Q&A with Emily Mast
Carol Cheh: Strangely, there isn’t really any explanatory text available for ENDE (Like a New Beginning). Is this intentional? Or would you like to share some explication or back story with us?
Emily Mast: The title of the piece that’s currently at the Hammer is ENDE (Like a New Beginning), as opposed to the title of the piece at Night Gallery which is ENDE (Like a New Beginning) Again. I wrote a sort of poetic press release that can be accessed on the Night Gallery website. It’s supposed to introduce visitors to a general feeling rather than a specific back story.
All of the iterations of ENDE began with poetry, or texts that I wrote to describe very specific moments in my life. Those texts were translated into gesture with my performers during a series of intensive workshops. And those gestures were named (and therefore re-translated into text) and then juxtaposed and layered to form one large, varied landscape of moments. One of my performers referred to it as a “minefield,” which I think is quite fitting.
CC: I am so intrigued by the way that you put some of your projects through a variety of permutations—like the different performances of B!IRDBRA!N, or the video documents that are really new iterations of the performances. Can you talk about the relationship between ENDE Hammer edition and ENDE Night Gallery edition?
EM: I’m very interested in context and how that affects work. I like the fact that ENDE is potentially never-ending. The Hammer iteration is made up of five parts: one video that is projected at the top of the main staircase; one “footnote video” that is playing on a flatscreen near the third floor restrooms; two installations made up of objects and props that were seen in the video; and a series of live, unannounced performances. So it’s sort of scattered throughout the museum in these in-between spaces. It is meant to function alongside all the other works in the show by creating echoes or “déjà-vu moments” as you wander through the space. The Night Gallery iteration brings all of the elements together in one space to be experienced at one time, together. It’s therefore more communal and emotionally intense.
CC: The live directing of the Night Gallery performance blew my mind a little bit. What gave you the idea to add that element? Are there any artistic precedents for it, or particular inspirations?
EM: I can’t think of any specific artistic precedents off the top of my head, but I do love Cassavetes, who used to direct performers while performing himself. The way he generated improvisation and interesting nonsense has always inspired me.
I really just wanted to present the process as sincerely as possible. And I wanted to make everything that went into making ENDE transparent—so I am onstage directing, Christopher [Richmond] is onstage filming details, Ellie [Rabinowitz] is running around adjusting the lighting, Zach [Alterman] is at the edge of the stage contributing live sound, and Martin [Dicicco] and Max [Schwartz] are documenting the whole thing, at times sitting in the middle of the stage to do so. One of my performers literally ran into me during the performance because I got in his way! It was quite fun.
CC: Can you also talk about the role of the audience in the performance? I definitely felt like we were put into play, so to speak, that we were a part of this giant ensemble that you were directing.
EM: The audience is very important to me—I always try to keep them in mind when I develop a piece. However, I was rather overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up on Saturday. I had intended for people to wander around the stage areas during the show so that they could experience the piece sculpturally, and from a number of different angles. That just wasn’t possible Saturday because we were all packed in the gallery like sardines.
The result was that people were very, very close to the action and, in order for them to have the best experience possible, I decided to direct them a little too. Also, staging the performance in the middle of the space meant that visitors looked through the piece at other visitors, which created another layer of empathy and connection, or dis-connection, depending on how one felt. But ending ENDE with an infinity shot of the audience was a very happy accident.