Archive for the ‘interview’ Category

Noritaka Minami: Visions of a Lost Future

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Photographer Noritaka Minami creates captivating photography exploring visions of architecture and urban building – visions of a future that never materialized. Work from his 1972 series will be exhibited in the group show Fertile Solitude (Oct 14-Dec 18), opening at the Boston Center for the Arts Mills Gallery on Friday, October 14, 2016, reception 6-8 PM.

We asked the artist about Fertile Solitude, the 1972 series, and other turns and surprises in his photographic explorations.

Noritaka Minami, FACADE (2011), Archival pigment print, 40x50 in

Your projects often explore spaces for which architectural or land use plans have gone in directions that weren’t intended. Can you talk about what draws you to these “unintended” spaces?
In the case of the project 1972, I became interested in the current state of the Nakagin Capsule Tower because it proposed a distinct vision of the twenty-first century that never arrived in the city of Tokyo. In the year 1972, Kisho Kurokawa (the architect of the building) and the Nakagin Mansion Company (the real estate firm that commissioned the building) proclaimed that society was at the “dawn of the capsule age.” Despite this proclamation, this style of building construction did not become popular in Japan. More importantly, the capsules on the tower have never been replaced, even though they were intended by Kurokawa to be replaced every 25 to 30 years as a process of carrying out the building’s “regeneration.” Through photography, I wanted to examine a vision of the future that was imagined to be possible in 1972 and how that vision of the future appears in retrospect. The Nakagin Capsule Tower also allows us to reflect on the actual trajectory taken by the city of Tokyo since 1972. This interest in the limits of foreseeing the future is also the basis of my other recent projects.

Noritaka Minami, B1004 I (2011), Archival pigment print, 20x25 in
What are the project’s origins?
I initially came across the Nakagin Capsule Tower in 2010 through my interest in the 1970 World Exposition, which is commonly known as Expo ’70. Metabolism, an influential post-war Japanese architectural movement that formed at the 1960 Tokyo World Design Conference, played a key role in creating a “city of the future” at the Expo. Yet, there are very few traces of this city left today at the former site of the event. I think that’s why I gravitated towards the Nakagin Capsule Tower. It is one of the few proposals realized through the Metabolism movement that is still standing in this world. The project also began with a sense of urgency to document the building. In 2010, there was a very real possibility that it would be demolished and replaced with a more “conventional” apartment complex to maximize the value of the real estate on which it stands. As of today, the building still faces an uncertain future in regards to its preservation.

How do you see your work in conversation with the other art in Fertile Solitude?
My project documents a building that was conceived by the architect Kisho Kurokawa as a space for businessmen to find respite and rejuvenate from the increasingly rapid pace of life in the city in the post-industrial age. The photographs do show that the capsules still function as a type of shelter from the giant metropolis that exists immediately beyond the circular windows. I am very interested in how my photographs interact with the works of other artists in the exhibition, especially in the “maze” that is being specially designed for the gallery by the curator Elizabeth Devlin. I believe the variety of approaches taken by the artists in this exhibition to address the chaotic nature of contemporary life only reinforces the value of finding introspection. Furthermore, the exhibition will show that this idea of finding introspection comes in different contexts and forms.

Noritaka Minami, B1004 II (2012), Archival pigment print, 20x25 in

Noritaka Minami, A806 II (2013), Archival pigment print, 20x25 in

What artist do you most admire but work nothing like?
I can name many artists I admire that my work has no apparent resemblance or connections to their practices. One example that I can name off of the top of my head is the photographer Rinko Kawauchi because I recently talked about her work in my class at Loyola University. Her photographs, especially from the early books, are stunning. The photographs almost come across as being simple and effortless. Yet, I would have no idea how to make those photographs even if I tried. They’re only possible through her distinct visions for the photographic medium and looking at the everyday. Her photographs highlight the importance of observation and the question of how to translate that act into a photographic image.

What’s the most surprising response to your art you’ve ever received?
It is gratifying when a viewer points out the idea of time in relation to my photographs of the capsules. My project takes into account the history of the capsules as units originally made on an assembly line with similar specifications to enable mass production. In my photographs I use that history of the architecture to highlight the distinct characteristic that now exists within each capsule today, whether it is through the occupancy of the current resident or the modifications that were performed over the course of four decades. Each capsule contains the history of not only the current resident, but also other individuals who have come through that space since 1972 and the decisions they made in regards to that unit. Maybe it’s possible to view the additions, subtractions, modifications, and renovations that were performed inside a capsule as traces of an individual or individuals. It is nice when people look at the details present in each unique space, which is why I took the photographs.

Noritaka Minami, from the CALIFORNIA CITY project (2016)

Noritaka Minami, from the CALIFORNIA CITY project (2016)

What’s next?
I am currently making a work on California City, California, a master planned community in the Mojave Desert conceived by Columbia University trained sociologist turned real estate developer Nathan K. Mendelsohn in the 1950s. The city was intended to become the next major metropolis in California in response to the unprecedented population and economic growths the state experienced following World War II. Mendelsohn and his associates carefully designed the layout of 186.5 square miles of land that is still technically the third largest city in the state in terms of area size. However, most of Mendelsohn’s vision for this city has not been realized to date, despite an extensive network of streets that has already been constructed on the site. I am interested in this landscape that is seemingly suspended in time: clearly being built to host a future city but with no certainty if that city will ever materialize in reality.

Noritaka Minami, FACADE (NIGHT) (2011), Archival pigment print, 24x30 in
Noritaka Minami is among the artists exhibiting in Fertile Solitude at the Boston Center for the Arts Mills Gallery Oct 14-Dec 18, opening reception Friday, October 14, 2016, 6-8 PM.


Noritaka Minami‘s photography has exhibited at UCLA Department of Architecture and Urban Design, Center for Photography at Woodstock, and Griffin Museum of Photography. Forthcoming solo exhibitions include the Reischauer Institute at Harvard University and Kana Kawanishi Gallery in Tokyo, Japan. He is a recipient of grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, and Center for Cultural Innovation. His 2015 monograph 1972 – Nakagin Capsule Tower (Kehrer Verlag) received the Architectural Book Award from the Deutsches Architekturmuseum. Currently, he is Assistant Professor of Photography at Loyola University in Chicago.

