Cross Pollination

Week 6: Sharing “Drawing Sounds”

Below is the digital sharing from Lyric, Mike, and Adrienne’s collaboration. Enjoy the binaural sounds of this drawing best by listening with headphones.

This digital recording was made during the creation of this image:

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If you’re interested in reading more about Lyric, Mike, and Adrienne’s work together you can check out Arianna’s short essay “Seeing Sounds, Hearing Shapes,” or Adachi Pimentel’s photography. If you’d like to learn more about the collaborators, check out this page.

Week 8: Sharing

Below you’ll find the digital sharing of Jaime, Magda, Chelsea, and Adrienne’s week together. It’s titled Shame, and features pictures taken by everyone in the group as well as an original story by Jaime. We recommend you view this book by maximizing this pane on your screen, and scrolling.

If you are interested in reading more about this week’s collaboration, check out Arianna’s short essay, “Exploring Shame” or take a look at Adachi Pimentel’s photos from the residency. To read more about the artists you can check out their profiles here.

Week 8: Exploring Shame

Jaime Alvarez, a multimedia artist and photographer, Adrienne, and Magda San Millan and Chelsea Murphy (aka Magda and Chelsea), dance and performance artists, came together for a week to think about the performance of shame and depictions of shame in art. How do we document shame? How can we recreate the feeling of shame or inspire it in others?

Early in the process, the group came up with the idea to create “still life images of shame,” brainstorming ideas about specific gestures or situations that might communicate that emotional state through art. Examples included images in which people were laying face down on the floor, hiding their face, or looked as though they were “caught” by the camera. The group was also interested in creating images of things that “might feel shameful” while making them feel “soft or inviting [by] diffusing them with pleasure.” Interested in experiments that would integrate elements of vocal improvisation, performance, movement, and photography, they set out to find ways to expand their own perceptions of live performance and photography. As a witness to this process, I will offer some insight into the exercises they performed during the course of their research, as well as what was going on just outside of the frame of some of the photographs captured in their sharing, here.

A brief critical context might help frame the experiments they conducted throughout their collaboration. Conversations throughout the week coalesced around the differences in both temporality and subjectivity between live performance and photography. Live performance disappears as it is happening; those exact moments in time can never be recreated or repeated. Photographs, however, are indexical signs of the past – they capture a moment “as it was,” preserving it precisely and in perpetuity. Similarly, as a medium, performance capitalizes on the subjectivity of individual performers while photography has the power to objectify and reproduces subjects. These distinctions prompted them to explore how they might combine live performance and photography in ways that challenged the traditional intersection of these two mediums: bad PR photos. What could they do instead of using photography to document or prove the existence of performance?

As a way through this question, the group experimented with “translation.” What if a photographer listened to a violinist, then used photography to recreate that music without capturing the actual violinists’ performance? As much of Jaime’s previous work proves, photography can be used to create art that is non-literal and non-documentary. The group brainstormed ways to use photography as an instigator, and end-in-and-of-itself.

The early exercises the group worked with were movement and vocal improvisations. Magda and Chelsea lead the group in exercises that required a leader to influence the movements of their follower with touch, and later, sound. Leaders would translate an impulse they had into the body of their follower, concentrating on different touch and sound qualities. A brusque or rough touch might inspire a skeletal or jerky movement, while a deep sound may encourage a follower to sit down or plod forward in a heavy way.

The group continued to explore the interactions between live performance and photography, creating movement-photography duets. One person was directed to move or complete a series of actions, while the other would follow with the camera.

Chelsea and Magda created a movement piece in which Chelsea moved throughout the space while Magda followed her with the camera. It was fascinating to observe this documentary dance, noticing the ways in which the framing impulse of the camera influenced Chelsea’s movement in the space. At which moments was she most conscious of the camera’s gaze? How was she responding to Magda’s efforts to frame the photograph? Magda’s dance as she maneuvered the camera was not captured by the camera’s lens. Instead, her movements are recorded by the perspective of the images in this series. This photo series is the translation of a movement impulse into a photograph.

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Another translation exercise required everyone to think about what they are ashamed of and prepare a self-portrait. Chelsea drew a picture of herself, titled “Vapid Teeny-Bopper Portrait”.

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Here’s what she had to say about the drawing:

Chelsea Murphy: I am small and I’m cute on the outside, but on the inside I’m not cute. Sometimes I don’t even feel like a girl. I am bigger than that. I’m like a young boy and a grandma. I counteract my outside by taking up more space. I’m really afraid of being called stupid or ditzy, I make my voice lower. I try to own the bigness of me.

