Seeing and Reseeing: Jealousyat Hair and Nails
by Brooks Turner
Jealousy, a collaborative performance and installation between HIJACK (Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder) and their respective partners Ryan Fontaine and Heidi Eckwall, immerses its viewers in an unfolding space of contradiction and reversal, set within a defined timescape. While Jealousy is continuous—neither performers nor audience receive a break—the experience is divided in two, like acts of a play…
I enter at the back of the gathered audience. Crossing the threshold into Hair and Nails, our feet land in packed dirt. The visitors in front of me choose whether to head first to the basement or continue forward down a narrow hallway defined by the painted pink gallery walls and a construction of semi-transparent white tape covering chicken wire, lined at the base with a strip of LEDs. I am compelled to follow the path, but I find no opening into a center room. Sod hangs upside down above the space in the middle. Is it upside down or are we upside down? I think I see faint movement through the frosty filter of tape, but I leave the shadows behind to enter a darkened back room.
A small TV flips through three different views into the tape and wire enclosed room—one from above, and two from different angles. The closed-circuit security cameras reveal two bodies on the ground, one laying the other massaging—it is HIJACK, enclosed within the space, trapped within a cage. Van Loon lies on the floor as Wilder presses her fingers and palms into her hip and leg. Van Loon eventually begins to rise, leaving Wilder kneeling on the ground, performing a kind of solo, stretching her body, coming to life. The switching of the camera keeps time, becoming a visual metronome.
A phone alarm sounds followed by a text-to-speech voice: “Activity completed.” Wilder stands up and they begin a more dynamic and gymnastic relationship, balancing off of each other, supporting each other, unifying their musculature and skellature into a kind of hybridized body, abstracted by the high contrast black and white cycling through different angles faster than they move themselves. Their bodies feel so far away when seen through the tiny screen, but I can hear them moving 10 feet from where I sit. We are in the same space and yet so removed.
The cage and closed circuit cameras lead me to think of our surveillance state and the concentration camps at our southern border. We are in the same space as these children, and yet I feel so far away. I shouldn’t feel far away from them; they are in my living room, on my phone, I should be able to hear them. The structural considerations of this space become impetus for moral self-reflection. What can I do? Am I doing enough?
I leave the darkness and reenter the space of the cage. The tone changes as I am overwhelmed by the bright pink walls made more intense by departing from darkness. It is uncanny to go from contemplating the horrors at our southern border to the brilliance of pink and the sounds of vibrant chirping nature. But I suppose this is our reality: concentration camps and nail salons.
Fontaine bends over, seemingly peering in through some kind of hole in the tape wall. I find my own slit and try to look inside. I see fragments of bodies moving but nothing clearly, so instead I press my face against the tape, hoping to see shadows if nothing else through the semi-transparency. The LEDs at the base of the wall fracture the bodies of HIJACK into refracted rainbows of light. It feels like an ontological proposal: our bodies, our persons, are made of light, photons full of potential.
But as I pull my face back from the cage, I notice a camera watching me. Even when I think I am alone, I am watched. I realize I haven’t been to the basement and leave the discomfort the camera lens brings.
A TV displays an iPad resting in a bed of grass, which itself plays a video of grass—their backyard, perhaps. I am not sure if this is another closed circuit live stream or a video. The camera appears to shake as if held by hand—but who would be holding the camera through the performance? I am called away from it by the realization that the camera I saw upstairs is live streaming here in the basement between two pillars of cages containing living plants, lights, and slowly moving and still objects. One of the tape and chicken wire walls divides the lens into two spaces: the hallway where I pressed my face against the wall and the interior of the cage with the performers trapped within. Immediately I begin to question my actions upstairs—What was I doing? What did they see? But as I watch, these questions dissipate into the drama between encaged dancers and free-roaming visitors.
I feel far away again, not only from the dancers, but also the architecture, the brightness of the upstairs. The space becomes a performer in its own right, slicing up my experience. Again I am jarred back to the realization of my physical closeness to the encaged performers by pounding overhead. On the screen Van Loon and Wilder jump up and down. Their is a joyful giddiness to their movements, like children playing a game that has no rules and no outcome. This fluctuation of the presence of sound but distance of sight calls me to think how our screen-mediated culture has changed what it means to be present. I am with all these people, but nonetheless I am alienated.
I return upstairs in time to see Fontaine and Eckwall roll back the walls of the cage, revealing for the first time HIJACK in person. Fontaine and Eckwall distribute chairs and invite us to sit, establishing a more traditional viewing experience. But even in its traditional methods, we sit on chairs in the dirt, and sod hangs above the performers.
I no longer pay attention to the other audience members; my attention is directed towards Van Loon and Wilder. Even though the walls have been removed, a division between audience and stage remains in a wood threshold keeping the dirt in the space of the audience and a clean floor for HIJACK.
Movements we saw through screens and projections in Act 1 begin to repeat. Are we meant to re-see these movements and patterns or to see them for the first time? Did we really see them when we watched through a lens?
One dancer stands still, the other positions herself directly behind and begins wiggling her toes beneath the other’s heels. The other’s weight is shifted to the ball of her feet, and her body springs forward one step before she circles back behind the other, slipping toes under heels and restarting the action. This repeats several times, tracing a snake across the floor. In a similar action, one dancer sits on the floor with her legs opened in a V. The other moves behind, slipping their leg below the knee of the one in front. The one in front moves forward then circles back, positioning herself behind the other. Through these movements, Wilder and Van Loon chain their bodies through space, each other’s position dictating their collective movements
Along with these tracking patterns, HIJACK performs feats of gymnastic strength and balance, their bodies pressed against each other in uncomfortable and irregular positions, relying on the strength of the other so as not to come crashing down. Their intimacy brings me to consider twins in the womb, a strange reversal from the beginning poetics that recalled concentration camps and the security state. I wonder if perhaps they are two sides of the same person—Janus in two bodies. It is fitting, in fact, to call upon this Roman god who presided over the beginning and the end of conflict. From Janus comes both the impetus for war and the resolution of peace, division and unity.
