘character’ as the essence of an idea.” Her designs for the Rite of Spring operate as both an added layer of communication, and a barometer of the performance’s exertion. Her costumes will absorb the sweat and toil of the dancing, becoming tangible artifacts for a fleeting art form.
The below post is the ninth in a series of 13 texts related to NOW-ID's inaugural Rite of Spring, loosely following the 13 episodes in Stravinsky's score. Glorification of the Chosen One is by Kate Mattingly, Assistant Professor at the University of Utah. Get your tickets to the performance here.
Exhaustion plays a crucial role in the story and score of The Rite of Spring. Stravinsky’s music builds from spare, almost melancholy melodies to swirling, pulsing, and pounding rhythms. Choreographers have reflected this intensity and velocity in movement that tests the limits of dancers’ capacities.
One of the Joffrey Ballet dancers who performed the role of the Chosen One, the virgin who dances to death, in the company’s reconstruction of Nijinsky’s choreography, described the fatigue as distinct from other ballets: "A lot of times in ballet you get winded, your breath is short and you start to lose some of the control in your legs. At the end of the Chosen One, it feels like your legs have melted beneath you," said Anastacia Holden.
Parallels could be drawn between the physical disintegration that is produced through the choreography and the environmental disintegration that happens in neighborhoods where industries are no longer relevant. The area where NOW-ID has chosen to perform their Rite of Spring used to be a flourishing center for metal casting. The May Foundry, located at 454 West 600 North, was established in 1912 by Ruben May, and lasted more than 100 years before shutting down a couple years ago. Mike May, great-grandson of Ruben, was the general manager in 2014 when he told Company Week that foundries are “misunderstood” as relics and irrelevant. May Foundry produced 80 types of metal, including super-duplex stainless steel and ductile iron. Their client roster included companies like Caterpillar and Barnes Aerospace. In addition, they worked with military, automotive, industrial, and agricultural clients.
But the company couldn’t survive the economic downturns and technological advances of recent years, and its machinery now stands unused. Such devastation, especially when it occurs to a business that is family-owned, can take a toll on individuals. Evidence of just how quickly industries can change, the foundry looks more like a museum than a factory. To situate a Rite of Spring in its vicinity seems to beg the questions, “How do we sustain changing economies? How do people transition when vocations that were once needed become obsolete? How does the physical exhaustion that the Rite of Spring presents help us think through and perhaps work against assumptions that people are disposable?”
The below post is the eighth in a series of 13 texts related to NOW-ID's inaugural Rite of loosely following the 13 episodes in Stravinsky's score. The author, Liz Ivkovich, is also a dancer in the piece. Get your tickets to the performance here.
Mystic Circles: The Weather In Space
The exclusion zone outside of Chernobyl is a 770 mile wide ring of empty villages that will be uninhabitable for thousands of years.
Hours after the 1986 explosion, a Soviet team flew their helicopter around this circle to try to figure out what the hell had happened and measure active radiation contamination. The pilot spotted a strange looking cloud and flew towards it. “Large beads of liquid began to form on the canopy [of the helicopter]. At first, [the pilot] thought it was rain. But then he noticed that it wasn’t breaking over the glass like water: instead, it was strange, heavy, and viscous. It flowed slowly like jelly and then evaporated, leaving a salty-looking residue. And the sky remained clear…”*
It was a cloud of radioactive particles.
A circle blurs origin point and return, as mystic blurs supernatural and earthly. When I read “mystic circle”, I picture this cloud of radioactive particles landing softly as dust in an ever-widening loop around Chernobyl. This mystic circle is not innocuous. Stacy Alaimo says “... the environment, which is too often imagined as inert, empty space or as a resource for human use, is, in fact, a world of fleshy beings with their own needs, claims, and actions.”**
These radioactive fleshy beings surely have their own needs, claims, and actions that we cannot know. If I see them through this lens, Tracy K. Smith’s poem The Weather in Space gives me the creeps.
