Curated by Arantxa X. Rodriguez and Heidi E. Russell
224 Waverly Place, West Village
New York, NY 10014
Open to the public Mon- Fri, 11-3 pm
Ashlin Ballif: Tell me about your decision to incorporate humor within your work, specifically why you decided to collaborate with improvisational comedians for your School of Visual Arts thesis project, Scene (2019-2020)?
Dulce Lamarca: I decided to collaborate with comedians because I actually took improv comedy classes myself. In October 2019 I took a class at the Magnet Theater: “The Principles of Improv” by instructor Rick Andrews. I was already interested in adding humor into my work because in 2018 I started connecting with the importance of humor within my own life again. I have always been one of the clowns among my friends, you know? But when I came to New York, I think this turned off a little… it was when I connected with some Latin friends, where I could speak in Spanish and go back to a specific kind of humor, and a more familiar ‘audience’, similar to the one I had back home, which connected me again with the importance that humor had and has in my life… Even though I had this in English with my English-speaking friends, there was something that awakened when expressing in my own language.
So I later signed up for these classes which I highly recommend for everyone to try! Rick is amazing. I was fascinated by the class exercises and deeply resonated with the philosophies behind improv. For example, the improv exercises revolve around trusting the person you’re in the group with or partnered with, you are relying on the other person in the present moment. You have nothing else to rely on but yourself and the person in front of you. There is no script; you are leading with intuition. So I liked these aspects of the classes, but not necessarily me as a performer. I learned a lot about myself, it was a moving experience for me. With improv, I am interested in the process. Which is totally different from the process of stand-up comedy, although the results, as a show, might be more amusing with stand-up.
I wanted to collaborate with improv comedians because they are literally wired to see something as a prompt, be inspired, and act on it. In general, in improv comedy, the audience provides a word as a prompt for their scenes. In my project, instead of giving them words, I gave them objects, videos, and monologues, as inspirations and prompts for their scenes. The performances took place in my artist studio for a small intimate audience. The videos were projected on the back wall and continued playing while they were performing. This created another layer of meaning and time in the same space. All these objects, videos, and monologues, are leitmotifs for me, recurring symbols in my work. I just wanted to see the other possibilities and interpretations these symbols could have.
The comedians are super open and can use just about anything as a trigger for a scene. They were actually thrilled with the opportunity to perform in a different way. I began the first sketch(es) of the performance with classmates of the improv class, and then I sourced other comedians and hired them for my project.
So that’s how I started, working with comedians. It was more about my personal interest in humor and trying to learn more about that. I am currently working on continuing this project but with actors instead of comedians. The process of creating Scene led me to do a lot of research about the theater realm, and I had several people refer me to playwrights and different types of contemporary theater. I’d like to explore this more and in a different way.
AB: I also caught your interest in the momentary or the ‘in-betweenness’ in your works. I appreciate how you touch upon the overwhelming nature of the momentary, and how personal it is as well. You play a lot with the personal, in Scene in particular: the audience versus the performer. You had mentioned in your thesis presentation how you strive to create a link or connection between the two, rather than keep them separate. Tell me about how this relates to your work in general, technology-wise, as far as the relationship between connectedness or separation in interaction with video works.
DL: In general, with anything that requires technology there’s already a distance and a sense of coldness attached to it, at least that’s how I feel. In my work, I have been experimenting with different ways of relating with technology, for both the audience and myself. I simply use it as a tool, in a similar way improv was a tool for Scene. I’m also interested in technology as a cultural dimension.
AB: Right, like how our generation and even younger have grown up with technology as a tool for information, an upgrade from an encyclopedia.
DL: Yes, it’s completely embedded in their way of life for younger generations who did not grow up in the 90s. I find it funny that people associate me with tech though, as I am not a tech person. Of course, I am very familiar with technology, but I still belong in the analog world. There was a moment in my practice where I was conflicted with this because I don’t fully associate with this medium but I also had to remind myself, my work is not all that I am. And also, everyone who experiences my work can tell it has more to do with humanity than the technology itself. I am interested in the human psyche, emotions, and thought processes.
AB: In your work Grace (2019), you can see this in its familiarity. The humming in the background while you are walking down the sidewalk, filming passersby and the large skyscraper in front of you.
Video still from Grace (2019)
DL: Every time I pass that Grace building, I automatically start singing Amazing Grace. [Chuckles] So that work started from this small gesture that I always do when I walk by this building. I took that moment and went from there. In a playful manner, I just improvised what followed. I feel I used that gesture as a prompt for a visual ‘scene’ or narrative to unfold. So it all goes back to improv. For me, it was deeply inspiring, and doing improv helped me to loosen up, surrender to the process. To trust the process, and even enjoy it! Since then I have started to really enjoy what I do in a different way.