Wilder sprawls out on the floor. I question whether she is miming death, and my thoughts are brought back again to concentration camps. Van Loon begins massaging Wilder’s hip and leg, a reversal of the opening sequence. This return to closeness and intimacy brings us back to togetherness and unity. Van Loon’s touch seemingly brings Wilder back to life. Wilder stretches out on the ground, touching the wood threshold and rolled up walls. Slowly, she rises, moving through space, reaching her arms out and bringing them in to her chest as if gathering up the air around her. For the first time she breaks the threshold of the stage, touching a section of pink wall, pulling the audience-air towards her body. Van Loon watches from her knees as Wilder continues. Finally an alarm sounds: “Activity completed.” And all goes dark.
A few years ago, I read a short book containing an essay titled, Towards a Three-Dimensional Literature. In it, artist and writer David Colosi proposes a form of art and literature that is realized three dimensionally. For me, his proposal introduced a way of talking about a certain subset of installation and performance that incorporates literary narrative into its structure, whether abstractly or literally. Consider the act of reading a book: you become immersed in the narrative, you embody the characters, find ways of relating to them and relating their story to your own. And yet you are never the characters, and their world is an imagined reality contained within your head and signified in black text.
Colosi is careful not to overdetermine any work labeled as “three-dimensional literature.” Nor do I wish to attach Jealousyto Colosi’s particular theory. But, it strikes me that this collaborative performance-installation is greater than the sum of its parts both in authorship and its allegiance to a particular media dialogue. My experience of it was something akin to literature in space. It lacked a strict narrative, but nonetheless as viewers we found ourselves immersed in a poetic drama unfolding between characters. Van Loon and Wilder occupy center stage, their actions unfurling and then refolding in a spatial and performative reversal across bodies—where one begins the other ends and vice versa. In the hallways, Fontaine and Eckwall are characters in disguise. They mingle with the audience, policing the space while offering support to the performance. The visitors, myself among them, become the chorus, our voices silent, but our bodies present, populating this surreal and abstract, propositional reality.
Brooks Turner is an artist, writer, and educator concerned primarily with our existential condition. His work has been exhibited nationally, including recent exhibitions at St. Mary’s University, Steve Turner Contemporary, and College of the Redwoods. He received his MFA in sculpture from UCLA in 2015 and currently adjuncts at St. Cloud State University.
by Arwen Wilder
As I think about Jealousy, what it must have been like for the audience, what people have told me they felt, I am reminded of a favorite line: Wallace Stevens quoting Mario Rossi “The great interests…air and light, the joy of having a body, the voluptuousness of looking.”
Our job as choreographers is to figure out how to let people look, really look, because dance goes by so fast, it is so complicated and abstract. Our mentor Lisa Nelson slows it down and builds it methodically and gives the audience markers and measures. In Jealousy part 1, we transport the audience to a disorienting place, the dirt is inside, the walls are thick with pink, the sod is on the ceiling, the passageways are narrow, the more you strain to see through the walls of the structure, the less you can actually see. Different rooms give you different, interrupted visions of the bodies, of the dance. Black and white on a moniter where the image switches angle every 2 seconds, upside down dancers on lush green inside green, a skewed view, with extra saturated color, framed on half audience half dancers. Or you can choose to stay in the room where the dancers are, hearing us, feeling us if such a thing is possible, seeing our blurry forms. The colors are intense, the air-conditioning after the heat of waiting outside, the humid thickness of sod smell, the sound of frogs, your senses are all engaged. Part 1 goes on a long time. You might get bored. You might slow down and realize at least subconsciously that you are choosing how to look, that you have to look for details. You might get mad, because there isn’t enough to see, you might wonder if there is any more, if this is a game you are supposed to learn to play, if this is a political experiment and you are supposed to do something. In Jealousy part 2 the inner structure opens and the dancers are revealed. The audience is given chairs and invited into the familiar way of watching dance, sitting and looking. But you are unusually close to the dance and your ability to choose how to look is all warmed up.
What people reported to have seen in this second section is the rapport between us, the accumulation of years, the subtlety of our communication, the quality of the touch between us. Of course, the audience is mostly friends. They are people who know of our decades of dancing together. Minneapolis has been loving on its older dancers in recent years, giving them awards and grants and stating a great value on longevity, gravity and wisdom, undermining ballet’s value on perfection of youth and lightness. We are dancing on slippery plastic, heedfully holding our old ligaments together, in a 9 x 12 foot frame. There is no abandon in this dancing, the virtuosity is necessarily a subtler kind than some dance, the kind old dancers exhibit anyway. Many people report being emotionally moved by the connection they saw between us and their subsequent reflection on the longevity of our collaboration. That’s cool. That’s real. Here are some other things I think about the piece…
On white women winners: Two white women dance around in a cage. The doors have been opened but they don’t leave. Their cage now has beautiful, elegant columns. The women were the winners at some time. They are wearing medals after all. Several medals each. They carefully replace each other while the music stutters “change, change, change, change”. But all the progress they make in changing shape or direction they soon go back and repeat again. No real progress. Then they begin some ritual, bodywork, caring for each other. Self care is big these days. The civil defense sirens go off. They don’t pay any attention. There is a kids voice almost indiscernible, but he sounds so frightened and desperate. He says “get in the house, get, in, the house”. They keep massaging each other, smiling at one another occasionally visually checking in, it is intimate. And then one rises to standing. It takes her five minutes. Her route is beautiful and complicated but really all she did was stand up. At the end the computer voice says, “activity completed” like there was some kind of success. But she hasn’t left the cage, she didn’t help the other person up. The place is full of our friends so they might not have noticed how despicably we behaved in the face of an emergency. If not despicably certainly pathetically.
On cages: Really I don’t know what is real anymore. I don’t understand how decisions get made. How can there be children in cages without soap or blankets sleeping on concrete floors and everyone knows but somehow we haven’t stopped it yet. This betrays logic and the basic decency of cause and effect like the atomic bomb did. This makes me not understand reality. And then here was this other cage, a very comforting cage, a place to dance and receive bodywork, a place that felt good to be in, cool and beautiful. Oh the cages of our own making.
On audiences and civility and outrage? Why didn’t they pull the cage down? Because they trust us? But why? Or because they wouldn’t pull any cage down around any people?
