Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Last Days

We ate dinner Tuesday night at Djerassi director Margot's house, which is the former house of Pamela Djerassi, founder Carl Djerassi's daughter who took her own life many many years ago.  Beautiful house, but quite isolated - not a good place to be if you are depressed.  The dinner was lively and funny - chemical engineer Curt told stories about the kind of food he grew up eating in Minnesota, with doctor/biographer Charlotte chiming in about her mother's cooking in Tennessee.  Lots of jello, spam, canned veggies, white bread, fake whip cream in a can, dreaded lima beans (they both had to eat everything on their plate or stay at the table until they finished).  We laughed through the meal.  Visual artist Meredith gave a surprise performance lying on the table (cleared of dishes) with projections on the ceiling - a hilarious send up of "what is art."  After returning to our property, we gathered in the artist house and Jim gave us all surprise gifts - etched plexiglass tiles with one of his physics symbols on it - quite beautiful.  We all gathered round talking about this art/science residency and what can be done to truly start a meaningful conversation about the intersection of the two.  Then on to the artist barn, where we danced until 1:15, letting our joy flow out.  Our Indonesian residents, Budi and Andreas, had to leave on Tuesday at 8 am, but they partied along with us.
Last day, getting everything together and trying to sear the beauty of the landscape into my brain. The day starts with fresh baked scones by Sasha.   I am sitting in my studio writing this, enveloped in peace, quiet and serenity looking at the vistas beyond.  Basket making workshop this afternoon with Sasha, final dinner, then sharing our favorite poems with each other after.  A fitting end to this time together.
This has been one of the most fulfilling, enriching and inspiring experience I've ever had.  I am beyond grateful that I got to live it with this amazing group of people - each so unique and so memorable.  I will cherish my days here and hold them close to my heart.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I Danced

Sunday, 7/27, was Open House at Djerassi.  Once a year they invite the public to the property for hiking and artist presentations.  300 people (the maximum) showed up and wandered the grounds, packing into performances and gobbling down pizza made by Dan (our amazing chef).  There were about 10 plein air painters from the local community scattered throughout the property painting the beautiful landscapes they saw before them.  For my presentation I danced both of Pireeni's poems that I had choreographed, and did a few short improvs similar to what my dancers did recently - I handed out slips of paper and people wrote what they desired on them.  I put them in a big bowl, drew out a few one by one, and then improvised on what was written.  Imagine this one:  I desire unlimited sex with multiple partners with no social consequences.  That was a doozy!  I haven't performed in public for probably 20 years and surprisingly I really enjoyed myself.  The poems spoke to me and the improv was great fun.  As I danced I remembered the feeling of every part of my being coming together - body, mind, emotions, spirit - this is what I always loved about it.  As I danced I felt my spirit rise above the audience and settle on them in a benediction of gratitude. 


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Final week

It's hard to believe that this is the final week.  We are all trying to live in the present, but are pretty dismayed about the prospect of returning to the "real world".  Here is a picture of my day today:  yoga in the morning with Devavani and Sasha, downloading pictures that Devavani took around the property including numerous pictures of a banana slug that was the pinnacle of Devavani's walk with me yesterday, she even took a video of it.  Lunch with some residents, sitting around catching up on what everyone had done that morning.  Work in my studio after lunch, finished choreography to a poem by Pireeni with music by Ari and worked on some new phrases for my project in September in Long Beach.  Pireeni came to see the dance, talked with her about possibilities for future collaborations and performances.  She brought a CD of a project she did with her husband Colm, an exceptional musician. Titled Bridge Across the Blue it teamed poets and musicians from different cultures that normally do not work together.  We listened to a track where she sonorously read her poem in Dravidian (Tamil), English and ended in Gaelic (Colm's native language) accompanied by Colm's haunting music that marries Irish and Indian raga music.   Simply beautiful.  Dinner prepared by chef Dan - delicious vegie stir fry with tempeh.  Afterward walk to artist barn, take out my drawing material and begin sketching the landscape.  As it get darks outside, I return to my studio and listen to the rest of Pireeni's CD.  Is it any wonder I'm dismayed about the loss of all this time and interchange with others?  

