Join the mayhem as Mugwumpin hijacks the Pro Arts gallery space for July and August! Their residency will include rehearsals, cheap performances, and impromptu live art that ignites radical collaboration, empathy, and curiosity
Mugwumpin is an award-winning San Francisco theater and performance company, part of a wave of young American companies who are expanding the artform by questioning the primacy of text and narrative in theater and playfully transgressing received notions of the audience-performer relationship.
Mugwumpin was formed in San Francisco in 2004 by Joseph Estlack, Denmo Ibrahim, and Christopher W. White, with the aim of reinvigorating live performance as a communal event. Mugwumpin, currently directed by White, is among a new generation of American companies interested in creating relational, experiential work that questions the primacy of text and narrative in theater.
Since 2004, Mugwumpin has created 13 full productions and many smaller scale performances, all Bay Area world premieres. Our first show, Rabbit Causes Dog, was named Best Play at the 2004 SF Fringe Festival. In 2008, super:anti:reluctant thrilled international audiences at the Cairo International Festival of Experimental Theatre. This Is All I Need was named a Best Play of 2010 by both the SF Weekly and SF Bay Guardian and successfully toured Europe in 2011.
In January, 2012, Future Motive Power, inspired by the life and work of inventor Nikola Tesla, performed at the historic Old Mint, selling out every performance. In March, 2013, The Great Big Also premiered in a co-production with Z Space; the immersive performance explored how the tradition of prophecy has shaped the American character.
Since 2010, Mugwumpin has also been creating the Occurrences series, performances created for non-theater spaces. These works—one-time experiments that develop a theme or idea without a vast input of resources—invite audiences inside our working process. Occurrences have continued evolving to include audience engagement events, such as an open conversation with cultural critic Greil Marcus and a joint in-process showing with Theatre of Yugen. Occurrences blur the boundaries between artistic creation, audience development, and final product.
This interview was conducted between artist Christie Yuri Noh and curator Marie Martraire to inform the artist’s exhibition Information About the Outside World for 2 x 2 Solos at Pro Arts.
MM: Can you tell me more about this outside world mentioned in your exhibition title?
CYN: These are things that are common in normal life but are not part of your experience. If you haven’t eaten a hamburger, I could tell you about it.
MM: What is a hamburger?
CYN: A sandwich that is double bread with meat. A new food to supply quality nutrition to teachers and students.
MM: You’ve been working with the medium of photography, sound, and painting for a while now but its not until last year that you started creating the clear paintings featured in the exhibition at Pro Arts. How did this direction in your work come about?
CYN: The clear paintings evolved from portraits of artists I was transferring onto clear surfaces, which evolved from another similar process ad infinitum. The ESR slides are part of this. Analog photography was my gateway drug.
MM: What is sound?
CYN: Auditory sensation evoked by oscillation, I guess. Have you heard the rings of Saturn?
MM: Where is the moon?
CYN: Maybe close, maybe far.
MM: What is interesting for you in this figure of the greek antique sculpture often represented in your works?
CYN: It’s less about being Greek and more about pieces left behind. These are things that are common in normal life, but are not part of my experience.
This interview was conducted between Dimitra Skandali discussing her site-specific installation for the 2 x 2 Solos at Pro Arts with curator, sale Samantha Reynolds.
What brought you to the Bay Area?
I came in August 2011 to pursue my MFA in San Francisco Art Institute.
What has kept you here?
I found a very supportive artist community to welcome me through the school years and after I graduated. Many opportunities appeared that I would never imagine if I had stayed in Greece.
How do you remain connected to your home island of Paros, Greece? How does this displacement impact your artistic practice?
It is very much about Internet while I am here, unfortunately, many telephones and lots of skyping and social media to feel connected. Traveling once a year and staying as much as I can has been vital. I had been traveling due to visa / studies / work reasons for a month or few weeks in the beginning and it was so painful.
The feeling of not belonging was so threatening, that I decided to work towards living and to build a life there and feel as if I am not just visiting. I am still working on it, it is not there yet, but for sure it is better now than the first two years. Distance, displacement, connectivity and fragility of it – feeling connected and disconnected at the same time, and my struggle to survive in a city like San Francisco and to build/sustain my community have been the themes that keep inspiring me.