On surveillance: Oh the surveillance culture of our times, we love it, we hate it, we think it is sexy and sick. We participate.
On why arts get an environmental pass: I don’t have any idea. Artists use toxic paint and resins and single use plastic and lights which take huge amounts of energy and sit in our houses in front of our Apple devices and order things like dirt and tape and cameras to be delivered to our houses. We are moving so fast that we drive short distances and fly instead of using other options. Why do we get a moral pass to do this?
On pink and green and plastic and tape and sod: Hot pink and kelly green were the official preppy colors of the early 80s, the years of Ronald Reagan and de-regulation and the time Ryan and Heidi and Kristin and I were in our youth. Sod is not a symbol of wild and healthy growing things, it is full of worms and bugs and it will grow if taken care of, but it is not native to this place, it was cut out in a rectangle and dosed with poison to make it weedless. It is a symbol of controlling a wild thing to prove dominance or respectability. The windows were curtained with tape, the inner walls were made with tape, the lights were taped in. Tape is such an obvious symbol of the cheap, quick and temporary fix.
On laziness and manual labor: We made the moves and scores for this piece so fast. I sometimes felt lazy for not working harder on them. I sometimes wondered if it was okay to make the audience watch us getting bodywork. But then, we hauled all that dirt and painted the walls three coats of pink. The inner walls were painstakingly layered tape on difficult to cut wire rolls. What Puritanical remnants in me/us love to feel the work of something even if, or especially if it has such temporary results?
On measuring time: The timer goes off every minute for some of the piece. It allows us to notice the passage of time and that something has occurred in that time. What is different now? That is a useful way to parse the dance. I notice another measure. The week before we were told we got the arts board grant to make this show, my friend, Soozin, was diagnosed with cancer. The week before we performed the show she died. Another opportunity to measure time and what has occurred and what is different now.
Arwen Wilder was a collaborator on the project Jealousy. She makes dances with Kristin Van Loon and raises children with Heidi Eckwall. She learned to write from her mother who taught her how to make a draft look like a highway map.
by Heidi Eckwall
I don’t do social media. I don’t trust advertising. I used to like to take photographs, when it was real film and you had to know something about light and exposure and you were limited by how many photos per roll of film (usually 12 or 24 or 36) so you had to be deliberate.
When choice was imperative.
When it could take days to get the developed prints back from the shop.
When waiting was difficult.
Waiting is always difficult.
What do we learn by waiting?
It was always exciting to open a folder of new photos. The sleeved negatives in one pocket, the prints in another. Holding the photos by the edges, looking at them one by one. 12 or 24 or 36. Maybe one or two light-streaked extras, depending on the camera. Remembering the real live moment in its photograph.
Oh, I forgot I took a picture of that.
Oh, that one didn’t turn out so good.
It was hard to discard bad photos because they were the only ones you had.
Digital is too damn easy. The excess is overwhelming and offensive. And like other easy excessive things, digital becomes dreck and boring. But sometimes I do document moments on my phone. What a tool.
Lose it all in an upgrade.
I’m pretty analog. I prefer to use my brain to remember and forget.
I took this photo on the day the walls went up, to remind myself of what the whole space looked like. Ryan cropped himself out of it, called it a better photo, and posted it online without asking or crediting me. He apologized later. I said I didn’t care about the credit. But maybe that’s a lie.
Ticket sales took off after Arwen posted this one. So is it advertising? The photo was taken as a snapshot in time–this really happened, this is how we screwed the sod to the ceiling. It is not a staged photo. I just noticed how ridiculous the process looked, pulled my phone out of my pocket and took a picture. Probably I should have been helping more.
It is interesting to me, the workings of optics and small holes. My phone camera could see Hijack through the mesh better than my eye could, but my eye could see the quality and color of the light better than the camera could.
It fell into Arwen’s lap and she brought it inside to show us. She put it on a folded-over piece of paper on a windowsill in the gallery. It wasn’t dead. It couldn’t fly, could only move its legs a little bit. It was so beautiful up close. We worked around it.
The walls of the structure were made of hardware cloth (wire mesh) and packing tape. The inside was sticky like fly paper. It caught a lot of insects over the week. Mosquitoes. Tiny bees. Others I don’t know their names.
The dragonfly died when we weren’t looking.
The iPod playing the sound score was under the paper under the dragonfly.
We had an ongoing bet. Ryan thought the audience would eat the donuts. I bet they wouldn’t. They didn’t.
Why pink. It was the color of a post-it that Ryan had on his desk. The color went with the pale pink plastic folding chairs and the sod. Three coats because two coats looked half-assed.
KVL found the pink tie-dye tracksuits at 7 Mile Fashion on Lake Street. And then the day before dress rehearsal we were a little panicked because Ryan and I didn’t have costumes yet. We all got into KVL’s car. Ryan drove. We went to 7 Mile looking for pink Dickies. Found pink tie-dyed fancy pants instead. And pale pink bandanas. 7 Mile didn’t have pink shirts that fit so we went to Target. Found pink recycled plastic bottle Jack Nicklaus golf shirts with tags that looked like medals. The tags said ECO.
Arwen took the pink idea further, thought we all should have pink fingernails and toe nails. I have never used nail polish in my life. Our daughter painted my nails. We kept the bottle handy for touch-ups. I put it on the shelf near the dragonfly. During performances some audience members helped themselves to the polish. So yes to polish, no to donuts–it is a curious study in audience behavior.
I lit the pink gallery. Eight LED tapelights, six MR16 birdies and six gallery tracklights. Electricity consumed: under 1000 watts–a single household circuit. In comparison, an average show in a theater uses around 86,000 watts for lighting. We had three cues: ON, OFF, ON. The LEDs could do all kinds of fancy color changing tricks, but I didn’t think the piece needed it. Restraint. It is important to know when to stop. It is important not to consume all of the resources.
April 23, 2019. I was walking the dirt two-track road up at the lake. It winds through swampy land and woods. Grey Treefrogs. Western Chorus Frogs. Wood Frogs. Northern Leopard Frogs. Spring Peepers. Impossible not to stop and listen. The quieter I was, the more they had to say.
