Nora Sharp is a High Concept Labs Sponsored Artist with Vaudeo Motion.
The other day I was playing hide and seek with my girlfriend Ginette’s three-year-old niece. Little Marie is at the age where her human-ness seems to grow exponentially: each day she possesses more words, more enunciation, more awareness of the relationships of people around her. (After months of her calling us sisters, Ginette and I recently tried to explain to Marie that we weren’t. She stared us down defiantly, but didn’t protest).
But there are some typical human concepts that Marie isn’t yet restricted by. Here’s what happened when we were playing hide and seek. She would close the bathroom door; I would hide somewhere in the bathroom—behind the shower curtain, under the laundry basket, in a corner pressed up against a shelving unit. Then she would open the door and find me. At first she only gave me a couple seconds to hide, until I cried out, “Marie, you gotta give me more time, honey!” She understood this, and responded, “Okay, five seconds!”
The bathroom at her grandparents’ house is shaped like a narrow L; the toilet is partly hidden by the wall of the shower. As Marie now counted down from five on the other side of the bathroom door, I squeezed myself in between the toilet and half-wall. When she pushed open the door and looked inside, she couldn’t see me. She was quiet for a moment, looking around at all the spaces within her view, and then she went back out into the kitchen and asked Ginette, “Where’s Nora?” Ginette, who was cooking and didn’t know what game we were playing, said, “I’m not sure. Maybe she went upstairs.”
I stayed in the bathroom for a while. I thought maybe Marie would think, Wait a second—Nora has to be in there somewhere. But she didn’t. She stayed out in the kitchen.
To her it was possible that I was no longer in the bathroom at all. I couldn’t stop thinking about this for a week, and told this story to way too many people.
Two years ago I took a week-long dance workshop called “Reinvent Your Eye” with Seattle choreographer KT Niehoff. The first thing we did was explore space. It’s not uncommon to have dance teachers tell you to take a walk around the room, or notice the space around you, or keep your eyes open, but this was the first time a teacher said to me: “all we’re doing right now is noticing space.” So we all wandered around the dance studio, which was full of nooks and crannies, and looked at it all. Or at least that’s what I did. I remember making my way behind a stage curtain, where it was dark and intimate, and realizing that I felt like a child, safe and unknown. The whole experience was surprisingly profound.
After space, we explored time. Again, we didn’t receive a lot of directives, just that we should wander around, outside, into the neighborhood or wherever we wanted to go, and explore time. But try not to be gone forever. I don’t remember much about my time exploration, which perhaps makes sense. What strikes me now is that this was a professional dance composition workshop and the first, foremost, fundamental pieces that KT wanted us to pay attention to were space and time.
Could the most important things in dance be so simultaneously simple and complex? Is it not actually all about cool dance moves, even though everything seems to say it is? Now that I know that space and time are important, what do I do with them?
When Vaudeo Motion gets together to rehearse, it takes a lot of time just to get to square one. Evan lives in Madison and comes down twice a month for intensive rehearsal periods—we usually meet for about 15 hours over the course of three days while he’s here. His trip takes about two hours on the bus from Madison to O’Hare Airport, plus unpredictable hours on the CTA from O’Hare to Pilsen.
Once we’re in the room together, it takes about 45 minutes (plus a lot of heavy lifting) for Ben and Evan to get their equipment set up. Between them, they use multiple audio and video mixers, at least one synthesizer, a drum machine, occasionally a midi piano, and a piece of security camera equipment that allows them to see the image we’re creating close up, without my body in front of it. The feedback system itself requires at least two projectors, a camera, and a speaker system, and all of this is tied together with yards upon yards of differently colored cables. If we get to leave equipment up overnight, that saves a lot of time; if we can’t, it’s another 45 minutes at the end to tear down and get everything packed away. Plus… we all tend to run late.
For our final show as part of our HCL Sponsorship, we’re performing in a strange, large space on the sixth floor of Mana Contemporary Chicago. We were initially offered a different space on the fifth floor—a grandiose, expansive, symmetrical room with enormous striped columns and a shiny, inviting floor—but then Mana said they needed it for storage. The sixth floor space we get to use instead is like the fifth floor’s dustier, asymmetrical, less impressive little brother, and we were initially disappointed when we saw it. It took a full rehearsal weekend to figure out how to take advantage of what that room had to offer. We had to create our own projection surfaces, and after trying out a few things, we settled on a 75 x 10 foot plastic sheet that stretches across four pillars to create three screens. The screen-raising process took about three hours the most recent weekend we met to rehearse, even after trying out a version of it the time before. It’s beautiful, and it works, and it was worth it, and it somehow helps transform the weird 6th floor room to be a bit more magical.
Sometimes the rehearsal process is a lot more about how are we going to get these ten-foot two-by-fours from Home Depot to Pilsen and how are we going to measure this space efficiently with only a 25-foot measuring tape and who wants to go get burritos because we’re all exhausted from carrying heavy stuff up and down six flights of stairs than it is about concepts, ideas, choreography, art. It’s easy to spend all your energy on logistics and not have any left for improvisation, for doing the work you came to do. But things take the time they take, and the challenges of space must be met if you want to do what you said you were going to do. And despite her confusion, Marie’s perception of the universe seems strangely helpful here. If we want to cope with the restrictions we face without getting bogged down by them, maybe sometimes it could help to imagine they’re not there.
Vaudeo Motion, composed of Ben Baker-Smith, Evan Kühl, and Nora Sharp, uses feedback loops of audio, video, and motion signals to synaesthetically transform the spaces they perform in and create a unified system. The second and final showing of their developing work in progress will take place at HCL on July 10th.
Vaudeo Motion II
Friday, July 10
9 PM / $5
High Concept Labs
2233 S Throop St, Chicago, IL
(inside Mana Contemporary Chicago; enter through East side of building)