All my pieces are very personal and derive from all the above feelings and needs. Since arriving in the Bay Area in 2011, I talk about dialogues between here and there and also about absence, distance and ephemerality and the fragility of our existence and our connectivity to where we come from and dependency on our relationships. Because of my struggle of living in San Francisco, I use elements that do not take up much space – I can store them in a little box – that I can easily find and are cheap or free, always having a special meaning to me. The seaweed came as an oceanic element that connects me with the island where I grew up and the water that I was surrounded, but also because by definition as a natural material, it is itself the metaphor of a displacement. Wires extracted from communication cables symbolize the connectivity and networks and along with the found materials, trash etc, natural or manmade, at the seashores around the world, in the cities, back home, symbolize my effort to read, understand, and feel the place I live and work – the earth under my feet.
All the materials I am using are taking forms that I can easily carry with me or they don’t necessary need a studio space to be developed. For example traveling between spaces, and at my destinations, I use the places themselves as working places: the beach becomes my studio, I work/crochet/draw/embroider at the airplanes, trains, ferries etc.
You have a very labor intensive practice; can you describe your process of collecting, combining and crocheting materials from local and international beaches? When do you begin this technique?
As I mentioned, part of the above effort of mine is to feel the place I live and work, is not only collecting and exploring what kind of elements each place can offer me, but also what their potential and possibilities are. So spending time knotting and crocheting the seaweed allows me to sit, to feel each place in a deeper way. Repetition and concentration become a meditative process and create the space for the mind to travel. Labor and how the body is involved into the process is very important part of the making. It allows me to connect with both here and there.
My work has always been intense and labor demanding, since my art school years in Athens, and even since my first experiments. But working with the specific seaweed and sea grass and crocheting began just before my second semester at SFAI in the winter of 2011-2012.
Since you work is site-specific, how do you allow each of your pieces to respond directly to the space?
No matter how long I have worked with individual pieces at my studio or wherever I find the time/inspiration to do it, nothing is considered completed unless I work with it in the specific site they are displayed. Everything is finalized at that site and for that site. It is important to live there as much time as I can so that everything will be in dialogue, in response to the architecture, sounds, people, and even the neighborhood; they are all, after all, part of my experience working there and this is what I am conveying.
Connectivity in relation to the fragility of networks is a central theme in many of your installations, why is this concept so vital to your practice?
It is all about this and its fragility! A very big reason is the fear to forget; a fear of not being connected anymore. And this is what I am fighting against: by bringing memories, keeping in touch with the place and its people during my travels and on line, using my past experiences and referencing old techniques and traditions. Using them and then gaining new ones is keeping everything connected and alive. A dangerous point though, because it is alive in the memory and I want to keep them alive in real life as well. I don’t want to think what will happen in the future. For the moment, I keep the feeling of being in the right place the right moment, and this is what I want to trust and follow.
For the 2 x 2 Solos exhibition, what were you aiming to accomplish? Were you able to experiment with new ideas and processes?
I definitely wanted to share my experimentations, thoughts and feelings deriving from my experiences. It was a great opportunity to overcome my fear of using new elements and techniques, although I do it all the time in any new opportunity I have, but here I combined many new things together at the same time: for example, wooden structures, more color, projection and sound, painted seaweed and playful forms in different sizes of seaweed sculptures.
The first version of the video (1:59’) was made in the fall of 2015 while I was on Paros Island, GRE, and it was the first video I made as a complete piece and not part of an installation. It has been modified for the needs of the installation to 4:15’ with additional audio, as I wanted to have a more immersive experience with the installation. I feel everything was developed around that video/sound, and mine and many more people’s in Greece overwhelming experiences about these very important issues of struggling, displacement, instability, refugees, trafficking, war, and at the same time the generosity of all of them and the need just to be humans. No matter their difficulties, with no means and any kind of official support form the states of Greece or the EU during these tough years, they are offering whatever they can to help as many as they can. You don’t need many things to remember that you are human. Compassion, empathy and hospitality have always been there with the Greek people. I wanted to show how proud I am of all this!
This installation immerses the visitor in the feeling of the sea – how do you address bodies of water as both a connector in contemporary cultures as well as a divider with the capacity for displacement?
This is a very important point of departure for me – and I am happy you got this feeling too. The movement of the water and its fleetingness, show instability and ephemerality, and they all add to the feeling of the displacement. They all convey my experience surrounded by the sea through the years living on the island: it was, still is, all about connectivity and division, locality and globalism, limitations and possibilities, restrictions and freedom.
The cacophony of sound accompanying your video is an excellent contrast to the delicacy of the nets – how did you compile the audio component?
The sound of the video is made from five documentaries about refugees coming from Africa and Asia, who survived with the help of the many volunteers at the coasts of the Greek islands Leros, Kos, Ios, and Lesvos, and in Italy, in 2015.