Images: all photographs by Noritaka Minami: FACADE (2011), Archival pigment print, 40×50 in; B1004 I (2011), Archival pigment print, 20×25 in; B1004 II (2012), Archival pigment print, 20×25 in; A806 II (2013), Archival pigment print, 20×25 in; two images from the CALIFORNIA CITY project (2016); FACADE (NIGHT) (2011), Archival pigment print, 24×30 in.

Basia Goszczynska: Reclaimed Wilds

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

Early in 2015, we were thrilled to work with Basia Goszczynska (Film & Video Fellow ’13), who created an animated title sequence for our 40 Years of Fellowships video project.

In recognition of the 40th anniversary of fellowships in the Commonwealth, we have been asking artists “what came next,” after their state-funded award. We decided to explore the same topic with Basia, as well as ask about her current work exploring environmental grief and the “penance” of art.

ArtSake: Where were you in your career when you got the news about the MCC Award?
Basia: I received news about my MCC award while contemplating whether or not to apply to grad school. I had been working professionally in somewhat creative positions, but always for a client, and I loved entertaining the idea of spending two years focusing on my own projects and ideas. The boost of confidence that came with the MCC award helped me decide to accept my spot in the MFA program at Rutgers University.

ArtSake: What excites you about the project you’re working on now?
Basia: Since starting grad school, I have shifted my focus from animation to sculpture as it allows for a more tactile and spatial exploration of my interests in ecology and our material culture. My palette these days is made up of colorful, durable and lightweight materials that I find washed up on the beach or in trash and recycling piles. The most exciting moments for me in the studio are those when I successfully redress the value of a material by transforming it from a mundane material into one whose newly-established ambiguity renders it interesting. I like that by re-routing these materials into my studio, I am able to be both creatively fulfilled and environmentally active.

ArtSake: What’s the throughline in your art?
Basia: My work is mainly grief-work. These days, when I visit the beach or forest in search of comfort, I instead experience disheartening landscapes strewn with hazardous materials. Our contemporary vistas are a far cry from the pristine valleys in an Edmund Burke painting. The romance is over, and the only thing left is a mess too big to clean up. Those like me, who still engage in the occasional clean-up effort, are left to deal with the emotional toll that comes with the work. Gathering trash provides ample time to somberly contemplate the damage our species has wrought on this planet.

My sculptures and videos serve to document these meditative janitorial walks that I embark on. With my compulsive collecting of discarded materials, I subvert the tendency to hoard material possessions in our consumption-obsessed culture.

Today, objects of our own making are pressing us out of the spaces we rely on for our material and spiritual sustenance. We are being crowded out by objects. The monumental scale of my sculptures within the gallery setting intends to dwarf our sense of importance in an increasingly-narcissistic culture. These objects remind us of who is really “on top” now.

Swell and Detour are abstract representations of sublime landscapes already conquered and exploited. Synthetic materials have completely overtaken organic ones in a world obsessed with manufactured beauty and single-use conveniences. My sculptures’ cheerful colors attempt to counter, to some degree, the somberness that might overtake those who identify the origins of my materials and their significance. Ultimately, the work aims to bring a sense of normality to the sadness of loss. As Timothy Morton point out in his book, Hyperobjects, we are losing “the fantasy of being immersed in a neutral and benevolent Mother Nature” (196).

In the studio, I untwist marine rope, wrap plastic around wire, and shred plastic bags, among other tasks. Some time ago I learned about the need for ritual within the grieving process. I realized then that these repetitive, meditative gestures were subconsciously appeasing my need for these spiritual rites that help move one through the various stages of grief (denial, anger, depression, and bargaining) and into a space of acceptance. These creative rituals re-establish a sense of meaning despite our loss.

Recently, while cleaning a Brooklyn beach, I was handed a $275 ticket for trespassing. The image of a crumbling wall in Swell and torn fences in Detour, symbolically foreground ideas of land ownership and borders. We are a society in which people rarely take responsibility for anything they do not personally own while the privatization of land leaves little incentive for organized stewardship. Barriers keep us divided so that we fail to pay attention to the decimation of important habitats. Today, only apathy seems to enjoy the freedom of running wild.

In spite of all this, I remain an optimist. I believe art can help produce the level of shock necessary for us to face the ecological trauma of our age, while its production can serve as penance for the damage already done. I think there is hope for us still.

ArtSake: Have you ever revised your work on the spot, during an exhibition (intentionally, I mean)?
Basia: As I gain more experience installing my work in a gallery context, I find myself revising it less on the spot. There are however, many installation decisions that I can only make once I am physically in the gallery; these include lighting decisions and how the work is oriented within the space. For example, after installing the sculptures for my MFA thesis show, I made last minute decisions to fill the entire gallery floor with sand and to add dramatic directional lighting — both significantly impacted the viewing experience.

ArtSake: What’s next?
Basia: This upcoming summer, from June 7th through August 1st, my work will be exhibited as part of the Mid-Manhattan Public Library’s Art in the Windows series. The 3-part exhibition entitled Rainbow Credits for Vacation Penance will include video, installation, and performance elements to problematize ideas of leisure, currency, value, and environmental activism.

See Basia’s title animation for the 40 Years of Fellowships project on MCC’s YouTube Channel.

Images and media: video is excerpt of Basia Goszczynska’s DZIAD I BABA (watch the full film). Images are courtesy of the artist.

Laura Andel: Vivid Composition

Friday, January 8th, 2016


When we first envisioned the MCC’s 40 Years of Fellowships video project, we wanted a title sequence that captured the excellence and innovative spirit of Massachusetts artists. Once we heard Laura Andel‘s (MCC Music Composition Fellow ’99) song Sao Dao, we knew it was the song we wanted: vivid, textured, and brilliantly alive – perfect to accompany Basia Goszczynska‘s vibrant animation. Longer sections from Sao Dao are also featured in the videos of photographer Rania Matar and sculptor Niho Kozuru.

Since winning her MCC award, Laura has moved to New York, where she conducts the Laura Andel Orchestra and works in a wide array of projects. We asked Laura about creating Sao Dao, her memories of receiving her MCC award, and her current work as composer and interdisciplinary music artist.

