Published in Offerings magazine
I think on the radio, I don’t know what station, there is a show where some shitty rock band guy DJs and has this segment that I think he calls “Damn I Wish I Wrote That” where he plays songs he wishes he wrote. The songs are always like, fucking, the Rolling Stones! Or like “Imagine” by John Lennon. I really dislike this segment because I feel like the point of listening to a really good song sometimes is loving that somebody else had these feelings. Or, maybe another reason to hate this segment of the show is that it is kind of boring to wish you wrote incredibly popular songs that everybody knows. Anyhow I only know about this show because a place I used to work listened to this radio station and every day when it got to this section I was repulsed by radio guy’s smugness.
This article is about something totally different and way less hateful than my feelings on that radio show but related because of the feeling of “damn I wish I made that”. Andréa de Keijzer, of Toronto but also of Mexico and now Montreal and a lot of other places in the world, is making a show for Harboufront’s HATCH festival called “Our Last Picture”. The show itself will be performed on April 20th after a week of residency in the studio theatre. The work, as written in her piece description, examines the “moments before and after a photograph”, but this is not the subject matter that Andréa and I are discussing over Skype on a Sunday morning. Instead she told me about the structural backbone of the work, what is essentially her methodology but also something that will be extremely visible in the work:
“A year and a half ago I was in Bolivia for a festival and in one of the artists that was also performing there, her name is Esthel Vogrig, she performed this piece that is…so simple but so, so poetic, it uses a camera, a computer and a projector, and therefore projected image…[it was] the first time I [was] excited to see projection used in performing arts! … and I left with the feeling like, oh I wanna do something just like that but my own. It was funny because it was still about me, I want to make that which you did, which I see works, but I want my name on it.”
So Andréa, in her forthrightness and curiosity, expressed her interest to Vogrig and asked if she could learn the work and recreate it. Vogrig was completely open to this happening and the two kept in contact. Then when Andréa came back to Montréal, she thought about it some more and emailed Vogrig saying that yes she definitely wanted to work on this piece and make it her own, but had some ideas for changes, and wanted to include more dancers -again Vorgig was again totally open to all of these changes, emailing back “I don’t believe in authorship or originality so go ahead.” In essence Andréa wanted to make a cover of Vogrig’s original piece. Vogrig was not only totally open to the idea of her work being learned by someone else and performed somewhere else but totally open to everything this might lead to – “what touched me the most and what I find the most inspiring is that never has she been at all controlling as to what we’re going to do, or asked for monthly videos, or said ‘OK you can take it and do this, and not this’, and nothing in terms of money…this, like, open hand sharing”. Serendipitously enough this is a concept Vogrig had already been working on – as part of her work with a collective in Mexico City called AM collective who have an ongoing interest and practice in covers of each others’ work.
Andréa’s process has been, like her life, largely nomadic: she is working from Montréal with a team of collaborators there (dancers Arielle Warnke, Joannie Douville, Ariane Boulet and musician Gabriel Vignola) and travelling back and forth from Toronto to rehearse with the team here (dancers Cara Spooner, Erin Robinsong and Madeleine Shen). In a way there is also an element of quotation within the creation process itself – dancers on either side of the provincial border have their material that they know and are working on, and meanwhile the whole team has some common material based on Vogrig’s structure that is also continuing to shift.
Here is another “damn I wish I made that” moment that I think is really funny: when I saw Andréa’s piece description for this show I was like dammmmmmnnnn I wish I made that – because I’ve been working on this stuff (covers and quotations) myself for about three years now, and I caught myself feeling all pissed off that someone else got to it first! And then I totally called bullshit on myself because if the point of all this is that no one makes anything original so why bother trying anymore then why should I be worried that I didn’t make the not-original thing first. Andréa spoke beautifully on this issue, saying that we need leaders but we also need followers – if everyone’s original it doesn’t work, and that “we’re all naturally stealing from each other so we might as well quote each other”. And then she said something that I hadn’t thought of (which in itself I think points to the capacity for original thought in the context of copying and quoting): “This is how evolution happens! This is how so many pieces of the earth have developed!”
I had never really thought of this perspective: outright copying each other and using material other people have already developed is as much an ecological statement as it is an artistic one. The earth copies itself! This one time I was eighteen and in New York and at the Museum of Natural History, looking at the knee joint of a dinosaur skeleton, and at the time I was studying anatomy for the first time, and I realized that god, my knee joint looks the same as that knee joint. A bajillion years later! This basic physical structure just worked. So why are we trying to re-invent thoughts about dance every time we set out to make a piece? This is in no way a statement reflecting a general state of dance-makers, but I do think that emerging artists in general feel a particular pressure to be making new things and having original ideas (and in that case maybe every generation of emerging artists also goes fuck it and starts copying everyone else and this is a conversation that happens over and over again without us really knowing it just like in the third Matrix movie when it turns out Keanu Reeves was only one of like seventeen other Keanu Reeveses). Andréa, who travels a lot and I suspect spends a lot of time thinking about resources in the way flying makes one do, takes resource scarcity really seriously and is obviously thinking about how to make her work reflect this:
“I just feel the limits of what is possible…I think that there is value in starting…where somebody left off and continuing a conversation that they began…[It is a]way also to respect the resources and make a bit more space, it can be an option that we can add to the resources. Because it takes so many resources to make a piece of art! So much space art food water…in a world that has limited resources it seems [to be a way] that is respectful to what’s available.”
The first question I asked Andréa was: how are you doing? And she told me about this dream she had:
“Was it a dream?...I don’t remember, but let’s say it was a dream, that a friend had a concert and we arrived and nothing happened, just people started getting bored and kids started going on the stage and people started talking to each other and developing games, and finally someone came out and said ‘thank you for coming the concert is over’ – and you know, you don’t have to do very much for something to happen.”
Again, ecologically and artistically: by creating less, perhaps she is contributing more.
Our Last Picture is being created in collaboration with Cara Spooner, Arielle Warnke, Joannie Douville, Ariane Boulet, Madeleine Shen and Erin Robinsong.
It is being presented after a weeklong residency as part of HATCH 2013.
April 20 2013 | 8pm | Studio Theatre, Harbourfront Centre
York Quay Centre, 235 Queens Quay West, Toronto, ON