Interview with Sandrine Schaefer

This week I spoke with Sandrine Schaefer, a Boston-based artist, writer, curator and co-founder of The Present Tense. Schaefer participated in 2013’s Rapid Pulse Festival, although not as a performer. Schaefer participated as a discourse participant, writing about the festival’s performances for both the blog and catalogue. For 2014, Schaefer will transform the performances she witnessed into a six-hour performance of her own, archiving the movements of others through her own body. Schaefer will perform “This is an Archive of…” on June 7th and 8th in Electrodes.

Kate Sierzputowski: Can you tell me a little bit about your role in the festival last year?
Sandrine Schaefer: I was actually writing about the festival last year as a discourse participant. I wrote for the blog, as well as some catalogue text. The piece for this year is titled “This is an Archive of…” and is a part of the bigger series that I have been working on for a couple of years now. I started doing it with my collaborator Phillip Fryer, but I have also been doing it individually. Basically it stems from this idea of how we document performance art practices, how we document actions, and how to archive that. I will take actions that I witnessed various places, and I will archive them into my own body by re-performing them. I am reinterpreting the actions through my memory, so some of them are very abstracted at this point.

KS: The movements you will be performing aren’t written down or photographed anywhere? They are all straight from memory?
SS: That is kind of the tricky part, because last year I wrote about so many of the pieces and I was also photographing and videotaping. I haven’t really revisited them as I have been structuring the piece. I have reviewed documentation prior, so it is a little bit of both. Of course with performance it is one of those things where even with the best video documentation or photography you are never really going to capture the whole piece.

KS: What do you think your performance will bring to an audience who was not present for the festival last year?
SS: When I have done this before, it still had relevance to my own work. I think it will still read as a very cohesive piece. I don’t think that people will need to necessarily have seen the festival last year, but my hope is that it will make them want to go and review the documentation from the festival. I really think that Rapid Pulse does a very good job with documentation and hitting it from very different angles from photo, video, livestream, and the writing. I am hoping that the performance will be a conduit between the two festivals.

Sandrine SchaeferKS: Have you thought about pushing this further into next year and creating a reperformance of what you created this year?
SS: I could, we will see how it goes. I think there is certainly potential for that. It could be this ongoing archive for the performance. In addition to my studio practice I am an organizer and curator of performance and I have an archive project in Boston called The Present Tense, so I am always thinking about how we archive something that is ephemeral, and what is the point of doing it because it is kind of an impossible task. So far the planning the performance has been very generative for me, so I probably will think about pushing it further for next year.

KS: What kind of questions does your performance bring up outside the questions of archiving performance?
SS: The actions that I have chosen are very different from the actions that I do myself. Something that has been challenging for me has been how to present the body. In my own work I often perform in my street clothes. My impulse is to dress very minimally, and be as androgynous as I possibly can. Many of the performances that I witnessed last year at Rapid Pulse included dressing to indicate gender and to indicate where they come from, and using clothing as a way to show their own personal history. I am going to be doing an action in high heels which I have never done before. That is talking about how we perceive and dress bodies. I am really thinking a lot about gender and how to move through a perception of gender through the structure of the piece. Also I think there is this idea of ownership, or authorship of actions that I think is a really important dialogue right now. Thinking about some of the stuff that has been in the media about Marina Abramovic and her trying to own this ‘nothing‘ idea. How can you claim ownership of an action? Is that important? Is that possible? Why would you want to do that? There is a lot of stuff that is brought up for me in creating, and hopefully it will be brought up for the audience as well.

KS: Are you going to be performing the piece twice, or will your actions be different during the two scheduled times?
SS: The piece in total is six hours, so each day will be different. I will be going from four to seven in the Electrodes on Saturday and Sunday. I am not going to be able to do actions from each artist, but the artists that I have chosen I feel like I will really get to have a deeper understanding of them as people and them as artists. I am excited about all of them.

KS: Are you going to be repeating any of the actions during the six hours?
SS: I won’t be repeating. Some of the actions will be repetitive in themselves, and some of them are very long. My background is working with extended duration, so a lot of the actions I have been thinking about doing are more durational pieces. I will actually have to cut a lot because I don’t think six hours will be enough time to get through all of things that I actually want to do. I am thinking a lot about pacing too. Some of the actions will be short, and some will be quite long.

KS: How did you curate the actions and the artists that you wanted from last year?
SS: When I first started the “This is an Archive…” project with Phil, the last time we did a performance around the idea was in 2012, so it has kind of been something that we had put on the back burner. I wanted to think about actions that felt really intuitive to my body. There are some actions that feel really natural me and there are other actions that felt really amazing and made me feel uncomfortable. That was probably the first way that I started to curate the actions, but then I also am trying to create a structure within the piece that makes sense. Some actions that I wasn’t thinking about in the beginning have become important. I am still working on it, and it will continue to evolve until I actually make it.

KS: How will you be utilizing the second window of Electrodes?
SS: There were a bunch of collaborative duos at Rapid Pulse last year, so I am thinking of that second window as a collaborator. When I start thinking about the project, it is not just putting one action from one body into own. In a lot of these cases there were two bodies, so how do I resolve that? I will be using the other window as a collaborator and moving in between both of them. That is a question mark at the moment because I don’t know what that will actually feel like when I am doing it. I have an intention, but I am not sure what will happen.

KS: What other aspects will you include in your performance outside of movement?
SS: I am using a lot of materials and objects. It is funny because my work tends to be very minimal, and I don’t use very many objects. This piece is probably using more objects than I have used in years. Part of that is because the actions really demand them. I am developing a different type of relationship with materials than I have been doing in some of my other work, which is exciting.

Photos courtesy of the artist.
Kate Sierzputowski is freelance writer based in Chicago. Fascinated by artists’ studio processes, she founded the website INSIDEWITHIN to physically explore the creative spaces of emerging and established artists.