Cloud Eye Control’s “Under Polaris”

The creative team of director Chi-wang Yang, video animator/media artist Miwa Matreyek, and writer/vocalist Anna Oxygen form an interdisciplinary performance collective known as Cloud Eye Control. Based in Los Angeles, they create sharp, playful, media-driven theater that is a combination of live performance, animated cinema and electronic music.

Their newest work is a National Performance Network co-commission, Under Polaris, in which they generate a rich landscape of arctic night with solemn creatures that transform in the darkness, shape-shifting in vast fields of stars, snow, fractured ice and dark waters. At the core of Under Polaris is a quest to preserve a perfect seed containing the wealth of human history—described as a back-up system for our genetic imprint as well as our personal memories. Cloud Eye Control places the essence of our human experience into contact with the vastness of geologic time, equating our fate with the fate of the planet. Under Polaris borrows from ancient epic traditions and, in a way, so does their craft—shadow and light, a bit of puppetry. They’re conjuring storytelling strategies that go back quite a ways, although Cloud Eye Control’s methods involve multiple video projectors and projection surfaces, elaborately constructed computer-generated graphics and the precise integration of live performance.

In July of 2008, REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) and PICA (Portland Institute for Contemporary Art) came together to commission this new work, which premiered in Portland in October of 2008. In October of this year, REDCAT will present Under Polaris as part of our fall season. The timing of this project by a rather young company, with very little name recognition, coincides nicely (or not so nicely) with the brutal realities of our country’s financial undoing. So I thought it might serve as both a case study and a starting point to discuss ways of supporting creation, rethinking resources and imagining opportunities in a financial landscape that in many ways resembles the world of Under Polaris: stark, dark and frozen—but a landscape that, viewed here through Pollyanna eyes, reveals unexpected forms of life.

FUNDING UNDER POLARISAnna Oxygen in "Under Polaris"
The project started with Leslie B. Durst, an individual donor interested in commissioning work by artists that intrigued her, and she had seen Cloud Eye Control at PICA’s 2007 TBA Festival. From that first gift, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) and REDCAT were able to work with the artists to build an expanded support network that so far involves a National Performance Network co-commission, a development allocation from the Contemporary Art Centers Network, and an award from The Princess Grace Foundation to procure the technical equipment that will make the work much more affordable to tour. By working together to identify support, we have been able to use a “building-block” approach to piece together a more substantial commission to fully realize the project.

BEYOND MONEY
Both PICA and REDCAT worked to procure more than just money, attempting to identify other resources that will keep more of the funds in the hands of the artist. Connections with real estate developers in both cities have yielded warehouse spaces that were donated for extended rehearsal periods: first in Portland prior to the premiere, and then again this summer to further workshop the performance before its Los Angeles presentation and subsequent tour. In the same vein as NPN’s upcoming “fourth subsidy,” we knew that time was needed after the premiere, not only to remount the work but to deepen the integration of technologies and to explore possibilities that arose from the first stage of creation. Additionally, during REDCAT’s brief dark period in August, the technical resources, in the form of both human expertise and hard-wired equipment, will be made available to the company for a final fine-tuning.

WHEN THERE’S EVEN LESS
Expertise. Equipment. Materials. Documentation. This is what the money buys. As we attempt to look ahead, into what is at least three years of difficulty (cross your fingers), REDCAT is working to expand its role as an incubator for new work, serving to broker on behalf of artists, compiling support for new projects as we can, making new connections and articulating need. Money is only part of the equation in the creation of new works. Often expedient, and always welcome, thank you. But maybe as money becomes more scarce, we can create another currency of access.

Here in Los Angeles, we are watching redevelopment projects be postponed, with raw spaces sitting empty throughout the city. Skilled creative and technical people have more time away from commercial endeavors. Other colleagues have mentioned the shrinking client rosters of advertising agencies, web developers and more. Perhaps it is a time when sharing becomes a reasonable request, when we can engage individuals and companies more directly in what we do, when people have time to take a meeting and a real reason re-examine where and how their resources are distributed.

This is a format that REDCAT hopes to take further, to engage more directly with artists to help them realize their projects, to exploit what possibilities exist in this shifting landscape, and to attempt to put forth new possibilities within this moment when the definition of “value” is a moving target. We intend to keep new works in development, to actually expand our role in incubating emerging artists and projects. The way to do that is a little unclear, though collaborative. It promises to be more creative, perhaps more risky. But realistically, if institutions are fortunate enough to navigate the coming years successfully, what will be on our stages if we don’t do what we can to sustain artists and their work?

And, of course, come see Under Polaris at REDCAT this October.

This profile of a National Performance Network Creation Fund project was written by George Lugg, associate director at REDCAT in Los Angeles.

Top photo is courtesy of  Scott Groller.
Photo of Anna Oxygen from Under Polaris is courtesy of the artist.

The Community Fund is made possible by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency), the MetLife Foundation, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

published June 2009




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