The Weather in Space
Is God being or pure force? The wind
Or what commands it? When our lives slow
And we can hold all that we love, it sprawls
In our laps like a gangly doll. When the storm
Kicks up and nothing is ours, we go chasing
After all we’re certain to lose, so alive—
Faces radiant with panic
*From Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham
**From Bodily Natures: Nature, Environment, and the Material Self
We have been commissioned by the University of Richmond to do a site-specific project under the Manchester Bridge in November and went there this week to have a look at that space and others.
Thank you to Anne Van Gelder, the Director of Dance, for hosting us so beautifully!
Photos by David Newkirk.
The below post is the seventh in a series of 13 texts related to NOW-ID's inaugural Rite of loosely following the 13 episodes in Stravinsky's score. The author, Liz Ivkovich, is also a dancer in the piece. Get your tickets to the performance here.
I love what Kate described about the relationship of photography to architecture, and criticism to dance in her latest post. She said, “...just like many people only know a building through the photographer’s carefully framed image, dance history has depended on critics’ writing as a kind of archival or circulating material for an art form that is embodied and sensorial.”
I am curious about a similar relationship of performer to choreography.
I think it is often true that for dancers, our own experience of being in the studio learning from a choreographer is often substituted by the artifact of stories from friends or friends of friends. Though most of us won’t work with most choreographers, we may still feel like we know about it, even though we’ve never had an embodied experience. The choreography has been framed for us by the circulating material of dancer stories. I think this is an interesting phenomenon.
On the note of being in rehearsal, getting into the studio on June 3 with Charlotte and the other three dancers is on my mind. I always get nervous in advance of learning choreography. In fact, in a recent NOW-ID blog post, Charlotte asked the question:
Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process - how do you learn new choreography?
I answered: “I almost have no answer here -- I am embarrassingly bad at learning new movement. I used to learn really quickly (ok, like in high school, but whatever, I’m only 32 34 (I lost count), so it’s recent history) and now it takes me so much mental labor to retain choreography. I absolutely have to do it full out a lot of times / I watch what other dancers are doing in the mirror until it settles into my body.”
So in preparation for entering the studio, and since today’s post is aptly titled “The Procession of the Sages,” I thought I’d cull from stories of the three other dancers, my sages, who are processing in front of me before we begin rehearsal. These quotes are responses to the same question, “Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process - how do you learn new choreography?” And since Jo Blake, Tara McArthur, and Sydney Sorenson each have more experience working with Charlotte’s choreography than I do, these artifacts of their embodied experiences are guideposts for me.
Jo: When I learn choreography I stand behind the choreographer and pretend that they know what they are doing. (jk) And, with as little energy as possible, I will experiment with the choreography. (jk) Do I like to dance? No, not really. (jk) Do I want the choreographer to know that I am passionate about dance? Naaaah. (jk) Do I LOVE the creative process in the studio with the choreographer and dancers? HELL YEAH!! I live for the creative process!!
Tara: My creative process is a constant evolution, shifting from project to project. When learning new movement I get really curious about the transitions between movements, shapes, or concepts, not only as a way to string it together and solidify it in my mental and physical memory, but also to find my own creative voice within a certain structure. When learning movement from someone else I like to try and imagine what the movement must feel like to them, what it would be like to be in that particular body, and then use that information to inform how I approach the choreography. If I’m asked to generate material, I feel most successful when I am able to fully immerse myself and ‘buy into' the world the choreographer is trying to create. Some people work from the fined tuned details out— I tend to start in broad strokes and narrow in on subtleties as I go. I am definitely movement driven as opposed to shape. My instincts are to blur the lines a bit.
Sydney: When in a new creation process I try to be as pure of a dancer as possible for the choreographer. I desire to serve their vision. I also aim to move expansively within the realms of the choreography if it calls for it. I find big, full movement to be the most satisfying, so I try and keep that in mind when dancing either classical steps or in a new creation.
