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The Magazine of California Institute of the Arts | Winter 2014

 The Magazine of California Institute of the Arts | Winter 2014

LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT CalArts is published twice each year by the CalArts Office of Communications. California Institute of the Arts Steven D. Lavine, President Jay Carducci, Vice President and Chief Communications Officer, Office of Communications Editorial: Stuart I. Frolick, Freddie Sharmini and Michael Rogers Design: Joseph Prichard (Art mfa 08) Typefaces in this issue include: McBean by Benjamin Woodlock (Art mfa 13) and Spektro Gothic by Andrea Tinnes (Art mfa 98) Photography: Scott Groller and Steven A. Gunther Telephone: (661) 255-1050 E-mail:

As I write this, we are entering the fourth month of an extraordinarily productive semester. It opened with the CalArts Center for New Performance/Getty Villa production of Prometheus Bound playing to sold-out audiences and rave reviews at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades. The timing was such that Prometheus Bound became, in effect, the opening presentation of the second iteration of the Radar l.a. Festival, organized by the Roy and Edna Disney/ CalArts Theater (redcat) and CalArts in cooperation with Center Theatre Group and a number of other partner organizations. This festival was especially notable for its strong slate of productions from Latin America, in keeping with the ever-growing output by Latino students on our campus. One of the features in this issue surveys outstanding work carried out by Latino alumni and faculty, and the ways in which these artists are influencing wider conversations in their respective fields. As the excitement settled down after Prometheus and Radar l.a., the core educational activity of CalArts was already at full speed. At the center of this work is the relation between faculty artists and their individual student mentees. The force of that connection can be felt in this issue’s conversation between Creative Writing Program faculty member Maggie Nelson and a recent graduate she mentored, Allie Rowbottom. Their shared commitment to the writing life and support for each other’s work is far more than a typical faculty-student relationship, because it is tied not to a particular course, but, rather, to the overall artistic development of the younger artist. The depth of such relationships are felt particularly strongly when we lose a beloved teacher, as we did this past fall with the death, after a long illness, of Photography Program faculty member Allan Sekula. At the memorial celebration of his life held at redcat in early October, the

outpouring of affection, gratitude and admiration was overwhelming. A further echo of what the work of a great teacher means is evident as we introduce a new trustee, alumna Joni Binder Shwarts. Her life was changed forever by her encounter with Allan, and she joins the Board of Trustees as a way of giving back to CalArts. There are many ways to help advance the Institute’s mission and vision. Trustee Rodrigo García is leading the effort to establish new scholarship funds for Latino students— both domestic and international—as well as special project funds in this area. Our newly-launched Students First campaign addresses the prevailing needs of our students: a strategic fund for merit and need-based scholarships and the establishment of the Center for Life and Work, designed to help students bridge the challenging transition into the workplace. Beyond the core funding goals of Students First, individual school initiatives are also seeking support. For instance, the Allan Sekula Social Documentary Fund, established by Allan’s wife, Sally Stein, will provide completion grants to CalArts students whose works are selected for their contributions to the documentary genre. And the Office of Advancement, drawing on donated artwork by alumni and faculty, is working with Christie’s in New York on a high-profile auction scheduled for May 13, 2014, to benefit the School of Art. In whatever way you choose to give to CalArts, your support is greatly appreciated by our students, faculty and the entire CalArts community. Wishing you happy holidays and the best for the new year,

steven d. lavine President, CalArts


Carrie Mae Weems Named MacArthur Fellow CalArts Weekend New Trustee: Joni Binder Shwarts Exploring Google Glass New Digital Arts Minor

CalArts alumna Carrie Mae Weems is a 2013 MacArthur Fellow. An open-air concert by alumni bands at the Wild Beast music pavilion closed out the third annual CalArts Weekend. At Google’s l.a. offices, CalArts Film/Video students Jerrold Chong (center) and Min Jung Kim give a presentation on using Google Glass—the new wearable computer with an optical headmounted display—as a unique artmaking tool.

courtesy of the macarthur foundation


Winter 2014

2 courtesy of the macarthur foundation

CARRIE MAE WEEMS NAMED MACARTHUR FELLOW Carrie Mae Weems (Art bfa 81) is one of 24 recipients this year of the MacArthur Foundation’s famous “Genius Award”—one of the foremost individual honors in the United States. The foundation recognizes men and women who have demonstrated “extraordinary originality and a marked capacity for self-direction,” and awards the unrestricted amount of $625,000 over five years to each MacArthur Fellow. In a New York Times interview published after the announcement of her award, the Syracuse-based artist described her work as having “a great deal to do with the breadth of the humanity of African Americans who are usually stereotyped and narrowly defined and often viewed as a social problem. I’m thinking that it’s not about social problems; that it’s about social constructions. The work has to do with an attempt to reposition and reimagine the possibility of women and the possibility of people of color, and to that extent it has to do with what I always call unrequited love.”

