Live Arts Bard Presents WE'RE WATCHING, An Exhibition Of New Performance Works About Surveillance
Live Arts Bard (LAB), the residency and commissioning program of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, is pleased to present WE'RE WATCHING, the first major survey of performances by contemporary American artists exploring surveillance and its impact on our identities. Traversing an array of twenty-first century phenomena such as police body cameras, Reddit comments, facial recognition software, Google Street View, and inscrutable digital interfaces, the seven works in WE'RE WATCHING chronicle current (and sometimes speculative) surveillance technologies and their transformative effect on security, privacy, civil liberties, the ways we form relationships and communities, and our sense of ourselves as citizens.
Organized by Gideon Lester, Artistic Director of Theater and Dance, and Caleb Hammons, Senior Producer, WE'RE WATCHING premieres seven new artworks installed and performed in unexpected ways throughout Frank Gehry's landmark performing arts center. "We've commissioned a number of artists to make projects that explore different aspects of surveillance, from social media, to government surveillance, to police body cameras, to facial recognition software and Google Maps," says Lester. "Each of them is asking questions about the way that we live our lives while we're being watched, and the way that surveillance affects the ways that we think of ourselves in this 21st Century age, where every aspect of our lives is affected by surveillance and surveillance technology in ways that we may understand or that may most of the time be completely invisible to us."
The program, developed with support from the Goethe-Institute NYC, also includes Spectatorship in an Age of Mass Surveillance, a symposium for artists and scholars that took place at Bard in September 2016, plus undergraduate courses, public events, and a forthcoming special edition of Yale's Theater magazine.
WE'RE WATCHING features works by artists spanning disciplines-writers, photographers, filmmakers, theater and performance artists, and chorographers-in both traditional and nontraditional spaces in the Fisher Center, including rehearsal studios, wings and storage areas, as well as studios and the theater. WE'RE WATCHING includes:
- Big Art Group's Opacity, which is built around the framework of the "interface," specifically the threat of increasingly opaque intermediation between the digital and the physical. A lone character lies in their bedroom, swiping the phone in search of contact. As the night deepens, their attempts at intimacy unmask a profound and insurmountable corruption.
- Annie Dorsen's The Great Outdoors, in which, in the darkness of a planetarium, a performer guides us on a journey through inner space, stitching together the thoughts of countless individuals using text culled from internet comments. Dorsen sees comments as the Internet's id-unrestrained, anonymous, let loose. Is this id a roiling sea of primal drives? Or a thoroughly structured and colonized territory?
- Hasan Elahi's Retina, a Live Arts Bard commission using Google Street View imagery to interrogate and disorientate our relationship with natural and built environments. In this site-specific work, Elahi makes reference to the camera obscura as one of the oldest types of surveillance technology. His installation interrogates the state's increasing reliance on public-private partnerships for purposes of surveillance.
- Michelle Ellsworth's The Rehearsal Artist, a Live Arts Bard commission. Ellsworth turns a rehearsal studio-turned into laboratory where a small group of audience members peep through a one-way mirror at a performer responding to choreographic instructions, derived from the canon of social science experiments. As the audience's perception shifts and extends, this iterative and playful performance amplifies and destabilizes the act of watching.
- What Remains, a Live Arts Bard commission from writers Homi K. Bhabha and Claudia Rankine, filmmaker John Lucas and choreographer Will Rawls. What Remains stages encounters for a culture that cannot memorialize without exposing society's role in the disturbance and murder of its citizens. Through movement, language, and video it invites us across the threshold of this historical void, creating an immersive environment from the idea of an entombed imagination, and responding to violence and disappearance with a resonant, ghostly chorus.
- Samuel Miller's (Bard College '15) Foundation for Healing, a new form of Virtual Reality therapy that focuses on exorcising trauma and hypervigilence caused by living under mass surveillance. A patient will demonstrate to audiences the intimate methods of mental and spiritual rejuvenation they use to thrive in a hostile digital landscape.