I’d say I am a visual learner. When learning phrase work it helps me to see it first before I put it into my body. However I’m learning to approach choreography kinesthetically by trying it on, and allowing my body to process before I over-think.
The below post is the sixth in a series of 13 texts related to NOW-ID's inaugural Rite of Spring, loosely following the 13 episodes in Stravinsky's score. Dance of the Earth is by Kate Mattingly, Assistant Professor at the University of Utah. Get your tickets to the performance here.
I recently watched a documentary called Visual Acoustics that described how a photographer, Julius Shulman, documented architectural designs in Los Angeles.
Unexpectedly, I found many connections between the film’s ideas and my theories about dance criticism: many people will never visit the homes that Shulman photographed, but his images circulate these architectural designs to millions of people.
Similarly, many people have never seen the performances that shape histories of dance, like Nijinsky’s 1913 version of the Rite of Spring. Instead, critics’ writing circulates as representations of performances, often as stand-ins for events that are multi-modal and trigger multiple interpretations.
In other words, just like many people only know a building through the photographer’s carefully framed image, dance history has depended on critics’ writing as a kind of archival or circulating material for an art form that is embodied and sensorial. As I thought about this, I wondered if some productions may be better served by having an image instead of words circulate as its representation. Applying this idea to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring I collected 11 images of different productions: from Stravinsky’s appearance in Disney’s Fantasia (1940) to Etienne Bechard’s 2018 version of Rite for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. Do you see through-lines or themes running through these very different creations? Do you think certain images convey a sense of the productions’ dynamics more effectively than a video recording or a critic’s words?
The below post is the fifth in a series of 13 texts related to NOW-ID's inaugural Rite of Spring, loosely following the 13 episodes in Stravinsky's score. The author, Liz Ivkovich, is also a dancer in the piece and was inspired to write this text while visiting the spiral jetty with a group of lady-shamans last week! Get your tickets to the performance here.
We enter the circle counter
towards the undoing at the center of it,
which is the dark hole at the center of every universe.
(our own is Sagittarius A*)
It has finally been photographed,
a creepy nothingness from
which no force could possibly
when the event horizon (the point of no return)
It’s a blurry, uninspired shot. Doesn’t seem worth the effort, TBH.
And the stars spiral on,
and we spiral out.
The below post is the fourth in a series of 13 texts related to NOW-ID's inaugural Rite of Spring, loosely following the 13 episodes in Stravinsky's score. Ritual of the Rival Tribes is by Kate Mattingly, Assistant Professor at the University of Utah. Get your tickets to the performance here.
There are many quotes about the transformative powers of music:
“Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life.” ― Jean Paul Friedrich Richter
“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.” ― Kahlil Gibran
“Music can change the world because it can change people.” ― Bono
How does this “change” occur?
“Entrainment” is the word that describes the means by which music’s meter is internalized. Music scholar Pieter C. van den Toorn writes that “listeners entrain to meter, which in turn becomes physically a part of us. Entrainment is automatic (reflexive) as well as subconscious (or preconscious). Like walking, running, dancing, and breathing, meter is a kind of motor behavior.”
In other words, when we listen to music, its meter infiltrates our eardrums, brains, and nervous systems. Listening is an embodied and interactive process: it changes us. In the example of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, disruptions of meter generate a sense of displacement and irregularity. Pieter C. van den Toorn attributes the “effect” of Rite of Spring on listeners, to “the raw, relentless character of the dissonance,” and it's the fourth section, “Ritual of the Rival Tribes,” that introduces Stravinsky’s massive stratification (see image). One of several reasons why the first performance of The Rite of Spring provoked such a riotous response was because these stratifications were unprecedented in the art music of Russia and the West. As anyone who studies African dances and drumming knows, the polyrhythms and ostinatos in Stravinsky’s score are also found in African music.