Born in Portland, or, the second of seven children, Weems left home at 16 for San Francisco, where she studied modern dance with Anna Halprin. After earning her undergraduate degree at CalArts, Weems obtained an mfa (1984) from uc San Diego, and studied further at uc Berkeley from 1984 to 1987. Her bodies of work include Ain’t Joking (1987), the Kitchen Table series (1990), From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995), The Louisiana Project (2004) and Roaming (2006), among numerous others. Weems’ work has been exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, Tate Liverpool, and the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. A midcareer retrospective of her work recently closed at the Cleveland Museum of Art and is now on view at the Cantor Center for the Visual Arts at Stanford University (through January 5, 2014). The show next travels to the Guggenheim in New York (January 24–April 23, 2014). Weems is the fifth CalArts alum to receive the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, joining artists Guillermo Gómez-Peña (Art mfa 83, bfa 81) and Mark Bradford (Art mfa 97, bfa 95), actor and clown Bill Irwin (Theater 72) and Museum of Jurassic Technology founder David Wilson (Film/ Video mfa 76). Former playwriting faculty SuzanLori Parks has also received the award.

PARENTS & ALUMNI CONVENE FOR THIRD ANNUAL � WEEKEND In what has become a campus highlight early in the fall semester, the third annual CalArts Weekend attracted more than 200 parents of current students—coming from as close as Los Angeles and as far as Kenya—on October 18 and 19. In addition to a slate of classes, performances, workshops and social events, this year’s two-day gathering featured an Idea Lab with prominent alumni, and a Weekend Lounge that provided opportunities for casual engagement for parents, faculty and staff. Friday’s proceedings kicked off with a welcome luncheon and continued with the afternoon’s offerings of classes, studio visits and conversations with the Institute’s leadership. After a late afternoon Parents Circle wine and hors d’oeuvres reception, Friday evening’s entertainment included film screenings at the Bijou, a dance performance, and a theatrical production. The festive weekend wrapped up Saturday night with a lively outdoor concert at The Wild Beast.



FROM OPPOSTE LEFT Carrie Mae Weems. Faculty member Martha Ferrara (left) welcomes Trish Christean (center), mother of bfa student Rose Strasen, to the School of Theater's Costume Shop during CalArts Weekend. Andrew Conrad (Music mfa 10) was among the performers at CalArts Weekend. Joni Binder Shwarts at an event at sfmoma.

courtesy of the trustee


“CalArts Weekend seems to gain more momentum each year,” says Bianca Roberts, vice president and chief advancement officer. “The energy and enthusiasm of attendees was in high gear this year, and staff and faculty truly enjoyed getting to know the parents of so many of our students. Parents have reported a deepening of their understanding—not only of the CalArts philosophy of arts education, but also of the passions and dreams of their young artists.”

A Los Angeles native and fourth-generation Californian now living in the Bay Area, Joni Binder Shwarts (Art bfa 89) has joined the CalArts Board of Trustees. Binder Shwarts attended Columbia University before transferring to CalArts, where she studied photography under Allan Sekula in the School of Art. “I was privileged to have Allan as my mentor,” she says. “As head of the program, he didn’t have many mentees at the undergraduate level. Allan helped me understand my work through the lens of visual anthropology, an approach to seeing which foregrounds the social significance of image-making and is both interesting and very powerful. I also took African dance and drumming, theater, dance and painting classes—everything that CalArts had, and still has, to offer. I loved my time there.” A semester abroad in Kenya living with Massai families who spoke no English turned Binder Shwarts’ interests to writing, which she pursued upon her return to the States. That led to a career of writing reviews, criticism and essays on the arts for magazines and exhibition catalogues. She reconnected with CalArts through classmates on Facebook who convinced her to attend the 2010 alumni reunion. Of her recent election to the