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you got the news about your MCC fellowship?
It was sometime in 1999, I had just gotten home, and checked for voicemail messages on my home’s answering machine. It was then when I heard a recorded message from someone from MCC congratulating me that I had received a Fellowship in Music Composition. I could not believe my ears!

What are the origins of the composition Sao Dao?
It is almost 20 years later, and I still remember the moment when I started to imagine Sao Dao. I remember the excitement when I composed the staccato melody, and began working on its fragmentation and sonic modulations. I also remember when I started interweaving the staccato melody with the half-tone legato lines and rhythmic section. I still remember the joy while working on it.

Listen to an excerpt of Sao Dao

When my 20-piece jazz orchestra first read the score in 1997, it took a few pass-throughs for the music to start to sink in before magic happened. Since then, Sao Dao was played many times at concerts, and it was usually a “hit.” Often, audience wanted to hear Sao Dao as an encore.


Share a surprise twist in the Laura Andel story.
How I ended moving from Buenos Aires, my hometown, to Boston, is a chance story, if such things exist. A musician friend of mine had just visited Boston in 1992, and told me that she wanted to go to study there, but didn’t want to go by herself. She proposed that we go together, so we started to prepare together for this trip. A year later, I went to Boston, and she stayed in Buenos Aires! Time went by, and I ended up making Boston my home for more than seven years!

What films have influenced you as an artist?
Many films have been inspirational for my work. Here is a list of five:
Woman in the Dunes by Hiroshi Teshigahara (Japan, 1964)
Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky (Soviet Union, 1979)
The Exterminating Angel by Luis Buñuel (Mexico, 1962)
The Hand in the Trap by Leopoldo Torre Nilson (Argentina, 1961)
State of Dogs by Peter Brosens & Dorjkhandyn Turmunkh (Mongolia, 1998)

Computer, longhand, or typewriter?
ALL OF THEM. Each has its own unique quality.

What excites you about the project you’re working on now?
My creative process revolves not only around music composition, but also around music drawings, or drawing “sound.” I love to create original music drawings and graphic scores.

Drawings are deeply linked to the initial stages of my compositional process, and they function as a way of deciphering my abstract sound thinking and compositional structures. In a way, my music drawings are the charts of how sounds are coded and visualized in my brain. Through the act of drawing, I initiate an intimate dialogue between sound and its representation, and develop the different sonic landscapes for my music.

From the SEASHELL SERIES by Laura Andel
From the SEASHELL SERIES by Laura Andel
Musical drawings by Laura Andel
APSIDES by Laura Andel
More drawings can be seen here

Also, I have recently started building my own musical instruments in clay. After the instruments are built, the sounds are also recorded to become part of electroacoustic works.

Listen to an excerpt of Soplo, an Electroacoustic Composition for Seashell-shaped Clay Trumpet & Tin Ecuadorian Dulzainas

As a music composer, and especially as someone who has started to work with clay, modeling an instrument with my own hands adds one more layer to the concept of searching for a personal sound. There is also a sense of continuity from the process of working with clay to model an instrument to the sound that results from it. In a way, it feels like modeling sound.

Construction process of a seashell-shaped clay trumpet, inspired after an ancient Mochica clay trumpet
Construction process of a clay trumpet, inspired after an ancient trumpet from the Moche culture (South América, c. 200 a.d.).
Construction process of a seashell-shaped clay trumpet, inspired after an ancient Mochica clay trumpet
More clay instruments can be seen here

What’s next?
I am working on a new large-scope interdisciplinary project that involves composing electroacoustic music, building seashell-shaped trumpets in clay, music drawing, video work, and Tesla-inspired plasma lamps.

SOPLO by Laura Andel

I am also redesigning my website, and feeling thrilled that the first pages have just gone live! You can visit the new website at

Laura Andel, photo by Carlos Liachovitzky

Images: three portraits of Laura Andel by Jacob Blickenstaff; musical drawings by Laura Andel (two from the SEASHELL SERIES and APSIDES); two images of the construction process of a seashell-shaped clay trumpet; SOPLO by Laura Andel; portrait of Laura Andel by Carlos Liachovitzky.

Christian McEwen: Lyrical Nonfiction

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Christian McEwen (Dramatic Writing Fellow ’11) conducted interviews with a series of extraordinary poets visiting the Poetry Center at Smith College – Rita Dove, Maxine Kumin, and Yusef Komunyakaa, to name a few. Those interviews are compiled in the new book Sparks from the Anvil: The Smith College Poetry Interviews. We asked Christian about that book, her play about women’s relationships to money, Legal Tender, and the unifying spirit of collaboration and lyricism in her many-varied projects.

Cover art for SPARKS FROM THE ANVIL, edited by Christian McEwen (Bauhan 2015)

ArtSake: Your book Sparks from the Anvil compiles interviews you’ve done with poets at the Smith College Poetry Center. Many of your projects involve collaboration or engagement with other artists. What part does that engagement play in your own creative process?

Christian McEwen, phto by Joanna Eldredge MorrisseyChristian: I was born in London, and grew up in Scotland. If I had stayed in the British Isles, I might well have written poetry and fiction. But I moved to the USA in my early twenties (I was given a Fulbright Scholarship to Berkeley, CA), and that required me to find a way to ground my work beyond the ease and fluency of my natal language. English-English may look the same as American-English, but it really isn’t. It has a different flavor (flavour!), a different sensibility. One of the ways I dealt with this was by writing non-fiction and becoming a kind of literary anthropologist. I did my first interviews for the Village Voice back in the nineties. (I particularly remember a long, delicious conversation with the poet, Olga Broumas.) Since then I have conducted more than 100 more, for my non-fiction book, World Enough & Time, my play, Legal Tender, and now this most recent project, Sparks from the Anvil. All these projects have helped me to “root” in what remains for me, to some extent, “a new found land.”

ArtSake: One of your interviewees from Sparks from the Anvil was past MCC Fellow Patrick Donnelly. Did any portion of your conversation with him particularly strike you as an interviewer and fellow poet?

Christian: I especially love the section that follows.