Music that compels us to move may be the best evidence of entrainment theories, but it also points to a more sinister reality. If we entrain to meter, what else do we internalize? Thoughts and messages that become part of our subconscious, also known as implicit bias, propel our judgments and assumptions. Just as we internalize music’s meters, we also operate with internalized value systems that are activated involuntarily, without awareness or intentional control. When I think about the sexism and patriarchy presented in productions like the 1913 Rite of Spring, I wonder if audiences internalize these views the way they internalize Stravinsky’s meters. Much of the social inequities perpetuated in our world today can be traced to implicit biases and their activations in educational, political, and legal settings. As Rebecca Solnit wrote recently about our current political candidates, “Unconscious Bias is Running for President.”
The fortunate aspect of implicit associations is that they can be gradually unlearned, and, for me, performances are a great mechanism for rewiring our bodies and brains: performance practices shape perceptions of the world because they invite us to feel and think differently.
Charlotte set a work on the students at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore which premiered this past weekend. /
The below post is the third in a series of 13 texts related to NOW-ID's inaugural Rite of Spring, loosely following the 13 episodes in Stravinsky's score. Rituals of Abduction is by Kate Mattingly, Assistant Professor at the University of Utah. Get your tickets to the performance here.
The third section of Stravinsky’s score for The Rite of Spring, called the “Ritual of Abduction,” signals the violence that is the centerpiece of the production. In fact Stravinsky originally intended The Rite to be called The Great Sacrifice.
Abduction means forcibly taking someone away against their will, and in many versions of The Rite––by Vaslav Nijinsky, Maurice Bejart, Pina Bausch, and Anne Bogart & Bill T. Jones––the performance is characterized by violence and aggression.
Picking up on Liz’s insights into connections between violence and patriarchy, I want to question the ongoing need for a woman to die. It’s the crux of many versions (by Nijinsky and Bausch) as well as canonical ballets: La Sylphide, Giselle, Swan Lake, to name a few. If we go to these performances, and if they continue to be popular more than a century after their premieres, what does this say about the value of women in today’s society? And how might a re-envisioning of The Rite alter this trajectory?
Examining the history of Stravinsky’s Rite, it’s clear that the artist Nicholas Roerich played a crucial role in this interdisciplinary endeavor. John McCannon writes, “In describing to Diaghilev the libretto that he and Stravinsky were developing, Roerich spoke of ‘mystic terror’ and ‘celestial mystery’, declaring, ‘my object is to present a number of scenes of Earthly joy and Heavenly triumph as understood by the Slavs’.” Roerich’s designs for The Rite depict primeval landscapes that he believed to be a “birthplace for humanity.” According to their libretto, in order for spring to arrive and humanity to thrive, a Chosen Maiden must dance to death.
What happens to this philosophy of a-woman-must-die-for-a-community-to-survive, if we turn the “great sacrifice” into the earth itself? Using an ecofeminist framework (Thank you Liz!), we could draw on theories of Theresa May to better understand relationships between the oppression of women and the exploitations of natural resources. May ends her article entitled “Toward a Dangerous Ecocriticism in Theatre Studies,” with a list of 12 “Green Questions to ask a Play.”
What happens if we switched “play” for Now-ID’s Rite and ask, “How does this performance of The Rite engage or reflect the environmental issues of its time and place?”; “How does the performance represent and/or complicate the effects of technology on people, animals, plants, and the land?”; “How does the performance propagate or subvert the master narratives that sanction human exploitation of the land?” and “How does the spatiality of performance inform the reciprocity among spectator, performer, and environment? How does use of space inform notions of ecological ‘community’?”
Perhaps with an ecofeminist approach, this production could complicate and subvert the seemingly inextricable links between patriarchal domination and ecological survival.
The below post is the second in a series of 13 texts related to NOW-ID's inaugural Rite of loosely following the 13 episodes in Stravinsky's score. The author, Liz Ivkovich, is also a dancer in the piece. Get your tickets to the performance here.
