Robot Dreams: collaborating with my live-in creative artist
Here is the scene…it is 5:30 pm on a Tuesday in July in Long Island City, NY, and we are under a severe thunderstorm warning. Five of us are sitting in a friend’s apartment trying to figure out if we are going to cancel this evening’s performance. The windows are open, spraying in small amounts of rainwater, the thunder and lightning are epic, and I am freezing cold in a purple gown and no shoes. The argument is not whether or not we can actually pull off the 30-minute performance—we have already figured out a way for me to play the violin blindfolded inside of the car instead of out on the street in the rain—it is more that we are concerned no one else will show up on a night like tonight. In the tense few minutes that follow, we decide collectively that art needs to happen no matter what, so we have a shot of bourbon, two people pull on white hazmat suits, and we start moving under umbrellas towards the street where the performance will occur…
I started being interested in Anthony Hawley’s work the minute I met him. We met in college, and not only was he edgy and attractive (full disclosure, we are married), he was also constantly surprising me. One night he would be studying for an East-Asian film class, another night he would be writing a piece for an Italian lit project, and he disappeared every Thursday at 11:30 pm for Columbia University’s CTV, a late-night comedy team. Anthony’s voraciousness as an undergraduate continued into his multiple graduate degrees (in fiction/poetry and visual art) and into his multi-genre artistic practice.
Although we have known each other for 18 years we only thought to start collaborating about 5 years ago. Maybe this was because I am already in a full-time ensemble, or because Anthony and I already collaborate on so many other aspects of our life, including our children. But in 2010 we decided that this would be the year to start working together. We applied to do a residency in Italy, were awarded the grant, and made plans to travel to Assisi, Italy in June of 2011.
The whole idea was incredibly empowering. Violinist and visual artist collaboration: go! Until we actually sat down and tried to figure out what we were going to do.
For several months we had bi-weekly experimental meetings: we made lists, we shared dreams, we tried so many things: Anthony plays the violin. Becca improvises while Anthony etches on paper with a boulder, wearing a blindfold. We wanted to exchange our skills and to guide each other, but even though we kept trying to find a way in, it almost felt like an energy block. We had so much potential, but we couldn’t figure out what to do with it.
We went to Italy with many trials in our pocket but no firm idea of what our residency would entail. For me, this was alarming. Trained as a classical musician I am used to knowing and planning out most of what I’m going to do. The creativity comes in the process and interpretation. For Anthony, the lack of decision is freeing. The blank slate is the inspiration.
Helped by an idea from the artist Gabriel Orozco—“The work is finished when it represents what really happens in the action of doing it”—we stopped trying to combine our specific talents and skills. Instead we looked outside ourselves at what was unique to our current experience. We started tuning into the place, to the sounds and colors of the environment, and let the process happen to us instead of forcing ourselves on the process.
The result was a mesmerizing 30-minute work called “Le Segnavie/The Guides.” Based on St. Francis-of-Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun,” our materials included fresh yellow flowers collected from the mountain above, a partially-improvised score, and yellow thread which Anthony manipulated throughout the musical performance. Beginning at 5:30 a.m., our work could not have occurred anywhere else in the world, the materials local to that place and time of year.
Our subsequent collaborations have happened more organically; the process was easier once we knew we could work together and didn’t have to try so hard. For the aforementioned performance in a car, a 5-night drama entitled “Fault Diagnosis,” I play a blindfolded interstellar mechanic who “repairs” the car with a score written by Anthony and realized through my improvisation. In other instances Anthony has directed me in video projects. Just last week I played a robotic space pilot who rescues a girl in a warehouse.
I am always grateful for the rare moments Anthony and I take to do a project together. They feel like outside-of-life time, dream-time. Working with Anthony reminds me of the wonder inherent in the creative process and how essential it is for us to practice noticing more about the world.