by Lisa Choinacky
99 Times, a new performance work by Emily Lacy, took place in collaboration with Women & Their Work at the Fusebox Festival in Austin, TX , in April 2012. Within the context of a one-week NPN Performance Residency, this Los Angeles-based artist was able to design and present a new work, and engage an entirely new audience in the process.
Lacy, whose background is in film making and music, has arrived at a point in her practice that fuses many media together. Combining the effects of painting, textiles, sound, and image, she produced a performance within the NPN Performance Residency structure that was ritualistic and hypnotic. Having worked with site-specificity for performances in the past, where a particular physical space helped define the aesthetics and content of a piece of music, for this project she opted to design a performance that could work in any context. She wanted to make something of a portable art and sound experience that could resonate in any environment.
Part of her inspiration came from the content of the music that she was hoping to present to her audience. 99 Times, as a work of art, was about the sounds that cultures can create when they reach a boiling point. Lacy was inspired by the energy of global protest movements that arose out of both the Arab Spring and Occupy movements in the past year. As the sound and music being researched in this context was intrinsically populist in nature, it seemed appropriate to design a performance that was not meant to be presented in just one gallery space, or museum hallway, or other designated environment (working site-specifically as she has in the past) but to actually make something that could work in any environment. She sought then to create a work in 99 Times that could debut in Austin, but then travel throughout the globe. The freedom to work in this way, as generated by collaboration with NPN and Women & Their Work, truly created a physical platform for Lacy to engage with new possibilities in the figuration of her work at large. Lacy now has larger aspirations and hopes to perform this new work 99 Times, exactly ninety-nine times, in different locations throughout the world.
While in residence Lacy visited the Khabele School, an arts-based high school not far from the Long Center in Austin’s downtown area, where 99 Times appeared for its first two nights. Lacy shared videos with a small group of students from a painting class. These videos are a way for her to articulate an experience of her work that is somehow satisfying. She finds the end medium of video conducive to producing mythology within her music. Performances made specifically for the camera are of unique interest to her, as they capture certain lucid facts about a moment or a gesture within a music or a time.
In addition Lacy shared with the class an artistic device made by Sara Roberts, a Los Angeles artist and colleague with whom she shares many interests in sound. As Lacy’s long-form compositions often involve looping and repeated vocal sounds, Robert’s device, which is largely manufactured by her and her husband and affectionately titled an Earbee, also loops and records sounds. A black plastic box, about half the size of a VHS tape, with only punched-hole impressions of an ear for major visual design, allows you to make sound itself into a game. Earbees are almost always dispersed in groups because of this. Earbees were distributed to the class and a song was sung to engage the aspects of reverb in the room, to many young people’s delight. The tiny recording machines were a huge hit with the students as they were so easy to jump in, operate, control, and manipulate. Students also improvised a large performance in the round, and sound felt to be the dominant artistic endeavor in the room.
Connecting artists with communities, spaces, festivals, and schools, in such a direct manner, was a very enriching experience for all. In this case, art was truly supported and a new work was made available to a fresh audience. This unique opportunity was made possible by the artist, the flexibility and support of the NPN Performance Residency Agreement, Women & Their Work, and the Fusebox Festival.
photos by Jonathan Silberman
Support for the NPN Performance Residency comes from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.