“The groups [of dancing adolescent boys and young girls] mingle, but in their rhythms one feels the cataclysm of groups about to form. In fact they divide right and left. It is form that realizes itself, the synthesis of rhythms, and the thing formed produces a new rhythm.”
- Stravinsky describes the choreography and music for the “Augurs of Spring” in 1913, quoted by David Code
About 3:30 into the score, the Rite of Spring really begins. It’s a rolling, pounding, tympanic cataclysmic kind of beginning. Cataclysmic -- a large scale and violent upheaval in the natural world -- is the perfect word for this beginning. It’s all much more Big Bang than seven days of God-ordained earth/water separations, garden arrangements, and animal designs. It’s the Augurs of Spring.
Speaking of animals, I recently realized that everything I know about them I learned in elementary school or from Disney movies. Hyenas*, for example. Hyenas are extremely intelligent. They form female packs to protectively parent their cubs in communal dens and even come equipped with an elongated reproductive tract that allows them to flush out unwanted sperm. (!) Before learning this, I mostly knew about how they lived in the dark shadow of Pride Rock. If you know the story, you can already see that the Lion King gets almost everything wrong about hyenas, but it does make them scary. (Dumb, but scary.) What is scary enough about them to warrant becoming accomplices in the “coupe of the century” against Simba’s dad? I think it’s the sound -- that high pitched gurgle-giggle. It sets the teeth on edge.
I can hear a ghost of that sound about 31 seconds into the Augurs of Spring; the edge of a violin bow skipping across strings, a spring coming, a cataclysm in our human animal’s unnatural order. Stravinsky described it as “in their rhythms one feels the cataclysm of groups about to form. In fact, they [the boys and girls] divide right and left.”
Augurs of this spring come in all shapes and sizes. I had one last week. It was an encounter with a zealous TSA agent of the 7 a.m. cop complex variety who confiscated my 5 oz hair product** and got told something by me (mostly) under my breath in return that I shouldn’t repeat here in case my mom reads this blog, but will summarize by saying it was worse than anything a hyena ever said to Simba.
It’s not about the hair product. I’m mad a lot of the time right now. I’m mad as James from Vanderpump Rules in Season 6, Episode 7. “It’s not about the pasta!” he petulantly shouted at his friend Lala, after she brags about “stuffing her face” with all “his girl’s food without remorse.” (James’ words.) “It’s not about the hair product!” I’d like to yell. It’s about the endless #metoo stories. Our rhythm has been a pounding patriarchal beat for too long. Sometimes I think I’m tapping into a collective female outrage, a little hyena laugh that skips over top of the beat, searching for a new rhythm.
As we near the morning after the #metoo moment, groups have “divided right and left” like Stravinsky described, but I don’t think we’ve yet found how “the thing formed creates a new rhythm”. Most of us who identify as women are probably still working among, partnered with, or related to men. Where do we go from here?
**I know. My fault completely for not following the 3.4 oz carry-on rule. Totally banal example. And I also know about the actual, really messed up things that people are facing with travel in this country. It’s not about the hair product, as you’ll see if you keep reading.
This is the first of 13 posts, writer/collaborator/sage's Kate Mattingly and Liz Ivkovich present writing inspired by NOW-ID’s Rite of Spring work-in-development, loosely paralleling the 13 episodes of the original by Stravinsky and Nijinski. See our current project page for Liz and Kate’s bios!
Together, Kate and Liz lay out below, the topics and considerations for their statements…
1. Thinking together about relationships among writing, creative processes, and performing, Kate and Liz will be contributing weekly posts on the Rite of Spring.
2. Connected by a shared love of critical thinking, dance theory, rigorous approaches, and dismantling the patriarchy, Liz and Kate will share thoughts, questions, perspectives, and contexts.
3. Loosely based on the 13-part structure of Stravinsky’s score for the Rite of Spring (created in 1913), each week will introduce a different facet of the project.
