Koosil Ja Blog

Conversation with koosil-ja and Geoff Matters

By Katy Dammers

Aug 18, 2015

Choreographer koosil-ja and her collaborator Geoff Matters spoke with Assistant Curator and Archive Manager Katy Dammers about their new piece I am capitalism premiering at The Kitchen this fall. They consider the origins of this work and its place within koosil-ja’s long history at The Kitchen.

Katy Dammers: What brought you to consider capitalism in this piece?

Koosil-ja: Over the past ten years, looking for my identity was the driving force behind my work, and I wasn’t really going anywhere with it. Then I read Gilles Deleuze and felt an opening. He thinks being is a process and identity is a crappy concept, because it puts our existence inferior to the idea that exists before us. He opened me up to a new plateau. While I was searching for the meaning and name of my existence, my body existed, and I was living in it. I realized this was real enough. Then I thought the body might be an impersonal solidity through which the subject passes. Body became fascinatingly unknown. Body is not a brush with which to paint my metaphysical world; instead I create a new type of body and a particular world in which the body is a part of each dance project with technology. Sooner or later I arrived at a place where I questioned—who is moving inside this body? Where is this force coming from? Ultimately I considered this force of capitalism that I plug myself into—this minor being to this major system. I’m accessing Deleuze and Guattari’s works, especially Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972).

Geoff Matters: When you talk about the capitalism as a force driving the body, it reminds me of when we did Dance Without Bodies at The Kitchen in 2006. We used a video screen playing loops of video as an external agency to drive your body’s movement as opposed to dancing based on your internal whims or a score that you’ve memorized. I’m struck by the parallel between that and what you said a moment ago about capitalism as the external force that’s pushing your body around. I wonder if that’s a thread of commonality across a decade of working with Deleuze’s ideas in your dance works.

KD: Will you be using this process of live processing again in I am capitalism?

K: Yes. Let me first explain about Live Processing. I created the Live Processing performance technique by drawing from Deleuze and Guattari and my performance work for the Wooster Group. For the Live Processing technique, I prepare video sequences (ranging from 1 to 3 sequences) as a choreographic score. The video sequences consist of dancing bodies and moving objects, chosen from across all genres and sequenced with specific intent. They are played from the monitors placed at each corner of the stage. The dancers read and mentally process the images and combine them into physical movement in real-time on stage. The dancers practice the score for one to two years. Live Processing distributes the task of choreographing among the choreographer and dancers. The audience can see the source materials displayed on stage. It unfolds the process of the performance in real time for the audience.

Live Processing was featured in Dance Without Bodies commissioned and presented by The Kitchen in 2006. Live Processing resonates with a philosophical thesis that Self is not a predetermined property that is static, but rather it is always in a process of becoming, while being affected and also affecting others. We took this concept literally and created an environment for the dancers to create movement while extending their perception and feeling; the dancers connect themselves with the persons, objects, and environment in the video sources. For I am capitalism, I continue to practice Live Processing on stage with the same intent, but in a specific way for the project.

GM: We often work with technology but always consider it as a means to try and achieve some end. We are wielding technology in this new piece to try and address a different set of questions around capitalism and the relationship between the body and the system in which we find ourselves. Although we are using technology in a different way, if you step back a bit it’s actually pretty similar because neither set out with technology with a starting point.

KD: What process did you go through to analyze those questions about capitalism within the piece?

K: We first developed work based on Candomblé, which is a religion and worship formed by African people who were brought to Brazil as slaves.

GM: In the religious practices around Candomblé they have very long ceremonies where people are dancing and reach some transcendental state where they’re possessed by spirits and take on the personification of some religious character or quality. Sometimes they will persist in that state for hours or even days as the festival goes on. Koosil-ja came into contact with Candomblé when she was in Brazil and we spent a while working with that concept and the ideas of ritual in the early stages of developing this work.

K: Historically the slaves who were forced to attend Catholic church by their masters had their own picture of god in their pocket during services—while they were chanting Catholicism they were invoking the image of their own god. I am exploring ways to experience this syncretism using elements of Candomblé ritual. Candomblé includes the sacrifice of animals. We went on to create the second dance (although it ultimately will be performed first) called Sacrifice. It takes place in my rehearsal space, my head, and in my metaphysical place extending outward.