August 6, 2014. I was inside a camera obscura with Arwen and our kids in a park in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was small, like a fish house, and dark. One wall had a small hole that light came through. On the wall opposite the light created an upside down image of the park outside. When we came out of the house, the civil defense sirens started going off. They didn’t sound like Minnesota sirens.
July 2, 2015. Loon tremolo up at the lake at night. A defense signal. An alarm. This is my territory.
We all ate turkey sandwiches for lunch every day for two weeks. Condiments and toppings included pesto, micro greens, spinach, lettuce, mustard, sauerkraut, veganaise, swiss cheese, tomatoes. The toaster was a challenge–it was difficult to get the bread to stay down long enough to become toast.
I become stupid in heat. My skin burns really fast in direct sunlight. We spent a couple days building the walls of the structure outside on a long sawhorse plywood table. Taping taping taping: 2 x 15′ x 8′, 2 x 8′ x 8′, 2 x 4′ x 5′, 1 x 4′ x 3′. An oak tree shaded part of the table. We drank a lot of water with electrolyte powder. I liked working outside. Ekwall means “oak wall” in Swedish.
Difficult to dance on. Easy to light.
A yard and a half delivered in the alley. Used shovels, 5 gallon buckets and a wheelbarrow with a flat tire to move it into the gallery. Ryan built little wooden walls so it wouldn’t slip into the air conditioning/heating vents. It compacted where we walked. We made paths. Eventually it dried out and began to crack like drought land.
I got to see it in rehearsal, without the structure, on the wood floor, in rehearsal clothes, in daylight augmented by fluorescent gallery light. Unmediated.
And then the cage came. And the peepholes. And the lights. And the frogs and the sirens and the loons. And the cameras and the switcher and the monitor and the projector. And then the audience came.
I wonder: is the dance still the dance. Or is it something else.
Panta rhei.Everything flows. Everything changes.
How many sod pieces have I worked on over the years? POLKA at Intermedia (1995), Emily Johnson in Mpls, Chicago and NYC (2004-2005), Mathew Janczewski at the Cowles (2012) and Southern (2017), two faculty shows last year at Colorado College (2018-2019). And now Jealousy. In none of them was it my choice to use sod.
Ryan said he wanted sod on the ceiling: did those other people do THAT with it? No, the others danced on and underneath it. But here’s the thing: my preference is not to be half-assed about choices. If you’re gonna do something that’s been done before, do it to the nth degree. Make it a motif. Push the limit. Explore ridiculous excess as a political statement. Wasting resources is offensive. Excess is offensive. Make people see it. Evaluate the choice. Be offended. Be outraged. Change behavior.
I suggested we use some sod to black out a window in the black room. Ryan was resistant. I insisted. I thought that packing the window with sod would look strange and interesting. I liked the verticality, its line in opposition to the horizontal inverted sod on the ceiling in the pink room. KVL and Arwen and I installed it, jamming it into the space between the security bars and the window glass. Using wire and wood to tie it and wedge it so that it didn’t fall into the yard. It got no daylight, so it changed color over the course of the residency and performances, started to decompose behind the glass. I wanted to cut a small hole in it, so that people could look out the window, through the sod into the tangle of wild weeds in the backyard. Ryan ixnayed. I wanted to light it. Ryan ixnayed.
I wanted to use some more sod. Frame the iPad in the video in the basement with sod instead of weeds. Put it in Ryan’s re-purposed resin and wire sculpture boxes. Screw it to the bathroom wall. Use it to construct a box office table. Make it into a reception snack plate. I did put a hunk of it inside a roll of tape on a shelf in the pink room, next to the dragonfly. A feeble gesture.
On the last night, I stuck a candle in the sod window. I was tired of the sod window being invisible. I’m not convinced that anyone ever noticed it. Their eyes were drawn instead to the tiny black and white video monitor.
I want to work on projects with people where all voices are heard, all opinions respected, where there is more equality. Not one person in charge–instead the whole group hashing it out. Not a big group. Just a small group of talented articulate self-aware generous fearless people who actually want to work together. Having difficult discussions, naturally. Certainly. Finding a place where everyone’s ideas can meet.
Jealousy. Sometimes a title gets picked before a piece gets made and sometimes the title keeps working but not in the way it was originally intended.
My name is Heidi Eckwall. I was a collaborator on the project Jealousy. Most of my ancestors are Swedish. They came to Minnesota in the 1850s. I was born a few blocks from where I live now. The children I raise with Arwen were born at home. I am very aware that my ancestors believed the advertisement that the new land had soil without tillers and called for tillers without soil. I regret that they plowed up the prairie and polluted the water. I regret that they helped to push the natives off this land.
by Karen Sherman
A survey of Hijack show titles over the last 25 years is unlikely to produce as emotionally loaded a title as Jealousy—an instant heat-generator that threatens to scratch your eyes out. But Hijack doesn’t typically tell you so openly what it is they’re doing so if they call it Jealousy, it’s best to assume it isn’t. Here, jealousy (or jealousy-adjacent mistrust, inadequacy, territoriality) shows up not as a slow-acting poison but in strategic if opportunistic flashes, like a well-placed cocktail party elbow to the flank of a rival: frosted doughnuts gloating on a black shelf, thwarted views of the dancers, a soil floor that brings cool relief but stains your clothes.
A collaboration between Kristin Van Loon, Arwen Wilder, Heidi Eckwall, and Ryan Fontaine, Jealousyis a foursome made up of two romantic couples and one collaborative duo, each person primarily working in different mediums (Heidi, lighting; Ryan, visual art/installation; Kristin and Arwen, aka Hijack, dance). I didn’t think much about this polyamory until it was pointed out to me by several people who commented on it as inherently thorny, even volatile, adding that at the very least cross-discipline tension must be at the root of the title. One could view Jealousy’s visual installation as a setting in which a dance took place or one could view it as a set piece created to serve the dance. Though I knew things were meant to be equal, I viewed the piece as a dance above all else mostly because I was expecting to see one and because I think dance adapts to environments more intuitively than installations adapt to dance, since by its nature dance has more practice at this due to its intrinsic use of space and place as visual and experiential realities. In the end, probably lighting is the only field that truly collaborates with everyone yet it ends up the most taken for granted; forever the caregiver in the relationship.