4. As we discussed this idea with Charlotte, we were both drawn to Charlotte’s idea that this writing offers a reflective platform, a sounding board, and a container for ideas that inform and respond to Charlotte’s creative process.
5. In Kate’s research, she analyzes how criticism is not a reflection of a performance but a form of writing that sets in motion the criteria and frameworks we use to engage with dance.
6. In Liz’s research, she analyzes how race, class, and gender influence the distribution of environmental goods and bads, and why these issues are among our most pressing concerns.
7. The Rite of Spring is a rich site to investigate questions about the patriarchy, reconstruction, critical sustainability, and environmental justice.
8. By situating this performance outdoors, Now-ID creates a distinct opportunity to highlight the fraught relationships between urban development and displacement.
9. Some of the ideas that propel our thinking include:
- Human imbrications in environments, rather than human domination or control of environs;
- Relationships between materials and humans, and ultimately humans and worldviews;
- Access to knowledge that is not linguistic but sensory, and how this knowledge reveals a worldview that is fundamentally interdependent.
10. We view dance criticism and theory as reciprocal and interdependent forms of writing. We hope to highlight why writing is important to dancing.
11. We take inspiration from Rebecca Solnit, who advocates for a “counter-criticism” that “seeks to expand the work of art, by connecting it, opening up its meanings, inviting in the possibilities. A great work of criticism can liberate a work of art, to be seen fully, to remain alive, to engage in a conversation that will not ever end but will instead keep feeding the imagination. Not against interpretation, but against confinement, against the killing of the spirit.”
12. Writing from outside of the process, Kate will focus on historical contexts, theoretical frameworks, and anecdotes from her 23-year friendship with Charlotte.
13. Writing from within the process, Liz will focus on sensorial and theoretical engagements with the material that is cultivated as the Rite of Spring comes into being.
Colby Brewer is known for his site-responsive artworks which challenge fixed ideas of interactional spaces by engaging institutions and their architecture. He produces ambitious sculptural installations that change the spatial dynamic of the site in which they are placed and at times, offer opportunities for audience interaction. Colby’s studio practice involves a constant mix of drawing, collage, sculpture, and video explorations. He has exhibited in galleries and museums in New York, Budapest, and Salt Lake City. In 2009, he was named Visual Arts Fellow for the Utah Division of Arts and Museums. He holds an MFA from Pratt Institute. Colby teaches drawing at Waterford School where he is Chair of the Visual Arts. He also organizes Waterford School’s Visiting Artist Program which has hosted nationally renowned artists like Sheila Pepe, Leighton Pierce, Burk Uzzle, and more.
Colby Brewer is not only a significant artist (in his own words he focuses on “Work that challenges fixed ideas of interactional spaces by engaging institutions and their architecture”) and a wonderful teacher, he also happens to be the Board chair of NOW-ID. What I find so inspiring about Colby is his commitment to and deep knowledge of contemporary art, his curiosity and his ability to make things happen.
As our Board chair he is forward looking, generous and widely connected, he is a calming influence at our meetings and as a person he is just plain lovely.
I am excited to feature his voice here.
Tell us a little bit about your background; when did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember and have always loved the process. My parents must have picked up on that because my mom got me a cool little light box, some books on perspective drawing and things like that at a very young age. I remember being impressed with my dad’s ability to draw and the way he held a pencil, the way he pulled lines instead of pushing them. The sound of the pencil on paper and the look of lines were really impressive to me. He’s also got this great handwriting that is sort of his own unique version of architectural lettering. I studied the movements and short, intentional strokes he used to write. So, very early on I was certainly hooked on drawing and making marks. I also realized as a teenager growing up in a very conservative environment that I didn’t quite fit in. Artists were always the people I wanted to be around and to be like.
Can you talk a little bit about your creative process? Do you start with an idea, an emotion, energy, an image? Do you have specific rituals when you work?
