For the past three summers running, Steppenwolf has played host to artist and actor Tony Fitzpatrick’s American trilogy, a theatrical train of thought and performance that meanders through some of the historical and mythical elements at play in our national psyche.
In This Train and Stations Lost, Fitzpatrick explored his own life and Chicago’s character. Nickel History: A Nation of Heat zeros in on ideas of sacrifice during World War II and in our current moment. But as much as the plays are showcases for Fitzpatrick’s words and images, an equally significant element across the trilogy is the video and film work of Kristin Reeves.
Despite their differing mediums, there are quite a few parallels between Fitzpatrick and Reeves’ aesthetics. Both make work involving multiple levels of imagery, either jostled next to or layered atop one another. Both bring text into their images and re-purpose other existing media – from print advertisements to film. Reeves also says she shares Fitzpatrick’s philosophy that the “artist should bear witness” to her times.
The video above serves as a set-up to the overall proceedings in Nickel History, but Reeves estimates she’s created about 70 videos for the production. Some of them are quite short, what she calls “video haiku.” She adds “A lot of them run synched up with one another, so what looks like one video may be five in total.”
Reeves’s videos also take on different roles in the production. “Sometimes they play in tandem with other actions on the set. There might be an auditory poem performed by Carolyn (Hoerdemann). At the same time a video’s being projected that runs along with that.” At other moments the video acts as “feature performer in a scene.” As Reeves puts it, the video “leads the way in terms of what the other actions are on stage.”
The performance element of Reeve’s work is, she thinks, what distinguishes it from more traditional video design for theater, which is often there to “support the larger piece, like a prop. Whereas my work can enter the foreground, push forward the prop.”
Reeves also has a very different relationship to theater in general, which she fell into more or less by accident. She did a one-off production with an actress friend, then a musician recruited her for another project, and so on and so on and so on – you know, the Chicago way.
Reeves feels more of a a connection to the world of experimental or “expanded cinema,” media artists working in film, video, sound or light. She’s just finished up an MFA in Florida, where she also helps run FLEX, the Florida Experimental Film/Video Festival. Her new solo work, “Je Ne Sais Plus [What is this Feeling],” (by the way, before you click through this video is NSFW) will be shown at Mono no aware, a New York gallery (she also hopes to arrange a Chicago screening).
Still theater has affected Reeves' approach, especially through her work with Fitzpatrick, which she says involved getting inside his head space, or doing a “mental performance” of his own life and ethos. As many Chicagoans well know, Fitzpatrick’s no shrinking violet. Reeves agrees. “He can be beautiful and delicate with words and images but he’s not cautious. So I can’t be cautious, I have to be really confident and bold as well.”
You can see the collaboration between Reeves, Fitzpatrick and others at Steppenwolf through Aug. 5.
The rest of Weekender’s picks are below – get out there, and be bold!
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