CM: There’s a thread of melancholy in your work, a deep consciousness of your own mortality, and the mortality indeed of an entire generation. Reading your work, I felt almost as if you had been schooled by death, by loss, by illness to a point where death was somehow the truest of all life experiences, some kind of apprenticeship almost. There are lines in one of your books where you’re talking to a dead lover, “Thank you for the hollow/you left in this pillow./I practice/ putting my bones here.” And there’s a teacher or a friend who scolds you, “At fifty-one you are too young to think of death so much.” I’m not sure what the question is, but I wondered if you could comment on my fumblings here, and say where they feel true to you, and what in fact death, mortality, has meant to you.

PD: I don’t think you’re fumbling at all, I think you’ve hit it on the head, it has been an apprenticeship, and this is the gift of HIV to me. I said before, “Every front has a back,” and the front of HIV is terrible, but there is a gift to every negative thing that happens. And in terms of the literary community, this morning someone wrote that he had longed for fame as long as he had longed to be a poet. Now I can imagine feeling that as a young person, but that’s not a way I would like to end my life. Those are not values that I aspire to. The knowledge of my own mortality, and watching so many people die, during the late eighties and early nineties, was a splash of cold water in my face, both about how I was acting and how I thought about myself, and what I thought the world was and what it is for. I still don’t know the answers to a lot of those questions, but I know that the time is short, and I’ve lived with that now for almost thirty years. Remember the Flannery O’Connor short story, A Hard Man is Good to Find

CM: A Good Man is Hard to Find.

PD: [Laughs] A Good Man is Hard to Find. Hmmm. A Freudian slip. Where one of the characters says about the old woman, “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” The Japanese poems that Stephen [Stephen D. Miller, PD’s spouse] and I are working on are Buddhist poems from eight hundred or a thousand years ago, and they are incredibly aware of impermanence and mortality. Everything is passing away from these speakers, it just slips through their hands, and this is the reality of the world we live in. And I am glad to be aware of it, absolutely it has infused my writing, this is what my writing is for. I’m not at all comfortable with this situation. I want to shake the bars about the way human life is designed. We come into the world in a very difficult way, causing pain to others, and we struggle, and then there’s only one way to get out of it, and the end of life is ugly whether it comes early or late, it’s painful, and there’s suffering and indignity… Both Stephen and I have had aging parents; now his whole family is gone. It is awesome, in the literal meaning of that word, to watch. And to me it’s really the only subject other than love. There’s a letter of Emily Dickinson’s, where she’s writing to someone about her nephew’s death from typhoid at a very young age, and apparently right before he died he asked for the door to be opened: “…who were waiting for him, all we possess we would give to know… though is there more? More than Love and Death? The tell me it’s [sic] name!” So this, to me, is the poet’s landscape. There are other subjects that are subordinate to these, and they are a lot of fun and even comedic and farcical and neurotic subjects, but it all boils down to a variation for me on those two.

ArtSake: In your book World Enough and Time (read an excerpt), you describe a conversation with Thomas A. Clark in which he suggests that poets should perform a simple, repetitive task, like carrying a stone up and down a hill every day, to hone the creative senses to fully perceive small moments and events. Do you follow his advice? If so, what is your simple, repetitive task?

Christian: Yes, I do follow Thomas A. Clark’s advice, in the sense that I make time to pray and meditate each morning, and often (not always) go for a daily walk. I am always astonished by the power of the small pause, and how much it can contain. “A little can be a lot, if it’s enough!” as my good friend Mariel likes to say.

ArtSake: You won an MCC Fellowship in 2011 by submitting an excerpt of Legal Tender, which has since had a series of performances and workshops. What compelled you to begin creating Legal Tender? And how did the project change (or not) as other collaborators became involved?

Christian: I began work on Legal Tender in the spring of 2009, about 6 months into the Recession. I had been listening twice a day to NPR, and heard almost no financial stories having to do with women, so I decided to start gathering them myself. Over the course of the next five years, I spoke to more than 50 women about their relationship to money, and then transcribed the interviews. It was a mammoth task. I always knew I wanted it to be a play, but had tremendous difficulty figuring out how best to structure it. Friends and allies helped me to focus in on particular stories, characters and themes, and then to create a show, adding music and movement. For the performance at the Quaker Meeting House in Northampton, there was a floating curtain make of dollar bills by way of backdrop ($300 total!), and we were given front page-coverage in the local paper. Most recently a friend and I have been presenting “Money Stories” workshops at a local Credit Union, using excerpts from the play by way of catalyst.

ArtSake: You’re a playwright, filmmaker (with Julie Akeret on the documentary Tomboys), prose writer, and poet. What does working in multiple disciplines bring to your work as an artist?

Christian: I think of myself as practicing what one might call “lyrical non-fiction” (a term invented by my good friend Ruth Gendler). If sensibility/aesthetics/core values are the palm of the hand, then the disciplines are the different fingers, allowing me to grasp whatever has become the current focus of engagement. I guess I think in terms of themes or areas of interest more than I do in terms of genre. This keeps the work open and risky in a way that sometimes causes panic, but also gives great joy.

ArtSake: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you got the news about your MCC award?

Christian: I was able to go back to my journal, to discover what I was up to when I heard the news about the MCC award in 2011. It was February 1st, a snowy day, flakes falling fast from the sky, and I had been busy darning a big cardigan, and crocheting a yellow woolen “money disc” for a presentation of Legal Tender. When the phone rang at 9:30am, I was at my desk, and got up grumpily to answer it.

And it was Dan at the MA Cultural Council, and he wanted me to know they were giving me one of the literary grants this year – $7,500! – There were only 4 awards in the playwriting group – 4! – out of 150 people – and I was one. I was astonished – delighted. “The Bible says something about how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who bringeth good tidings,” I said. “I feel I should kneel down and kiss your snow-boots!”

And told him how tough this year had seemed, and how now I’d have 6 months rent, and what a relief that was.

ArtSake: So you used the money for rent?

Christian: I did indeed. By that point I had put in almost 700 hours of unpaid work – 43 interviews, with each transcription taking 8-10 hours, plus the interview itself – plus of course, the editing and shaping. By the time the check came, I figured I had made about $10.00 an hour. Ah well… I was entirely grateful.

ArtSake: What’s next?

Christian: A good friend of mine, Arthur Strimling, wants to direct a full length performance of Legal Tender next year, and we have just started work on that. Meanwhile, I am continuing with my “Money Stories” project – using excerpts to jump-start community conversations – both at City Lore in New York City, this November, and in Point Reyes, CA next spring. I would like very much to bring both performance and discussion to Boston if there is interest, and am certainly open to inquiries.

