The White Lady guts flail gluttonous fail, artist Lorene Bouboushian, photo by Ian Douglas
Since discovering her work through Esther Neff and Brian Mccorkle, who run Panoply Performance Laboratory, I have been a fan of Lorene Bouboushian. Her formal dance aesthetics clash with a harsh staccato pushing of the body in her work, with Bouboushian often choosing to engage with other female bodies to produce unusual twists and sounds. Watching her move through performance spaces in unexpected ways has been a delight. The interview below was prompted by questions I had for this artist after seeing her work entitled, saliva synthesis transformation. It featured Bouboushian, Paige Fredlund, and Elliott Jenetopulos for lighting. Here Boushoushian opens up about where she feels her works fall within a feminist discourse, her Texas and Armenian background, and where humor sits in her work.
AE: Give us a brief overview of your “art bio.”
LB: I went to ballet intensives, Christian dance conventions—whatever I could find in podunk Texas. And then in high school I joined the dance team and I ended up going to a different dance studio, which was much more fun, if still not really technical. On the dance team I was a high kicker, we did dances with big props—mostly during pep rallies and football game halftimes. It was really fun but really weird—because I knew that it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing but it was the closest approximation I could find, and it was also really catty. But I was still dancing in a studio—which was fun for me, and I had a good teacher at that point. During high school I went to the American Dance Festival, where choreographers like Ishmael Houston-Jones, Yvonne Meier, Miguel Gutierrez taught, and it totally turned my world upside down in terms of what I could do physically and experimentally. Then I ended up going to Barnard College where I worked with other experimental artists like Amanda Loulaki, Jeanine Durning, Juliana May, Ivy Baldwin, luciana achugar, Jill Sigman (she totally shifted my understanding of dance as a philosophical viewpoint and embodied practice)…and I ended up making a lot of my own work and being able to plug into the scene in NYC. Then, soon after graduating, I worked with some amazing choreographers, Daria Fain, who opened me up to the integration of voice and movement, Kathy Westwater, who I danced with at a landfill. But I started to get bored of a lot of the other dance I was seeing and I was able to connect with Esther Neff and Brian Mccorkle, who run Panoply Performance Laboratory, through Lindsey Drury, who I danced with, and who was really putting performance art into dance…then, through that, I was really able to shift the whole contour of my work to be able to include a range of actions and ways of being that relate to performance art. Now I really feel like my work and my teaching, both of children and of peer artists, really lies at the intersection of performance and dance. My work and my performance manifest in the opportunities that come. Part of me is more interested in very composed/crafted “dance” work, the other part is more interested in informal and street contexts, complete improvisation and less formal work, more like performance art. I want to perform in venues that range from more to less formal…I have trouble finding a whole lot of other folks who want to do both. I feel like the dance world pushes choreographers toward bigger institutions, and many performance artists have more of a DIY ethic. My interest is to stay in that intersection.
AE: Your dance training is obvious in your work, but what do you feel most informs your practice?
LB: I desire to turn my dance training inside out, to take a lot of somatic practices I’ve studied because of my dance training—mostly through Feldenkrais, Rolfing, Qi Gung, Alexander Technique, Skinner Releasing, Body Mind Centering—and churn out work that deals with more vulnerability, confusion, truly task-based work, and less polished work than what I often see in dance contexts. Most of what I’ve connected to in other human beings in my life, both in rural East Texas and New York, is messier, more grotesque, absurd…and can speak to despair. The way I make sense of facets of human existence is viscerally—through the body. So, I’m trying to take this training and fill it up with things that are often, in the contexts of learning those techniques, left out.
saliva synthesis transformation with Lorene Bouboushian and Paige Fredlund, photo by laura bartczak
AE: Do you consider your work to be feminist in nature?
LB: I’ve been interested for a long time in taking my very much standard white female body and embodying things that my body is not “supposed to” contain. Some of this is in the grotesqueness and absurdity I mentioned, some of it is more about my interest in a range of ways of being human. This came from growing up feeling a lot of self-hatred for my own self and body—it definitely has to do with a reclamation of my body. It also has to do with the feeling I had in early sexual experiences that I was being used, so that I had no agency. So agency and reclamation– feminist terms that emerge when I think about the role of my body in my work. In saliva synthesis transformation, there is violence and sexual history present, not always connected but both often present. Enacting those in a place I consider utopian—meaning anywhere I can perform, even in a dangerous, dystopian world—is important to me. To be able to say “here is my conventional white female body defaced, or monstrous, or playful and childlike even as it is sexual—those things really matter to me because they don’t generally exist in everyday life. In a lot of my solo work, it has to do with “how can I embody the people around me?” even as I’m “just a white girl.” A lot of this has to do with growing up in rural Texas with an Armenian father from Beirut, and having extended family that survived the Armenian genocide. Violence and trauma are part of that history, figure into who my body am (that isn’t a typo), and are essential facets of womanhood. That history pushes me toward being constantly interested in people who are not me. I studied anthropology too–and I am both utilizing and critiquing it on all sides, all the time. How does this body of mine process human beings and bring them to life in a new way—how do other humans live in my body, question each other’s worth, bring up each other’s differences? It’s very problematic, and I’m interested in that. I don’t seek to be explicit about it a lot of the time, though. How is that feminist? I think that if I’m enabling myself, through embodied work, to take hold of life, process and work through it, even though everything the world tells me about my body is reductive—that to me is feminist.