I’m always amazed at how much can be done in the small space of Hair+Nails, how mutable it is. In this case, most of the main upstairs space was a sealed-off room-within-the-room created from hardware cloth and packing tape, inside of which most of the dance took place unseen directly by anyone. The basement video projection depicting live-feed of the upstairs space, including surveillance footage from inside the hardware cloth room, seemed to expand the walls out into the street. Not being given rules—when does it start, in what room does it begin, where to sit—the audience initially seemed gripped with anxiety. They rushed into the gallery as if at a barely subdued Black Friday sale, fueled by worry about choosing the wrong seat or the wrong room, vying for whatever might constitute a better sightline. This dynamic, along with the saccharine pink of the main room, the pitch black of the back room, the LED glow and hi-res monitor in the basement, the recorded birdsong, the plants integrated into the sculptures, not to mention the preponderance of surveillance cameras, suggested an elaborate practical joke underway, with all of us hoodwinked. I began to question what was genuine (are those plants real or plastic?is the video pre-recorded or live-feed?). Leaning against the hot water heater, watching people watch video of the people upstairs watching a dance they could not see, I wondered who was watching us. The basement crowd sat like the devoted congregation a dance audience is, waiting for a formal beginning.
Upstairs, the hardware cloth room was surrounded by a 2.5’ wide perimeter of fresh dirt several inches deep, making the space, fecund but cool, sound muffled. The ceiling was paved with a strip of sod and some lilies. The hardware cloth walls had holes in some spots (intentional? accidental?) where you could look inside and see Kristin and Arwen. People claimed the holes like squatters, bogarting the view. Some people put their phones up to the holes and recorded the dance, an action that felt both a product of the age we live in—a depressing but to-be-expected-at-this-point turn in etiquette where contemporary audiences feel entitled to ownership of the artist’s image (which in the case of dance means the artist’s body)—and a forgivable way to witness and enlarge the dance without having to hunch over a ½” hole (which, for the sake of extending the argument, suggests audiences feel fine about privileging the comfort and control of their own bodies over the artist’s). This recording and the presence of phones in general bothered me, which I admitted was ironic given that surveillance (voyeurism?) was such a prevalent theme. Still, I wonder about the impulse to make one’s own rules as an audience member. How do you know which pieces allow it and which don’t? Without explicit consent have the artists given any?
Behind the plastic, Kristin started moving. I couldn’t see her but I could hear and feel her body thudding the floorboards. I was reminded of raccoons in the attic, dragging furniture around to make a nest. I wondered whether Hijack felt cocooned in the room or if the peepholes, smartphones, and live-feed surveillance cameras made them feel more on display. I thought about the psychic veil you wrap around yourself when performing. It’s permeable, not wholly sealed—it has to because performing is about feeling the energy of other people—but there are ways performers partially insulate ourselves to get the job done. When people can only see you through the mediation of video, there’s a remove that’s both a luxury and impediment to connection so the density and quality of that veil has to change. Something about this inner tangle gets me close to the hot margins of jealousy; an interior space where things could turn treacherous.
The back room of the gallery was painted a deep black. The window was upholstered on the outside with sod, a natural, suffocating blackout shade that made me feel buried alive. Right next to it, glossy black shelves displayed exuberantly frosted doughnuts. A small b/w TV played surveillance footage of the dance via cameras placed inside the hardware cloth walls. The camera angle changed every few seconds so the dance was chopped up into overhead shots and closeups, all capturing the bodies at different angles, essentializing the dance into emblems. I thought, 25 years of dancing together distilled into incidental body parts finding each other over and over. But isn’t that what’s at the core? Has there ever been anything more to it than this rough language of simply being together, hour after hour? I wasn’t sure if I meant in dances or long-term relationships or both. Initially, the poor resolution of the cameras was frustrating, distancing, and clinical, and I felt robbed of the intimacy of Kristin and Arwen together in person. I thought about convenience store security cameras capturing armed robberies. The choppy, silent footage, how panic and terror seem largely muted in them, high emotion rendered colorless. Maybe I couldn’t shake an association with crime dramas or courtrooms but my viewing felt forced into objectivity; despite the show’s title, I was meant to watch with my emotions in check. But something started to shift. The rhythm of camera angle changes began to feel seductive then intricately communicative. The experience moved from distanced to pleasurably voyeuristic to surprisingly intimate and shared. Several of the abrupt changes in camera angles coincided with sudden moves in the choreography, provoking a grunt of pleasure from more than a few of us watching. Other times, one angle would show a generic wide shot but the next would reveal a closeup of the tender nesting of elbows. I was reminded of Hijack’s self-created residency at the Walker Art Center’s Mediatheque. One of their first showings included a performance choreographed to b/w films by Yvonne Rainer and others. Here at Hair+Nails, they created their own Mediatheque with Rainer’s “Five Easy Pieces” reimagined as a Hijack performance. At Mediatheque, the sightlines were awful. Here, the cameras showed me things I wouldn’t have known I wanted to see. I don’t typically like watching monitors or projections all that much but I became wistful at the thought of leaving this room.
But I did leave, sensing it was probably time for the hardware cloth walls to open (I’d noticed the wooden handles). Sure enough, Ryan and Heidi rolled each wall back until it formed a cylinder, lit from within by white LEDs with the rest of the floor lit by overhead gallery track lighting and PAR birdies. The playing space was framed at the outer edges with 1x4s, which held back the soil, and the bare wood floor in the middle was covered in translucent plastic. Where previously the sealed room had glowed from within a milky white, the warm tones of the wood floor reflected into the space, bringing new life. The effect was that of a soft-shelled snake egg hatching. The wood floor, even under plastic, was comforting in its dance-ness, its evocation of natural habitat, and it was there we finally saw Kristin and Arwen in the flesh. They were festooned with medals around their necks, including several for “debate.” Awarded, weighed down but unimpeded, they were the Olympians of dance, the long-distance runners, and intellectual high jumpers. The medals clanked about as they moved and risked choking them (an excellent metaphor for a long-term career in dance). They wore tie-dyed short-sleeved athletic wear purchased (I overheard later) from 7 Mile, the “urban clothing” store next to the now-shuttered thrift store Savers. I considered how dancers arriving at Savers to hunt for costumes only to find it closed and heading next door to 7 Mile is going to influence dances for the next few years. The price tags dangling from Hijack’s shirts read $29.99. They paid too much, I thought, then realized it was a matching set—leggings anda shirt—and changed my mind. They’d painted their nails bright pink. It looked like a professional job although that seemed a splurge. Then again, they paid $29.99 apiece for those outfits. Arwen’s hair was longer and bushier than I’d ever seen it. I wondered what made her decide to grow it out, what personal whims influence something so mundane but essential. You never know what goes on inside a person.
