Saturday, August 18, 2012

One of the major points of inspiration for Catherine Cabeen and Company’s upcoming production, Fire!, has been Niki de Saint Phalle’s first major body of work, the provocative Shooting Paintings.  In these works, produced between 1961 and 1963, painting was accomplished with a .22-caliber rifle. When Saint Phalle and others took aim at these works, the gun’s bullets would penetrate a plaster surface, finding bags of paint and other items that had been embedded beneath. Once pierced, these contents erupted and fell unpredictably down the work’s surface. As Saint Phalle described it, it was creation through destruction.
Niki de Saint Phalle
Film Still — From Daddy 1972
All rights reserved 2007.
Positioned in opposition to postwar expressionism and the notion of an artist-genius, the Shooting Paintings were aligned with a number of early 1960s strategies aimed at a critique of authorship. These included the use of found and mass-produced objects, as well as compositional methods embracing chance and collaboration. In these respects, the Shooting Paintings were closely tied to the production of Saint Phalle’s fellow New Realists, a label that brought together a diverse group of artists, among them Yves Klein and Jean Tinguely.

Saint Phalle, however, was the only female member of the New Realists, and in this body of work there was also a forceful proto-feminist element. The artist’s aggressive act was not only a way to comment on the violence of the times, but a personal assertion of power. With gun poised, she became the ultimate phallic woman. The use of the gun was of course ironic (a caricature of abstract expressionism, much like Tinguely’s metamatic machines), but it was also done with sincerity and urgency. The Shooting Paintings eventually took the form of distinct targets, religion and men in particular. Saint Phalle expressed a desire to “trespass into the world of men”--to experience their power and freedom.* With gun in hand, she not only trespassed into their world, but also played a part in their destruction.

Saint Phalle was captivated by the power that the gun gave her--by the transformation it created (she called it exciting, sexy, and tragic all at once), and also by the attention it focused on her. Between June and September of 1961, more than fifty international newspapers and magazines had reported on the scandal of her Shooting Paintings. In the press, she became an Amazon, a vampire, and an ardent women’s rights activist.  

Today we view these works fifty years after they were made. Many things have changed, although inequalities and double standards persist. How, where, and when do women assume power in today’s world, and what happens when they do? Fire! urges us to ask.

*More of Saint Phalle’s commentary on this subject can be seen in “Letters,” in Niki de Saint Phalle, ed. Pontus Hultén (Stuttgart: Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1992). 

-Nancy Stoaks, Fire! Dramaturg

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Tarot Garden

Catherine Cabeen and Company is fully immersed in our summer creative residency at On the Boards.  As I shift from questions, to clarity, and back again to more questions in the choreographic process, I am grateful to be working with an incredible team of dancers and collaborators. 

The process we are undertaking to create Fire! is very different than how we created Into the Void.  The process for Into the Void, a piece about immateriality, was as spacious as the subject matter of the work.  We had a week on, a few weeks off, then on again.  I traveled to work with out of town dancers.  We had a luxurious year and a half to make the work, during which time I held the thread of the piece in open hands. 

Fire! on the other hand is being wrung out of the ether with both fists.  I have been researching and creating phrase material on my own for Fire! for the last year.  However this time, the company is assembling for 6 solid weeks to construct the entire work in an intensive residency.  All of us are working tirelessly during this rigorous month and a half to create, edit, cut, destroy, and then rebuild; phrases, costumes, sets, music etc. 
I am enjoying the realization that the process we are using to create this work reflects the subject matter of Fire! in the same way ITV’s did.  
Niki de Saint Phalle’s work is dense, luscious, overwhelming, violent and aggressive. So it makes sense to be wrestling the muses for this work in a volcano of creative energy.

Inspired by Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden, Fire! is organized around the Major Arcana of the Tarot.  Saint Phalle’s garden, which was constructed between 1978 and 1998 at Garavicchio in Tuscany, is the largest sculpture park ever created by a woman artist.  It is full of wild, fantastic creatures, many of which the viewer can enter and climb. 
I had the pleasure of visiting the garden earlier this year.  The colorful mosaics that embellish the parks monuments are often delightful, but just as often they include skulls, spiders, and images of violence reminiscent of Saint Phalle’s earlier works.

As the dancers I am working with push through 6-hour rehearsals, five days a week, I remind them that our bodies get stronger by breaking down and rebuilding; a core theme in the work that we are creating.  Saint Phalle’s glass and mirror mosaics are composed of the same reality as our amino-acid chain muscles, wherein fragmentation and wholeness coincide.

Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden inspired me to approach Seattle Art Museum (SAM) about the possibility of performing a related work in their Olympic Sculpture Park (OSP).  SAM’s support is allowing CCC to create Where They May, a site-specific work that crosses the movement vocabulary we have been working on for Fire! with the landscape and architecture of OSP.  

In contrast to Saint Phalle’s garden, OSP is designed to be enjoyed walking almost entirely in straight lines.  The consistent lack of straight lines in Saint Phalle’s work however, is a significant inspiration for the movement vocabulary I am creating for Fire!. As a result, Where They May is an experiment to see how the voluptuous work looks when framed by narrow passages and straight paths.

I hope you will join us for this free
one-time-only event, 
CCC's Where They May 
Thursday Aug 16, 7:15-8:15pm 
... as we dance down into the Sound.