- Alexandro Segade's Future St., a sci-fi saga set in a dystopian Southern California city, where a homosexual police state enforces strict marriage codes among the monitored populace, and an intersectional resistance, made up of queer mutant dissidents and an ancient feminist underground, plots its overthrow. Future St. is a speculative, multi-media theater epic exploring desire, surveillance and the sinister forces of normalization.
WE'RE WATCHING will take place at the Fisher Center over four days, April 27-30, 2017. Marathon tickets for Saturday, April 29, and Sunday, April 30-covering all five performances and two installations-are available for $95. Tickets for individual performances Thursday, April 27, through Sunday, April 30, are $25 ($10 for students) and will be available beginning February 14, 2017. All tickets can be purchased at to fishercenter.bard.edu or 845.758.7900. The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts is located at 60 Manor Avenue, Annandale-On-Hudson, NY, 12504. A roundtrip coach from New York City will be available on Saturday, April 29.
WE'RE WATCHING is the second edition of the Fisher Center's innovative, interdisciplinary Live Arts Bard Biennial. It follows the success of the first edition, The House Is Open (November 2015), which included works by John Kelly, Ralph Lemon, Jennifer Monson, Marc Swanson and Jack Ferver, and Nature Theater of Oklahoma, and was lauded by The New York Times as "an inventive and thoughtfully assembled exhibition."
We're Watching - Featured Artists and Works
Big Art Group
Big Art Group's Opacity is built around the framework of the "interface," specifically the threat of increasingly opaque intermediation between the digital and the physical. A lone character lies in their bedroom, swiping the phone in search of contact. With a friend, they renovate their online persona, receive an invitation from a stranger, and arrange for an evening together. As the night deepens, communications obstruct, destinations evade, and attempts at intimacy unmask a profound and insurmountable corruption. Opacity is a dark reflection on our new strategies of connection, reverberating with dread, oddness, and seduction. The performance uses sculptural, choreographic and computational models to hack, encrypt, spoof, troll, spam and camouflage our digital identities, and return these coded selves to the realms of the real.
Caden Manson and Jemma Nelson formed Big Art Group in 1999 in New York City as a company for the creation of contemporary performance. Big Art Group uses language and media to push formal boundaries of theatre, film and visual arts, and creates culturally transgressive works and innovative performances using original text, technology and experimental methods of communication. In these pieces, Manson invented the integrated spectacle Real-Time Film, a hybrid of cinema and theater in which actors recombined formal ideas of performance through the use of simultaneous acting on stage and for live video using complex choreography, puppetry and autobiography. The company's works exist in the contemporary stream of expanded performance, wherein traditional narratives and established performer-audience relationships have been opened up to create possibilities of innovative discovery. The work blends high and low technology, marginal and mainstream culture, and blunt investigation to drive questions about contemporary experience.
Big Art Group has appeared at and been commissioned by international theater festivals (Festival d'Automne à Paris, Wiener Festwochen, Hebbel am Ufer Berlin, Szene Salzburg, deSingel, Kaaitheater, Walker Arts Center, PICA and the Kitchen among many others); received grants from The Jerome Foundation, The Greenwall Foundation, DNA (Andrew W. Mellon foundation and Arts International,) Florence Gould Foundation, MAP Fund, étant donnés; and has written for Theater Journal, PAJ, TDR, Mouvement and Theater Heute as well as being anthologized in critical studies of contemporary theater. Manson and Nelson also created the social network and web site ContemporaryPerformance.com for the exchange, diffusion and innovation of ideas in contemporary performance by global innovators; it has a viewership of 70,000 practitioners in the field. In addition, Manson and Nelson host an annual festival in New York's Lower East Side in January called Special Effects, to showcase experiments in new practices in the field.
Caden Manson is a 2001 Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellow, is a 2002 Pew Fellow and a 2011 MacDowell Fellow, and currently serves as an Associate Professor and John Wells Graduate Directing Option head at Carnegie Mellon University.