In the video, I begin by googling the lyrics to Amazing Grace, playing with them, zooming in and out. I combine excerpts of this google search with the footage of me walking by this building and humming. Suddenly, between the excerpts of the lyrics, a new poem begins to appear. Then the screen goes black, and the humming continues but it stops being that song. It transforms to another song, similar but different, and I edited the sound so it starts going backward. The imagery of the passersby appears again, more than once, going backward as well, and in different rhythms, emphasizing the distortion of time.
So my works are super personal but in a way, I discuss open-ended, larger issues, not always using solely my own footage. I like to leave it open for the audience to relate and bring their own interpretations to it. However, I’m always impressed that people seem to perceive what for me is the core of it or aspects of my personal meaning to it that are not that evident in the work.
AB: Well you can feel it, the core of it. When you have a genuine intention in something, a creation, people tend to catch onto that. That energy you’re exuding into a project is what creates it.
DL: Yes! This was definitely something that was surprising for me to notice in the performances in Scene. I would give the improvisers things to be inspired by that had very personal and specific memory associations for me. They had no idea what my story behind those symbols was, I just wanted to see what would come up from these images I was showing them. The scenes they ended up creating somehow had to do with those memories, it was crazy. Sometimes they ended up recreating memories from my childhood. I was stunned. I have always been interested in psychology and this brought up a lot of research questions for me.
AB: What are your thoughts about the separation of audience and performer as we had mentioned earlier? Were you able to create the link you had wanted rather than further separation?
DL: In Scene, there were certain instructions given to the performers, and certain conditions of the setup, which help diffuse the line between the performers and audience. So eventually you will realize it was a composition that unfolded with time and we were all part of it (the ‘performers’, the ‘audience’, and myself). For me, Scene is an invitation to play a game, and everyone that participates is part of this world-building that takes place.
I want to continue this project with actors as I mentioned, so I am currently working on the score of the performance (the script) adapting it to see how that alters the experience. However, there will still be a major improvisational component to it.
Still from How I came here (2019-2021)
AB: In your video How I came here (2019-2021), you combine a series of seemingly random clips, all in relation to your interest in the personal or ‘in-betweenness’. There’s even a clip of someone giving birth. Tell me about this work and your decision to add in this intensely vulnerable imagery.
DL: Well, they are not random to me [laughs]. But I understand.
I’ve always dealt with strangeness and a combination of the familiar and unfamiliar in my work. This work—that birthing clip specifically—is something that I always felt is such an interesting moment, that doesn’t seem to concern people that much. I think it is generally taken for granted and people tend to worry more about death. Maybe because of the fact that we are all already here. [Laughs]
The moment of birth is a perfect example of something we are all familiar with and at the same time unfamiliar with, in the sense that we cannot access the full understanding of what it is.
And, going back to ‘in-betweenness,’ we could say life itself is an ‘in-between’...
How I came here (2019-2021), is a 47-second video that exemplifies the fast-paced nature of life. This work showcases how each of our memories, in retrospect, are simply tiny blips and spurts of emotion that vanish as quickly as they begin. The title assumes an autobiographical role, painting the rest of the work as a saga of the artist’s life captured, caught, condensed, and then let tumbling out to unveil itself in those 47-seconds. Although a separate video, How I came here, is too, a rollercoaster, and replicates the effect life has of never quite giving enough time to process the events you experience. The descriptor ‘intense’ comes to mind as well, as clips packed with emotion are intertwined with flashes of humor or nonsensical imagery, yet again a replication of life’s unpredictability. Although the base of the works differ in subject matter, their auras mirror one another closely. As Dulce mentions above, the “strangeness” of how we get here, the act of birth itself, tends to be overlooked while the fear of death or strangeness of endings trumps and is ever-alluring. How I came here takes its time to ruminate over the strangeness of the emotional beginnings and in-betweens.
Dulce Lamarca (1992, Buenos Aires) is an Argentinian interdisciplinary artist, writer, and educator, currently based in Brooklyn, New York. She holds a BFA in Painting and Arts Education from REA Regina Espacio de Arte, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and an MFA in Fine Arts from SVA School of Visual Arts, New York City. Her background in music, as a cellist, and her experience working at a hospice with terminally-ill patients for three years deeply informs her work. Lamarca’s work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, in Spring Break Art Show (NY, New York), Satellite Art Show (Miami, FL), Doral Contemporary Art Museum (Doral, Miami, FL), Proyecto Casa Intervenida (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Art Lot (Brooklyn, NY), Proto Gallery (Hoboken, NJ), Latin American Theater Experiment & Associates, (New York, NY), Centro Cultural Borges in (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Luxun Academy of Fine Art and Lankai Gallery (Anshan, China), among others.