Matryoshka, part one

A long time ago (i.e., before the internet) there were two young men learning and exploring the exciting world of performance art in the most vibrant of all performance-arty places, San Francisco. They shared ideas late into the night, tried new things, laughed at each others’ ridiculous ideas and helped each other try out strange and occasionally marvelous ways of expressing their art.

These young lads – call them D & M – graduated their respective programs and began their professional careers. M used his skills in video editing (which he and D had specialized in) to help other artists realize great works. He worked long and hard and became an essential part of many an installation piece, exhibition, happening, performance…always in a supporting role. He never quite got around to doing his own work, though – there always seemed to be someone else asking him “Hey, could you help us do X?

It’s nice to be needed, and it’s much easier to solve other people’s problems than find (much less solve) your own, and as the decades went on, M never did get around to doing his own work.

The Strange Mind of D

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 6.22.18 PMD continued to work and learn both, becoming a bit of an academic along with his pursuit of his own art pieces. He was a strange one, making controversial and often opaque pieces that intrigued people even when they couldn’t understand them. At the same time there was a magnificent beauty to a lot of his video, whether it was a forlorn pinocchio sitting in a corner or a documentary about a documentary about a Vietnam vet’s (alleged) service. If that description confuses you, you’re not alone – D seemed very good at digging into things and making you ask questions, unanswerable ones. He made you think with his art, and if you asked him what something meant, half the time he would just grin and the other half he’d flippantly say “Why does it need to mean anything?” and the other half of the time he would launch into a very deep explanation of the way Kaprow’s life-like art fed into the gestampkunstwerk of his own ouevre.

Or something like that. When you’re working at 150%, things get a little weird. He often worked  with dancers, not only creating video for their pieces but contributing immensely to the then-new art of dance for the camera. He even married a world-famous modern dancer whose aesthetic matched his own in a serendipitous way that led to many outstanding collaborations not only with each other but with world-class dancers and venues around the world.

D became a great success in his work, garnering many accolade, and the whole time he also saw what M was doing, and it made him a bit sad. He knew the vast creativity sitting inside of M that was unrealized in the world.

Teach & Release

When teaching, D would occasionally make use of the free labor pool of eager college students and engage them in helping with his projects. He took a couple of talented musicians around the world, incorporating their music with his video.  He took a couple of eager video/dance students to New York City to work on projections at St. Mark’s Place and PS 122 or at the Millenium Stage in D.C. Most of his students would learn from him for a while and then go on to do their own work, encouraged by him to go their own way.

from "Odyssey", as seen on Wi. Public Television
from “Odyssey”, as seen on Wi. Public Television

One young man graduated and, due to family responsibilities, stayed in the area. He continued to work with D on concerts, on videos, eventually working into web design work and DVD creation for the many dance documentaries he’d created. He and D got along well, moving from teacher/student into a mentor/mentee relationship, at the same time becoming friends. The young man continued to work more and more with D, and reached a point where it was almost a full-time job. He worked a lot on the sites and the videos that came from the mind of D. He occasionally accompanied D on trips, but more often would simply edit and package the footage of the art pieces for the website or other media. Occasionally there were other opportunities to work on pieces locally, but always as a valued assistant to D’s vision.

The one thing the young man didn’t do was work on his own art. His own videos went unrealized. His own art became a vague idea in the back of his mind.

He was me.

to be continued

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