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Chimera

An Interview w/ Scott Andrew & Jesse Factor

Black Cube recently launched a new Alumni Granting Program to provide continued support to our previous artist fellows. In line with our mission to support the sustainability of artists, the program awards micro-grants annually to our alumni who have an identified funding need—one that will help advance their career or benefit their practice. It’s an opportunity for our alumni to receive funding to support the production of new work, acquire equipment or materials, mitigate exhibition or residency fees, offset the cost of publishing, etc.

Scott Andrew was a 2017 Black Cube Artist Fellow (as part of the collective Institute for New Feeling) and one of four artists to receive our 2020 Alumni Grant. Scott used the funding to develop a new collaborative project with dancer, Jesse Factor, titled Chimera. We interviewed Scott and Jesse to hear more about this new work, which premiered in October, and their ongoing collaboration.





Black Cube: Chimera is an experimental collaborative performance that seems to merge each of your respective practices. Can you tell us a bit about your independent practices in art and dance? Why did you choose to collaborate on this project and when did the idea first develop?

Scott Andrew & Jesse Factor: We first met in 2019, at an event called TQ Live!, a yearly LGBTQIA variety performance at the Andy Warhol Museum, that Scott co-curates along with Suzie Silver and Joseph Hall.  Jesse was one of the invited performers, and after meeting it became clear that we had a lot of overlapping aesthetics and artistic interests, so we decided to start working together to see how our practices might amplify each other. 

Jesse’s dance work often employs stylized physicality with a speculative view of queer histories and archival material.  Scott’s work as a multi-media artist in video, installation, and performance centers around queer futurity, divas and gay icons, LGBTQ+ histories and mythologies, and tensions between the celebrity image and the physical body.  Jesse’s channeling of divas in exile—from time and body disrupt and complicate constructions of sexuality, gender, and identity in a digital age, drawing parallels between themes in Scott’s work.  We both attempt to access a liminal space in our work.

Our experimental media and dance performance, titled I Am A Haunted House at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in Pittsburgh received a Freshworks residency grant enabling time and space to investigate glitch aesthetics through movement, sound, and video.  I Am A Haunted House was developed as a multimedia dance performance and installation in four segments that centered around the mythology of queer film icon Joan Crawford. Concepts of re-animation and replication emerged through experiments surrounding the distance between the idea of a celebrity and the physical body.  Our practices in dance and multimedia work supported and complicated this inquiry.

Our newest collaboration, Chimera, developed as part of the Bloomfield Garden Club, a socially distant live performance series started by independent curator Tina Dillman.  We knew that the work would need to be created with the limitation of it being presented in a backyard with a finite amount of space, but we were up for the challenge.  This opportunity was a chance to create something new and site-specific for a live audience, which was something that both of us have been greatly missing during the pandemic.


Chimera
Chimera. Photo by Scott Andrew.


BC: What is the meaning behind the title Chimera? Can you each expound upon the underlying concept of this work? Were you inspired by historical, literary, or cultural references? 

SA & JF: As an illusory hybrid or impossible merger, the concept of the Chimera seemed the best container for the ideas in the work. Perhaps best known through Greek mythology as a fire-breathing female monster with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail, Donna Haraway also evokes this concept when she writes, “we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs.”  Fascination with the mythological past, the digital present, and the cybernetic future informed ideas of an illusory, flamboyantly genderless fantasia.

This work began to take form, in part through conversations we were having about the work of late 19th and early 20th century dancer Loie Fuller, with interests in the visual possibilities of flowing fabric, and the material’s interplay with wind, light, and color relationships.  At the same time we had been discussing Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, and we took inspiration from various samples from the text that made their way into the soundscore.  After recent work focused so heavily on a specific historic figure, we turned our gaze from the archival past into the future.  Through a queer bricolage, a hybridized character with cyborg glam, organic, and posthuman attributes began to emerge.  As ardent fans of Leigh Bowery and his work with Michael Clark, we embraced concealing, revealing and refashioning identity in an absurdist, playful, and unsettling ways.  These interests supported the formal elements as we collected fabric samples, worked on initial movements, developed ways to control the atmosphere though wind and sound, etc.