Jemma Nelson, M.S. Biostatistics, is co-founding member of Big Art Group, has written and composed its works, and received a 2009 Fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
The Great Outdoors
In the darkness of a planetarium, The Great Outdoors takes us on a journey through inner space. Using text culled from internet comments, a solo performer gives voice and body to the thoughts of countless individuals all tapping away at their keyboards in isolation. We tend to think of comments as the worst of human communication: the id unrestrained, protected by anonymity and let loose. Where does this id come from, and how does it function? Is it a roiling sea of primal drives? Or a thoroughly structured and colonized territory? Up in the clouds of cyberspace, we encounter the "out-there" and the "in-here" all together at once. And from their collision: contradiction, perplexity and desire. A new form of celestial authority, the Internet is made of us, and not-us. It's a governing body, which regulates and directs the flow of our imaginations into new forms of consumption-in which the primary product we consume is ourselves.
Annie Dorsen is a writer and director who works in a variety of fields, including theatre, film, dance and, as of 2009, algorithmic performance. Most recently, her algorithmic music-theater piece Yesterday Tomorrow premiered at the Holland Festival, and has since been seen at MaerzMusik (Berlin), T2G as part of Festival d'Automne (Paris), Le Maillon (Strasbourg), Théâtre Garonne (Toulouse), and others. Her previous algorithm project, A Piece of Work, premiered at On the Boards (Seattle), and was presented at Théâtre Paris-Villette (Paris), Brooklyn Academy Of Music's Next Wave Festival (NYC), and others. In 2012 she made Spokaoke, a participatory karaoke project that uses political and historical speeches in place of pop songs. Her first algorithmic theatre piece, Hello Hi There, premiered at Streirischer Herbst (Graz) in 2010, and has been presented at over 20 theaters and festivals in the US and Europe, as well as, in installation form, at Bitforms Gallery in New York. She is the co-creator of the 2008 Broadway musical Passing Strange, which she also directed. Spike Lee made a film of her production of the piece, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, and screened everywhere from the Tribeca Film Festival to South by Southwest Film Festival and The Tribeca Film Festival, and was released theatrically by IFC in 2010 before being broadcast on PBS' Great Performances. Also in 2010, she collaborated with choreographer Anne Juren on Magical which premiered at ImPulsTanz Festival (Vienna) and with Ms. Juren and DD Dorviller on Pièce Sans Paroles at brut (Vienna) and Rencontres Choréographiques Internationales Seine-St-Denis (Paris). She has collaborated often with musicians, including Questlove of The Roots on Shuffle Culture (BAM), Laura Karpman and Jessye Norman on Ask Your Mama, a setting of Langston Hughes' 1962 poem (Carnegie Hall) and with the string quartet ETHEL on Truckstop, also at BAM. Her pop-political performance project Democracy in America was presented at PS122 in 2008. Her short film, I Miss, originally the centerpiece of Democracy in America, has screened at American Film Institute Festival (AFI Fest), SXSW Film Festival, The New York Film Festival's "Views From the Avant-Garde" and the Nantucket Film Festival. She is the recipient of a 2008 OBIE Award, the 2014 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, and grants from The MAP Fund and New York State Council on the Arts. In 2017, she begins a visiting professorship in the Theatre and Performance Studies Department at University of Chicago.
In his new series, Retina, Hasan Elahi uses Google Street View imagery to interrogate and disorientate our relationship with natural and built environments. In this site-specific commission, Elahi employs surveillance imagery to render the walls of the Fisher Center apparently invisible, giving spectators an uncanny view of the parkland beyond. The images are printed upside down and inverted in the space, as if generated by a camera obscura. Retina makes reference to the camera as a tool of surveillance and also acknowledges that the camera obscura was one of the oldest types of surveillance technology. The use of Google Street View addresses the state's increasing reliance on public-private partnerships, and the exploitation of "public" data, for purposes of surveillance.
