Allison Halter: Conflating Sissy Bounce with Minimalism

Interviews

Allison Halter: I come from a funny performative background — I was a synchronized swimmer as a child, and competed for about seven years. But in undergrad, I considered myself a photographer, and most of the work I made and was interested in was photographic. … It was still a sort of roundabout path: I was a radical cheerleader, I was in a band, I had several dance troupes, but all of those experiences really shaped the kind of performance artist I am today, and gave me a pretty awesome and specific skill set, most especially with regards to audience.

Flyer for “The Eating of Burning Brimstone is a Fake Performance.” Allison Halter, 2011.

 

That of course is the reason that I perform, the immediacy of existing live within my art with my audience. Although many times when I am just about to perform (in a group show, for example) I look around ruefully and wonder “Why didn’t I just make a painting? I could be standing around, casually talking to my friends instead of about to make my art in front of everyone.” But since I tend to be so fascinated by control, as well as a certain lack of it, I enjoy setting myself up for the unexpected situations that are inherent in performance art.

Michelle Weidman:  Some themes that come to mind when I think of your work are spectacle and performativity not just in a theatrical sense but also in relation to representations of femininity in popular culture.  What do you consider to be your main interests thematically? What are you addressing with your current work?

AH: One of the themes that I find coming up again and again in my practice is the notion of power, and of control. Sometimes that is set up in a sort of binary opposition, and sometimes it is more subtle and shifting. I think that what I am often attempting to do is to occupy that liminal space, or to set up a situation that appears at first glance to be a traditional binary power dynamic, but becomes surprisingly fluid upon closer examination. I think that placing a woman/women in a position of power is an inherently feminist gesture. I also want to articulate that I do not see vulnerability as weakness, or as the opposite of power. I think that allowing oneself to be vulnerable within a performance can in fact be a supremely potent position. My new life motto is a re-appropriation of the “NO FEAR” tagline of the 90s extreme sports clothing brand/lifestyle. However, I want to amend that to note that it doesn’t mean that one cannot feel afraid, but to remind oneself not to live and act in fear. I am currently working on making a motivational poster of this mantra!

MW: Your work reflects an interest in feminism, popular culture, and “high” art. How do you view/navigate these fields? What do you consider to be your relation to each of them?

AH: I work in the academy, I went to art school, I have an MFA: I am deeply entrenched in the world of high art. And I love it, because I LOVE art, I am lucky enough to have been exposed to it at a young and impressionable age I suppose, and this is the kind of culture that I am interested in looking at, and learning about, and seeking out. However, I also live in the world, and specifically in the US, and pop culture is everywhere. I am not so much of an academic that I spend my days and nights locked up in some ivory tower poring over books, I like to go to the club!  My pop culture interests dovetail with my art interests, which is reflective of a certain corner of the art world — Kanye West collaborating with Vanessa Beecroft. Not that that is an exact perfect storm of the interests of my practice, in terms of making I am more excited about conflating sissy bounce with minimalism.

MW: Who are some of your popular culture influences?  Who are some of your artistic influences? Are they mutually exclusive? Do you feel like they impact you in different ways?

AH: R. KELLY, #1 influence, pop culturally and artistically, I see no difference. Adrian Piper, Wynne Greenwood (as Tracy & the Plastics), Kalup Linzy, Hennessey Youngman, Marina Abramovic, Prince, LTTR, Alex Bag, Yoko Ono, Yayoi Kusama, Big Freedia, etc. There are so many. I don’t know if they impact me in different ways, I mean, of course, they must, right? But I don’t really feel compelled to sort them out in any particular way, except perhaps thematically: who inspires me conceptually, who inspires me performatively?

MW: You incorporate a lot of choreography in your work. Is it the process of choreography and instruction that interests you or is it just a necessary component of some of your finished performances?

AH: Although I love performing choreographed movement, I don’t really care so much about teaching it, that is not where my interests lie. It is more of a means to an end. I need to use a lot of additional performers in some of my projects, so I think that there is a real comfort to having the framework of choreography to fall back on, especially for people who are shy or less outgoing performers. However, I do think that there is something particularly satisfying about seeing choreographed movement in a large group. I especially like to see what happens when movements are filtered through the performers’ individual physical vocabularies, it is like becoming aware of the nuances of a text through reading different translations.

MW: You have mentioned before that you do not tape your performances. Are there tactical reasons for that decision or is it an aesthetic choice, or both?

AH: I think that asking/demanding that a performance artist document their work through video is patently unfair. No one would ask a painter to make two paintings simultaneously! Making a compelling video document of a performance requires just as much, if not more choreography and planning as making the piece, and there is always the fear that it might fail (which is much different from having the piece fail). For a long time I subscribed to the popular belief that all that matters in the end is having impressive video documentation. This caused me no end of stress, and was ultimately distracting to the performance, as I found myself performing to the camera, rather than the audience. Plus, although we become more and more sophistical of a viewing audience, people still forget that the video is not the performance, and respond that a performance is “boring,” when in fact what they mean is that the video is “boring.” I find that using still photographs circumvents this situation, and satiates the desire to see the performance. Of course I have to say that the most ideal situation is to actually JUST COME TO THE PERFORMANCE, DUH.

MW: Most of your work that I have seen first hand, which admittedly isn’t as much as I would like, has utilized the standard separation between artist and audience but I know that you have other performances, perhaps more recent, that deal with direct contact with the audience. Is this a new development in your work or is it something you have always been engaged with/interested in?

AH: I am always interested in engagement with the audience. Sometimes it makes sense to have that engagement reside in a more traditional separation between myself and the audience, though even when that is the case I like to blur these lines as much as possible. Recently I have been investigating super intimate experiences between myself and an individual audience member, which mixes it up a little more. But I am curious about boundaries, and probably with testing them, though that seems sort of dangerous to admit. I am drawn to intensity of experience, and since I think that I have recently become straight-edge again (???), I like to think of “getting CRAZY, like PARRRRRRTAAAAAAAAAYYYY!!!” as a sort of emotional wildin’ out, but in a respectful way.

MW: You recently wrote an impassioned and attentive analysis of R. Kelly’s work and artistic intentions for the publication YA5. Would you say that you idolize R. Kelly? Do you address idolization in your artistic practice?

AH: First off, I think that it is important to state that my intellectual interest in R. Kelly is for his artistic output, I am going to take the privileged critical position of ignoring R. Kelly, the man, in order to concentrate on the work of R. Kelly, the artist. And actually, this is not the first time that I have been asked about idolizing him, someone once asked me if what I actually wanted was to be him, which was a shocking suggestion to me. Because no, I don’t want to be him! I am happy and grateful that his deeply weird mind exists, and I am fascinated with how he understands the world, but I am not at interested in having that mind! I want that mind to exist externally from me so that I can appreciate it. I do find R. Kelly to be an inspiration, and I want to collaborate with him, but I don’t think that I would characterize my feelings as idolization.

MW: Do you consider writing to be an integral part of your work?

AH: I am not sure. I love language, and I like the way that my writing practice allows me a space for critical unpacking, but it is such a different kind of output from my visual work. I think that it runs on a parallel track, but it also feels pretty distinct for me.

MW: Additionally, you have started curating an ongoing performance exhibition. Do you consider curatorial practices to be an integral part of your work?

AH: No, my curatorial project (5TH WEDNESDAYS) is just a pet project for me, a way of creating the community I want to exist within, and getting/giving the opportunity to see more of the art that I am most interested in. Outside of TBA, there are not a lot of venues for performance art in this city, and I am sorry, but 11 days in a year is not enough! I have a lot of respect for people who want to take on curating — it’s a difficult practice, there is a reason that people go to school for that shit! I find the administration aspect frustrating to the extreme.

MW: You are currently traveling in the mid west for work and pleasure. Will you tell me a bit about the work you will be performing over the summer?

AH: Weird witch work. Investigations of the spectrum of blackness, and “blackness.” The place where these lines of inquiry intersect.

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