board she says, “How could I not want to participate and serve?” Binder Shwarts is particularly passionate about aiding efforts in international recruiting and the Students First initiative. “That puts on the table what students really need,” she says, “and when we talk about raising money, nothing captures the hearts and minds of prospective donors like education does. That’s where we all come together.” Binder Shwarts also plans to help promote CalArts in the Bay Area. “It can be difficult to gain critical mass in a satellite city,” she says. “But I’ll do whatever I can to help peers, classmates and recent alumni stay connected to the Institute. We all share the amazing experience of having been at CalArts.” A former ex-officio trustee and past president of the Modern Art Council at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (sfmoma), Binder Shwarts is a current member of the Fine Arts Committee of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the State Department in Washington, dc, a member of the Inter-Agency Collaboration on Education, and a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy.

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EXPLORING GOOGLE GLASS In late July, Google announced its enlistment of students from five film schools—the American Film Institute, the Rhode Island School of Design, ucla, usc and CalArts–to explore how Google Glass, its wearable computer that resembles a pair of glasses, can be used to produce films. Each school was provided with three sets of Google Glass for the fall semester. As the Associated Press reported, students were encouraged to use Glass to tell stories incorporating the firstperson point of view, as a starting point. The experimental initiative called the “Glass Creative Collective” allows select students from CalArts to use the new technology for production, documentary filmmaking, character development, and as-yet-undiscovered applications. The product’s features include multiple cameras enabling capture of four different scenes simultaneously and data overlays that may be used to reveal elements of a story. Users may also shoot still images and video (in 720p high-definition), access the Internet and email, and check schedules by issuing voice or touch commands. In the introduction of her team’s presentation to Google, Program in Film and Video faculty Rebecca Baron said: “Rather than make something practical, we wanted to see how we could use Glass in all its specificity to make something expressive… We wanted to work materially and have that materiality meet the virtual world of Glass–partly because Glass frees up your hands. So, rather than use our hands to type on a computer keyboard or touch a screen, we touched materials—this is how we arrived at the idea of doing paint-on-glass animation in relation to video streamed by Glass. We also wanted to use the networking capability of Glass as well, the idea being that one person out in the field would stream video to someone in the studio who would paint into or in relation to the video image, and then pass on the video image plus the painted layer they created to another user who would then create an additional layer, and so on. We imagined doing this as a site-specific installation, perhaps painting on windows around an intersection…” Ten thousand “explorers,” who, in addition to the film students, range from software developers to social media-friendly celebrities, are already using the $1,500 headset. Glass is expected to be available for consumers by spring, priced closer to the average smartphone ($300–500).

NEW DIGITAL ARTS MINOR Mobilizing expertise from all of CalArts’ six schools, a new Digital Arts Minor has been designed for undergraduate artists and performers. The curriculum incorporates computer programming, web design, video editing, digital fabrication, and digital sound production, while providing a historical context for artmaking in digital environments. The program is fueled by the idea that artists can be educated to invent new possibilities for interaction through the fabrication of technological objects and interfaces, web-based communication, and career development. In the first semester it was offered, 59 bfa candidates registered for the program. “The new Digital Arts Minor is an acknowledgment of the degree to which all the contemporary arts engage technology—either independently or in interdisciplinary forms—and so most artists should be both literate in digital technology as well as adept practitioners,” says CalArts Provost Jeannene Przyblyski. “At the same time, it attests to ongoing efforts to prepare our students for the world beyond the Institute, helping in the development of skills related to their art that can also help support their practices by being broadly applicable in the workplace. At CalArts we are always asking ourselves, ‘How can we better prepare graduates for sustainable and richly rewarding careers?’ Programs like the Digital Arts Minor, and the Teaching Artist Certificate Program now planned, in tandem with our Community Arts Partnership (cap), represent the next steps in diversifying the life-and-work ‘toolbox’ for contemporary artists.” Just as artists’ work and careers can be enhanced and reimagined through new technology, their creative problem-solving skills can also contribute to the advancement of technology. “Innovation is highly valued and sought after throughout the culture,” says Ajay Kapur, associate dean for Research and Development in Digital Arts, “and the arts provide the creative component needed for technological and entrepreneurial progress. Artists of all disciplines can make game-changing contributions to digital culture, and the Digital Arts Minor will help students grasp the knowledge to build, engineer and design innovative custom systems.”

