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author: Justin Jones
date: October 8, 2007
source: Critical Correspondence

Justin Jones recently interviewed Olive and Otto about their new show Holiday House. You can listen to a longer version on the Critical Correspondence website.

Justin Jones: Hi, this is Justin Jones sitting down with Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad of the Body Cartography Project and we’re here talking about Holiday House #2, which is taking place in their home in Minneapolis. It’s a reworking of Holiday House—a piece in the theater and also based on a film of the same name. The first question I wanted to ask you today is about your choice to re-present Holiday House. Why you chose to re-do the piece and what the process of re-mounting Holiday House was like?

Olive: In the summer of 2005 we shot the film, it would have been probably in late August, and we did it in over a week or 10 days, approximately. That has sort of evolved itself into a 13-minute film. The following summer we developed the live theater piece for the Momentum Series that took place in July. That was a 45 min. version in 2006…

Otto: …commissioned by the Walker Art Center and the Southern Theater.

Olive: …and then this year, almost14 months later, the hour and 10 min., site-specific version of Holiday House which incorporates the film and material from the Southern (Theater). In a way it’s like the material from the film informed the live work, then the live work and the film both informed this new site version—material has been gathered from both places as well as new material.

Otto: When we made the proposition for doing the Southern show, a lot of it was about re-contextualization—of taking work that we’d done site-specifically and the process of making site specific work, of making film work—and directly overlaying that on making something in the theater and seeing how the process would inform the theater work, specifically addressing the Southern Theater as a theater, but also just ‘theater’ as a template.

Olive: By bringing people into the house, the house is already generating so much of the context, in terms of the scenography, the dramaturgical concerns, in a way that there’s more room for dancing somehow within that formula. I think that there’s something about really bringing the audience into having a very direct kinesthetic experience—the opening of the piece is like bodies moving past them, banging into them—really having them walk and move through the house and have these different sensory experiences in different parts of the house. And then bringing them out into the alley and actually letting them sit down towards the end of the piece for the first time and letting them sit and be this more, I don’t want to say passive audience, but definitely more like a theatrical audience situation than in the rest of the show. They then get to go into this other state having had this very physical and sensorial experience. It’s something about the intimacy and bringing the material two feet away or in direct contact with the audience that’s very exciting.

Otto: Well and that part, when we transition from in the house to in the alley, it’s like in the house it’s really the feeling of watching people in a house, and then I think that when we move out of the house, back into the alley and people sit down, it’s like making a theater out of an alley. So there’s like a different kind of transparency or mutability of the different spaces that you can play with.

Olive: It also goes from smaller spaces to a bigger space, and in the same way the content or the activity goes from more literal activity and mundane activity to more, not abstract, but definitely less literal and less everyday. It gets more extraordinary in terms of the arc or the movement material.

J.J.: That seems to relate to the title of the piece and to what I’ve read and what I’ve heard you say about a perceptual shift that you go through, as I understand it, and that I’ve experienced when I’m on vacation—the way that activities become framed in different a different way, and that perceptual shift that you have when you’re on holiday with friends. I wanted to ask you about how, having worked on this piece in so many iterations and for such a long time, has you’re understanding of that title [Holiday House] and that subject matter changed and how has that shifted for you as you’ve worked on this [version of the piece].

Otto: Well, we have an opportunity in this piece, more than in the theater and the film, because we have many spaces with different permeability of division between them. You know, sound, visual, different temperature, haptic spaces that we can really specify the experience of the audience to a far greater degree. So we have that fundamental ability to be in different spaces with our specific materials that are inherent to them that we can accentuate and, we have that as a basis. Then a lot of the play in this piece was about how different senses work together, and how you’re imagination works with the different senses. If you hear someone in the basement for a while and then you see a video image of them later in the piece, then you start to build up a schema of like, “Okay I think that that’s there,” and then when you get there you have a relationship across time like “I thought it was like this but really this is bigger, okay, and it has this temperature, and we saw this one person down there but now we realize there’s two people.” And then when you go from the first floor to the basement, you realize that the whole house is wired up with different cameras and so you… I think some people had talked about, some of the people we work with, the guides—they said that when they got down there [the basement], they became more implicated because they realized that maybe they were being filmed the whole first half of the piece. And then they were watching everyone else in the different places.