Friday, July 18, 2014


Take this image: a string seems to be unraveling from her body.  It is like a skein of silk looping out, unfurling as if her being was made of cloth and she sees that the fabric is made of a billion tiny dancers – each one of them now pirouetting, moving, leaping, tumbling – out of sync with each other – the central timing, cadence, rhythm falling apart.  That's from Devavani Chatterjea relating to immunology. A poem by Pireeni Sundaralingam that's so visual and kinesthetic that I see it in my mind's eye.  Music by Ari Frankel that spans from text integrated music to driving, pulsating energy to achingly beautiful.   Mechanized flip charts by physicist Jim Crutchfield that spin out patterns that leap, twirl and glide.  A 3- D vortex that you enter and become the center of by geologist Dawn Sumner.  Dreams visualized in drawings by artist Meredith Tromble will eventually be placed in the 3-D vortex.  I take the image, I have the poem, the music is on a thumb drive, I look over and over at the flip charts, I enter the 3-D vortex, I see the dreams.  I talk and see and listen to all of these scientists and artists, and the information incubates inside of me.  I don't know when or how it will come out, but fertile ground is being laid.  Like the fog that rolls in in the morning, eventually clearing to a breathtaking view, creation awaits.  This is the magic of this residency.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Plumbing art and science

Last night we had a discussion with the artists and scientists about art/science collaborations - what they are, do they work, who’s interested in them, etc.  Lively for sure.  The jury is out about these collaborations - 2 of the scientists think most scientists aren’t interested or don't care, 2 think scientists gain more from such collaborations than artists do.  All the artists seemed interested.  So I guess it’s a matter of finding the right scientists - no big surprise.  But we all agreed curiosity is the motivating force for both scientists and artists.

Immunologist Devavani Chatterjea and I have been talking about a melding of our practices.  I asked her to write down some images of the process of immunology, and when she gave them to me I asked for her to make them more pictorial.  She came up with a picture/story that is a wonderful script for a dance.  Meanwhile she came to my studio and did a movement exploration session with me.  So we are reaching some common ground that can be built upon.  Devavani suggested that to get a true idea of what she does it would be good to come to her lab for a period of time (week?) and not only observe but participate, and for her to do the same coming to rehearsals with me.  She teaches at a small college in Minnesota, so it's not exactly close, but doable.  We're having fun playing with different scenarios and she's adding more story images.

Today I'm meeting with chaos/pattern formation physicist Jim Crutchfield.  In his presentation to the group he talked about how he makes objects to help him understand the theories he's working out.  He showed this 3 column flip chart that has physics symbols on the face of each card that is in each column.  It's mechanical so he can turn it on and the cards all flip at the same time.  The most amazing patterns emerge - I of course immediately saw the potential for a dance based on the patterning of the flip chart. So we're meeting to determine if the patterns can be mapped out in a way that will enable me to work with them to put bodies in space.

In the end it doesn't matter to me whether or not most scientists are interested in working with artists, I just need to find the ones that are.  And they're out there.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Creating at Djerassi

Today I pulled out Carl Djerassi's (the founder of Djerassi) autobiography to browse.  I read the chapter where he talks about his daughter's suicide and how he subsequently founded this artist residency program in her honor.  She was an artist and among other things struggled with the commercial art scene.  He talks about the artists that have been here - both highly acknowledged ones as well as many who have not received public recognition- and the work that they created that only could have come from their residency here.  It got me thinking what I could create that was specific to this residency.

I decided that I would draw the contours of the landscape, what I could see from my studio and from the artist barn where my studio is located.  I put aside feelings of not be able to draw, and just tried as best I could, using pencil and paper.  I came up with a reasonable approximation.  I then mapped out my drawing in words that I could use to construct movement.  Here is the map:

Map of the horizon from my studio: in 3 movements

Movement 1:  walk - slight rise - small dip - small rise - big dip     Terrain

Movement 2: Blip (tree) - space - big block (trees) tapering down - space - blip - space - 2 blips - small space - small blip - smallish space - 2 blips - medium height block      Vegetation

Movement 3:  level line - disappear - long line of very slight undulations - disappear - shorter line with slight undulation    Horizon

I began working on the first movement today.  We'll see where it leads.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

My Spot

I believe I have found my favorite spot on the Djerassi property. Cube in Redwood Stumps by artist David Nash, set amidst the forest.  It is so peaceful here, enveloping one like a golden-green cape with brown threads strewn through.  It feels old, but there are new shoots pushing through the dirt.

I have come here to read one of residents artists, Pireeni's, poetry anthology Indivisible - contempoary South Asian American poetry.  Why don't I read poetry at home?  I think it's because you can't read poetry fast, you have to chew it slowly and like a cow re-chew it to find it's essence or even to find some meaning.  But it's succinctness and brevity is refreshing - just enough cool to water to slake your thirst.  And no more.  You have to slow down to the cadence of the words, even if they trip and slide quickly you have to be able to catch and hold them.  Poetry for me isn't life in the fast lane and that's probably why in my no-time-for-many-things everyday life I don't read it.  But here, it's a gift that I'm unwrapping with care, taking pains not to tear the fabric of the language.