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MY TIDAL WAVE DREAM: INTERVIEW WITH KARA HEARN

CURRENT ARTIST IN RESIDENCE
RECESS ACTIVITIES, NEW YORK CITY

-BY RACHEL REESE, JUNE 2010

Recess Activities, Inc. is a (relatively) new residency program located in New York City’s Soho neighborhood – a storefront space at 41 Grand Street. 
Committed to providing a free working and production space, Recess residencies are unique in that they are open to the public allowing for collaboration and accessibility to the artist’s projects.  Kara Hearn’s TREMENDOUS is currently operating through June 12th.  I recently had the opportunity to correspond with Kara about her working practice, her current project at Recess, and even her fears and dreams.

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DID YOU KNOW BEES AND DOGS CAN SMELL FEAR?

RACHEL REESE: Hi Kara! I first came about your work through your re-enactment videos created from famous movies such as ET, The Gladiator, and Fight Club where you play every role in the scene - there is a playfulness and even naiveté yet a strong stylistic presence in the choice to shoot these at home, with what seems like on-hand resources.  Can you talk about how they came about?
 
KARA HEARN: The reenactment videos were a big surprise to me, a major shift. I was in graduate school and I had been making short experimental documentaries in this certain way for almost ten years. I was burnt out and really wanted to change my way of working but had no idea what to do, so I was messing around with sculpture and installation and doing very little video. Around this time I took a workshop with Harrell Fletcher. For homework he asked us to do one of the assignments from his website with Miranda July, learningtoloveyoumore.com. I didn't have Internet access at home and the only assignment I could remember was "reenact a scene from a movie that made someone cry". I had seen Harry Potter the night before and a kid in front of me was wailing when this one character (Cedric) dies. So in the half hour before I had to leave for the workshop I reenacted the scene from memory, playing all the parts, editing in-camera, and using whatever I could find for special effects. I was too scared to show the video to Harrell in class that day. I am kind of shy and have never been a performative or theatrical person. But I shared it with him at the end of a studio visit a couple of days later. Out of all the work I had shown him he seemed most interested in this poorly made, poorly acted video that made me want to faint from embarrassment. He encouraged me to make more so as an exercise I did. I made one a day for a week choosing mainstream movies that had male expressions of emotion. This time I reenacted the scenes that made me cry. That's when I made E.T., Gladiator, Star Wars, Billy Elliott, Lord of the Rings and a few others. I liked the idea of keeping them absurdly simple and mundane so I kept the rule of using only stuff I had on hand. I guess I wasn't interested in creating any sort of cinematic illusion but wanted it to be only about the experience of putting on the characters, of pretending and really trying to believe it, at home, alone.

RR: I've been thinking about fear lately. I recently attended a lecture on fear, memory, and the brain and learned that water and drowning are one of man's most primal fears.  It is stored so deep within our brain's amygdale that we have a hard time rewiring that fear.  The most commonly failed tests for Navy Seals recruits are the underwater tests - when faced with drowning, there is not enough time for the fear response to travel from the amygdale to the prefrontal cortex for rational thought to take over.  Oddly enough, I've never had a drowning dream.

KH: I love that drowning, primal fear thing. I haven't had a drowning dream either but I have had a couple of tidal wave dreams that have made a big impression on me. Actually, one of them is serving as a touchstone for this project I'm doing at Recess right now. I'm really into the co-mingling of awe and fear. Doesn't it seem like most of us actually like or need to be overwhelmed even though it's terrifying? It's like we walk around with this craving to be erased by any flood of emotion we can get our hands on, good or bad. And what is really amazing is that we do so as much, if not more through mediated experiences (movies, tv, art, music, literature, video games, dreams, fantasies) than through actual direct lived experiences. And we still come out feeling like we're on some sort of heroic journey. What is that Mark Twain quote? "I've been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened."

Whoa, this is being all serious. I just quoted Mark Twain.

RR: That's interesting you quoting Mark Twain - a known humorist and he both worked on the water and was known for having vivid and para-psychic dreams!

I'd love to hear your tidal wave dream, do tell!  I guess the closest I ever came to drowning was while being a lifeguard, first in training and later in practice.   I remember in certification training we had to do this test where you are asked to retrieve a cinder block from the bottom of the 12 ft deep end - that was the first time I almost drowned and it really scared me and made me doubt my decision to become a lifeguard.  Ultimately my love of the sun and lazy summers won out and I passed my certification, and then became complacent over the next few summers of non-eventful suburban days.  Then late in the season I was actually put to the test and had to rescue a grown man, much larger than me.  He was trying to flirt with me and get my attention by standing on the edge of the diving board and playing like he could jump off, and then he actually did it.  I think my adrenaline is what brought us both to the side safely!  Its actually a funny story now but it scared the shit out of me.  I'll never forget his face when I realized he was serious.  So there's this very thin line between fear and bravery; maybe we're all looking to somehow ride that line.

Also here’s that video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HqwzPsw5O4

KH: I love the idea of riding the line between fear and courage. That sounds about right. Like maybe the fear keeps us in tune with the very real terror of being alive and courage is all we have to keep us from being overwhelmed by that fear into debilitating depression or anxiety, that is, if we are lucky enough to be brave. I am definitely walking the line over here at Recess. But I've also had a few and the line is getting blurry.

So the thing about Recess is that you (the artist) are doing a residency in the space, making your work, doing your thing, but that residency is also on display as an exhibition from the minute you step foot in the place. So really, even though you may not want to admit it, whether you like it or not, whether it scares you or not, it's a performance you are doing the whole way through.

My tidal wave dream:
I'm standing on a beach alone, maybe walking or looking at the sand or something. I am facing the shore. Suddenly a huge shadow moves across the ground engulfing me. I turn around to see what is casting the shadow and there is an enormous tidal wave right above me. I am terrified but it is coming so fast and it is so big that I know I am totally done for, that I will certainly die. But instead of panicking, instead of fighting I make a decision to let go. I take a deep breath, totally relax and it takes me.

This tidal wave dream is a vague but excellent (though not quite original) way to talk about this project at Recess. But first the logistics: I have compiled seven minimalist, neutral, domestic set/ stages. They are indeed theatrical. People come in. They read a list of carefully curated options of ways to engage with me. It is all meant to feel very safe. I like to think I specialize in shy people. We talk and usually, or about half the time we shoot something. I have found that people for the most part want to contribute. They want to help. They want to be seen. And hopefully along the way I have the presence of mind to force some connection to the grand theme of being overcome (quietly or noisily) by something or another. They get a hand stamp that says "be brave" for their trouble. That's an even trade, right? Maybe I should just say right now that I have no idea what is happening here. You can tell can't you? I am in way over my head. I probably won't know what this thing is about until the video has been edited and shown a few times. Ask me again in October. I may not even know then unless I am lucky, but I am, I think, lucky that is. I am counting on being lucky. Is that dangerous? Stupid? I don't know. But I can say that a couple of weeks ago a huge shadow appeared on the floor of Recess. I was afraid to look but I did, because I had a stamp on my hand that said "be brave". And guess what? There is an enormous swell of fast coming, beautiful footage that will certainly crush and kill me. But that is okay. It is part of the plan. I will not get depressed. I will not watch movies on the couch all day pretending I am doing research. I will take a deep breath, totally relax and let it take me.

Rachel Reese is an artist, curator and sometimes writer currently living in Brooklyn, NY. She recently released a quarterly publication of artists’ writings called POSSIBLE PRESS, and concurrently directs the project space POSSIBLE PROJECTS with her husband Trevor Reese.  For more information: www.possibleprojects.com/possiblepress.html