Interview with media artist Lars Jan

Jan 3, 2012

The dialectic between electronic media and live performance are central to the works of many young artists today, but few succeed in merging theory and practice like this incredible multi-talented artist working in music, dance, performance, theater, and media. Anyone attending the APAP conference will have an opportunity to see this collaboration with Nichole Canuso Dance Company--and there will be plenty more chances to see his work in the future, if you haven't already.

This week, Philadelphia based Nichole Canuso Dance Company will present the New York premiere of TAKES during the APAP Global Performing Arts Marketplace and Conference. Originally performed as part of the 2010 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, the production is an intimate and voyeuristic experience with audience members viewing a live duet through the thin layer of a projection box, which constrains the space in which the dancers can move. Video projected on the box presents a translucent overlay to the real-life movements of the dancers within the space.

The multimedia design for TAKES was created by Lars Jan, an ‘emerging’ media artist and 2011 TEDGlobal Fellow. Jan is also the founding artistic director of Early Morning Opera, a multidisciplinary art lab based in Los Angeles specializing in live performance. In 2010, for his second commission from The Whitney Museum, he presented the environmental performance installation A SUICIDE BOMBING BY INVITATION ONLY, “an indictment of the bombastic reporting of this generation, a strange dictation of a man's quest to popularize his intentions, and a look at the counterproductive nature of protests.”  Read more at  The Awl.  


“When I was first asked to do this commission,” Jan said, “ I was struggling with what it should be. For a while after 9/11, I was making suicide-bombing jokes. I have a dark sense of humor, and there was a certain kind of preciousness or self-censorship we were engaging in. When people found out during the performance that I am half-Afghan, it changes the dialogue,” he shared. “People quietly reposition themselves.” Jan was also interested in excavating “the celebrity culture surrounding martyrs” in Afghanistan and the Middle East. In 2005, his first commission for The Whitney was for the Robert Smithson retrospective. Jan, like Smithson, has an interest in bringing the critique of the museum into the museum. In that piece, an intern stalling for the crowd, brings up Smithson, and can’t remember whether it was a womb or a tomb that Smithson called the exhibition spaces—bringing up issues of art as incubator of new materiality and artists, or mausoleum culture of museums, or the value of art after an artist’s death, etc.

“[For SUICIDE BOMBING] I just wanted to mess around with the idea of art world celebrity. The best things that I’ve done are not here,” he added, meaning The Whitney. “I don’t like the hierarchical approach to content, especially in the context of the Whitney Biennial. Artists are feverish to get recognized, and get caught up in the apparatus of celebrity. I was interested in the format of celebrity, and in mashing up these realities.  When we performed the piece in L.A., we made it so the more you paid, the closer you could be to the blast radius. I’m thinking about the violence of celebrity, and the red carpet, the publicists, and the security. As an artist, I created a situation where I didn’t have to do anything—like being in the receiving line at the wedding, where everyone sees you but no one really gets to talk to you. In this performance, the terrorist is the creative person.”

While the subject of TAKES may be very different, Jan is equally engaged in how the relationship between mediatized representations and live bodies influences our relationships. Part of the metaphor of TAKES relates to the relationship between outsiders. The piece allows people to move around the space.  What we find is that 15-20 percent are movers, some people change once. But by moving our point of view, it becomes a different object, you can project yourself to other places, and engage sort of a different kind of editing conscience. “Why this media in this configuration? How does this metaphorically relate to what these characters are about?

The piece is fundamentally about a relationship two people have, which no one else can know—and it’s the same for people in the relationship. There’s an intimacy and also isolation. There are projected images of the self—mirror-like, ghostly—like seeing yourself from angles. And you see them even if they’re not there. And, Jan adds, even when they are there, they might be thinking about French fries, and you can’t always ask.” “The piece,” explains Jan, “is designed in a sense to be frustrating to audiences/viewers, and their desire to get a clear view of the body. Bodies in space are very important. We used sight tape on the ground like television blocking for screen space, which is balanced with the choreography. We’ve tracked it very carefully and modulate the relationship between image and real. Sometimes, the dancers almost become puppets, other times, it feels like they are wielding [the imagery]. I studied puppetry and it’s a huge influence. I’m not interested in texture or design. I’m always interested in technology as an extension of the performer, with the performer in control.”


This approach is paramount in ABACUS, a commission from the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) that will be presented at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontiers program. ABACUS features multi-media visionary Paul Abacus and his re-imagining of Buckminster Fuller’s Geoscope as a data cathedral for the masses. This Geoscope expands on Fuller’s dream of a data visualization device that would comprehensively model the Earth’s vital statistics, historic patterns, and future projections. ABACUS “argues the obsolescence of national borders and proposes their dissolution while simultaneously acting as a study in two dominant forms of persuasive discourse today: the TED-style (slide-based) presentation and mega-church media design.”

Jan, who is also affiliated with the Center for Cultural Innovation, is currently developing a new opera
with Harlem Stage, Makandal, based on Carl Hancock Rux's observations of the book "The Kingdom of the World" by Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier, and a large public installation and performance, Holoscenes, in partnership with MAPP International Productions. Both works are slated for premieres in 2013.     

[Reblogged from Mediatized.]

Tags: apap, dance, media, lars jan, takes, nichole canuso, 3LD, MAPP, Harlem Stage

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