These initial ideas led to collaboration with a costume assistant designer Jeffrey Shirbroun, who made detailed beaded lip and mouth appliqués, and a large multifunctional cape which anchors the performance.  A tall platform in the performance space paired with 6’ tall pleaser boots generated a larger than life quality to the figure, supporting ideas of fantasy and future.  Scott’s sampling and repurposing of sound excerpts by Lamb, Lakmé, Freescha, and Lorde, along with an underscore of hand-made bird call samples and cybernetically affected recitations of key lines from the Cyborg Manifesto provided dynamic contrast to the visual figure.


Chimera
I Am A Haunted House. Photo by Beth Barbis.


BC: This performance launched in October during the global pandemic and increased safety restrictions due to the COVID-19 outbreak. How did this impact production, location, and/or audience? Where does this performance take place? Did the site inform the performance, or vice versa?

SA & JF: America was just starting to talk about the pandemic when we were presenting I Am A Haunted House back in early March.  We were the last live event to take place in the theater this year, just barely getting to stage the work before mandated closures occurred the following week.  Since then, we both participated in a handful of virtual events through our individual practices, and though these types of events are a great way to keep culture and artistic experiences from fully dying out, we definitely both had the desire to find ways to present more live works as soon as possible.  That is why it was great when Tina Dillman reached out to us about presenting work in a backyard for a series of limited audience members, in the hopes to safely stage live work despite the current situation. 

Initially we had expected to spend more time developing I Am A Haunted House and further presenting it for a traditional stage experience, but with this possibility on hold, exploring new ideas and site-specificity became the priority.  In the end, we were able to participate in two evenings of performances along with local Pittsburgh legend Elizabeth Betty Asche Douglas, and artist/activist Christiane Dolores.  These performances took place in Scott’s garden and accommodated around 20 viewers who were all required to wear masks and to remain socially distant throughout the events. 

In part, the site did impact some of the staging of the work, not just through the limitations of the scale of the space, but also by thinking about the garden as stage, with all of the connotations that go along with being in a garden.  The staging of the soundscore and movement began to take the organic form of a flower, moving through various stages of awakening, maturing, growing, adapting, and blossoming. This structural idea became informed by the many birds in the garden and the surrounding sounds of bird calls that subtly played into the atmosphere of the garden.


Chimera
Chimera. Photo by Scott Andrew.


BC: Can you share about the technical aspects of this performance—the costuming, audio, and dance? Was the performance choreographed, improvisational, or both? How did sound influence the work?

SA & JF: Sound, image, and concept developed fluidly with each other.  The set physical score was developed through improvisational tasks that evolved over time as elements of costume, sound, and place were introduced.  These design elements continued to inform each other through a series of work sessions over the summer that mined possibilities of the most interesting versions of ideas we wanted to explore.

We continue to prioritize the idea that all design and production elements are of equal value in our collaborative work.  Embracing curiosity and flexibility allows for a generous process in which we search for the most fascinating aspects of the work, rather than arrive at a predetermined destination.


Chimera
I Am A Haunted House. Photo by Beth Barbis.


BC: What is coming up next? Are you planning another iteration of this performance?

SA & JF: We plan to continue developing Chimera into a digital short with possibilities for live performance in the future.  Since we may be in a highly virtual world for the foreseeable future, we’re interested in creating digital shorts that might be screened in both art and dance contexts.  We recently screened some excerpts from I Am A Haunted House at the Iowa Dance Festival and at the Slippery Rock University Faculty Dance Concert, where Jesse is a professor.  We hope to continue to participate in virtual screening possibilities and to look for more socially distant live performance opportunities in the future.