© allan sekula. courtesy of christopher grimes gallery

© allan sekula and noël burch. courtesy of doc.eye film

© allan sekula. courtesy of christopher grimes gallery


OPPOSITE, FROM TOP Allan Sekula, Dear Bill Gates, 1999. Detail. Triptych of silver dye bleach prints, ink on paper, dimensions variable. Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, still from the documentary The Forgotten Space, 2010. Digital video, 112 min. Allan Sekula, Volunteer Watching, Volunteer Smiling (Isla de Ons, 12/19/02), 2002. Detail. Diptych of silver dye bleach prints, 21 × 63 in. From the series Black Tide/Marea Negra, 2002–03.

Allan sekula (1951–2013) On August 10 the CalArts community lost a beloved faculty member when Allan Sekula passed away after a two-year battle with cancer. The photographer, filmmaker, writer, teacher and activist had taught at the CalArts School of Art since 1985. At the time of his death, he held the Robert Fitzpatrick Chair in Art. One of the most important advocates for social consciousness in the arts, Sekula was known for his erudition, sense of humor and generosity with students and colleagues. His art, regardless of medium, always served a deep commitment to the social good. “Allan had a remarkable, indomitable spirit,” says Thomas Lawson, dean of the CalArts School of Art. “From the first word that his body could not be repaired, he fought against the inevitable with inner strength and grace. At first he continued to travel for his work, then his many collaborators traveled to him so that several projects could move forward. He lost weight and he lost energy, but he never lost that keen eye and sharp mind that saw so clearly what was wrong with this world.” Born in Erie, pa, Sekula’s family relocated to San Pedro, the port of Los Angeles, a move that engendered his lifelong interest in and fascination with the sea and maritime culture. He grew up with the children of dock and port workers, and enrolled at uc San Diego intending to study marine biology. Sekula's undergraduate path turned toward the visual arts after art courses with John Baldessari, and his mfa work at ucsd was with writer and performance art teacher David Antin. In the early 1970s, he also shared common ground with photo artists such as Martha Rosler, Fred Lonidier and Phel Steinmetz. Sekula’s written and photographic reportage provided context for each other, and he believed both were necessary in the telling of a complete story. For him, “the image—first the still photograph and, later in his life, increasingly the moving image—had an awesome power to both reveal and obscure,” wrote Phil Steinberg, professor of Political Geography at Durham University (u.k.). “For Allan, every image was an essay and, in many cases, the image was accompanied

by a textual essay. Throughout his life, Allan never lost faith in the ability of the image to raise consciousness, and his photography— and, in particular, his lifelong engagement with the ocean—sought to merge imagery with activism to achieve understanding.” Sekula addressed issues related to the maritime industries’ impact on globalization in many works over the last decade. His and codirector Noël Burch’s film, The Forgotten Space (2010), won the Special Jury Prize in the Orizzonti Competition at the 2010 Venice Film Festival. Photographic essays were featured in Documentas 11 (2002), and 12 (2007) in Kassel, Germany. Other video and films include Tsukiji (2001) and Lottery of the Sea (2006). His published work includes Photography against the Grain: Essays and Photo Works, 1973-83 (1984), Fish Story (1995), Geography Lesson: Canadian Notes (1996), Dismal Science (1999), Performance Under Working Conditions (2003), titanic’s Wake (2003) and Polonia and Other Fables (2009). Sekula’s work also resides in prestigious collections throughout the world, including Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Pompidou Center, Paris; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among many others. As the 2012 recipient of the College Art Association’s Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award, Sekula was cited for his “multidisciplinary approach to problems of representation and politics,” and “writings [that] have helped students, scholars and the public to think critically about interventions in the political and social realities of our world.” An overflow crowd at redcat attended a memorial celebration held in Sekula’s honor on October 5. The event was live-streamed and began with a performance by a CalArts gamelan ensemble, a particular favorite of Sekula’s. The Allan Sekula Social Documentary Film Fund has been established by his wife, Sally Stein, to assist students in the completion and distribution of their documentary films. Donations to the fund can be sent to

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bottom right photo: ana garcia

