The following interview is part of a larger publication of collected interviews among Center for Performance Research’s New Voices in Live Performance artists: Sidra Bell, Antonio Ramos, Elisabeth Motley, and Alexis Zacarello. The publication edited by Elisabeth Motley and J. Haggis provides a platform for shared dialogue and conversation for both the participating artists and public.
Sidra emails Elisabeth: Please answer in writing.
SB: What is the genesis for a new work? Where do you find your initial inspiration to create?
EM: In my mind, starting something implies that there will be a completion, and at this point I know myself well enough to accept that the praxis around a work will continue to shift. I don’t like endings, beginnings, or answers, just the questions. With that smattering of vagueness off my chest—I usually begin by considering what I’ve been interested in, concerned with, or curious about and follow that line of investigation. My last work, Drill Piece, began with examining ritualistic dances and ended up acknowledging my military family upbringing, the choreography innate in military drill, and the military language metaphors we use on a daily basis. So, in essence I started with tribal dancing and ended up with little green army men and using a canteen as a drum on stage. Hmmm. More and more, language is an inspiration for my work. Examining words on a stream of conscious level, dissecting, and then extracting movement from them. For the work I’m developing now, I began researching Allan Kaprow and Happenings. Kaprow had questions about the ability of artwork to walk right out the gallery door. And since a Happening only occurs once, I began to consider a discussion around permanency and the marks we make as artists. I’m a new mom—this life change ultimately made me reframe my questioning around Kaprow to explore the challenges I face intersecting creativity with motherhood, as well as the kind of a mark or imprint I will make on my child. Time, sense of environment, and identity have all radically shifted since entering motherhood. So that’s where Duck & Goose is…right now. It’s also significant that I mention that while I might bring a topic to the table, my collaborators also bring their own research (articles, books, images, and individual thought) to the studio, which happily shapes and guides the work.
SB: What are the most important traits for your collaborators to have?
EM: Opinion and history. While I am currently (albeit painfully and slowly) making a solo, I typically work with a group of people who make, discuss, and question the work alongside me. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but I’m interested in directing without having all of the answers in the room. I want to learn more from my collaborators—have them tell me when they don’t like something, and then also feel comfortable telling them “too bad” if it’s a concept I’d like to stick up for. Up till now, I have worked almost exclusively with young, white women—the majority population in the dance field. I find this to be incredibly frustrating, considering that the demographic I present in artworks has the potential to be a reflection on not just my social views but also the questions the artwork is addressing. I find myself constantly fighting for diversity within my collaborators, and this is sadly harder than one would imagine.
SB: How do you sustain an environment for research throughout the creation process?
EM: Once again, using the incredible resources of my collaborating artists is tremendously helpful for sustained research. Sometimes following their lead alone will unlock a new creative pathway to explore. I find directives around raw research materials incredibly propelling. Text materials, books, magazines, YouTube, and Google Scholar are always catalysts. There is also the Picture Library, which allows you to search and check out collected images on thousands of topics. I often get bored within a process, so for me,
allowing the line of questioning to evolve unfettered is paramount.