On January 30, Kelly Nipper debuted her piece, Tessa Pattern Takes A Picture, in MoMA’s Titus 2 Theater. The performance featured Japanther (Ian Vanek and Matt Reilly), and Marissa Ruazol (dancing in characteristic Nipper attire [pictured]).
Leora: I want to tell you how much has stayed with me since last week’s performances. It feels like I can access the entire duration in my memory, which is not altogether typical of my experience of either rock shows or dance performance. Since our space is limited, I’d like to jump in, describe what I saw, and ask you a related question.
The performance begins with what look like life-size bellows (i.e., the black pleated part of large format cameras) spanning the lip of the stage, and largely obscuring the instruments, musicians, and dancer behind. After a few minutes, Matt folds up this screen and lays it down to the side of the stage, revealing Ian and Marissa—who have until then appeared like dusky shadows. After that, the performance quickly reaches a steady, intense rhythm. Japanther forcefully plays song after song, with only a breath between, and Marissa moves like some serpentine hybrid between metronome and lava lamp. Finally, and with effort, Matt lifts the bellows and returns them to their initial position, and Marissa lies prone.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking of the whole performance as one long photographic exposure. Taken together, the volume (extremely loud), the lyrics (mantra-like and repetitive), the dance (inhumanly constant—Marissa becoming a near-abstraction), and the lighting (a full wash on audience and performers alike) amounted to a high-contrast impression. For me, this steady density left a remarkably bright after-image and deep echo, which are still lingering in my eyes and ears today. I know that allusions to photography were intentional, but I’m hoping you can speak to this idea of exposure and after-image; to your interests in photography generally; and to the way making performance, and using sound, might itself be, or border on, a kind of image-making practice.
Kelly: I was living in Northern California when developing Tessa Pattern Takes a Picture. My memory of the area was not from experience but from Ansel Adams photographs. These pictures were all mixed up in my head with the experience of driving past what felt like hundreds of vacant technology company buildings—dark glass windows, empty parking lots, and architecture based on sacred geometry. I thought about the future, light and dark, rolling hills, red and white, blood and bones, changes in the climate, sex, movement notation, and the sky pinned to the edges of the world.
The content of Tessa Pattern Takes a Picture prioritized time over form. I was thinking about what it’s like to take a picture with a large format camera at night in low light, when the sky and landscape are near black, requiring that the lens stay open for a longer period of time. The length of exposure is a form time takes in a photograph.
The piece as a whole is emblematic of the Zone System—a photographic convention created by Ansel Adams for determining exposure and development of picture values. The opposing end points of the continuum are Zone 0 (pure black) and Zone 10 (pure white) and in between are near black, middle grey, black materials, slight tone without texture, and so on. In the piece, the even wash of light over the theater flattened tones and dimension, neutralized mood, and suggested minimal separation between performers and audience. The mechanics of the theater became visible. The accordion pleated costume worn by Marissa Ruazol—which was intended to repeat the bony architecture of the body around the lungs—echoed these mechanics. The composition of stage and audience was reflected in the movement and the design of the sound scores, which fold in half to create near mirror images.
Tessa Pattern is test a pattern. I imagined Tessa as the sister of Thora Pattern—a character from a Janet Frame novel. I imagined that Tessa carried a travel journal in her pocket, and secured the sky to the edges of the world. Tessa made pictures in a darkroom wearing a cloth apron, a tool for folding paper, and had a ceramic locket around her neck. Tessa carried a camera and wrote about photographs taken in faraway places. Tessa took a picture of a storm. Her companion Theo Weather carried a stopped clock in his pocket. Tessa had a brother named Toby with Y and not I, and another brother named Tobi with I and not Y. Tessa Pattern is sometimes a person and sometimes a concept.