Bedroom w TV and Woman Lays w Aide. Courtesy of Yemenwed.
The video piece Episode 3 presents a surreal sci-fi journey that melds animation, live action, painting, and sculpture. Taking queues from performance, ritual, dance, and cinema, Episode 3 is an abstract meditation on multiplicity, spiritual transcendence, and architectural experience. Bedroom w TV and Woman Lays w Aide is compiled from three distinct performances and examines several characters within an abstract interior. In a space of illusionary privacy, based on a bedroom in a New York City Housing Project, two women are accompanied by three backup dancers: one human, one sculptural, and one animate hybrid.
Kristan Kennedy: In your work, live and otherwise, you construct environments that are of this world, but also possibly of another. What is the intersection between them? Is this other world of the past or the present, or is it reflective of the future?
Yememwed: Our work often conveys the idea of a peripheral reality superimposed onto the main stage of experience. It is all happening right now: the immediate present, past, and future. The intersection of these worlds is probably best described as an overlay or filter, where one contextualizes the other, yet they run parallel at all times.
Presently, one interest is to communicate the physical relationships between humans and objects of domestic technology. In particular, [we focus] on the human and its relationship to objects that require an interface of sorts (cell phones, iPods, computers, televisions, etc.). The abstracted view that we are attempting to highlight is the literal physical position between the two. For example, in the latest performance, Woman merges w Car, there is a section in the choreography where the dancers are each positioned behind a column with ear buds in each ear as they execute a series of hand movements. The human becomes a sculptural form, frontal in nature, which proposes equality between the physical presence of the human flesh and the presence of the ear bud. [The piece] is contemporary because it incorporates current technologies and is relevant to contemporary society, but the essence of the idea, or the symbol, is extremely basic and has existed all throughout time.
Going back to Episode 3, the picture plane is literally a “viewfinder” into a world inside [the main character] Sigrid’s head. There is a relationship created between the viewer and this world via technology (in this case, a projected screen), as well as a physical sculpture from this other world. The answer to your question could also simply be technology (or design), because it also goes back to the dawn of painting and architecture. Architecture is a means by which to frame and organize our experience of the world, just like in various forms of modern dance, or through the ear buds in Woman merges w Car. The worlds we depict are very “now,” in the sense that they do what created worlds have always done; they draw from the past and present within the boundaries of our technology to imagine and depict that world. We are informed by science fiction (Tron, etc.) and role-playing (video games, performance, etc.), and feel like we are sort of creating new little myths that relate to our current circumstances as informed by the knowledge of what yet may be.
KK: What came first for you: live performance or recorded performance? As a collaborative, how do you decide what idea needs to manifest itself, and in what material?
Y: Recorded performance came first. Our main ideas usually come from whoever has written each piece, which varies. Of course, through collaboration, the ideas increase and evolve as the work progresses. However, there are some relationships that have been consistent throughout Yemenwed’s body of work: portraiture, or the development of a character/identity; domesticity and its related objects; and architecture.
Our work is essentially minimal, and almost diagrammatic. Material manifestations arise out of performative needs as well as the work of each artist involved. For example, Shawn Maximo is currently working primarily in copper and greenwood, and so the sculptures will be of that material. Jonathan Turner works primarily with the computer and camera, which naturally apply another layer of meaning through the process of editing, composition, and cropping to achieve the final piece. Megha Barnabas has been a student of Odissi Classical Indian movement, and so that has been one influence on our choreography. This type of relationship is present with all artists that have worked on each piece.
KK: What does it mean to be human?
Y: To be human is to err, to learn, to emote; [it is] many things. One’s understanding of what it means to be human changes over the course of a human lifetime. Having a sense of humor is specific to humans, too. To have some sense of existing in a time and place. To have a feeling of purpose that seems disconnected from our animal cravings or the physical limitations of the body.
This conversation was excerpted from a collection of interviews published on the occasion of Human Being, a series of exhibitions, installations, and happenings curated by Kristan Kennedy, for PICA’s 2010 Time-Based Art Festival. You can download a PDF of the full ON SIGHT catalogue here, or pick up a hard copy at the Washington High School galleries (through October 17), or at the PICA Resource Room.