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words for the online world

[A conversation between Greta Weibull and Emma LaMorte.]


GW: Did you read a lot when you were a kid?

EL: Yeah. I read tons of novels in series like Nancy Drew, Silver Blades, and Little House on the Prairie. I was pretty infected by pop culture. I was a compulsive consumer of Archie comics. I guess I was interested in Betty and Veronica because I was trying to figure out how men and women co-exist, and I didn’t understand my role as a girl and my relation to boys.

GW: I once won a contest drawing Archie. It was for a fashion page. I drew a girl out walking and designed clothes for her. I got makeup for winning. It was such a big deal. And we went to the disco. I was 9, or something. They had this disco for kids called Hålan.

EL: “The Hole”!?

GW: Yeah, exactly. I remember these cool older kids there, wearing thongs, putting on makeup and smoking. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, but I brought it in my pocket and put it on in the line.

EL: I love that. I also won a poster contest around the same age, 9 I think. It was a large district-wide contest to make a poster for fire-awareness week. We had to make a “Stop, Drop and Roll” poster.

GW: Do you remember what you drew?

EL: Yeah, I remember it very well. It was with pencil and charcoal and black marker. I got a lot of help from my Dad. I did the drawing, and he did all the stuff with the ruler. He taught me how to make shadows on block letters on that poster.

GW: What about the word “edutainment”? I’ve never heard this word.

EL: Cool word, but I’m not sure whether it pertains to me. Let’s think. Before these words were assigned to me, most of the class had just seen two performances I had done. One was a clash of kabuki theatre and pantomime. I adopted a kabuki theatre performance and made my own soundtrack and changed the characters in the narrative. Then there was this other performance I did for the class in the Fall. At that point, I had been working with performance almost exclusively for six months and was mostly doing dance and choreography. So, this performance was based on a text I wrote that resembled the writing of Virginia Woolf or Gertrude Stein and used the metaphor of a train network to describe the process of writing—something like, “Letters act as conduits for the fast-moving current that runs between the paper and ink and the meaningful human mind,” and so on. I memorized this essay and recited it in combination with choreography. That was when I was “rolling.” Haha. Maybe the person who wrote “roller” was impressed with my backwards summersaults. Although they weren’t very good. I don’t know. So, if I think about these two occasions and I think about the word edutainment… I don’t know, I don’t think about them as having any educational purpose, but…

GW: I can see it in some way. I’m thinking about the one at Mindepartementet. For the viewer, it’s like you’re sort of sharing knowledge with the audience. It’s not so much like a play or a manuscript but more like a demonstration or something. Can you see the difference?

EL: Yeah. That came up as a problem for some people in response to the performance because I included on the soundtrack a deciphering of the movements, like those provided at kabuki performances for untrained viewers to understand what is happening in the narrative. And an art audience hated that because it was so guided. Contemporary performance is less full of content in itself. So maybe that’s the differentiation.

GW: I think it also has to do with the way you use your voice. You’re speaking and using language, and that’s not used so much around here as a material. So, being someone who tells something and does it in a theatrical way makes people here question your form a bit more and think, okay, what is she doing?

EL: But then there’s the genre of performative lectures or readings. I was visiting Piet Zwart in Rotterdam, and many of the UK artists there were experimenting in this way with text, speech and performance.  

GW: I just remembered we did a performance in Philadelphia together.

EL: Yes, we did. I wish I had footage from that.

GW: Where did everything go?

E: Lost in the messy data of interpersonal relations.

GW: I liked when we were sitting on a beach in that play. Singing or something?

EL: Yes, you were singing a very beautiful Swedish folk song, and I was performing a scene from Einstein on the Beach. We were like two drama-school kids in their element.

GW: …writing new scenes on the libretto and telling them to Adam to write on the blackboard.

EL: I remember you were sitting on the top of a tall ladder, and I made this skirt-thing out of paper, and I was standing at the bottom relaying Taoist death poetry for you to shout out from the top, and Adam was constructing instruments and costumes out of garbage, and there was a cowboy and a parade around the school. Haha, oh god.

GW: I hadn’t done performance for a long time, and then you were there, and we could get on this theater meta-level together. It was so fun. Okay, but what other words can we talk about on this list? Collector, myth, mockery, glam?

EL: Glam. I wish! I’m not glam at all. Did you write that word?

GW: No. I wrote “roller.” No, just kidding.

EL: “Roller” is funny because I was really practicing rolling for that dance performance.

GW: Roller-skating?

EL: No. Rolling backwards on my back, like a backwards somersault. I watched Trio A and was like, “Wow that’s a nice roll! I want to do that.” I quickly discovered that my body is not as limber as it was when I was young and dancing all the time.

GW: Rolling on your back is something kids just do during the day, like maybe five times in a row.

EL: Like somersaulting down hills.

GW: I never did that.

EL: You logrolled.

GW: Yep.

EL: Logrolling was way more fun.

GW: I was doing diving when I was young, so I was used to spinning and having something to jump from.

EL: So, rolling on the ground was just stupid for you.

GW: Yeah, like, why would I do that? The gymnastics girls would just jump from the ground or with a vault, but I needed a trampoline. Mockery. Do you mock a lot?

EL: I don’t particularly like this word because it implies a kind of humor at someone else’s expense, and I don’t like that. My work is sometimes viewed as humorous, and it contains storytelling elements, so I can see how someone could come up with this word, but I hope they don’t mean mockery in an offensive sense. I did make a work recently that was about a story of mockery in some way, so perhaps they are referring to this. It was about the medieval story of Phyllis seducing Aristotle and coercing him to allow her to ride around on his back in the courtyard. This was an example of medieval humor and came out of a time when the structure of humor that we still use today was first being developed. At that time, they were trying to negotiate power relations, and humor was one way to reckon with the past, the ancients, and the great Aristotle—using mockery to bring them down from their pedestal. I’m not so interested in the mockery of Aristotle, but instead more concerned with the depiction of Phyllis in this story. This story was funny because it pits two types of power against one another—the power of thought and reason, versus the power of the body and sexuality—those two powers being notoriously gendered throughout history. The story is only funny because everyone can agree on the hierarchy of these two powers—the mind is always respected more than the body. So, when we hear of Aristotle succumbing to a lower power, we think it’s funny. All mockery reveals power relations, and in that sense, I am interested. Cartoons, for instance, tackle it well. So, there is mockery there, as a subject, but I don’t think my role is one of mocking.

GW: No, but I think you have a lot of humor, and that shines through. One can sense that you know a lot about what you’re doing, and that you are really interested in a subject, and you are digging into certain areas of history or culture. Then you handle it by taking it super seriously, and the only way you can take the material seriously and make it yours is through humor. So, it’s not humor in the sense that something is light, but humor as a way of handling these massive histories, like the story of the beginning of humor itself. That’s a massive thing, so how does one handle that?

EL: I think things as big as gender relations, or the historical roles of female archetypes, are so heavy and so violent and dark and they hurt me the most. I constantly feel the weight of being a woman, and I don’t know how else to deal with it other than through a joyous process. I don’t try to make my work funny at all, but some parts of it end up humorous for some viewers.

GW: I guess you have to cry and laugh at the same time.

EL: Yeah.


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