I have also begun doing publicity for Sparks from the Anvil. There will be an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio in September, and a number of readings, including one at the NH Poetry Festival on September 19th.


Christian McEwen is the author of Sparks from the Anvil: The Smith College Poetry Interviews, as well as a number of other books, including The Tortoise Diaries: Daily Meditations on Creativity and Slowing Down, and World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down (Bauhan Publishing, 2014 and 2011). She won a 2011 Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in Dramatic Writing for a portion of her play Legal Tender. She is also an editor, freelance writer, and workshop leader – learn more.

Megan and Murray McMillan: This Land is a Ship at Sea

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

The Isles Arts Initiative (IAI) is a series of series of exhibitions, site-responsive installations, events, and performances on and around the Boston Harbor Islands, in Summer 2015.

The Boston Harbor Islands are a National Park that reflect natural splendor and historical importance – as well as the pressing implications of climate change. In their work for the IAI, artists Megan and Murray McMillan make use of the region’s complex identity, exploring its rich local history as well as the contemporary urgency of rising seas.

Megan and Murray are creating a site-responsive installation on Georges Island for Cove (opening 7/11), will project their work This Land is a Ship at Sea on the exterior wall of WGBH Boston studio over Mass Pike (7/16, all day), and will exhibit in 34 at Boston Sculptors Gallery (opening 7/26).

We asked the artists, a married couple who have been collaborating since 2002, about their unique path as artists working at the cross-section of many disciplines.

Still from THIS LAND IS A SHIP AT SEA by Megan and Murray McMillan

ArtSake You’ve created a remarkably wide range of work, and I’m curious about your process. Is there a consistent trajectory that a new work of yours tends to follow?
Megan and Murray: We usually begin with a specific location or material resource that forms the backbone of the project. Sometimes, this comes through a commission or curatorial invitation to work with an unusual location for filming, like with This Land is a Ship at Sea, the project we shot in Fort Warren on Georges Island, or In What Distant Sky, which we filmed in the coal bin of the former boiler plant building at MASS MoCA. Other times, the work might begin when we acquire a unique material resource, like 150 cardboard tubes (The Listening Array) or two truck-loads of industrial plastic conduit (What We Loved and Forgot). In either case, we look for the architecture or the set elements to represent metaphorical properties that intersect with whatever narrative we’re designing.

We think of our short videos as sort of visual tone poems – employing elements of space and choreography and performance to evoke ideas that are difficult to articulate in words: what does it mean when two people inflate a military parachute in a field of construction laser levels in a former military prison on an island that’s sinking into the harbor? Can the parachute become the island? Can the laser lines become the markers for the rising sea levels?

ArtSake: How would you describe your work to someone who is unfamiliar with it?
Megan and Murray: We make sculptural sets for short videos which performers activate in an object-centered choreography. These videos are then shown in related installations that often use elements of the original set.

Click for larger image - still from THE SHIFTING SPACE AROUND US by Megan and Murray McMillan

ArtSake: A recent project in Toronto (The Shifting Space Around Us – image, above) struck me as a departure for you in its focus on live performance. What (if anything) surprised you about the experience?
Megan and Murray: We started working together in 2002 and for the first four years of our collaboration, we exclusively made performance installations for live audiences, so the project in Toronto was actually a throw-back to an older way of working for us. We switched to filmed performances in 2006 in part because the spaces we wanted to work in were challenging for bringing in audiences (The Stepping Up and Going Under Method in 2006 was filmed in and around the conveyer belt in an abandoned former paint factory). The project for Nuit Blanche in Toronto was an opportunity to work with a massive audience (1.5 million people) while using an incredibly unique architectural space: a fully functional roundhouse turntable. We decided to try to incorporate both modes of working by doing a live film shoot during the dusk-to-dawn festival. What surprised us was how challenging it was to simultaneously address the needs of a live audience with the needs of a film shoot.

ArtSake: Scale plays a fascinating role in your work. The sets and sculptures you build are often large-scale and expansive, yet there’s something intimate and personal both in the content and in the way viewers tend to experience the work in a gallery setting. Is scale something you intentionally explore?
Megan and Murray: Yes, definitely, scale is a major consideration in our work. We are always looking for the affective quality of the spaces: for what a site or the set elements within that site can evoke emotionally that speaks to the human condition. For the project we filmed in the Boiler Plant, one property of that location is that it’s been partially remediated, so the roof has been removed and the building is open to the elements – which meant we could bring in a camera track and have it move up through the levels of the building. That vertical camera movement reminded us of the composition of traditional Japanese hanging scrolls, which opened up a whole range of possibilities for the development of the video narrative.

The scale of the architecture became a vehicle for the intimate human narrative that happens as the camera moves through the building. We are always trying to find that blend of expansiveness and intimacy.

ArtSake: Can you describe the work you are creating for the Isles Arts Initiative?
Megan and Murray: We were fascinated by Fort Warren, a Civil War-era fort which housed Confederate prisoners of war. In particular, we were drawn to the “Dark Arches” section of the fort, which feels like catacombs and right out the windows of this subterranean series of rooms is the open water and the haunting clang of a buoy. The history of the space seemed to resonate with poetic potential. As fascinating as its military history was, we were also drawn to the fact that the Boston Harbor Islands are “sinking” as the sea levels are rising due to global warming. In fact, Georges Island is known as a “sentinel site” where six geodetic markers serve as benchmarks for charting the rising seas. For our video, we brought in 99 construction laser levels the Dark Arches and had performers lofting a military parachute through a field of laser lines, in effect, using the parachute as a stand-in for the island as it sinks through the laser level marks.

Still from THIS LAND IS A SHIP AT SEA by Megan and Murray McMillan

ArtSake: What is the most surprising response to your art you’ve ever had?
Megan and Murray: My (Megan’s) mother worked as a social worker at an inner city elementary school with a population of at-risk kids. Once, she was working with a young girl and happened to show her our video What We Loved and Forgot. Without knowing anything about it, the girl said “that’s like what happened when my mom died: she disappeared into a white light and now she’s always watching over me.” We’ll often get reactions like that, people who personally relate to the content of the work even through it’s not explicitly stated.