ResoNANTes by Freddie sharmini

Latino Voices Resonate at CalArts

In just over two decades, since the beginning of the 1990s, the ranks of Latino students at CalArts have doubled. During the same period, the Institute has joined in an ever-growing number of collaborations and partnerships with Latino or Latin American artists and performing companies, community groups, schools and colleges, and arts organizations—both in California and beyond, from Mexico to South America. “Given our standing among California colleges, and our track record of cultivating creativity and innovation and of working past conventional boundaries, it’s not surprising that ambitious, forward-thinking Latino students seek out the Institute as much as we seek them,” says President Steven Lavine. “Growing numbers of Latino artists from CalArts are influencing the wider cultural conversation across artistic disciplines and borders; and as we continue to meet the interests and needs of this especially dynamic part of our community, we fully expect new generations of Latino graduates to help pioneer the cultural landscapes of tomorrow.” The following pages offer a sampling of artists, projects and ongoing ventures that attest to the quality and breadth of the vibrant Latino mosaic emerging from CalArts.

voces Resonantes


Program in Experimental Animation MFA 00, BFA 97 Having made waves with the Emmy and Annie Award-winning animated series El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera, Jorge Gutierrez has stepped up to feature films, writing and directing the much-anticipated Book of Life for Reel fx and Fox Animation Studios. The cg movie is a bilingual Romeo-and-Juliet love story that unfolds during the celebration of El Día de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead. Scheduled for release next October, Gutierrez’s feature debut already has a high-profile Hollywood champion: its producer is Mexican fantasy and horror filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy).

volver al futuro

looKiNg bAcK To The FuTuRe Los Angeles, the second-largest metropolis in the United States, also happens to be the second-most-populous Mexican urban center in the world, trailing only Mexico City. Besides this huge population of Mexican origin, the l.a. metro region is moreover home to numerous other communities with roots throughout Latin America. Overall, according to the 2010 census, Latinos are the single largest ethnic group in l.a. County, soon to become an outright majority, and Spanish is the most widely used language among the county’s households. Amid the often breathless coverage by the national media of the demographic rise of Latinos in the u.s., it is worth remembering that Los Angeles was a Mexican pueblo for 70 years before it ever became a u.s. city. Students and faculty from the CalArts School of Theater are revisiting this early history as they examine the 1781 formation of the pueblo by a multiracial contingent of settlers from Mexico in a work-in-progress entitled l.a. Founding Families—the latest project developed by Duende CalArts, the Spanish-language theater initiative of the Institute’s Center for New Performance. “Did the inception and early development of the city foretell its future demographics in the 21st century?” asks Marissa Chibas, the School of Theater faculty member who heads Duende CalArts. Launched in 2009 to meet an outpouring of interest from students and faculty in Latin American theater, Duende embraces pan-Latino cultures and their stories, both canonical and new. Its mission is to stage bi- or multilingual productions and workshops each year and collaborate with leading Latino artists, ensembles and presenters.

El Tigre—created by Gutierrez with his wife Sandra Equihua—broke new ground by bringing urban Latin themes to American animation programming when the toon screened on Nickelodeon in 2007. Gutierrez, a student of CalArts legend Jules Engel, believes the Flash animation show resonated with audiences because it told stories with a personal conviction. “Between Sandra and I, all our favorite films, books and music came from artists inspired by their experiences growing up, in whatever place in the world,” he says. “At CalArts, I was very much encouraged by faculty to ‘look inside’ for both aesthetic and emotional truth. So, every single thing we did in El Tigre was motivated by real-life events from our childhoods in Mexico City and Tijuana. Both legal and not.” He credits the Institute for the development of his artistic and story skills as much as for providing an environment in which he came into his own among an eclectic group of passionate artmakers. “CalArts is where I was born as an artist, writer, filmmaker and all-around troublemaker,” Gutierrez declares. “And being away from home for the first time made me realize I was actually Mexican. Who knew, right? My love for the culture intensified at school and I began what is a torrid and, I’m sure, lifelong affair with the memories of my chaotic and very beautiful home country. That’s one more thing I owe CalArts.”

FROM TOP The first workshop iteration of l.a. Founding Families was staged on campus last February by Duende CalArts, the bilingual theater arm of the Center for New Performance. Artwork from the Nickelodeon series El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera, co-created by Jorge Gutierrez.

courtesy of the artist

“Spanish speakers at CalArts very much want to engage with the language, the literature, and the social, economic and political issues that are relevant today to Latino communities,” says Chibas. “But it’s also non-Latino students who recognize the high artistic value of the work being done in the Spanish-speaking world and who are just as eager to interact with the exciting Latino artists we’re inviting to campus.”