Arianna Gass: Why did you draw such big eyes in your photo?

CM: I feel like big eyes make me look like a little stupid girl.

AG: And the headphones?

CM: That’s a teeny-bopper thing. The thing I’m shameful of is that [this picture] exists in me. I didn’t expect to feel shame [while] taking these photos, but I totally did.

Taking her drawing as inspiration, the whole team worked together to create a “shameful” scenario for Chelsea. We had 90s pop music playing loudly, we gave Chelsea some gum to chew, Magda chose her dress, and everyone shouted encouragement as she posed for the photograph. Here’s one of the shots:

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Sometimes, these shameful photos took more than just a scenario. Adrienne’s shame portrait was about being “afraid that I’m a huge giant that crushes things, that I’m too big, I make big sounds.” She had brought in an assortment of objects that evoked shame, including a box of jewelry she had broken on stage while performing as The Truth. Magda commented that if Adrienne was afraid of being too big, she should pose in a “barbaric” way. As we had with Chelsea, we costumed Adrienne and got her to pose in front of the camera, but a costume, some music, and encouragement weren’t quite enough. As Jaime captured the photographs, Adrienne started to sing opera. Soon, Magda and Chelsea hung off of her arms, just out of frame. We had Adrienne bang loudly on a drum. It was not enough to create the situation – she had to perform it.

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As the group continued to work together, they experimented with more photo series, both posed and improvised, that included aspects of shame and the translation of musical or movement impulses into photographs. Photographs of Kewpie-doll Magda; hair, both chest and pubic; bare bellies and butt-cracks were the results of this work, and they all proved that photography could augment live performance, working in more than just the traditional documentary realm.

In several photographs, they demonstrated the ways that photography could capture what was never really there, or erase what exists.

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They also showed ways in which photographs could tell a story, and how the modern dance structure of accumulation could manifest itself visually.

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This residency week culminated in the creation of a “story box of shame” – a series of photographs and one transcribed story that evoke and invoke elements of shame. The box is like a Flux Kit: a mixed-media experience that encourages participants to excavate their own feelings about shame. Shame is a floating blue cloud or disappearing white glow. It is exactly how dumb we look when we are dancing, or moving, or singing, or smiling. It’s what we fear we are, or know we aren’t, but still think about sometimes. The box (or digitally, the PDF) is more than a record of this collaboration. Its a short performance, an uncanny dance of those things that we hide away, that make us blush, that beg for a second look.


Arianna Gass is a recent graduate of Vassar College. In addition to documenting Cross Pollination, she is the Program Manager for Drexel University’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio. Her own art practice is located at the intersection of digital and embodied play, and her scholarship focuses on feminism, performance studies, and game studies. You can find more of her writing and work at www.ariannagass.com.

Week 7: Writing Our Selves Together

“As a trio we’ve been moving between our own personal feelings/work and the creative space that is both solo and shared and those things are interweaving this week.”

The week between Omar, Katherine, and Adrienne consisted of a lot of talking and writing. They shared a lot of common ground as artists; all three write and all three have been involved with theater in some capacity. Omar has worked with the NY NeoFuturists, Katherine is a costume designer and artistic associate at Philadelphia Artists Collective, and Adrienne devises plays for her own company, Swim Pony. Perhaps because they share so much common ground, this trio really dug in to talk about themselves as creators and artists.

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For the first few days of the collaboration they sat in the MAAS building talking about their lives, feminism, and “otherness” in theater. They talked about their fears, both professional and personal.

adrienne katherine Photo by Adachi Pimentel.

“Whenever you bomb [a performance], it’s like getting closer to god.” – Omar

“Was I supposed to go to law school and get married and have babies? Have I just been lazy this whole time?” – Katherine

“It’s interesting to notice the projects that have been satisfying to me: they have nothing to do with professionalism.” – Adrienne

“I started writing plays where I had to do something I couldn’t do.” – Omar

“I don’t believe that people are fundamentally ethical. Ethical systems are contextual and constructed.” – Adrienne

“I would be nicer to myself if I could do it again.” – Katherine

omar adrienne Photo by Adachi Pimentel.

This morphed into a conversation about what they wanted to make. They decided to start with some writing exercises; start from nothing, then swap writing somewhere in the middle.