Olive: The reality of working on the show was totally not the reality of the premise. Because the time span has been so short that our house has not been a holiday house. It’s been more like a slave labor camp. The initial film was more like a holiday and this was really compressed. I do think of that premise and I do think about, when you are on holiday, not just the quality of the time that you spend with each other and how, because there’s no schedule, people eat at weird times, or they all end up congregating in the kitchen at two o’clock in the morning, you know, those sorts of things.

But I also think about this idea of time travel too, that somehow when you’re on holiday you have this time for stuff to come up. And stuff comes up, in terms of memory. And you really have time to open your senses to things in a different way, and you have time to be nostalgic about things or time to have memories of other holidays. There’s this layering that happens which doesn’t happen everyday when you’re manically dealing with your everyday life, administrating yourself and you’re rushing from one place to another—you’re trying to stay present with stuff. But there’s this spaciousness that I’m really interested in, in terms of the time traveling piece and in terms of the layering of history somehow that I think about when I think of that title, because in a way that title’s kind of tongue-in-cheek in a humorous, weird fifties…thing.

J.J.: I’m glad that you mentioned time travel because I kept thinking about the piece that happened a year ago in the theater as I was watching the piece last night. It was just so delightful to be able to do that. You don’t have that experience often to think back over a year of time in relationship to a performance work. So I was having that experience of traveling back in time to this other piece—having the fantasy that when I watched the piece a year ago, that the piece I saw last night was happening at the same time, and then also the way that the sounds of the performers, the sound of Karen Sherman’s leg, mic-ed, happening inside, and that being projected outside the house and looping over time and then existing in time. The house just seemed laden with and heavy with its own short-term memory.

I wanted to ask you guys about how you’re thinking about time travel in this work and how maybe that relates to the text we hear at the beginning of the show about space and time and the nature of space and time and the big bang and black holes.

Otto: I’ll just start with the science lectures done by Bryce Beverlin II. I think it relates to the whole agency of the house also and the perceptual experience of space and all of this. What we wanted to accomplish with those lectures is give people information to be able to have a perceptual and tangible physical experience of physics that they can put their body into it. Like when Bryce talks about escape velocity and how fast you need to go to escape the gravity of the earth, which is 7 miles per second. We just wanted to see if we could get people into that process of seeing the stars, having a miles-per-hour relationship to gravity, seeing one star as a multiple of them, and that once you get information about physics and phenomena, then you’re perception changes and then maybe you could have a physical relationship to it.

Olive: And to add something, especially to that first section, I think that there was also this idea of how could we do “Google Earth” on a physical level without using any technology.

J.J.: Low budg[-et]

Olive: Yeah, to give people the context that the house is in the universe, the house is in the world, and physical principals are operating in order for this house to be here and this lawn to be here and for you to be standing here and for you to be able to move around and for each of these activities or events to be able to happen. These are the principals that we need in order to make this work. It’s like the view from up in outer space and then here you are.

Otto: It relates also to Body Mind Centering in particular because we see things all around us, but also in our body, we have many different sensations, and in the process of studying B.M.C. over years and years, you start to put names and titles or markers to experiences and sensations that you’ve had your whole life. Like feelings of pain you have in a knee and then you know what nerve it is, or feelings you have of pressure in your organs and then you know what organ they are. There are many different experiences of phenomena that happen that we don’t name and then once we do, our perception has changed. I guess that I’m hoping the same thing happens with the house, that as you hear different things before you see them, and you see things and then you hear something different than what you’re seeing, like you were talking about, the delay, and about how you hear a sound that hits on the table and then you see it and then thirty seconds later you hear it again and it has a delay. And the way we have it set up is that you hear the live sound unprocessed amplified sound and then processed amplified sound like all together to add layers of experience on top of it. I hope by adding it you get to really notice what the original source was more. The more layers, you’re perceptually paring down to the primary experience of the material like, “table” and this is what it could be. It’s like a perceptual game the whole trilogy.

And then that relates to the whole “holiday” thing—is taking your perceptions to a new place and then noticing what materials… what they do, what their affect is after you’ve shifted your perception. All of the iterations of the piece were about the inheritance of the family you grew up with. The psychology you inherit and the physicality that you inherit over time, and how it manifests in your dancing, and how you use it consciously and unconsciously. Particularly in the section of “wandering off” [a section of the piece where the group repeatedly groups together and then splits away into smaller numbers]: how you deal socially with groups of people is inherited from your family and then what you do when you remove your self socially off on your own—how you express that. I also experienced that as you become an adult, especially in the United States where you have this nuclear family obsession, you really kind of go away from original family. And then you’re out and there’s this idea that you’ve left your family. But I think that you really are just creating a larger family. You’re creating connections with other people. And then in the dance world I think that becomes even more of a factor because you have collaborations that go over years. You spend a lot of time together in an empty room where you just have your body and your personality and—you’re just in an empty room, you’re not typing on something or painting on something—it’s just us there.

