Genesis Project Artist Interview #3: Meghan Flanigan

The following interview took place on August 21st, 2009, between Meghan Flanigan (2009 Genesis Project Artist-in-Residence) and Arturo Vidich and Aki Sasamoto (Culture Push co-directors). We conducted the interview via Skype chat, which we found to be an interesting medium, somewhere between a recording and email correspondence. We sat at the same table.

Meghan FlaniganAki Sasamoto: What are you working on right now in the residency?

Meghan Flanigan: I’m working on a number of projects that don’t really have names yet. Two are collaborations with Fergus: a drawing that we do together and the other so far is a movement work. I’m also working on a video exploration.

AS: Can you tell us about how you started your involvement in drawing and video? Here I’m assuming you are someone who has worked primarily in the dance field.

MF: The drawing came a bit from the experience at the drawing marathon and then further when Fergus gave a workshop based on contact drawing. I helped out with contact warm-up exercises and then we drew. I mostly have a dance background but I’ve been itching to work more in other media recently and this is a good way to get started.

AV: How do you see this residency shaping or not shaping your new direction with media-based performance?

MF: It is definitely shaping– it has been a great way to get into it in a very open-ended way. The video piece for example just came from wanting to create a new relationship with my camera. I didn’t want to feel like it was some technologically complex thing that was above my understanding. So I did some authentic movement while holding it. That moved into balancing it on my body and then taping it to my body. It is a great way to capture the movement of breath. Right now I’m exploring different places to shoot video with it taped to me.

AS: Where does that initial desire to interact with cameras come from?

MF: A desire to work with bodies and spaces outside of the theater. I’m particularly attracted to being able to create more intimate and detailed experiences that invite contemplation. I found myself tired of the production aspects and the need to work with big audiences at once that comes with theater work.

AV: The use of media I’ve seen here so far has been a lot of documentation, creative ways of capturing what’s going on.  Inherent in video is time and manipulation of time/space. How do you use time in your work? A lot of the movement you do is really slow, durational. I’ve also seen some intricate uses of musculature. Video is great for representing intimate experiences.

MF: It is still early on to be able to say much about my approach to video but I’d say it shares a lot with the dance pieces in being durational.

AV: And voyeurism comes in. Watching and being watched.

AS: I’m interested in the transition to out-of-the-theater…  Does a camera become another type of audience?  (Or it is a tunnel to the future audience). Can it be said that you need the audience to make a piece?

MF: Yes, that is something that came up as soon as I went outside. I filmed outside in a graveyard. This was both very sacred and also transgressive.
Meghan in the graveyard.
AS: Tell me more about the graveyard. Were there other people?

MF: This came from a conversation with Fergus about how graveyards are spaces for contemplation and intimacy within the urban space. It then led to my relating the fact that my dad chose to be cremated and this shifted the act of burial to a more personal, less ceremonial experience. So from this conversation I thought of going to this quiet place in the city. But the experience was strange, at one point I took off running on all fours.  I think it was just a need to assert some vitality after being so still in the graveyard for a while. With the video on my back it becomes very strange– I am a sort of creature and the object of the camera’s view, but then it is also part of me. My shoulders and back of my head are visible so it is intimate but I suppose a bit hidden in the sense that my full identity is not clear.

AS: Would you consider these environments that contain your performance as a backdrop, an audience, or something else?

MF: Both and also an important informer of my experience. How I feel in the environment affects how I move, why I move, how I move on from that place.

AV: What’s the next step for you in that development?

MF: Now I am shifting away from the graveyard– I was scouting for places to film today and think I will go back and do some by the water with views of the industrial decay nearby. But I’m not sure what is beyond that. Oh, and next time I’m going to have two cameras, one on my front and one on by back. this will probably be shown split screen.

AV: Sounds nice.

AS: The urban setting, you, and camera.  Each element has a relationship between the other two.  It’s interesting the way you talk (write to be precise), involves how ‘you’ are influenced by these things. It seems like you are observing your movements, while you are the mover.

MF: Yes, I think this is part of the process here at Genesis. Particularly, because what I’m doing is new to me I’m going step by step. It has also been influenced a lot by other projects that are going on around me.

AS: It is a very closed cycle, concerning your body and your eye.  It’s interesting to see the internality of your process, and how the camera is used for it.  You are your own specimen.

AV: And the audience is there as well. As a ghost in the future.

MF: I’ve been thinking about ghosts of the present. It came up because of the way we are effected by the people working above us, the martial art students. Yes, that is a good way of putting it. I think making work, particularly moving work forward in new directions is a very internal process. Once something becomes known I find it useful because it is a skill that I have under by belt but not nearly as interesting.

AV: What other skills are you siphoning off from the other artists?

MF: Lots– well, perhaps not skills so much as ideas and ways of working. Carlos taught me a bit of salsa. Fergus has been teaching me tons of jujitsu and wrestling. I’ve been observing how Saul and Fergus work and letting that influence me.

AS: So this has been a place to acquire those seeds for new directions (ideas and methods) under by your belt?  In your world, at what point do things becomes ‘interesting’?

MF: Yes, I think there will be lots of work generated from this experience. It feels like I’ve been just letting ideas and experiences accumulate and then will carefully work through these in the coming six months or so.

AS: After six months or so,  do you see that taking a shape of ‘work’ of ___?

MF: Interesting– Well, usually something that is a bit unknown and feels like I have a chance to find a new way of understanding, feeling, seeing, experiencing if i follow it. Probably lots of video and performance work.

AV: Did the workshop with Ben Spatz leave a lasting impression, since I remember everyone saying that they hadn’t used voice in their work before, and Ben’s work is mostly about singing.

MF: It was great on a personal level to spend so much time singing and to have the chance to improvise (somewhat beautifully) with voice and movement. It hasn’t yet influenced what I am doing in the sense that I am using voice– but that could come up in the future. I liked his approach of creating a few blocks to work with. It seemed like a great way to start to work with voice– just create a few sounds that are rich and then work with them. I feel that voice work really opens up the body as well and can be part of a process even if it isn’t used in the product. I often make odd sounds by myself in the studio and I think I might make more beautiful sounds after his workshop.

AV: What has been a noteworthy experience for you in working with other kinds of performance/visual artists?
Open play among four artists.
MF: Talking about different media (graphite, pencil, paper, paint etc.) in terms of how they fit with the work, talking about the process of letting different objects inform each other and inform you, seeing how the space is transformed daily by manipulation of the floor tiles and other objects, how we hold conversations through the trails of objects that we leave in the room. I think that has been the most powerful part for me– to be able to work collaboratively not on a single project but in a looser way where things just spring up naturally from being around each other. I think everyone has maintained their own goals and ideas but at the same time has been bouncing off one another. Perhaps we are all artists that are trying to work in a way where we can traverse different media and let the experience in one cross-fertilize with another.

AV: I see those points of coincision as the meat of this residency. And I am glad to see that you all found those on your own without a template for how to work.

AS: Related to that, a question to Arturo, you have chosen the artists from the applicants’ pool of different backgrounds.  It looks like to me that the residency turned out to be a dialogue between dancers and performance artists.  Is that correct?  Did you intend to have these particular fields as targets?

AV: I had these fields as targets in that it was advertised as a body-based artist residency, or for artists who want to integrate new media to their work, but really, Saul is just at the beginning stages of using performance in his work. I see the different media and backgrounds as artists creating a quilt of common “language” that Carlos talked about, and that language enriches each artist’s relationship to their original medium.

AS: Body. What Meghan’s doing looks very much visual art, though her own interest in doing it has more dance to it.  (how a body reacts to certain things like space, camera, etc). Body makes sense.

AV: And body can be the action it takes to make an object = not body. Like Fergus’s marks on the floor with the skipping rope. And Carlos’s block sculptures.

MF: Yes, that is true– and the drawings that I’ve made with Fergus. I think I still have a lot ‘dance’ motivations but I’m letting go of ‘theater’ as a medium for now.
Meghan and Fergus drawingMeghan and Fergus drawing close up
AV: The theatricality is certainly dropped from what I see you doing.

AS: Not that it’s bound to be dance or visual art, but I’m just playing a dividing character for the sake of it…  it’s interesting to know the commonalities in the residency but also interesting to hear different motivations/interests from which you came to this.

AV: And I’m interested to see the differences/commonalities that you’ll leave with, and what crops up in “six months.”

MF: I asked Saul last night how/if his idea of making work from his body would change after the residency. I can’t remember exactly what he said but I know that it has definitely opened up new ideas for me. I’ll let you know in six months!

AS: Cameras on your body is certainly carrying this residency back to your future.

AV: To be continued…

Meghan Flanigan is a dance artist working in Baltimore and Bogotá, Colombia. She recently entered the University of Maryland graduate school of Imaging and Digital Arts.

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