On Transformation: An Interview with Andrew Ondrejcak

By Alessandra Gomez

Mar 14, 2016

Curatorial Fellow Alessandra Gomez and Andrew Ondrejcak discuss ELIJAH GREEN at The Kitchen.

Alessandra Gomez: Can you briefly describe ELIJAH GREEN in your own words?

Andrew Ondrejcak: ELIJAH GREEN is a landscape play. The protagonist is an invisible spirit that shape-shifts through various people during the performance, living through a variety of human experiences.

AG: Your work reflects moments of communal time, interwoven by human foibles and strangeness. For instance, there was a very sensual and intense moment between Stuart Singer and his laptop, accompanied by a monumental build-up of techno dance music. Although the scene was dominated by Stuart’s intense panting and the weighted beat of the dance music, my attention shifted to Meg Harper. She was facing away from the audience and gently ironing in silence. I experienced an uncanny duality of time while watching the two revolving tableaus overlap—fragments of objects, gestures, narratives, and images engulfed the space. I am curious to hear more about the time-space relationship between the characters.

AO: There are multiple types of actions happening on stage and it's important to me that audiences begin to make their own connections. This is how life is—a constantly shifting rebus with no clear answer as to how or if the pieces fit together. In the example you mention, when Stuart is doing his video porn chat amid loud thumping music, we can somehow see more clearly the solitude and focus of some of the other actions like Meg's ironing. (At that moment I tend to look more closely at Yuki Kawahisa, who is near Stuart and who is building a wall—the relationship of her body to her wall is the same as Stuart's body to his computer.) Even though each character is working in different time-spaces, their bodies share the same stage so the audience intuitively relates their actions. The guidelines for ELIJAH GREEN were taken from Strindberg's A Dream Play, in which he sets up the rules clearly in his forward, "Time and space do not exist. Upon an insignificant background of real life events the imagination spins and weaves new patterns: a blend of memories, experiences, pure inventions, absurdities and improvisations." I love to hear that you are weaving your own path through the landscape and connecting the dots in a personal way.

AG: One such source for ELIJAH GREEN is the work of Flemish Renaissance painter, Pieter Bruegel, widely known for his landscape and peasant scenes. The subjects in his paintings are often depicted performing laborious tasks, however, your work seems to be more about transformation rather than labor.

AO: When Bruegel illustrates a figure (laboring or otherwise), it's more often in service of a poetic or allegorical ideal—in Netherlandish Proverbs, the figures are executing common, everyday actions that relate to a proverb of the time; in The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, the scene is a village square in which the sacred and the profane intermingle. When putting Bruegel's static images on stage, we discovered varying levels of how they could transform over time. Some of the characters undergo radical change (Tanya Selvaratam wills herself to transform from a human into a table), some figures physicalize their emotional journey (Yuki Kawahisa builds a brick wall of protection after getting her heart broken), some figures internalize (while ironing, Meg Harper slips into a "Virginia Woolf moment" when her mind lifts from the mundane of the everyday into an intellectual or philosophical curiosity, and then returns to the physical task at hand) and, much like life, sometimes people don't change at all (Heather Lang eats hamburgers and drinks wine throughout, watching the landscape passively, and contently.)

AG: The audience must surrender their passivity (which to me, is quite exhilarating)—can you discuss their role in the piece?

AO: This performance requires a special kind of attention from the audience—much like looking at a Cubist painting in which the viewer sees the same scene from multiple points of view—our audience is asked to view the landscape from afar (from a Bruegel point of view) while simultaneously following the actions of the individuals; in the foreground there is a buffet of objects that weave in and out of the performance. It is a lot to ask of an audience. Much like looking at a Rauschenberg, I look at the whole image then look closely at the details. The viewer of ELIJAH GREEN is best served when they approach The Kitchen in this way. As an audience member on Friday night, I thought to myself how much of the experience is about the act of looking.

AG: During the performance, I sat directly in front of Imani Simmons, who was carefully slicing fish on a metal tray underneath a small, blue light—similar to an operation table. Smell alone is quite fragile; the scent of fish and blood intensified as the performance progressed. I appreciate this moment for its ability penetrate the barrier between audience and performer.

AO: At some point in the creative process, I felt like these characters and their stories were reaching beyond the edge of the canvas, so I included myself in the dialogue—eventually, the audience was wrapped up in it as well, and now they have a conversation with Brian Mendes as he explains his failed attempt to make a mark in this world.

Photo by Paula Court

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