Hasan Elahi is an interdisciplinary artist whose work examines issues of surveillance, citizenship, migration, transport, and borders and frontiers. His work has been presented in numerous exhibitions, at venues such as SITE Santa Fe, Centre Georges Pompidou, Sundance Film Festival, Kassel Kulturbahnhof, The Hermitage and the Venice Biennale. Elahi was recently invited to speak about his work at the Tate Modern, Einstein Forum, the American Association of Artificial Intelligence, the International Association of Privacy Professionals, World Economic Forum and at TED Global. His awards include grants from the Creative Capital Foundation, Art Matters Foundation and a Ford Foundation/Phillip Morris National Fellowship. His work is frequently in the media, and has been covered by The New York Times, Forbes, Wired, CNN, ABC, CBS and NPR, and has appeared on Al Jazeera, Fox News, and on "The Colbert Report." He is currently Associate Professor of Art at University of Maryland, and from 2011 to 2014 was Director of Design | Cultures + Creativity in the Honors College. In 2010, he was an Alpert/MacDowell Fellow, and, in 2009, was Resident Faculty at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.
The Rehearsal Artist
Michelle Ellsworth's The Rehearsal Artist transforms a rehearsal studio into a laboratory where a small group of audience members peep through a one-way mirror at a performer responding to choreographic instructions, derived from the canon of social science experiments. Each "rehearsal" is recorded and iteratively incorporated into the following performances. As the audience's perception shifts and extends, the performance amplifies and destabilizes the act of watching. This playful new work builds upon Ellsworth's experiments with performance apparati, spectatorship and voyeurism, facial recognition software, improvisational scores, and surveillance, opening up an investigation of audience consent and misinformation.
Michelle Ellsworth uses her expansive definition of dance as well as video, text, performance sculptures, and the World Wide Web to explore topics ranging from pharmaceutical art to experimental surveillance. Consistently commingling with technology and objects, her recent innovative works were highlighted in the New York Times' "Best of Dance 2015," under the heading "Dances With Gadgets." Among her honors are a Guggenheim Fellowship (2016), Doris Duke Impact Award (2015), a NEFA National Dance Project Grant (2014), a Creative Capital Fellowship (2013), and a USA Artists Knight Fellowship in Dance (2012). She has received three National Performance Network Creation Fund Commissions (2004, 2007, and 2016). Highlights in her performing career include presenting at The Chocolate Factory, On The Boards in Seattle, Danspace, Diverseworks, and also at the Noorderzon, Contemporary Latitudes, Fusebox, and TBA Festivals.
Homi K. Bhabha, John Lucas, Claudia Rankine and Will Rawls
What Remains stages encounters for a culture that cannot memorialize without exposing society's role in the disturbance and murder of its citizens. Through movement, language and video, choreographer Will Rawls, writers Claudia Rankine and Homi Bhabha and filmmaker John Lucas invite us across the threshold of this historical void, creating an immersive environment from the idea of an entombed imagination. What Remains responds to violence and disappearance with a resonant, ghostly chorus, and churns up themes of hidden histories, broken tongues and premature death. Among the things that emerge during this collective exchange with the public is a meditation on the fleeting and generative nature of performance itself, hovering at the crux of loss and life.
Homi K. Bhabha is the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities in the Department of English, the Director of the Humanities Center and the Senior Advisor on the Humanities to the President and Provost at Harvard University. Bhabha is the author of numerous works exploring postcolonial theory, cultural change and power, and cosmopolitanism, among other themes. His works include Nation and Narration and The Location of Culture, which was reprinted as a Routledge Classic in 2004. Harvard University Press will publish his forthcoming book A Global Measure, and Columbia University Press will publish his next book, The Right to Narrate.