Book of Life has been a labor of love for Gutierrez, in the works for more than a decade after evolving from his mfa thesis film, the 3d short Carmelo. “Like the most glorious tortilla soup ever made, the new film is simmering beautifully and the flavors are starting to explode on the screen,” says the Mexico City-born cartoonista. “This humble epic really comes straight from the heart, inspired by all the tall tales heard in my family.”

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Music Performance Program MFA 73

Program in Dance BFA 95

Appointed dean of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts in 2010, conductor and music scholar Benjamín E. Juárez has enjoyed an illustrious international career of 40 years. As practitioner, he has led orchestras in halls from Mexico City to Paris to Shanghai. As educator, he has lectured and taught around the globe. As administrator, Juárez has directed organizations as extensive as Mexico’s Centro Nacional de las Artes (cenart), which operates professional schools, research centers, media outlets, and some 20 venues. As an ambassador for the arts, he has borne witness to the animating reach of creative practice, and seen the transformation of cultures.

“I make dances with a rage and desire called utopia,” declares twotime Bessie Award-winning choreographer luciana achugar, whose work has been hailed for its combination of the visceral and the conceptual—a potent mixture of primal physicality, rigorously formalized movement, and inventive theatrical presentation. “She really knows how to make a scene,” promises Culturebot.

“When I attended CalArts in the early ’70s, there was, at first, little interest in Mexican or Hispanic arts in Los Angeles or in the u.s. at large,” says Juárez. “Among my fellow students at CalArts, though, I did find inquisitive minds very interested in the music of Mexico. My friend Peter Garland [Music bfa 72], for example, devoted a full issue of Soundings magazine to Mexican composers Revueltas and Carrillo.” That edition of the journal, he points out, has become a prized collector’s item. “A friend once proposed that I conduct a children’s concert with the l.a. Phil, a program of Mexican music to attract the Latino population,” Juárez recalls. “He was promptly rebuffed—told that ‘Mexicans

A recipient of a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship, the Montevideo, Uruguay-born, New York-based achugar has been applying the finishing touches to a new full-evening composition called otro teatro, which will premiere in February at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Beginning with a conceit of a theater in ruins, achugar’s piece metaphorically rebuilds “ANOTHER THEATER” through a ritual communion between performers and audience members. “It is a dance to be FELT as it is SEEN,” she has stated in her project statement. “CalArts was the one place where I wasn’t the odd one out, where I discovered why I was dancing,” achugar recalls. “My dances became more sophisticated by seeing so much, thinking more about the art form, and learning to better articulate the work. There, I defined myself as an artist.”

© 1991–2010 harry gamboa jr.

in l.a. don’t go to the Music Center and can’t afford the prices anyway.’ Well, today the Philharmonic has in Gustavo Dudamel a Latin American conductor who is the most sought-after baton in the world. How things have changed! Across the u.s., we now regularly celebrate Latino artists, performers and composers in museums and concert halls. In higher education, universities such as bu, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, asu, ucla and others have challenging programs focused on Hispanic and Mexican arts and culture. “CalArts has played a very important role in this evolution, welcoming many Mexican students who have become the significant artists of our time—such as composers Arturo Márquez [Music mfa 90] and Bernardo Feldman [Music mfa 85], performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña [Art mfa 83, bfa 81] or, more recently, [vocalist and multimedia artist] Carmina Escobar [Music mfa 10]. “We, the Mexicans of CalArts, learned to explore new territories, to collaborate and to find a place for our artistic dreams—and be part of the changing times.”

Co-Director, Program in Photography and Media A member of the trailblazing East l.a. Chicano art group Asco in the 1970s and ’80s, Harry Gamboa Jr. has witnessed firsthand the hardwon changes in the art establishment’s relationship to the work of Latino artists. In 1972, Asco—Spanish for “disgust” or “revulsion”— famously tagged the entrance of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (lacma) to protest the institutional marginalization of contemporary Chicano artmaking. In 2011, lacma, of all places, was the venue for the first major retrospective of Asco’s historic output, presented as part of “Pacific Standard Time.” Since then, Asco, which disbanded in 1987, has drawn new attention for its sophisticated conceptual and representational strategies—and the on-the-fly hipster flair with which it put ideas into action. Continued on page 10

voces Resonantes


courtesy of the artist and charlie james gallery, los angeles courtesy of the filmmaker

