Interview with Julie Fotheringham
What are you working on now?
I started thinking about this right after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan; it was about the time to start thinking about this piece with my collaborator, Jarryd Lowder. On NPR, there were beautiful black and white photographs of an area that was washed away by the tsunami. They were really beautiful, if you removed yourself from the tragedy of it, an apocalyptic, desolated thing. I was trying to view them from a completely emotionally removed place, because I am so removed from the situation, it’s on the other side of the world…it finally hit a spot in me when NPR mentioned the signs that people had posted, translated from Japanese, “looking for my husband,” etc. That’s when it hit home; I just started crying. I just imagined that if something happened to my partner than I would be devastated. It was the idea of that distance…when you receive something via the news or media; it becomes so 2-dimensional and so removed. We have such distance from tragedy. It was also ironic, or maybe I’m lucky, when 9/11 happened, I was in Japan. I’m just always on the other side of the world when tragedy happens.
How are you defining tragedy for the purpose of this project? Is it based in the pictures or is it all encompassing?
It’s the moment where you are in the process of dying; I’ve never jumped off a building so I don’t know what that feels like… we assume that after-death is peaceful, but nobody really knows. That heightened, unbearable moment drags out when people are missing. If you have a body, you know they are dead. But if your husband is washed away by the tsunami, during the time that you don’t know that they are dead it’s like they are in that moment of dying, the whole time. There’s uncertainty, not knowing is a prolonged experience…
Looking at the micro-scale, not macro, view of tragedy is the point. It’s specifically human, not architectural or urban. When I was first looking at the photos, I recognized the devastation, but until you bring it down to a more personal scale, it’s so abstract.
So, how have these ideas been translated into your project?
The shape of the venue always shapes our work; I don’t think we’ve ever created a piece without having a booked show. The venue definitely informs the piece. Now, since we are at CPR, we are looking at a space that is wider than it is deep.
Also, we are doing a site-specific performance at the Westbeth building, where the Cunningham studio are, a whole artists’ residence building. There are multiple performers, we walked through the building and everyone picked a location. Jarryd and I selected a staircase, and the distance now is vertical. The audience will be at the top of the staircase in the vertical piece, so they can look down. When we picked our location, at the staircase, I had this morbid image that I’m laying at the bottom because I’ve fallen or jumped. The camera will be hanging from its own cable, so it will be hovering over me…you could view that as my spirit looking at my body. There will be a live feed to the monitor at the top, so the audience will be able to see a close-up of me and also be able to look down 6 or 7 stories, down the stairwell. There’s this tension with looking down into space, vertigo, you have a physical response even without something being down there. We are thinking the audience will start at the top of the stairwell and move to the bottom, where they will be close up to tragedy
Tell me about your artistic relationship with Jarryd Lowder… you’re the performer and he’s sound/technologist…
We’ve become a lot more interactive, initially we had very defined roles, I was the dancer and he was the musician… then it shifted through working together, realizing that the positions weren’t set and it was more flexible. The first show we ever did was stuff that I had already choreographed to other music, and he just made new music for it. But now, everything I do…we don’t even label ourselves separately anymore. He’s the tech wizard but as far as ideas for setting up cameras and even sound ideas, I have a lot of input in that and vise-versa.
Often in our performances, we have roles and we’ve done a lot with voyeurism, kind of the nature of using surveillance cameras. He plays the role of the voyeur…there’s definitely a relationship, depending on the piece. He’s been the creepy peeping tom, viewing an intimate moment. In this current piece, inherently in the use of the camera, it’s going to have a voyeuristic element, but I’m not viewing this piece as that at all. Not that I can remove that, but his role is ambiguous. Nobody knows what actually happened.
Regardless of whether or not we have any upcoming performances, I always rehearse with myself. Right now, it’s once a week where I just go into the studio by myself and move. It’s therapeutic. It’s my dance class with myself. I love improvising to “Godspeed, you black emperor.” Their songs are epic journeys. It really gives you the time to get to an emotional place. I use it to generate, but then we scrap that music and Jarryd designs the score. The dramatic music takes me to a dramatic place, but the dramatic place can be sustained without the dramatic music. So in the performance, it has to exist on its own, like muscle memory or something. This piece performance-wise, is very minimal…shivering, maybe my brain is already dead but there is residual twitching. It will inherently be emotional; movement-wise it will be hardly anything. The emotion will come from the whole, not particularly my performance…we have this visual idea of a fall, maybe a reoccurring memory. In the stairwell piece, each audience only experiences it for 5 minutes, but at CPR it’s a shared program but with as much time as we want. So we are taking that moment of death and dragging it out over an hour.
Julie Fotheringham speaks with Isabella Bruno.
Share steps for a ritual or exercise that is part of your performance practice.
Lie down on floor.
Align body in frame of camera.
Place body in twisted position.
Twitch and writhe as feels appropriate.
Share one object.
What do you listen to when you are creating?
I should mention that Jarryd does the music for all of our work. This is what I listen to in the studio.
What is one space that influences your creative process?
Share something you are making/have made.
Wed. May 11, 2011 at 7:30pm: “Drop”
Center for Performance Research, 361 Manhattan Avenue, Unit 1, Brooklyn.
Thurs. May 19, 2011 at 8pm: “Drop”
ReVision by Forward Motion Theater, LIC Arts Open, Attic Studios, LIC Queens.