Sitting in the basement of Chapterhouse, Omar dared us all to complete prompts that challenged us to write something that would be challenging for us. We all doubled back and dared Omar to start a piece filled with unflagging optimism. We would switch writers after 20 minutes, then again after 30, and again after 40.

No disrespect to Mr. Cube, but I’m going to talk about a perfect day. Not just a good day. Perfect.

In MAAS, Katherine started a story about a boy that owned no books. A collaborative effort, the story seamless flowed between Katherine, Adrienne, and Omar’s prose.

She took a moment to watch him. The black rim glasses, the full beard, flannel shirt. She couldn’t believe she was even considering this. She imagined that if magic existed, some crazy, old wizard was smoking some really good Hobbit weed, surfed to a fashion blog and decided to turn a single gear bicycle into a real boy.

Adrienne started a piece about Fox Mulder:

I want to believe that I am not, as they tell me, a 12 year old girl from Merrimont Middle School. That I am not merely a fan of some conspiracy theory laced television show. That I am not a “lovesick fan” or an “actor-obsessed teenager.”

I am an FBI agent. And believe I have been transported by an unknown technological force into an alternate reality program in which I am trapped.

And these writing sessions, focused on taking a piece of someone else’s writing and seamlessly blending your own style with that of the writer before you, devolved back into conversations:

Apparently, the game I mentioned was a game he had played a lot as a kid. I didn’t realize that his negative response was stemmed from the fact that he was feeling attacked. I needed to acknowledge the reason for his defensiveness. I didn’t realize I was attacking who he was.

Towards the end of the week, the trio was on a roll with writing exercises. Sometimes they gave each other prompts, sometimes they wrote from pieces of music or pictures. They started to figure out a way to bring other people into this writing practice. They would give people prompts and ask them to write, switching pieces after 20, then 25, then 30 minutes. Prompts included:

Begin with an argument on Facebook.
Write down as many words for one minute as you possibly can. Don’t think, just write. Now delete them all. Begin to write your story.
I didn’t think success would look like this.
You have nothing to be ashamed about.
It’s complicated to some but not for your narrator.
Murphy’s law as a person.
Try writing as a different gender, race, age, class, etc. Pick at least two different categories.

These prompts would help people dig deeper and examine the tiny voices and inner selves we all play host to. So much of the week with these artists was about writing deeper – exploring the places they might not go unprompted. Invitations were sent out to friends to join them in giving their inner voices free reign over their keyboards for a few hours. The goal was to write without judgement, respect the writer that came before you, feel free in your own ability to express yourself.

These writing exercises were like little exorcisms that allowed this other person to peek out from behind the curtain of our outer selves. One story was about a haunted room in a basement, another about a person someone used to know.

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Who are the people we carry inside of ourselves, and how do they control who we are in the world?

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Do we hold these selves apart from each other? If so how do we reconcile these differences?

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Arianna Gass is a recent graduate of Vassar College. In addition to documenting Cross Pollination, she is the Program Manager for Drexel University’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio. Her own art practice is located at the intersection of digital and embodied play, and her scholarship focuses on feminism, performance studies, and game studies. You can find more of her writing and work at www.ariannagass.com.

Week 8: Jaime and Magda and Chelsea

Jaime Portrait

Jaime Alvarez is an artist living and working in Philadelphia. While his background is in photography, his work has involved sculpture and installation. He has exhibited work in
the US and internationally. For more information, please see http://www.jaimephoto.com.

Magda and Chelsea Portrait

Magda and Chelsea began collaborating in 2012 while studying at the Headlong Performance Institute in Philadelphia. Their pieces are composed of self-love, subversive humor, feminist spit, and sexual, angst-ridden cries against society. The genre of their work? Oh, somewhere between TED Talk, modern dance, therapeutic seminar, stand-up comedy, rock concert and abstract theater. Their first piece together: “Rooster and Snowball” has been presented through Jumpstart LiveArts, the LiftOff Festival at the HERE Arts Center, and won the audience favorite award from DanceNow at Joe’s Pub in 2013 where they also performed their second collaborative duet “Singer/Songwriter” in 2014. In December 2014 they premiered their first full evening length piece, “The Vulgar Early Works” at JACK in Brooklyn, also to be presented by FringeArts. The Vulgar EW is a premature retrospective, chronicling all of the work from their first 2.5 years of collaboration. Visit their website for more information: www.everybodygetinthecar.com.