photo: gene pittman. courtesy of the walker art center, minneapolis

CLOCKWISE FROM OPPOSITE PAGE Six photographs from Harry Gamboa Jr.’s series Chicano Male Unbonded, 1991–2010. Gelatin silver prints, 11 × 14 in., unframed. The subjects are (from left) film director Juan Garza, historian Rodolfo Acuña, curator Jaime Villaneda, and artists Salomon Huerta, David Avalos and Robert Buitron. Nery Gabriel Lemus (Art mfa 09), Alfombra Domestica (“Domestic Rug”), 2012. Dyed sawdust, 9 × 23 ft. This

site-specific work was placed at the entrance of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery during the citywide biennial Made in l.a. 2012. Cristian Mercado (left) and Manolo Cardona in a still from Peruvian film director Javier Fuentes-León’s (Film/Video mfa 98) Contracorriente (“Undertow,” 2009), winner of top awards at the Sundance, San Sebastián, Miami and l.a. Outfest film festivals.

Known for its always-delightful performances of salsa, Latin jazz and other Afro-Cuban styles, the CalArts Latin Jazz Ensemble has been a mainstay—and proving ground—of the Institute’s jazz and world music performance programs for 25 years. Choreographer luciana achugar.

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“Growing up when I did, certain groups were part of the ‘mainstream’ and different groups were simply the ‘other,’” reflects Gamboa. “You could still be ‘other’ even if your ancestors had lived on this land for a thousand years, or if your family had fought in wars for the United States. Today, it’s much more difficult to separate the different peoples who have contributed to making the country what it is. So the culture has changed with the demographics, and more people are realizing that the ‘other’ has been part of ‘us’ all along.”

pan-latin american outlook Faculty, Acting Program; Head, Duende CalArts “In this country we tend to know more about Europeans than about our neighbors in Latin America,” says Duende CalArts’ Marissa Chibas, the daughter of a Cuban revolutionary leader who eventually broke with Fidel Castro and decamped to Miami. “American theater still skews very much toward 19th-century Anglo European models. To have true diversity—which includes aesthetic diversity—a contemporary practice needs to bring in other languages, other narratives, and other cultural models. Hence Duende CalArts, designed to explore stories from all across Latin America.” This ongoing effort takes its name from the continental Spanish concept of “duende,” which refers to “a primal force that flamenco

Trustee When award-winning writer, director and producer Rodrigo García joined the Institute’s board, he promptly established a scholarship for CalArts undergraduates of Latino heritage. This personal commitment stems from an abiding concern over “access and opportunity” for Latinos. “The Latino segment of the u.s. population is growing very quickly, but its economic clout, political clout, and maybe cultural clout is lagging behind the demographic surge. More access to high-quality education will help close this gap,” he insists. “That the Latino population has a disproportionately smaller influence than its size is the kind of contradiction that fuels artists,” maintains García, whose own work in film and television is known for thoughtful, nuanced character studies. “Artists who engage with the world are drawn to questions like those of identity and social change, of the cultural and political conditions that shape lives. And what better place than CalArts for addressing those issues in a creative way?” García ought to know, having previously taught directing workshops at the School of Film/Video. Born in Colombia and raised in Mexico, García is the son of Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez—the One Hundred Years of Solitude author who stands as a global icon of modern Spanish-language arts and letters. The younger García, a longtime Angeleno, posits to

“young artists in california need to learn more about their opposite numbers in guadalajara or santiago. And vice versa. They are likely to share many of the same concerns, artistic and otherwise.” — Steven Lavine, President

dancers and singers need to access in order to create their art,” Chibas explains. “It’s related to ‘inspiration’ but also to spiritual ‘possession.’ It’s about connecting with the ancestral, with the earth.” Given the Romantic leaning of this conceit, it was only apt that Duende CalArts’ inaugural project was Piedra de Sol (“Sun Stone”)— an experimental stage adaptation of Nobel laureate Octavio Paz’s rapturous 1957 epic poem of the same title, which borrows its circular structure from the famous Aztec calendar stone and symbol of Mexican cultural identity. This co-production with the Getty Villa antiquities museum was conceived and directed by Mexico Citybased guest artist María Morett as a swirling multimedia, multilingual (Spanish, English, Nahuatl) production that featured an all-CalArts cast and creative team. Piedra de Sol premiered at the Institute in 2009 before a second staging at the Getty Villa the following year.