Still from WHAT WE LOVED AND FORGOT by Megan and Murray McMillan

ArtSake: After the Isles Arts Initiative, what’s next?
Megan and Murray: Next May, In What Distant Sky, the work we filmed at Mass MoCA in the Boiler Plant, will open as a large-scale video installation in Explode Everyday: An Inquiry Into the Phenomena of Wonder, curated by Denise Markonish.

Still from IN WHAT DISTANT SKY by Megan and Murray McMillan

The Isles Arts Initiative is a Summer 2015 public art series on the Boston Harbor Islands and in Boston that will capture the intrinsic beauty of the 34 harbor islands. An exhibition at Fort Point Arts Community’s Atlantic Wharf Gallery and installation at Boston Harbor Islands Welcome Center are on view now. The site-responsive installations of COVE and the performance series SEEN/UNSEEN both begin July 11, 2015. Exhibits at the WGBH Digital Mural, Boston Sculptors Gallery, Boston Children’s Museum open later this summer.

Megan and Murray McMillan are Providence-based multidisciplinary artists whose work has been exhibited in Italy, Denmark, Greece, Bolivia, as well as locally at the RISD Museum, AXIOM Center for New and Experimental Media, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, and MASS MoCA (forthcoming).

Images: all images courtesy of Megan and Murray McMillan; stills from (top to bottom) THIS LAND IS A SHIP AT SEA; THE SHIFTING SPACE AROUND US; THIS LAND IS A SHIP AT SEA; WHAT WE LOVED AND FORGOT; IN WHAT DISTANT SKY.

Charles Tracy of NPS on the Isles Arts Initiative

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

SEEN/UNSEEN on Spectacle Island, part of the Isles Arts Initiative

Though not volcanic (as far as we know…), something is stirring in the drumlins of the Boston Harbor Islands this summer.

The Isles Arts Initiative is a series of site-responsive installations, events, performances, screenings, and exhibitions in and about the Boston Harbor Islands. Some of the region’s most exciting artists – including 18 past awardees of MCC’s Artist Fellowships Program – are involved as exhibiting artists or performers. IAI is a project by Liz Devlin of FLUX.Boston, in partnership with the Boston Harbor Islands Alliance, Greenovate Boston, DCR Massachusetts, the Boston Art Commission, and (as the islands are designated National Parks) the National Park Service.

There’s a long tradition of artists partnering with federal agencies and initiatives. We asked Charles Tracy of the National Park Service, one of the earliest collaborators on the project, about the origins of the Isles Arts Initiative, art in the National Parks, and opportunities for artists in partnering with the NPS.

ArtSake: How did your collaboration on the Isles Arts Initiative begin?
CharlesTracyCharles: It began with a meeting over a year ago with Liz Devlin at Espresso Love on Broad Street. I was impressed with her seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm for bringing art to the Boston Harbor Islands – two traits I knew that we would need to make it happen.

ArtSake: What has surprised you the most about working on the Isles Arts, thus far?
Charles: The widespread interest in being part of the Isles Arts Initiative within a broad spectrum of the Boston arts community – artists, galleries, museums. It almost seemed as though people were just waiting for this to happen. I think it is also due to Liz Devlin’s networking expertise.

ArtSake: What do you hope visitors to the Isles Arts Initiative will take with them after experiencing it?
Charles: I hope they will see the Boston Harbor Islands and their relationship to it in a new way; I hope they will think about the need to protect these incredible places; and I hope they will leave with a desire to return to the Boston Harbor Islands for recreation and exploration.

Fort Warren on Georges Island, location of site-responsive installations for COVE, part of the Isles Arts Initiative

ISLE DE MONSTRUOS NEWSSTAND by the INDIVIDUALS, part of the Isles Arts Initiative

ArtSake: Why is it important to you to include the work of artists in the National Parks?
Charles: I don’t think it is just important, I believe it is imperative that artists engage in National Parks. We need artists to help us bring a wider range of interpretation and visitor experience than the National Park Service itself provides – so that we can connect with a broader range of visitors.

ArtSake: What opportunities are there to work with the National Park Service that artists might not know about?
Charles: The National Park Service has a growing interest in working with artists, especially on temporary installations, as evidenced by the recent works by Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz and JR on Ellis Island. We have more than 50 national parks that offer artist-in-residencies; beyond that, many more parks without a formal program are exploring working with artists.

The Isles Arts Initiative

The Isles Arts Initiative is a Summer 2015 public art series on the Boston Harbor Islands and in Boston that will capture the intrinsic beauty of the 34 harbor islands. An exhibition at Fort Point Arts Community’s Atlantic Wharf Gallery and installation at Boston Harbor Islands Welcome Center are on view now. The site-responsive installations of COVE and the performance series SEEN/UNSEEN both begin July 11, 2015. Exhibits at the WGBH Digital Mural, Boston Sculptors Gallery, Boston Children’s Museum open later this summer.

Charles Tracy is a landscape architect with the National Park Service who guides long-distance trail development and regional landscape conservation and recreation initiatives in New England, including the newly-designated New England National Scenic Trail. On the national level, he specializes in partnerships with artists and arts organizations to expand the role of artist-in-residency programs in national parks and the use of art as a catalyst for inspiring environmental stewardship. Contact Charles at

Images: all images courtesy of Isles Arts Initiative: SEEN/UNSEEN on Spectacle Island; headshot of Charles Tracy; Fort Warren on Georges Island, location of site-responsive installations for COVE; ISLE DE MONSTRUOS NEWSSTAND by the !ND!V!DUALS, located at the Boston Harbor Islands Welcome Center; promo image for Isles Arts Initiative.

Artist Profile: Elizabeth Addison

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Elizabeth Addison, creator, composer, lyricist, musical director and founder of the Reviving Visions Theatre Company, reveals the song in her heart with her new musical This is Treatment.  A staged reading of this provocative story of addiction, recovery and women helping women will occur on Sunday, November 23, 2014 at 5:30 pm. The Dance Complex in Cambridge.