John Lucas was born and raised in Ohio. He is a documentary photographer and filmmaker working in the humanist tradition. Lucas has directed and produced several cutting-edge multimedia projects, including a collaborative series of video essays with poet Claudia Rankine entitled Situations. In 2014 he completed his first feature length documentary film, The Cooler Bandits, which was awarded best documentary at the 2014 Harlem International Film Festival. His work has been exhibited in museums and galleries, both nationally and internationally, including the Brooklyn Art Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, REDCAT (Los Angeles), OK Harris Works of Art (NYC), The Smithsonian Institution (Washington D.C.), Pulitzer Arts Foundation (St. Louis) La Panaderia (Mexico City), Aeroplastics Contemporary (Brussels) and Fieldgate Gallery (London). Lucas lives and works in southern California.
Claudia Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry, including Citizen: An American Lyric and Don't Let Me Be Lonely; two plays, including Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue; numerous video collaborations, and is the editor of several anthologies, including The Racial Imaginary: Writers onRace. For her book Citizen, Rankine won both the PEN Open Book Award and the PEN Literary Award, the NAACP Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry (Citizen was the first book ever to be named a finalist in both the poetry and criticism categories); and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Citizen also holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category. Rankine is the recipient of the Poets & Writers' Jackson Poetry Prize, fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts, and numerous other awards and honors. She lives in California and is the Aerol Arnold Chair in the University of Southern California English Department.
Will Rawls is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn. Working with dance, objects, sound and speech, he creates solo and group performances that unravel and reconfigure around the idea of self and becoming. He has presented work at The Chocolate Factory Theater, Danspace Project, The Emily Harvey Foundation, Performa 15, PS 122, Tanzquartier Wien and the Greater New York Exhibition at MoMA PS1. He is editor-at-large for Critical Correspondence, and his writing and interviews have appeared in Artforum, ArtSlant, Triple Canopy, les presses du réel and The Museum of Modern Art. In Fall 2016, with Ishmael Houston-Jones, he co-curated Danspace Project's Platform: Lost & Found, exploring themes of AIDS, absence and queer performance. He also co-edited Lost & Found, a catalogue of essays and artist projects to accompany the Platform.
As a performer, Rawls has worked with Marina Abramovic, Jérôme Bel, Alain Buffard, Maria Hassabi, Nicholas Leichter, Xavier Le Roy, Tino Sehgal and Shen Wei Dance Arts. He is currently an LMCC Extended Life Fellow, a Mellon Creative Campus Fellow at Wesleyan University, a Levitt Artist-in- Residence at Williams College and a recipient of a 2015 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award.
Samuel Miller '15
Foundation for Healing
Foundation for Healingis a VR installation that will take place in the Weis Atrium of the LUMA Theater. Guests will check in through an app on a tablet, which will randomly send one of four possible 360-degree videos directly to their smartphone. The guest will enter the seating area, a roped off section of office chairs, in which they can safely view their 360-degree video through a provided cardboard VR headset.
Each of the four videos will document an intimate but choreographed self-care routine based on actual interviews with the performer in a space of their choosing. Performers will be given a questionnaire to determine what habits they use to reduce stress both physical and mental. Furthermore, performers will be asked about their relation to surveillance and the physical differences between their public and private self. From this material, a performance will be synthesized that demonstrates what emotional and mental stress looks like on the private body, and the various methods of responding to this stress. The videos will ultimately present four unique methods of self-care to uplift and inspire the guest on their own path of healing. Each video will be a roughly 10 minute uninterrupted take of a care routine. Additionally, a "ghost" element in the form of a video glitch will be added digitally to haunt the performance and suggest the presence of someone watching these personal moments. The movement of the performer and the "ghost" will be designed to force the guest into choosing which important moments to watch as they unfold simultaneously in different areas of the video space.
Guests will be given the option to download the app after their viewing so they may watch all four videos beyond the show.
Samuel Miller is a queer filmmaker, writer and theater artist based in Los Angeles and New York. Obsessed with authenticity, digital environments and hauntings both literal and metaphorical, Miller's work deconstructs classic elements of pop culture as well as formal aspects of film and theater to humorously macabre ends. Miller's full-length video/performance hybrid work Chambers of Desire premiered at Bard College in 2015 and had its west coast premiere at Magnet SF, as part of an anniversary event for Act Up! Miller began his art career when he quit ballet at age seven to write his own sequel to Ghostbusters. While attending Bard, he curated the Gravitas Theater Festival and premiered three original theater works. He graduated in 2015.
