Q&A with Johanna Hedva: She Work, a collaboration with Nickels Sunshine

Posted in interviews, upcoming events with tags , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2015 by Carol Cheh
She Work. Photo: Mattia Casalegno.

She Work. Photo: Mattia Casalegno.

Since 2012, artist and writer Johanna Hedva (formerly Johanna Kozma) has been writing and directing a series of plays that she now refers to as The Greek Cycle. The plays are adaptations of ancient Greek texts that, in the author’s words, “have been rewritten to respond to feminist and queer political discourse, and relocated into contemporary contexts.” Each play has been developed in close collaboration with their performers, and each has taken place in an unusual location–Odyssey Odyssey, for example, was an adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey that took place inside of a moving Honda Odyssey.

On July 11, Hedva will open She Work, the fourth and final play in The Greek Cycle. An adaptation of Euripides’ Medea, She Work was developed with body-based artist Nickels Sunshine (formerly Nick Duran). It will be performed at d e e p s l e e e p, a private apartment that doubles as an art space. In advance of this concluding work, I conducted the following email interview with Hedva. To preserve the nuances of Hedva’s voice, the text is largely unedited from its original form.

Carol Cheh: Where does your acute interest in Greek plays come from? Why does adapting them for queer and feminist discourse appeal to you?

Johanna Hedva: my short answer to “why the greeks?” has always been “because they need it.” my longer answer is that i have a deep and complicated love/hate relationship with these stories, and couldn’t think of anything better to do in terms of storytelling. whenever i thought about adapting and directing a story, i kept falling into the greeks — probably because these are “original” stories in terms of their influence in western culture, and can be traced in many of the narratives circulating today in all kinds of art, and also because of their mythic-ness, their expanse and specificity. they are as big as cathedrals, oceans. also, i’ve had a tragic life, and find that i’m drawn to tragedy as a comfort (not a lesson). i like myths in and of themselves, and as cultural functions, as seen on a spectrum alongside or counterpoint to intimacy (my other fave), and i like a good story, so to that end, there’s really nothing better than the wildness of an ancient greek myth.

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Rafa Esparza, bust. a meditation on freedom, near Twin Towers Correctional Facility, Chinatown, April 11, 2015

Posted in reviews and commentary on April 13, 2015 by Carol Cheh

twin_towers from you-are-here.com

Between El Pueblo and the Los Angeles River, in an obscure corner of Chinatown tucked behind the bowels of Union Station, sits the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, also known as the LA County Jail. According to an unofficial website, it is “the world’s largest jail”—a 1.5 million-square-foot complex opened in 1997. Its appearance from the outside, however, strangely belies its true nature. Designed in a bland, unassuming, international/brutalist style, the two buildings could easily be downtown government office buildings; a series of extremely narrow slits for windows are perhaps the only giveaway that this is a prison.

“I’ve never been in there, but I have friends who have,” says artist Rafa Esparza. “They all say the conditions in there are pretty bad. It’s the kind of place where you get staph infections. Everyone is always really happy to get out.” We were standing on the street, cattycorner to the prison, and directly across from Bad Boys Bail Bonds. The Men’s Central Jail, which was built in 1963 and has an even worse reputation than the Twin Towers, was also close by.

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Michael Parker, Juicework, Human Resources, February 6–10, 2015

Posted in photo essays, reviews and commentary on February 9, 2015 by Carol Cheh

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Money, influence, and hangers-on are descending on the LA art scene these days like vultures, turning it into a place that I barely recognize any more. Openings that were already crazy before are now completely unbearable, and at any given event, I’m more likely to run into wide-eyed escapees from New York crowing about how “things are much more possible in LA” than into the friends of ten years who used to populate the same events. It’s discomfiting, making it easy to think that the good times are over—yet another great grassroots scene ruined by its own popularity and inevitable gentrification.

But then something like Juicework happens and it gives me hope that maybe the truly great, unique, and beautiful stuff—the stuff that to me defines LA much more than any giant-warehouse-turned-blue-chip-gallery—can continue to co-exist alongside the annoying dreck. Michael Parker, an artist’s artist who is well known for beloved projects like Steam Egg and The Unfinished, has made another technically ingenious sculptural installation that also functions as a socially engaging participatory performance. It’s amazing, his knack for doing this, without ever falling into the ineffectual preciousness that mars certain other projects labeled as “social practice.”

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AMRA, Set the MOOD, Human Resources, December 20–21, 2014

Posted in photo essays on December 24, 2014 by Carol Cheh

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So I went to this event on Sunday night, billed as a “multisensory art show” put together by a group called AMRA. First we were directed upstairs to look at some art (mostly paintings) and some fruit arrangements. Then we were shepherded downstairs to watch/participate in a groovalicious, hippie-rave-like ritual/performance. The costumed performers began by leading the room in making sounds to awaken and cleanse each of the chakras. Then, they sang and danced a few numbers.