Elizabeth Addison headshot

I began writing This Is Treatment after my year long stay at a women’s residential treatment facility for substance abuse. While I was in treatment, this thought kept popping in my head, ‘something needs to written about treatment.’As a kid, I always loved musicals, and I always waned to write one, but just never believed that I could. Not having written a song before, I began writing this story about women helping women recover, after a young producer told me ‘all you need to do to write a song is find a melody. After hearing that, I immediately go to work. Three weeks later, I had composed my first song and This Is Treatment was born. My musical is about the resilience of the human spirit. We see women struggling to put the broken pieces of their lives back together. The show will have you experiencing a whirl wind of emotions from sadness, pain, love and joy. It is my hope that with This Is Treatment, people will be able to see past the addiction, past the dereliction, past the monster and into the heart and soul of a human being just trying to get well.


Take a listen to a song from the new musical This is Treatment written by Elizabeth Addison. Videography by Caitlin Timmins.

This Is Treatment, a staged reading of an original musical by Elizabeth Addison. Directed by Jason Schreiber. Choreography by Ricardo Foster Jr. and Chien Hwe Hong. Sunday, November 23, 2014 at 5:30 pm. The Dance Complex, 536 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA. Learn more.

Images courtesy of Elizabeth Addison.

Artist Profile: Bob Oppenheim

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

The Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) and the New Art Center (NAC) will present the MCC Artists Fellows and Finalists in Painting, October 28 – November 15, 2014 at the NAC, 61 Washington Park in Newtonville, MA (opening reception Thurs, Nov. 6, 6-8:30 PM). The installation will be curated by independent curator, FLUX.Boston creator, and NAC Board member Liz Devlin in collaboration with NAC Exhibitions Director Kathleen Smith Redman. Bob Oppenheim is one of the 15 painters that will be included in this exhibition. Let’s find out a little more about his work.

Flayed 12x9 2014 (3)

In 2003 I introduced sewing into my studio practice, a process that acted as a metaphor for loss and served as the perfect vehicle for conveying a feeling of transience, instability and uncertainty. Tearing, mending, destroying and repairing were all part of the process.

Levitas 10x8 2014 (4)

Needle marks scarred the surface and the stitches attached painted canvas, fabric and clothing to the ground. Sewing became the primary drawing tool. My sewing is crude: unrefined. A quilt maker who visited my studio told me that I do everything she tries not to do: so don’t ask me to hem a pair of pants.

Scramble 12x12 2014 (4)
As these paintings evolved dots emerged. They supported the linear structure, served as a means of attaching loose threads and acted as color notes which infused the paintings with a rhythmic structure. In some work holes in the canvas expose the panel and allow color to escape from the surface below.

Twitter 12x12 2014

The most recent work is conceptually cool and warm: they explore these contradictions. A field of color is constructed from layers of paint. The surface is modulated and cohabits with marks and a complex network of threads.

Whisper 12x9 2014

Most of my work is modest in scale. I want to develop a feeling of intimacy.
That sense of intimacy, brought to a level beyond my expectation was recently described by a person who recently purchased a very small painting. The owner carried it from one room to room much like a reliquary or icon. I love the unexpected.

Bob Oppenheim, 2014

Images courtesy Miller Yezerski Gallery. Photo credit: Will Howcroft. Bob Oppenheim’s paintings, from top to bottom: Flayed, 12″ x 9″, 2014; Levitas, 10″ x 8″, 2014; Scramble, 12″ x 12″, 2014; Twitter, 12″ x 12″, 2014; Whisper, 12″ x 9″, 2014.

John Kuntz Goes Epic

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Theatre artist John Kuntz has an epic imagination, whether for inhabiting the turmoil of a 600-lb man as an actor or for conjuring the interwoven stories surrounding a mysterious hotel as a playwright.

But until recently, he hadn’t written plays on an epic scale. Intriguing then that the Circuit Theatre Company, the troupe producing John’s latest play The Annotated History of the American Muskrat (running through August 16), makes it their mission to produce “epic, wild, adventurous theatre.”

We asked John about the play, and about his wild and wooly adventures as a Boston-area theatre artist.


ArtSake: It’s always interesting to trace a play from its initial spark to its first production. How close is The Annotated History of the American Muskrat you’d initially conceived to the play being performed?

John: The play is a commission from The Circuit Theatre Company, so it was developed in rehearsal with the company of eight actors, the stage manager and the director, Skylar Fox. So there was very little separation between the writing of the play and the performance of it. I did have the initial idea of what I wanted the play to be about, but I really didn’t begin the writing process in earnest until I met the cast and got to know them. The first rehearsals began in mid-May, so I needed to provide a script very fast! The Circuit does epic plays, and wanted a three act play that explored American History in some way. This was a challenge, because I typically write 90 minute one-acts. But I love doing things I’ve never done before, and it was very interesting to work with such a large canvas. I wrote the first act and they began to rehearse it while I wrote the second act. Then I wrote the third act while they staged the second. I would visit rehearsals to watch how the actors responded to the text, and I would use the things they were doing in rehearsal to inspire the rest of the play.

ArtSake: One of the fascinating things about your new play is the wide array (and strange juxtapositions) of its references. The Captain & Tennille and The Ford Administration, Little Debbie Snacks and muskrats. Is there a through-line, do you think, to the topics that interest you as a playwright?

John: Actually, there really IS a connection to The Captain and Tennille and the Ford Administration. In 1976, the Captain & Tennille performed “Muskrat Love” at the White House for Queen Elizabeth II during the bicentennial celebration. So Gerald and Betty Ford, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Henry Kissinger were all sitting in the East Room together listening to “Muskrat Love.” I stumbled across that piece of information and I said “That’s It!” More often then not, I’m working from dreams or emotions or instincts. I’ll be drawn to certain characters or scenarios and I can’t explain it, they just feel right, like Little Debbie or the BTK Killer.

ArtSake: What comes first in your writing process: voice, character, or plot? Or something less tangible?

John: It’s strange but I think my plays spring forth from some sort of structure or event or image: an airplane, a hotel, a song, an image on a container of salt. There is a spark that helps me see the world of the play. Once I imagine the rules of the world, and what’s inside it, I begin to imagine what sort of people might be in it, and what they might be doing.

ArtSake: Were any artists – theatrical or otherwise – particularly influential to you as you wrote Annotated History?

John: Well, The Captain and Tennille, I guess! I was listening to “Muskrat Love” a LOT!