Future St. is a sci-fi saga set in a dystopian Southern California city where a regime of male clones have created a society that bypasses biological reproduction and replaces women with spectacular holograms. A homosexual police state enforces strict marriage codes among the monitored populace, while an intersectional resistance, made up of queer mutant dissidents and an ancient feminist underground, plots its overthrow. Future St. is a compilation of interconnected performances by Alexandro Segade, including Holo Library, Replicant Vs Separatist and Boy Band Audition, originally conceived as a response to the debate on gay marriage and California's Prop 8, now anthologized into a speculative multi-media theater epic exploring themes of desire, surveillance and the sinister forces of normalization.
Alexandro Segade is an interdisciplinary artist whose work in performance, video and multi-media installation uses genres, and the theories associated with them, to foreground the politics and myths of representation. Segade's series of interactive queer science fiction plays, including Replicant V Separatist, The Other Boys and Other Stories, Boyband Audition and Holo Library, have been presented at REDCAT and LAXART, LA; Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco; TBA Festival, Portland Oregon; and Movement Research at Judson Church, New York, among others. Segade is a founding member of the collective My Barbarian, with Malik Gaines and Jade Gordon, whose projects have appeared in solo shows at New Museum, Goethe- insitut, Participant Inc., New York; Museo El Eco, Mexico City; the Hammer Museum, LACMA, MOCA, Susanne Vielmetter Gallery, LA; and in exhibitions including the 2014 Whitney Biennial, Performa 05 and 07, and many others, and has received awards including a 2012 Creative Capital grant and a 2013 Foundation for Contemporary Arts award. Segade and Gaines have also collaborated on performance projects at The Studio Museum in Harlem, MoMA PS1, The Kitchen, Performa 13, Boffo, in New York, and at the Rogaland Kunstcenter in Norway. The duo recently debuted a choral opera based on an unpublished novel by science fiction author Octavia Butler at the Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, CA, with support from a 2016 Mike Kelly Foundation grant. Segade is co- chair of the Film/Video department at Bard College's Milton Avery Graduate School of Arts and teaches in the BFA program at Parsons the New School in New York City. Segade was born in San Diego, CA, and lives and works in New York and Los Angeles.
WE'RE WATCHING is developed in collaboration with and is made possible in part by the generous support of the Goethe-Institut.
Live Arts Bard programs are made possible by the generous support of the members of the Live Arts Bard Creative Council.
The Rehearsal Artist is a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation Fund Project co-commissioned by Live Arts Bard in partnership with PS 122, the University of Colorado Boulder, On the Boards, Women & Their Work, and NPN. For more information, go to npnweb.org.
What Remains was developed with additional commissioning support from the Crossing the Line Festival and the American Repertory Theater/Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard.
About the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College
Named for the late Richard B. Fisher, former chair of Bard's Board of Trustees, the Fisher Center has become an influential force in performing arts programming, earning critical acclaim for innovative productions of opera, orchestral, chamber, dance, and theater programs. The Center was designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry and distinguished acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, and has received international praise for its breathtaking architecture and superb sound.
Each summer the Fisher Center presents the Bard SummerScape festival, seven weeks of performing arts programs reflecting the life and times of the featured composer of the esteemed Bard Music Festival, now celebrating its 28th year. Fall and spring seasons include original productions, special one-night-only concerts, and touring artists from around the globe.
The Fisher Center is home to the Bard College Theater & Performance and Dance Programs, providing students access to exceptional theater facilities and opportunities to work with professional directors and dramaturges on publicly attended productions throughout the year. The Bard College Conservatory of Music and Bard College Music Program stage regular orchestral and chamber concerts.
Photo by John Lucas.