The large room at Human Resources was festooned with elaborate background video projections and fruits that swung from the ceiling. There definitely seemed to be a theme of organic growth; a lot of the projected images were of plants growing in nature.

I took some photos of the performance that turned out pretty cool, so I’m sharing them here. When it was over, the performers passed out fruits for people to eat and encouraged everyone to dance. Happy holidays!

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“Performance Now” KCHUNG Radio Archives Now Accessible on ART!

Posted in about this blog, noteworthy on December 1, 2014 by Carol Cheh

studio cover photo

It’s been a little over a year since John Tain and I began hosting a monthly show on KCHUNG Radio called Performance Now. The show was conceived in response to popular demand, after a special two-hour Community Debrief performance discussion in August 2013 generated an enormous amount of interest.

Broadcast live every third Sunday of the month at 5 p.m. and also archived at kchungradio.org, Performance Now is an hour-long show in which John and I host in-studio performances as well as in-depth interviews and discussions with artists, curators, writers, and scholars. After more than a year of programming, I must say we’ve amassed a pretty great archive of recorded material, all of which can be accessed via pinned posts on our Facebook page.

I’ve also compiled a convenient page of embedded mp3s here at ART! called KCHUNG Radio Archives, accessible on the sidebar to your right. This is a great page to bookmark for those long days in the studio. Among my personal favorites are a great interview with Rafa Esparza, a lively discussion with Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst at their home, a live radio play with Dorothy Hoover, an invocation of the power of ritual with the Oracle of Los Angeles, and of course, our inaugural episode, in which Mutant Salon cuts my hair in the studio while we play Xina Xurner tracks.

Like us on Facebook to get notified about new shows. The page here on ART! will also be updated whenever a new recording becomes available. Enjoy!

Pieter Plays the River, Ed Reyes River Greenway, October 26, 2014

Posted in photo essays with tags , , on November 13, 2014 by Carol Cheh
All photos by John Tain

All photos by John Tain

From Pieter’s press release: “As part of Play the LA River’s year of riverside programming, Pieter Performance Space presents a day of dance and performance at Ed Reyes River Greenway in Lincoln Heights. Pieter is located near the confluence of the LA River and Arroyo Seco, where industrial and residential spaces meet a vibrant urban aquatic landscape. Pieter is commissioning site-responsive choreographed works, improvisations, interactive happenings, and a free community yoga class, to be presented as part of an afternoon of riverside art.”

Some of the works in the event are captured in the photos that follow. Thank you to JOHN TAIN for supplying the photos, and Allison Wyper and Maya Gingery for help with the captions. Pieter Plays the River was co-produced by Pieter and Project 51.

Option - option, choreographed by Harriet Bailey. Dancers: Laura Berg, Lindsey Lollie, Jordan Saenz, Gracie Whyte.

Option – option, choreographed by Harriet Bailey. Dancers: Laura Berg, Lindsey Lollie, Jordan Saenz, Gracie Whyte.

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W.A.G.E. Launches W.A.G.E. Certification—an important step forward in the fight for fair compensation in the arts

Posted in noteworthy with tags , , on October 30, 2014 by Carol Cheh

W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy) is a research and advocacy group dedicated to correcting the common assumption that it’s okay for nonprofit institutions to not pay exhibiting artists for their labor because their work will be rewarded with “exposure” and/or “prestige.” Founded in 2008 and incorporated as a nonprofit in 2012, W.A.G.E. has sought to educate and raise consciousness around economic inequity in the arts through giving speeches, making videos, holding open teach-ins and workshops, and “W.A.G.E. RAGING” in panel discussions and symposia around the world.

After several years of intensive research and dialogue, W.A.G.E. has now launched W.A.G.E. Certification, the first program to publicly recognize nonprofit arts organizations that demonstrate a history of, and commitment to, voluntarily paying artist fees. With its clearly defined, sector-wide, minimum payment standards, calculated according to an institution’s annual budget, W.A.G.E. Certification is designed to be a tool for systematically creating a more equitable playing field for all cultural producers.

There is a lot of work ahead, as the W.A.G.E. team prepares to move forward with their goal of negotiating with and subsequently certifying the thousands of nonprofit art institutions throughout the country. For that reason, they’ve launched a funding campaign to pay for their direct overhead costs and their own labor, which up until this point has largely been done on a volunteer basis. Their goal of $75,000 is modest when you consider the amount of work that has already gone into this project, and the extensive and real impact it could have on American artists’ income for a long time to come.

Donate today and show your support for the cause. Every little bit helps!

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