The entire audience was now assembled around the “stage” with unobstructed views of the dance in which one dancer aligned her body to the other, stacking against, matchy-matching, sidling up into, pressing against, but never quite settling in to any kind of perfect, resolved fit. Nothing stayed at its endpoint for very long—there was rarely a sense of conventional completion, no nestling, no indulgent lingering, no physical conclusions, just a series of approaches. The imperfection was delicious. Crotch on crotch, legs sliding over thighs, arches sheltering toes.
A highly deconstructed, nearly demolished version of “Runs in the Family” by The Roches started to play. It’s maybe my favorite of their songs and even spliced and diced was so mournful. The soaring, slightly discordant harmony even more chilling onthe words “change” and “runs” because Hijack’s edit twists the arms of the song so severely its pain startled me. I thought I might burst into tears. Sometimes harmony like that makes me lose my footing. I can’t change the law of averages. Kristin pinched the skin on Arwen’s arm. It was gentle and supportive. It looked painful but limited. I was breathless for a moment and thought, this might be the most intimate thing I’ve ever seen them do.
At the end, in a reversal of the very beginning of the dance, Kristin touched a prone Arwen, working her legs as if giving bodywork (or indeed giving bodywork—because of what this dance did to their bodies or for another reason?). She dug her fingers into Arwen’s hip then let her hand fall heavily and repeatedly onto the femur head. Arwen curled into an egg shape, left leg to right hand distally folding in, and eventually got to her feet where she spun out into an anti-terrestrial solo. Soil below her, sod above her, she became more than either promise or fruition: the meat of the matter, the essential emblem, the dance-within-this-dance-within-this-room-within-this-room.
Karen Sherman makes dances, writes, and builds things.
by Kristin Van Loon
In JEALOUSY I am….
…obscured by filmy white.
…peeped by peeping toms.
…in a continuity with Arwen through a choreographic process of about 6 months. And also making my moves up on the spot. And also doing moves we called Bottleneck that we made for a DaNCEBUMS party last winter. And doing things HIJACK does in class on Wednesdays with whoever shows up. And sampling Faux Summer Foemoves we did under the oak tree out back last summer.
…wearing an outfit we bought in a strip mall, tags still on. These outfits have no other wearing history.
…wearing medals I won as a tween figure-skater in the 1980’s and that Ea won as a tween in Debate.
…lying on my back, cold metal pressing on my eyelid like a monacle.
…hearing Cher in my head. Remembering Heidi sitting on the window sill rocking out, tip tapping her feet in the soil.
…tossing my weight around, careening close to audience’s knees.
…careful not to bonk Arwen with my medals as I catapult up onto her shoulder.
I sound like a cow at pasture.
I count a minute in my head.
I let the iphone ap tell me when one minute has passed.
I am a sculpture park:
…the crumbly ceramic chunks on circles of wire in a Lee Bontecou. And then the wire.
…every other bottle in a David Hammons. And the whole circle of bottles propped up on soil.
…the wooden knife in the Jack Whitten, and the negative space next to where it pierces the wooden base.
I am with Arwen, completing each others’ images, showing up for appointments, getting comfy on the floor to watch her rise.
…black and white and blinking on the backroom TV—the graininess of the image instantly historicizing. A Judsonesque grain. AGAIN Yvonne Rainer.
…splashed on the wall in the basement. Easter basket colors. Splitting the screen with audience squeezing down the corridor. Flanked by plastic box stacks, spinning green orbs, real plants.
…rarely showing up on the other screen on a screen in the grass upside-down.
…burying my face in the back of Arwen’s head. Hugging Arwen’s hips to hoist her up on my thighs. Hugging Arwen’s hips to hoist her up on my thighs. Hugging Arwen’s hips so she can reach for the ceiling sod.
…feeling the whole room as a replay of the nastiness of the photo-op at the detention center this week. Who is asking for a shower? Who is Pence? Who is secret service? Who is photojournalist? Who is ICE Agent?
…showered with reveal of 35 people, pairs of eyes, as the walls roll into columns. Sitting with my legs in a V, I make eye contact with Kevin, with Julie, I look at pink wall between people. I alternate between looking at, through, next to people. I recall my training that taught me, that tuned me, to the fact that my seeing is letting light in through the holes in my head.
I smell the freshness of soil.
I dodged a worm that fell from the ceiling.
I am hoping I don’t wrench my knees on the unstable floor.
I am wondering if I will win the bet about the donuts.
…juiced with emotion when that chopped up song by the Roche sisters plays. So shrill. Like bells. Oh Yeah.
…a shiny new car in the showroom in these static glamor lights.
…reinjuring, recovering. Receiving Arwen’s expert bodywork.
…wearing the wounds of building this environment with my friends: hardware wire scratches, pink paint blotches on forearms…
…so appreciative of this crew of co-conspirators: Arwen, Heidi, Jäc, Ryan. These comrades are all-in kinds of artists. What we do is silly and important and hard and fun.
Kristin Van Loon was a collaborator on the project Jealousy. Van Loon is a dance artist, working primarily in collaboration with Arwen Wilder as HIJACK. She is also the Artist Director of the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater and co-runs HAIR+NAILS Gallery with Ryan Fontaine.
by Amal Rogers
Immersed in Jealousy (the performance installation and my feelings), I asked no one in particular a lot of questions about the artists’ relationship. Their friendship and collaboration is such a dream. I have great friends but I wonder what I would need to do to cultivate a relationship so strong and long. Do I want that?
