Visiting Artist Talk: Emily Mast: notes


Some notes from last week’s talk with Emily Mast. Tonight at seven – Jim Shaw.

  • “My work is based in the moment and the ephemeral; and it’s performative.”
  • Emily Mast tells us that she prefers to answer questions during the talk, not afterwards. Her work is collaborative. She would like this talk to be collaborative too.
  • she starts with a performance exercise. About fourteen people volunteer to join her in the stage-like area at the front of the auditorium. Now they are asked to lie down, very slowly, moving their bodies piece by piece. They are asked to articulate their movements out loud: e.g., “I am stretching my right knee up as it bends.” “My neck is bending forward, my chin is moving down against my chest.” Once down, they say, “I’m down.” Then they get up in the same way. “Use whatever language is comfortable for you,” she says.
  • a single person undergoes the same getting-down exercise while the rest stand around and describe the actions of his body. (This time the ‘down’ person does not speak.) He gets up. One of the volunteers says, “I feel like I’ve joined a new church.”
  • that was (says Mast) “a little introduction to what rehearsal might be like if you ever work with me.” She doesn’t have a set plan for the talk. She wants us to choose one of her works – she will then talk about it.
  • she discusses a work she made in Toronto, The Cage is a Stage, 2016, a re-working of a previous Los Angeles work, The Stage is a Cage, 2015. She had been thinking about John Berger’s zoo text. (This must be Why Look at Animals? from About Looking, 1980.) The overlap between humans and non-humans: both encountering and merging. The photograph that she used as a poster image is “the emblem of the piece.” What could we learn about ourselves by scrutinizing the way that we exist?
  • the man in gold pants (the one bending down in the poster photo) has been a butoh performer for twenty years. “I need to cast people who can get ugly.” One of the other performers has had a career in primate movement.
  • creating a work: she starts with a vague idea of what she is going to do. She brings her performers into a rehearsal space. Has “incoherent” notions — guides the performers — they try them out — the result: some “bad, stupid things,” and some good. They develop the good.
  • “moving collages.”
  • she is nearsighted. Her eyes understand details but not the big picture. She has accepted this into her practice.
  • someone in the audience asks if she builds her own sets. Answer: “Yes and no.” The sets are part of the collaborative process.
  • relational aesthetics. Guy de Cointet.
  • she prefers a stage in the round to a proscenium arch. Doesn’t like the hierarchy between performer, audience, and stagehand that goes unacknowledged in the proscenium. She wants the mechanics of the performance to be visible. It “pushes the ephemerality too” – the work is emphatically not static when you can see it putting itself together.
  • originally she made 2D art. It never felt right. During her 2006 Skowhegan residency she directed her first performance work. It didn’t run to plan. A trumpet player got lost on a lake. She liked the problems so much that she decided never to make a static piece again. “I think I’m highly influenced by theater and dance and the visual arts.” Once she could mix them together she felt comfortable.
  • the instructions that she writes in place of scripts are referred to as “scores.” The lying down/speaking instructions that the volunteers followed at the start of the talk … that was a score.
  • she documents the performances. Someone asks her how documentation influences the works. Answer: further refinement. Things that she didn’t like in real life can be edited out of the videos.
  • “The reason I make art is to have conversations and butt heads with people who will make me think differently about the world.”



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