ArtSake: You’re also highly regarded for your work as an actor. When you’re approaching a project from one angle (actor, writer, etc.), do your other performing arts “hats” inform the way you work?

JohnKuntzJohn: I think being an actor helps me immensely as a playwright. Actors just instinctively understand what works on stage and what doesn’t. They understand character, and action, and how people go about getting what they want, and the different tactics they can employ. When I’m acting in my own plays (which I love to do) it actually helps me understand the play. It’s like being inside a gigantic clock: you can see all the cogs and the wheels turning and if something is broken and needs to be fixed.

ArtSake: What’s the most surprising response you’ve had to your work?

John: I can never tell how someone might respond to what I’m doing, or if they will have a response at all, so I guess I’m always surprised. I remember once during a talkback of Waiting for Godot, amidst all the recondite commentary on Beckett, a woman in the audience remarked that I had “nice legs.” I didn’t know what to say, so I said “thanks!”

ArtSake: I’m sure you’ve had many, many memorable experiences as a theatre artist, but is there one that stands out from all the others (for good or for ill)?

John: There is a great story when I was performing The Pillowman at The New Rep. It’s a pretty upsetting piece of theatre and towards the end of the play this man in the front row just stood up and cried “That’s it!” and he stormed out into the lobby and pulled the fire alarm. It was a pretty crazy thing to do: all the lights came on and sirens went off and this recorded voice was telling us all to evacuate. It was a Friday night. A full house. Everyone scurried outside, and the actors and the audience were just hanging out together waiting for the firetrucks to show up. When they did, all the firemen ran towards me, because I was covered in stage blood and they thought I was injured. We cleared that up and the alarms went silent, but we weren’t allowed back into the theatre for some reason. I forget why. The funny thing was: half the audience thought that the play actually ended that way: with sirens and an evacuation. But about 20 or so audience members hung around: they didn’t want to leave, because they wanted to know how the play ended. So the actors all got together in the lobby and we performed the end of the play for them, and took our bows. It was something I will never forget.

ArtSake: The unauthorized biography of your life is titled:

John: “You’re Not Going To Do It That Way, Are You?”

ArtSake: What’s next?

John: My new play, Necessary Monsters, will have it’s world premiere with Speakeasy Stage Company in December!

The Annotated History of the American Muskrat by John Kuntz will be performed by Circuit Theatre Company at the Calderwood Pavillion at the Boston Center for the Arts (thru August 16).

John Kuntz is a a playwright, actor, director, teacher, and solo performer whose accolades include Elliot Norton and IRNE awards, New York International Fringe Award, and the Michael Kanin and Paula Vogel National Playwriting Awards. He is a founding member of The Actors Shakespeare Project and has performed with the A.R.T., SpeakEasy Stage, Huntington Theatre, Boston Playwrights Theatre, Commonwealth Shakespeare Co., and many others.

Images: still from THE ANNOTATED HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN MUSKRAT, courtesy of  The Circuit Theatre Company; John Kuntz, photo by Joe Mazza of Brave Lux Photography.

A Rare Insight

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Every story suggests a larger narrative. Even complete in its own right, it can serve as a tile within a larger mosaic, or a window overlooking a vaster experience. Photographer and filmmaker Michaela O’Brien encountered two girls with the rare skin disease Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), and her investigations of their story led to the documentary In Crystal Skin, as well as a larger conversation of the way society addresses (or doesn’t, as the case may be) rare diseases.

The film is currently raising post-production funds on IndieGoGo, and we asked Michaela about her project and the larger story it illuminates.

What inspired the In Crystal Skin project?
I first visited a Colombian orphanage in 2011 as a documentary photographer. It was here I met Nixa and her older sister Nury, both of whom were born with EB and continue to struggle with this disease. The sisters wrap their limbs in plastic to minimize damage to their raw and fragile skin. Life with EB has proved isolating; the sisters draw stares on the streets of Bogotá, whether on their way to a medical appointment, or just out for a walk. Despite their challenges, the sisters are a feisty, resilient pair who fervently yearn for independence.

Inspired, I began an impromptu shoot, and upon my return to the U.S., shared the footage with editor Melissa Langer. Convinced of the story’s power, we embarked on the first of four return trips to Bogotá, scraped together with personal funds and vacation time. Over the course of the next three years, we uncovered a larger EB community, colored by different people and perspectives, yet united by a common struggle and setting. In Crystal Skin reflects this process of organic discovery, following four characters along their individual yet interwoven paths which combine in a universally resonant story of courage in the face of great odds.



How does this film relate to the larger dialogue about rare diseases of all kinds?
This documentary will be a window into the untold story of a tireless network of individuals, parents, and doctors battling an orphan disease. Our film unearths the personal experiences of spirited individuals to create a portrait of just one of the world’s 7,000 rare diseases. These rare diseases affect 1 in 10 Americans and over 350 million people worldwide.

From the tight-knit neighborhoods of Bogotá to the bustling biotech firms of Boston, the struggle to understand rare diseases and how they affect our lives and our families reaches across continents to form a global community. In Crystal Skin ignites dialogue about managing life with a rare disease and reveals those at the forefront of developing life-saving therapies for EB.

Our IndieGoGo campaign is a chance to be a part of that dialogue and to be a part of a larger effort to bring these stories to light. Our donors’ generosity will help finish this documentary and in turn will help bring the experiences of people living with rare diseases out of anonymity.

Why are you choosing to crowdfund the project?
Creating In Crystal Skin has been an act of dedication and perseverance. What inspired us to create this film in the first place – the voices and stories of those living with a rare disease – is what drives us to complete a documentary which will reach a wide audience. We are turning to Indiegogo first to raise money to complete a film which deserves to be shared, but also to establish a relationship with the many individuals experiencing life with a rare disease and those involved with patient advocacy, EB & rare disease research.

The In Crystal Skin IndieGoGo campaign is raising funds through 7/1/14.

Michaela O’Brien is a filmmaker, producer, and photographer based in Boston, MA. When she is not behind the camera, she works as an Associate Producer at Northern Light Productions located in Allston, MA.

Images: all photos by Michaela O’Brien: Melissa Langer places lav mic on interview subject, Maria Alejandra; cribs in an orphanage, Bogota, Colombia; Miguel watches the city pass him by as he rides the Transmilenio to work.