AE: When nude bodies are used in your work do you worry about sensationalism or objectification? Do you feel your work addresses those topics either metaphorically or physically?
LB: I don’t worry about sensationalism. There’s always a concern about people not “getting” your work, especially for me since I deal with a lot of things fairly abstractly. I still think I’m addressing sensationalism though, since nudity is presented through defacement—using our saliva and taking our clothes off in a way that doesn’t make sense and sometimes limits our movement, makes us “uglier,” or disorients us. Utilizing nudity is for us a way of being aware of who we are and how we look onstage, and shifting it. There’s a strong current of oddness, awkwardness and grotesqueness through the piece, so that “yes, we ARE naked white women,” but we are always something else and always transforming into something else.
saliva synthesis transformation Lorene Bouboushian with Paige Fredlund, photo by Laura Bartczak
AE: Collaborative work is part of your practice. How has collaboration improved/expanded your work as an artist? And what would be your dream collaboration–or are you already experiencing it?
LB: I’m definitely experiencing my dream collaboration! Coming out of years of solo work, I’m realizing how much people are the work. Especially when those people, as it often happens in smaller, more close-knit scenes, are some of your best friends.
I collaborate with two people on two different strands of work. One is with Paige Fredlund, which you just saw in saliva synthesis transformation. My other strand of work is with Kaia Gilje, and it’s highly improvisational. Working with Kaia has hugely shifted my understanding of what it is to give someone agency. In the dance world, many choreographers say their work is “created in collaboration with the performers,” but their name is still on it, and they still have creative and administrative control. That’s basically what I’m doing, but Kaia and Paige completely and totally shape the work. A lot of other choreographers would say that, but I think a huge project for me is trying to interrogate these power dynamics of “director” and “collaborator.” In light of that, I’ve tried to find as many ways as possible to mess up my own desires/interests in the studio, and allow things to happen based on the desires and energies each of us is bringing into the room that day…trying to allow the piece to emerge from “who we are” versus “what I want this thing to be.” With Kaia, often we don’t even say anything when we enter the studio, and I just follow her. With Paige, when we began work on saliva synthesis transformation, there was a set of clear interests (pre-war gospel music field recordings, vocalizing with certain visualizations of the body, talking about family/relationship histories). Yet, I think her responses to a lot of those prompts totally blew me out of the water. Over the last year and a half, I’ve had to figure out where to take those responses. We often have exited our process for a few months, then reentered with new perspectives. My most fruitful discoveries have occurred when I’m really listening to Kaia and Paige’s responses, letting those responses simmer before I try to figure out what’s next. It helps me to understand what I’m asking for, how I’m communicating it, and more than anything, that way of listening really is the work. If art is content and form, then I think of myself as the form-maker and the people whom I call my closest collaborators are the content makers. I mold the living material that they generate. Just as being involved in performance art has totally shifted my work in recent years, so have Kaia and Paige. I’m hugely grateful for the way in which they’ve completely gotten me out of ruts, given me new perspectives, and truly created the work.
Pictured Below: saliva synthesis transformation with Paige Fredlund, photo by Laura Bartczak
Lorene Bouboushian can currently be seen in Any Size Mirror is a Dictator, a conceptual opera she helped organize that is playing at Momenta, 56 Bogart, Brooklyn NY; Thursday -Sunday 3-9pm. Oct 19th is the final performance. Go twice if you can. The opera unfolds into a different work each week. [Sidebar: local beers will be served Thursday and Friday. Thank me later.]
Bouboushian’s next show will be a collaboration with performance artist Kaia Gilje and performance art cellist Valerie Kuehne at 7:30pm on October 25, at Outpost Artist Resources in Ridgewood, Queens.
For more information visit: http://lorenebouboushian.com/
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Editor-at-Large, Cultbytes Performance artist, speaker, educator, and writer. My art explores the intricacies of my life; as an individual and as a social being who is: a woman, a Black American woman, a light skin Black American woman, a light skin black American woman from Chicago, blah blah blah. You get the idea. I'm an artist. (period) Conceptual-ish is my "thing." l igram l twitter l contact l #operationcatsuit #ijustcameheretofindahusband