Politically, also, the whole gay marriage—not debate but disaster—the whole legal imposition onto family. I wanted to highlight that this model of making these family units like we have in dance is similar to the gay, lesbian, trans. community. You make the family that you want because you’re not allowed a place, legally, to have that. It’s terrible and at the same time you make something out of it that’s amazing because you get to generate…

Olive: …your own form, your own structure.

Otto: Yeah.

J.J.: In many ways I feel like the cast is the main subject matter, especially relating to what you’re talking about—this idea of intentional family. But also I’m curious about how, in your process, you work with them as people who have their own critical voice, who are such brilliant choreographers in their own right.

Olive: Often, when we’re working with live performance and video layering together—video material that has been improvised and then Otto and I have edited, or in this case, I’ve edited it down to a very distilled thing, we go back in and dance on top of it, and that material gets set. There’s choreographic offerings from everybody. Once the material gets set, that’s a decision. I mean, that’s pretty traditional process in that way. But I think in terms of the structured improvisational stuff, that’s really based on who people are as movers, and what each of those people brings both on a choreographic level but also, almost, it’s not character, but on a character level. In some ways, who they are as a body and as a physical presence and as a person, because this piece is so much about the ‘people-ness’ of these people. There isn’t the artifice of a person on top of who they are, but there’s something that’s being drawn out of who each of them are, who each of these people are as performers, and we’re exploring this idea of people being people rather than just being dancers. And that’s been incredibly important to all of our work in the last few years, but in particular to this piece.

Otto: It’s very challenging to work with all choreographers instead of people that mainly interpret, but I almost want to say that I always want to work with just other choreographers because I also want to learn about, not just my work by doing my work, but by having it analyzed and challenged and taken apart and questioned by other people that make their own work. And then in that process I also learn about their work because I know: oh, Kristin [Van Loon] is saying this because I’ve seen her work, she’s saying this because that’s her aesthetic, what she likes about that. And so I know where she’s coming from. I don’t have to take everything as a challenge of my work. It’s coming from their work and what they want.

Olive: What they like stylistically.

J.J.: And just to be clear the cast is…

Olive: The composer is Tim Glen, and then Bryce Beverlin II is performer and sound-maker. And the dancers are Karen Sherman, Morgan Thorson, Kristin Van Loon, Otto Ramstad and myself, Olive Beiringa.

I would like to come back to the Haunted House/Neighborhood Danger/ the history of the neighborhood, and what’s happening in the neighborhood right now, and sort of the darkness aspect a little bit.

J.J.: That’s certainly something that came through in the performance. I mean from the beginning of the show there’s this signal, the sound of a Theremin, which made me think of a haunted house. And then, being led by a docent, and being taken through all these spaces, especially being taken down to a dark basement. There is something about, not the subject matter at all but the, like you said, the agency of the house working in a way that made me think of a haunted house. I think it’s not really like a haunted house, it’s something like taking a tour of a house that people say that there’s ghosts in. Rather than going somewhere where it’s set up to scare you, its just a place that’s maybe an old house that had things other than humans living in it, and by things other than humans, maybe it’s the experiences of the house living inside of the house over time.

There are moments when I was thinking about what it must be like to be in a house after someone’s died in the house. I mean there are all these things that happen in the house, death and sex and birth. And I was thinking about all these things that happen in homes, and then I was thinking about how those things actually don’t happen in homes anymore. Or about the way that those things have shifted from in-the-house activities to out-of-the-house activities, you know, people dying in hospice centers and not in their homes, or people giving birth not in their homes, but in the hospital. And how that has shifted our perception of home and our experience of what a house is. It’s not a hospital, it’s not a deathbed; it’s a cleaner environment where you…sleep.

Otto: And then there’s the whole thing about the tenement museum in New York. You go there and they give this speech about the people that used to live there and this and that. And I thought those are all designed art experiences, and are those the only designed art experiences that we go into a house context to see? Usually it’s at a museum, or a theater, or a hospital, or a hospice center. We’re talking about life processes put in institutions, versus being in houses. And that’s pretty interesting that the ones that we have—that we actually visit a house in culture, have to do with supernatural and death and historical time—things that become more profound because of their context. That they wouldn’t work if taken out of context. I mean, they would but they would just be conceptual and you can’t embody them unless you’re in the context. There’s a connection between those things you were talking about, about life processes and houses and then experiences of public coming into houses, and institution versus house, and how those interact.