GM: In the third section of the dance we try to illustrate labor in a more direct and literal, potentially naïve fashion. We’re interested specially the process of labor—how people are using their bodies to work and how they are trading this portion of their lifespan and dedicating it toward an effort on behalf of someone else so they can survive. Koosil-ja stumbled across the book and film The Woman in the Dunes, which raises complementary questions about self, body, capitalism, and labor.

K: The fourth dance is also built on an existing work that we closely studied and reworked for our purpose. We are enacting a play—it’s a physical play without words—with three people.

GM: We took this mathematical, mechanical score that we stumbled across within the play and we applied some mathematical transformations to it to make it fit better.

KD: You both work individually and together to push each other in exciting ways. How has your relationship as collaborators developed?

GM: We’ve been collaborating for 12 years now. We have different approaches to work. I’m often very practical and so I like to challenge koosil-ja’s ideas. If she can do a good job defending those reasons, then we keep it, and if she can’t, then I’ll suggest an alternative that pushes the work in a direction I’d like to go. I think the pieces end up being pretty strongly influenced by my input, but my input usually comes in back and forth debates with the inspiration or original direction that koosil-ja’s taking. Often it is the culmination of koosil-ja having a very strong conceptual and emotional connection with some idea versus my more skeptical and mathematical approach to redirecting or filtering those ideas.

KD: It’s almost a checks and balances system where you can be sounding boards for each other.

K: Talking to Geoff always helps me. He never discourages me completely; he shakes me. I take the shake into my thoughts and feelings and come back again. It’s really great.

GM: You can see that combination in our previous work at The Kitchen. In Dance Without Bodies I had a lot of practical ideas for how we could set up the staging with splitting the space into two halves and using the live projection to rejoin the spaces into a loop where you could have the real live dancers and the real time images of the dancers at the same time. A lot of that system came out of discussions we had and different proposals I drew up— it wouldn’t have been arrived at without that back and forth. I have a habit of questioning koosil-ja’s ideas and proposing alternative ways of responding to them with technology to achieve the results that she wants in a different way.

KD: Are you and Geoff working together to create the music for I am capitalism?

K: I tend to bring a preference and then Geoff turns it into music, one way or another. Sometimes he uses my draft as a material or sometimes he replaces his own music with a draft. Sometimes he says that’s good and that encouragement turns my draft into greater material.

GM: In the past most of our pieces have had a single overall approach and my treatment of the music and the soundtrack has followed directly from the concepts by which the movement was created. In this piece it will be different because there are several movements, each of which has its own history of origin and development. I’m trying to find an approach for each section which naturally follows from the development of the piece overall and from the way we have developed the movement from the content. It is in some ways a little bit more open-ended because there isn’t a single overriding concept.

K: In I am capitalism Geoff is going to perform live music with Brian Chase (of the band Yeah Yeah Yeahs) off and on throughout the piece.

KD: koosil-ja, can you trace a development or continuum in any way through the different works that you’ve shown at The Kitchen? One theme that I saw was an interest in ritual. It seems like in Lost maps/Walking Like a Velvet Cloud (1988) you’re examining ritual and eroticism—the sacred and the secular. Even in ceases still I see (1992) you’re thinking about native stories that might instill a sense of identity or place and the rituals that come from that. It seems that I am capitalism continues to have a fascination with ritual—how it draws you into a system and how it can also be a way of resisting it.

K: Good point. Lost Map and ceases still I see both have a more primitive or innocent energy, like a life force. Then later there was a shift where I was overly political and I got stuck with identity search. When I came out of that journey and struggle, I created Dance Without Bodies. That was when my work became more clearly conceptual. Now that I can apply this kind of chronology, I can define my primitive era, my political era, an era of identity search, and a Deleuzian era that began with Dance Without Bodies. When I started to develop a certain awareness of objectivity to my practice with Deleuze, my work became more conceptual, and I feel like The Kitchen has embraced this part of my work. I can fully resonate with The Kitchen’s programming—from a pop subculture band to something highly academic. When I say Deleuze, it doesn’t scare The Kitchen. I’m so grateful The Kitchen exists.

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