(they mostly refers to HIJACK)
Do they call each other when they’re sad?
Do they work out? Do they work out together?
Do they read the same books?
Do they text each other funny things?
Have they ever kissed?
Do they snuggle?
Do they stay in MN for each other?
Do they spend holidays together?
What do they fight about?
Have they ever almost stopped being friends?
Have they ever taken a friendship break?
Is it ever just about the work?
Are their partners jealous of their friendship?
Are their partners friends?
Why do they love other artists? Why not other dance artists?
Does Heidi like to dance?
Do Heidi and Ryan hang out?
Which of them is the most pushy?/strongest leader?
Who are their second best friends?
I also wondered if I was allowed to eat the donuts and was glad when Ryan gave me two after the show.
Did Arwen and Heidis kids see the show?
Do the kids like KVL and Ryan? Do they hang out with KVL and Ryan?
Do Arwen and Heidi go on vacation and leave the kids with KVL and Ryan?
Do they all watch movies together?
Do they know each other’s family?
Do they do hard things together?
What do they save just for their lovers?
What do they save just for each other?
Amal Rogers is a dance artist. She lived in Minneapolis for two years and now she lives in Miami.
JEALOUSY OR THAT HAIR / HER ARMS
by Valerie Oliveiro
Sometimes you’re not ready to be watched.
Sometimes, you’re not ready to be seen / or don’t expect to\ and then you have to grapple with the possibilities that you have been and you will be, in the near future in the ways that you were not expecting from people that you have different proximities with. Like at Midway arrivals where greeters can see passengers funnel through an escalator and the passengers don’t realize they are already spotted and have to shore up / move away from their interiors.
The familiar, rises. It wants you. It wants to fuck, right, now.
The aerial eye exposes and supposes everything is real and natural. It is an access and a kind of surreal privilege. A lead. Step back. Surveillance flails. I don’t want to be led to see / feel but these vectors of vision layer up. My own body, now, cannot access the periphery. So this is it. I am jealous of the absence of my dependably available periphery.
It reminds me of some news stories where the story is so large, so momentous, so heartbreaking that you can’t move back far enough from it to console/comfort yourself with it’s entire perspective. You have to dare yourself with being with it.
(bent over she can hear it and she wants to be so close to it she puts her feet at the edge and pushes her body into the wall and her arms and hands and fingers search the surface of the lavenderish light surface findfindfindinding a way to see to inhale and gleeful AF stroking to be closer)
I survey, also. Her performance shifts my location, more.
(there is a hole and through it you can see the other people trying to see in)
The interior is color, sound and smell. The other interior is the crinkled sound of plastic, breath and imagined dances that you’ve seen before / dances that may be (broadly) dangerous. It is perhaps, a present day Divola pre-touched, pre-sprayed, pre-imaged and pre-arranged. It is chicken wire, opaque tape and LED tape fashioned into vertical surface. It is an available interruption. This is the maker’s perseverance, not mine. How long can they stay unseen? How will they relish in this reveal?
Here was something in Kristin’s face, like her pupils dilated? Her mouth opened a little more? Her breath quickened? I can smell them now. the mixes. Dirt and hair and grass in (literal) ascending order, also, nail polish. What makes this interior possible? The fragments. It’s proximity. Their familiar weight with each other and how well they know it. That hair/her arms are placed apart.
A crystalizing anticipation of arrival stirs not-just-me. There are several. Several spacious frustrations and I am confused with what I want. Finally organized into sitting is a version of arrival but some of us arrived when Joc greeted us outside, or when we accepted the proposals of the premise of JEALOUSY or were cooled by air-conditioning or when we all had seen the basement. Everyone is a winner. Once you leave you can’t come back. We get to arrive when we get to arrive.
Valerie Oliveiro is an artist born in Singapore and calls the Twin-Cities home. She is a performance maker, dancer, designer and manager (among others) and she is one of the Artistic Directors of Red Eye Theater. She also writes things, sometimes.
by Ryan Fontaine
Jealousy exists for me at the intersection of several conceptual threads. 1. The increasingly mediated world we inhabit. 2. The way in which we perceive information when much of the necessary content is withheld. 3. The frustration of information withheld, the relief of that information provided. 4. Surveillance culture. 5. The power of dance in its purest and most stripped down form. 6. The difficulty of experiencing silence and ways to facilitate that experience. 7. The problematic use of the audience within performance or visual art. 8. Effectively involving senses other than sight in visual art. 9. The contrast between the natural and the artificial.
Many of us live our lives, more and more, thru the filter of social media. Are we projecting an accurate depiction of what we are and what we do? Are we seeing an accurate depiction of others lives? Probably yes and no. Certainly we are able to mediate how we are perceived, how others know us. There are people on my instagram feed that I know a great deal about but have never met. There are old friends I haven’t spoken to in years that I know where they live, what they do, how many dogs they have, what kind of art they are making now. In what old and new ways they are insane. When you see the black and white, two second skip shot to the next angle version of KVL and Arwen in Jealousy’s Black Room you are seeing the dance, but in a mediated way that has its own musicality, its own rhythm and feel. Part of that image’s content is the dance, but there is more. There is the armature – tiny tv, there is the viewer’s position as a clandestine observer – a surveiller, there is the donut – cop food, there is the dark ritual – assembling information surreptitiously. You see them they don’t see you – do you like that? Downstairs, part of the image’s content is the dance, but there is more. There is the audience – half of the composition of the shot, there is the audience watching the audience/dancers split-objective observers, there is the reminder this is happening right now – the footfall of dancers from above.
The walls of the room in which Hijack perform for the first half of Jealousy are semi-opaque. You can just make out the occupants if you are focused. It helps a lot when they are moving but there are long moments in the choreography when the dancers are still. The frustration builds, the frustration provokes strategies to overcome this barrier. People move around, squint, try to see thru the cracks. The real live subject is there but you can’t quite see it. The audience/participant eventually discovers the Black Room or downstairs, gets to see what’s going on in there, goes back with an idea of what is inside the enclosure but is still frustrated. Except for the “peepholes” which were certainly not my choice. Oh well, we all made compromises in this installation. In a way this made the whole upstairs a game of “find the peephole”, as if that was the trick. The trick for me was a kinetic, abstract figurative sculpture, sort of like a three dimensional Ross Bleckner. I guess there will always be a nagging part of me that would like to know what no peepholes would be like.