Are you hoping to explore new ideas that you began experimenting with this exhibition in future pieces?
I will definitely explore more the structural part of my pieces; how to have many independent pieces in one installation, while being in dialogue at the same time. For example, the big seaweed mats are made in order for me to use them like fabric and embroider on them with painted seaweed or other elements. This didn’t happen here, but I will continue with this idea in the future. Also, using big pieces of real fishing nets didn’t happen until the fall of 2015, and I am using these two nets in this installation. Wood, painted or not, color are some other things that I will definitely continue to explore.
Projection and sound have been for the last year still in an experimental level and I want to learn more about them and use more professional tools. But on the other hand I don’t want to depend on my tools. I can never be a high tech person – I know me- and I want to keep it as spontaneous and simple as I can. There are SO many professional video and sound artists that are doing such perfect works; I would never want to compare my self with them.
About Dimitra Skandali
Dimitra Skandali grew up on Paros, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. “I carry my island with me everywhere”, she states. She was educated in Greece and the Netherlands before moving to California, and earning her MFA in New Genres from San Francisco Art Institute in 2013.
Her awards and honors include the 2014 First Place from Marin MOCA, Novato, CA; the 2013 First Place-?Anne Bremer Memorial Prize, and the 2013 Outstanding Graduate Student Award in New Genres from San Francisco Art Institute; the 2012 Murphy & Cadogan Contemporary Art Award and Fellowship from the San Francisco Foundation. She has been a selected artist for the 2013 “Biennial Project” an online Roadshow during the Venice Biennale, for the 2012 and 2014 (1st and 2nd) International Biennale of Santorini Island, GR, for the 2013 NextNewCa show at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, and for the 2014 12th Biennial Sculpture Exhibition, in Bellevue, WA. She has also been awarded artist-?in-? residences in 2013 Post Studio | Studio 110 Residency in Sausalito, CA, Root Division in San Francisco (2013-?14) CA, Lucid Art Foundation in Inverness (2014) CA, the Studios of Key West (2014), FL, and the Jail/Cell Residency, in San Francisco (2015) CA. Skandali has shown both nationally and internationally. She currently lives and works in San Francisco, CA and on Paros Island, GR.
Moderated by Natalia Mount (Executive Director, sildenafil Pro Arts) and including panelists Dawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh (Artist), price Kristen Zaremba (Acting Cultural Arts Manager, Department of Economic and Workforce Development, City of Oakland), Nancy Gonchar (Principal of Nancy Gonchar & Associates), and Lordy Rodriguez (Artist), this conversation will focus on the topic of what are the contemporary needs of artists and what are some of the ways institutions remain responsive and flexible to those needs, either that be through programming, innovative strategies for community building, or city supported initiatives.
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KunstCapades is an art-themed variety show/podcast hosted by artists Josh Pieper and Tim Sullivan, with house bartender Robyn Carliss (aka Marv). Guests from all points on the artist-curator-dealer-
From February 20th until March 19th 2016, KunstCapades is in residency at Aggregate Space Gallery, Oakland. ASG is an exhibition and performance space dedicated to the exploration and presentation of immersive works. To learn more about ASG click here: http://aggregatespacegallery.org
Yours truly, Natalia Mount, Executive Director of Pro Arts, was invited to be a guest on KunstCapades for their 32nd Episode, March 5th 2016, LIVE from Aggregate Space Gallery. We chatted on topics ranging from the New York vs. Bay Area art scene to Slayer and ((SUN)) and naturally the future direction of Pro Arts. Josh and Tim were the best hosts I can dream of and the purple drinks (oh so pretty!!!) that Robyn concocted were out of this world…Perfect rainy Saturday afternoon, spent in the company of super rad Josh, Tim and Robyn and a great LIVE crowd. Special shout out to Conrad and S.d. Willis for being such great gallerists and hosts and for bringing KunstCapades to Oakland, thus introducing us — the locals — to their raw genius!
Join KunstCapades for their 33rd episode and the final live recording of our Aggregate Space Gallery residency, featuring special surprise guests and custom bar offerings: Saturday, March 19, 2016, 1:00 p.m. @ ASG, 801 West Grand Avenue, Oakland, CA 94607. Listen to KunstCapades here: on iTunes and kunstcapades.tumblr.com .
Listen to the KunstCapades Episode 32 (with special guests Natalia Mount & Sarah Hotchkiss) here: