Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach (residency)

©2005 Marsian De Lellis
©2005 Marsian De Lellis

From October 10th-30th, 2005 I was an Associate Artist in residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, FL with Master Artist, Janie Geiser. At the residency, I assisted Geiser on her performance-installation Spider’s Wheels. For my own project, I created the second installment of Growing Up Linda, Birthday Trauma written with P.J. McWhiskers.  While there I also began a brainstorming session with Heather Henson to create what would become the Puppet Slam Network for the next decade.

For this puppt-themed residency #116, there were three Master Artists: Janie Geiser, Theodora Skipitares, and Paul Zaloom.  Associate Artists included: Alan Calpe,  Bonnie Duncan, Melinda Berkenwald, Karen Leo, Paolo Bertocchi, Valerie Opielski, Heather Henson, Neal Leonard, Veronica Scharf Garcia, Noe Kidder, Alissa Mello, Patricia Kaufman, Eva Landsberry, Suraya Raja, Chris Lin, Dinorah de Jesus Rodriguez, Geoffrey Nosach, Melanie Sutherland, and Katie Shook.

From the project statement for Janie Geiser’s Spider’s Wheel which I assisted on:

The Spider’s Wheels will be a cinematic diorama-installation/performance incorporating projected imagery and puppet figures, set in a series of viewing booths. This new work will merge elements of my performance and film work, placing the ephemeral, projected image in the same miniature setting with tangible objects, sets, and figures. The Spider’s Wheels’ elliptical, montage-based narrative will center on the fictitious biography of a forgotten early film performer, the star of a (fictitious) serial about a female detective “The Spider”. Known as the Serial Queens, the heroines of these silent serials were a version of today’s super heroes, playing out roles in films that were rarely allowed in daily life. I’m interested in this heightened display of feminine power, which appears and disappears throughout film history, mirroring or defying the cultural and political movements of the day.

Living in Los Angeles for the past six years, I have become fascinated with the newspaper obituaries of early film performers who were, for a brief moment, a part of the popular culture. The obituaries are condensed biographies that always leave me wanting to know more: where did this woman come from, how did she find her way here, what happened to her after her brief fame? Often defined by their brief careers, many of these women lived long and complex lives, either remembered for their early histories or hiding their pasts from their later families.

I am interested in the idea of obituary as impossibly incomplete biography, and yet as an introduction to a life. In this time-based installation, projected images from the Spider’s serial will be interwoven with scenes from the fictitious actress’ life in Los Angeles. The highly artificial sets will reflect this time travel, with references to actual locations, past and present, in Los Angeles. The Spider’s specialty will be disguise; in each episode she assumes a different identity: a reporter, a hypnotist, a circus performer The fictitious actress, playing the fictitious Spider, alternately relishes her power and is frightened by it.

Formally, The Spider’s Wheels will involve a combination of approaches. By locating this narrative within a series of diorama booths, using ancient and contemporary technology, I hope to bring together aesthetic forms that have influenced my work for two decades: early film, experimental film, pre-cinematic attractions and puppet theater. The diorama booth is a descendant of such 19th century attractions as the nickelodeon, the peep show, and the puppet booth. The booth itself will be an attraction, inviting the viewer to look into its aperture. The piece will be designed to be presented live, or as an installation with viewer activation.

In the months before the residency, I will be shooting 16 mm black and white footage of the performers isolated against black, and then transferring this footage to digital video. The performers will then be digitally projected onto several layers of glass within the booth’s proscenium frame, or onto the sets themselves. The projected figures will exist in full frame (about 10″ tall) and in close up that throws the scale of the sets into relief. While the appearance of the imagery may recall early film, the overall look of the work is more contemporary. Additional flat black and white puppet figures and cutouts will interact with the projected footage.

While at the residency, I also developed  Growing Up Linda  – Birthday Trauma with Katie Shook, Eva Marie, Heather Henson, Val Opielski, and Geoff Nosach. Growing Up Linda was an ensemble actor-puppetry performance in which the fictitious daughter of a famous ice cream mogul must come to terms with her off-kilter, troubled past.  In Birthday Trauma, the inciting episode, written with long-time collaborator, P.J. McWhiskers, Linda Carvel becomes enamored with Cookie Puss, an ice cream cake presented to her at her 5th birthday.  After Linda makes a wish for eternal friendship with Cookie Puss (the only one in the world who understands her), Daddy Carvel strong-hands her into dismembering her new companion for the consumption of her blood-thirsty relatives.

I performed Growing Up Linda – Birthday Trauma and in Janie Geiser’s The Spider’s Wheels at INsideOut, the culminating event of the residency in which artists presented works-in-progress to the public. The Spider’s Wheels was later exhibited in the 2006 C.O.L.A. Fellowship Exhibiition at Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery as a kinetic installation.

This residency was transformative. After it was over, I moved to Los Angeles to enroll in CalArts, so I could be part of Janie Geiser’s graduate program in puppetry. I worked with Paul Zaloom again on his  performance, Beyond the Beyond and then became an assistant at his studio. I co-created the Puppet Slam Network with Heather Henson and was the coordinator for just over a decade.

Funding for my stay at the residency was made possible in part by funding from the Atlantic Center for the Arts.

Founded in in 1977 by Doris Leeper, an internationally known sculptor and painter, as well as a visionary environmentalist, the Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA) is a non-profit multidisciplinary artist residency facility located in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. ACA’s main campus is set on eleven lush acres of land, on the edge of Turnbull Bay. While the facilities, including the Pabst Visitors Center and Gallery are easily accessible to the public, the residency program and Leeper Studio Complex are also set back from neighborhoods and main roads, allowing artists in-residence the necessary privacy to work uninterrupted. The environment of the campus is rich in species of flora and fauna, and the architecture of the complex is built to blend and interact in this natural environment.

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