Why this barrier, this filter between the viewer and the subject which the viewer wishes to see? I may be quoting Arwen when I speak of a training of how to see, thru withholding. The desire to see is piqued when vision is obstructed. Or do you start to see other things when the desired subject is obscured? Do you see the surface of the enclosure now? Do you see the dirt under your feet, the plantlife above, the nail polish, the dragonfly, the other people in the room, the way the walls of the enclosure are secured, the surveillance cameras above, the beautifully applied pink latex paint, the stacks of chairs? Did you eat a donut? When the walls are rolled into luminous opalescent pillars and Hijack is revealed, are you happy? Does this clarity provoke feelings of relief? Do you feel the air move? Are you disoriented by the ceiling sod? Or rather is the reveal a big let down? Are you bored? Do you wish for the irrevocable mystery to return, sort of like Santa? Do you realize that you will never be content?
Can you remember when there weren’t cameras everywhere? Does that sound absurd to you? Really, I swear, there was a time before there were cameras everywhere when I perceived that if the state-control-apparatus tried to put cameras everywhere even the apolitical squares would see our government for the fascist dictators they were, because, you know, 1984. We all know that’s bad, right? The people will certainly not tolerate being surveilled 24/7, everywhere they go! No way!! We’ll all rise up, overthrow the man and live together in anarchy!!! Right?!?!
At least part of the idea of Jealousy, for me, was creating a multi-layered, conceptually complex, immersive environment that, while in some ways enforces the Hijack choreography, it also certainly distracts from it. The dancers are a very important part amongst many other constituent parts that make up the whole of the Jealousy performance/installation. That is, until the walls are rolled into pillars, the chairs are placed and the audience sits down, quite close to KVL and Arwen as their beautiful and difficult dance plays out over the final 20 or so minutes of Jealousy. In much the same way that our seeing is honed by a withholding and then reveal, the reveal also strips away the bells and whistles and shows us the dance. Sure, they are still within a contrived setting, but I am certain most eyes are now on KVL and Arwen. This is the art of humans moving in time and space without the preexisting movement vocabularies of ballet, modern dance, jazz or even hip-hop. This is several decades of practice and training, in uncharted territory, two dancers carving out one powerful, unique voice. It isn’t easy, but can you see it? Does it resonate for you? It certainly does for me.
The quietest room in the world exists right here in Minneapolis, the anechoic(without echo) chamber at Orfield Laboratories. Apparently, the record for being able to occupy this room is 45 minutes. Then you go crazy. That’s silence. We don’t really ever experience silence. In Jealousy, in an attempt to at least create a facsimile of what silence is like, we created a saturated auditory environment that cuts out abruptly. Perhaps we get a little taste of the silent in the surprise absence of a soundscape we have gotten used to over the course of the previous 25 minutes of the show. In 4’33”, John Cage made the listener consider the idea of silence by having a pianist enter the stage and then refrain from striking the keys for four minutes and thirty three seconds. In the absence of notes being played the audience member’s expectation is subverted and they are given a conceptual dose of silence, relative to the sound they thought they were to hear. Actual silence is rare, there is almost always something to hear. If not, apparently, we go insane.
I’m pretty averse to creative audiencing. I’ve rarely seen it be effective and almost always wish I was watching skilled performers showing well rehearsed or at least thoughtfully conceived work. Audience participation contains too many wild cards, there are too many uncharismatic and uncomfortable people that I would prefer to not be watching on stage. Certainly, definitely guaranteed, I personally did not come to a performance to be the performer. I’ve usually worked hard all day and want to see someone else doing the entertaining. I don’t want to go on an interactive treasure hunt or anything like it. Just leave me alone!
Which brings us to Jealousy.How could we create performance in which the entire audience were participants and avoid all the ways in which that generally rubs me the wrong way? I think it worked because we allowed a certain agency for each audience member. You could do it however you wanted, there was no right or wrong way to experience the work. Probably the single most successful element of the show, for me, was how it was both an individualized as well as a shared experience. You get your own adventure but you were there together in space and time.
During a recent trip to NYC KVL and I visited Walter De Maria’s The New York Earth Room. I was quite moved by everything about it, but particular the smell of good, clean soil while inside a tall New York apartment building. It was strange how there was no scent of mold or decay. It was jarring and sublime to see so much natural, raw material in such an incongruous location. Arwen also visited the installation on the same trip. In this way the dirt was incorporated into Jealousy.While visually important, its smell along with the sod was what I was most interested in. The smell of the outdoors, indoors. Alongside this was the sugar smell of the pink donuts in the Black Room. There were several separate but complementary soundscores filling the gallery. You could have eaten the donut but you did not because you are cautious and wise! Anyway, that would have covered the taste angle. The ground and the tape-covered hardware wire were strong tactile elements within this immersive environment. More and more I see art that embraces other senses besides sight and I’m excited to see where these ideas lead in my own art practice.
One of the main themes in my work is the contrast between the natural and the artificial. My last several exhibitions have incorporated plants in one way or another. This is new for me and makes me a little uncomfortable, which I usually take as a good sign. I don’t take it lightly, using real life in this way and I feel a responsibility to care for the living parts of my installations. Jealousyhad plants and it had sod, which in some ways is a hybrid between the natural and unnatural. All of the plastic we used certainly falls under the category of unnatural. And then, of course, Jealousy had us, the humans. Where do we fit? We’re animals, which is a natural thing, right? But as humans we are also the creators of so many unnatural, toxic objects, as well as the ultimate disrupters of so many, if not all natural systems. We also cultivate, nurture and defend the natural world. Or at least some of us do. Personally, I know I could and should do a lot more, though my heart is on the side of a thriving, green environment. But I love the city. And I make plastic sculptures.
We may be animals, but when I really look inside I feel like we’re also something else. Sort of a hybrid. Like sod.
Ryan Fontaine was a collaborator on the project Jealousy. Ryan Fontaine is a visual artist, musician and curator.