J.J.: And the transition that some houses make from being ‘house’ to institution. That seems to be something that’s also happening, a tension between domestic environment and some kind of institution, although it’s a small one, it does become a kind of institution. You know, people call and make reservations on your phone and there’s a formalism about how I’m allowed to interact with your house by the docent. The docent’s telling me where to go when. It’s not just a free experience, there’s still a kind of enforced behavior on the audience even though the perceptual experience is opened.

Olive: I also think, you know, I didn’t grow up in Minneapolis; I grew up in New Zealand. So, for me this geographical landscape is still new in some ways: to have a wooden house next to another wooden house next to another wooden house. If I look out my kitchen, I see into my neighbor’s kitchen. If I look out my living room, I can see into my other neighbor’s kitchen. So, I have these people right next to me. I grew up in a context that was hilly, it wasn’t flat and it wasn’t squares. It was, you know, you had your house and you couldn’t see anything (maybe you could see a house up the hillside or something) because there are trees everywhere. It’s just different, it’s a different context. And that was in the city, it wasn’t in the countryside, but it’s more spacious, and we didn’t have alleys. So for me the whole thing with the backyard and the alley… and then Otto has this incredible vegetable garden out the back that, you know, we have this season in Minnesota which is like this four month or maybe five month growing season where it becomes tropical. So you go from having nothing to having this complete transformation of the vegetation in this very short space of time. So there’s something very magical about that—we’re just coming to the end of that arc right now. We’re transitioning into everything going back down into the earth in the next month or next six weeks or so.

So there’s this whole other kind of private world—it’s a public space, but it’s kind of like, you don’t share your yard necessarily with your neighbors; you share this back alley-trash-building kind of space. And there’s really a darkness for me out there. And this neighborhood in particular, right now there’s quite a lot of violence happening. There’s a lot of gang violence happening and some random shootings. For example, a cyclist was killed two blocks from here last week.

J.J.: That was two blocks from here?

Olive: Yeah, it was two blocks from here.

Otto: Elliott and 37th.

Olive: He was a friend of a friend and he was riding his bike and someone threw something at him, a blunt object. And we were rehearsing the other night and at the end of rehearsal there was a shooting one block away and the whole street was closed off. And then also we were rehearsing and someone ran into a house on the corner and threw a brick or a big object at the window and then the police showed up. So there’s a lot of police activity and violence that’s going on. And so to be rehearsing in the midst of that creates some level of anxiety but of course it informs and has informed the work from the outset also. I think we talked about that in the first interview a little bit, this element of danger or accident, or the possibility of accidents.

J.J.: I remember Otto saying “Safety Second”

Olive: “Safety Second,” exactly… Also this quality of a murder mystery that never really happens. There’s the big knives in the piece and the death scene at the end of the video, and these things that are there that are made reference to but it’s never fully played out. It’s like the shadow. There’s a very strong shadowing in the whole piece and I think that also the quality and the agency of the house and this kind of haunted sense of the house with the walls talking is part of that darkness in a way. That I feel has been very present in the process.

Otto: But also the literal darkness, that the piece happens at night. And we’re using lights to highlight and specify certain areas, and the magic of light. And when you turn lights on and you feel like, wow, just the thrill of electricity that you can still experience even though we’ve lived our whole lives…

Olive: But you’re lighting up a place you don’t normally light up.

Otto: Then there’s also the converse of it, the dark space. The mystery of what you don’t know, what you can’t see. Because the brightness of something makes the darkness somewhere else on the other side. And then there’s a creativity in that as well. That there are spaces that you don’t know and you can’t see. That plays into the senses too. You might be able to hear things, but because you can’t see them, it changes the way you hear them. Like when you’re in the basement and there’s a sound installation, or when there’s twelve different sound sources that are hidden in the rafters and underneath things and then, because it’s relatively dark and you can’t see all of them, it adds another layer of mystery as to what you can see and can’t see. There’s a darkness about human experience and violence, but then there’s also just literal darkness that we’re working with in the piece.

J.J.: Well Otto and Olive, I’ve had such a great time talking to you today and I really appreciate you taking time out to talk with us for the very first cross-country Critical Correspondence.

Olive: Fantastic.

J.J.: Yes, it’s really excellent and best of luck with the rest of the run.