Casey Droege: When we first met, you were touring and performing as a musician. Can you talk about your transition into the visual arts and the introduction of animation into your practice?
Alexis Gideon: When I was solely a composer and performer of music, my work focused on the absurdity of genre. My pieces were exercises in breaking down the lines between genres, taking disparate idioms and creating a cohesive personal language out of them. This fusion naturally lent itself towards creating multi-disciplinary work across a variety of media. Sculptural elements as well as painting and drawing, photography and film, mixed with literature and music, and finally performance, became organic extensions of my artistic practice. The narrative element really freed me from the work needing to prove something in terms of using disparate elements as a statement, so now every change in style serves the story, which enables the work to resonate in a very different way.
CD: Throughout your career, you've collaborated with artists across genres. How do these collaborations affect your practice?
AG: With the right collaborators, the work becomes richer. Developing the story with Jacob Rubin and fabricating the puppets with Cynthia Star, for example, gave the pieces a dimension and texture that would otherwise simply not be present. Picking the right people is important, as is maintaining clarity of vision and communication to make sure the work doesn’t become muddled. Each new layer gives a multifaceted depth, necessary to all the different permutations of media in my work. The process of development and refinement, especially with collaborators, keeps me really excited and surprised by the work.
CD: This piece pulls from Lord Dunsany, John William Dunne, and was dedicated to Flann O'Brien. Were there real life connections between those three people?
AG: I initially intended the piece to be based on Flann O'Brien's experimental novel The Third Policeman but there were copyright considerations that made it impossible. Instead of treating that as a dead end, I thought about the stream of art and how works influence each other. I was interested in Jacques Derrida's notion that every text is a rewriting of a past text and will be rewritten again as a future text. I researched what influenced The Third Policeman and found the short stories of Lord Dunsany and the experiments in time by John William Dunne.
CD:What attracted you to The Third Policeman and Flann O'Brien?
AG: I love the way The Third Policeman takes place in a dream space. Things that couldn’t happen in everyday life, do. The reason the reader can accept this in Flann O’Brien’s work is because he creates a world that operates under the laws of a dream. A character may walk into a room, and when she leaves that room, she is in a different house. In a dream state, there is maybe a faint echo of something being off, but we accept the situation. In real life, that would be incredibly disturbing. My work often focuses on the mystical and magical potentialities of life, something that is much more possible when a story operates under dream logic. By appealing to a familiar type of thinking in the audience (the type of thinking they do every night in dreams), the otherworldliness of the work becomes plausible and more effective.
CD: How do you appeal to an audience’s dream logic?
AG: I intend my pieces to wash over the audience as a dream would. To emulate a dream state, I use different media so as to almost overwhelm the senses; the music, visuals and words – and performance when it is live – all take up equal space, creating an almost disorienting atmosphere where it is not possible to comprehend everything using straightforward logic. Like a child listening to a story, the gist and feeling of the story is clear and emotionally evocative, but many specifics are often elusive, misunderstood or missed entirely. This type of state invites each audience member to bring personal meaning, interpretation and understanding to the piece, which I think enriches it. As in dreams, the underlying meanings and symbols all have concrete origins, but these origins can be hard to discover at first.
CD: You've said before that the Video Musics series can be shown in a gallery or museum setting, but are only fully realized when you're performing the piece live. How does the performance change the work?
AG: Although my pieces can stand alone as videos, the ideal format is the performance. In Video Musics III: Floating Oceans, the characters are at a dinner table telling each other different stories. They are also acting out these stories as if in a play that has a small cast playing various roles. There is the story being told, then the story of the re-telling at the table, and then my live performance adding another layer of narrative immediacy to the audience. The work is very much about story and how narrative perspective can inform meaning. Performing live also draws out a heightened experience of how in sync and intertwined the music and visuals are, creating a more coherent whole. When the piece is not performed live, the music and visuals can seem more like a function of editing or post-production, but when it is in front of you happening, it creates a much deeper realization of the work.
CD: What role does the audience play in your work?
AG: My performance will change due to audience reactions over the course of performing the piece many times. I will accentuate comedic or dramatic elements that the audience reacts to, causing a give and pull that keeps the piece in flux through the course of its life as something that is performed. It’s another form of collaboration that I find very valuable in the evolution of the piece.