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Sisters of Mercy 

Meredith Monk on art and war . . . and the healing power of performance

Wednesday, Feb 6 2002

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I can see how you'd hesitate to tell that story, given everyone's heightened sensitivity since September 11. How has that affected reactions to the piece?

In a way, the piece is like a requiem. And we didn't know how resonant it would be. For example, there's this image of paper falling down from the sky. After September 11, we asked ourselves, "Are we going to do this?" We hadn't gotten it together for the July premiere [at the American Dance Festival], but from the beginning we'd talked about it, and Ann was working on it in her studio. It was very important to the time structure of the piece, so we just did it. And it's breathtaking.


Do you believe that you, as an artist, play a role in moments of national trauma?

Live performance is very important in a time like this. It's a very affirmative experience, because it's a place where people can gather in the present moment. That's a healing influence. The piece has a kind of energy almost like an ocean, it has waves of energy that you just can't go against and a very sustained kind of mood. I think that's what people are responding to since September 11. It gives people a chance to be in touch with themselves and their spectrum of perception and feeling. Art has that capacity. It's a very openhearted kind of energy. Another aspect of live performance is that it's extremely vulnerable. It's like being on a tightrope -- we can fall off anytime. With very good performers, there's always a kind of vulnerability, a kind of transparency. And to just experience that, the risk of that, is very moving.

Anne Hamilton: Immersion

L.A. WEEKLY: One of the more fascinating aspects of Mercy is the use of video technology.

ANN HAMILTON: For several years, I'd been playing around with handmade pinhole cameras that fit into my mouth -- the aperture is in the camera, but my lips function as the shutter. When you open your mouth as if to speak, you expose the film. I was trying to think of a situation in which you could photograph yourself where you're totally unselfconscious, where you don't have the apparatus between you and the photograph. Now the apparatus was the body.

At the same time, I was also working with small surveillance cameras that are about half an inch big. I had an idea that all the images would come from sound or vocal production. There's been an ongoing linkage in my work between a window and a void, but I've never done anything like this live -- no one's been willing to sing with my cameras before! The projection screen is the scale of the stage -- it's quite gigantic -- so the light video became a way to cross the barrier of the proscenium stage. While you're outside seeing the whole scene, the simultaneous projection from within the scene places you also on the stage.


You don't normally collaborate. How did your work intersect with Meredith's?

I'm interested in live presence, and Meredith's work is about a coming into presence. I'm also very interested in voice, as both material and metaphor and action. It's been a long, recurrent process in my work of trying to understand what I mean when I say "the voice of the work." But one also collaborates out of a longing for things that you can't do in your own work. It was an extraordinary gift to be surrounded by what it is Meredith and her singers do -- it's very different from the forms I usually work in. There's a different kind of immersive quality that comes out of her work, and I'm very interested in experiences that are immersive.


Your own work is inherently immersive as well.

In installation art, just to cross the threshold into it is to be surrounded, to be implicated in it. It's a position you can't be outside of. You might not be willing to enter into the experience intellectually or emotionally, but you're physically in there -- and in physically immersive experiences we become aware of other kinds of sensory experiences. You lose that kind of self-consciousness that often distances you from something. There's different ways of achieving that. Everybody has memories of watching something with a sense of wonder, and when you watch something with wonder, you lose your distance to it. What continues to interest me is to find the places that we allow ourselves to have those experiences.

MEREDITH MONK and ANN HAMILTON | MERCY | At UCLA's ROYCE HALL | Thursday, February 14, 8 p.m.

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