There have been times when I did have daily rituals that would lead into my process, but they’ve been rare. As it stands now, I’m a full time teacher, parent of two teenagers, etc. and my life doesn’t really allow for ritual. My time gets too chopped up for it. If I’m making smaller sculptural works I usually set up a system of limits that governs the making of the work. In that way, I do have ritual in my work. I’ve found over the years that I’m a reactive sort of artist. I feel like I do my best work when I’m responding to a specific site. For example if I’m given a chance to exhibit somewhere, I’m almost always compelled to examine the site and propose something outside or on top of the building rather than inside on the walls. NOW-ID’s upcoming Rite of Spring project is perfect for an artist like me to be involved in - we did a site visit a few days ago and I’m obsessing over it
Who are some of the people who have inspired you in your work and why?
It’s funny, and maybe even cliché, but some of my earliest and favorite influences were punk bands and punk zines. There was a great music scene when I was growing up and I spent a lot of time and effort trying to tag along and participate in that. What else was a kid in suburban Salt Lake City going to do, right? Something about that way of approaching art and community made sense to me and has remained with me. I’ve had a lot of great teachers and friends who are artists - too many to list. Sheila Pepe has been a big influence as just an incredibly smart person, maker of things, connector of people. I had the honor of getting to know Burk Uzzle and Janet Kagan who are a huge influence in terms of their kindness, work ethic, generosity, and all around excellence.
Tell us about projects that you have coming up that excite you?
I’m obviously very excited about what NOW-ID is doing and the upcoming Rite of Spring project! I’ve also got a small mural collaboration coming up with local artist and longtime friend Ruel Brown. And in September I’m set to work on a video collaboration with documentary film maker Jenny Mackenzie and a group of Waterford students. And I’m looking forward to meeting up with you in Budapest this summer to scout out some potential performance sites!
What characterizes art in the State of Utah - is there a unique Utah art movement and if so, what and who epitomizes that for you and why? And why is work that is developed here important to have included in the National and International discourse about art?
Maybe that it is so often made by people with deep connections to other places, and yet they choose this as home base. I love that idea anyway. I don’t really see anything that could be called a movement here. Once you go beyond the traditional, regional picturesque and look for something more, there’s quite a bit of variety. It’s important for great art made anywhere to be included in the National/International discourse. The world is a lot smaller than it used to be.
You are an established teacher of Art at Waterford School, has teaching in any way helped define your own creative voice? And what makes a good teacher of art?
Teaching helps me to not turn too far into my own way of thinking. Because it’s all built on communication and relationships with other people who you are offering up ideas to. You need to always be aware of other people’s perceptions of the work you’re presenting and you need to have a good idea of whether you are reaching them or not. Good teachers have an ability to meet students where they are and then, hopefully, add a little bit to that to raise their skill level and thinking. My work has definitely evolved into the more collaborative and participatory as a direct result of teaching.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I often look to film and books, to travel and to language. When we’re not teaching in Utah, we live in Budapest with Anikó’s family. So, a sort of international, bi-lingual, dual-identification has become a huge influence on my work. I find inspiration in the fuzzy overlapping of locations and sort of never being settled in one place.
Who do you consider to be three of the most significant artists in the world and why?
Béla Tarr. I love his films for their look and pacing and the long, long shots. I find his work to be visually mesmerizing and conceptually brave. I also love the work of Shirin Neshat for many of the same reasons. I was transfixed by her film Fervor when I first saw it. I’ve also become a big fan of Julian Rosefeldt. Last summer I saw Manifesto at the Hungarian National Gallery and was blown away by the incredible way it was conceived, the way it looked, and Cate Blanchett’s ability to perform it.
What is your favorite quote?
The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight. — John Berger
If you hadn't become an artist what profession do you think you would have excelled in/at?
I wanted to be an architect when I was younger, but never had the math skills.
Looking towards the future – where do you want to be and what do you want to be doing in 25 years?
I have a suspicion that I might be living in Europe. I hope by then (wherever I am) that I’ll have enough experience and the means to help younger artists realize their ambitions.