budding Latino artists that CalArts “is a place where you can explore your roots—or, if not your roots, then your identity, however you wish to define it. Come join us in this big cultural melting pot, and to whatever extent you choose to ‘melt in’ or not, you are not leaving your culture behind. You may even rediscover your roots in a new light. “But creating opportunity,” García apprises, “is not only providing a fantastic education, as CalArts does. It also means making that opportunity financially viable. There are, of course, many students who need more help, Latino and non-Latino. It’s just that the economic reach of the Latino population is not as much as the size of the community would suggest—or as great as the talents and aspirations of its young artists.”

voces Resonantes


CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT Chicano performance artist and activist Guillermo Gómez-Peña was a star attraction at the inaugural tedxCalArts conference held at redcat last March. Adapted from an epic poem by Octavio Paz, the production of Piedra de Sol was the inaugural outing of the bilingual Duende CalArts company. The show, directed by guest artist María Morett, was later staged at the Getty Villa. Mexico City-based Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes was among the Latin American companies that took part in this fall’s Radar l.a. festival, cocurated by redcat. Afterward, the company’s artistic director, Claudio Valdés Kuri, began a residency at the CalArts School of Theater.

Program in Art MFA 83, BFA 81 At the first-ever tedxCalArts conference last spring, one of the headlining speakers was the irrepressible Guillermo Gómez-Peña— the first Chicano artist, and one of five CalArtians, to receive the coveted “Genius Award” from the MacArthur Foundation. At the lectern, Gómez-Peña cut a magnetic figure—the cadences of his impassioned voice accentuated with sweeping hand gestures—as he spoke about the transformative role of artmaking. “Democracy cannot thrive without the critical position of artists,” he intoned, “not without the ethical mirror of art reflecting the distorted features of power.” Decrying moribund mainstream institutions, he said he instead “locates hope in obscure books, films and performances, in small communities that exist under the radar of the media, in the political streets of our cities, in the eyes of our students.” Originally from Mexico City and now based in San Francisco, GómezPeña has cultivated a unique activist art—what he calls “performance pedagogy”—that crosses formal disciplines, genres and borders, the latter understood both metaphorically and, in the case of the barrier separating the u.s. and Mexico, literally. Mischievous, politically incisive and always bighearted, Gómez-Peña’s oeuvre has been described as “Chicano cyber-punk” and “ethno-techno art.” His main forum is La Pocha Nostra, which brings together several dozen performers, writers, imagemakers and curators. A neologism that means “our cartel of cultural bastards,” or in Gómez-Peña’s more poetic term, “our impurities,” La Pocha Nostra’s collaborative set-up offers a model of “citizen diplomacy” and a vehicle for “ephemeral communities of like-minded rebels.” One of Gómez-Peña’s most memorable creations is “Border Brujo,” a boundary-hopping sorcerer with 15 different personas who first appeared in the artist’s performances in 1988. “Border Brujo speaks in Spanish to Mexicans, in Spanglish to Chicanos, in English to Anglo Americans, and in tongues to other brujos and border crossers,” Gómez-Peña writes in the performance script. “Only the perfectly bicultural can be in complicity with him.”

lATiN AMeRicAN ARTs AT ReDcAT The Radar l.a. theater festival in September marked the welcome return of a pair of Latin American innovators first introduced to SoCal audiences at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (redcat): Claudio Valdés Kuri, artistic director of Mexico City’s Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes, and Argentine auteur Mariano Pensotti. The cutting-edge fest—presented by CalArts with Center Theatre Group and other partners—also featured several other artists and companies from Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Chile, as well as a brand-new opus by one of L.A.’s iconic Chicano voices, Luis Alfaro. Meanwhile, Kuri and compatriots from another ensemble in the festival, Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol, agreed to separate teaching residencies at the School of Theater. In bringing together homegrown experimenters with their international counterparts, Radar l.a. encapsulated the role envisioned for redcat by CalArts, says President Steven Lavine. “redcat, our downtown center, acts as a conduit, leading to meaningful links and exchanges between creative communities, between local and global, between professional practice and education.” A significant portion of the venue’s programming, Lavine adds, is predisposed to “l.a.’s place in the world,” as a gateway to East Asia and, especially, Latin America. “Young artists in California,” he says, “need to learn more about their opposite numbers in Guadalajara or Santiago. And vice versa. They are likely to share many of the same concerns, artistic and otherwise.” Since redcat opened 10 years ago, its curatorial programs have looked to the south and invited dozens of artists, ensembles and organizations from across the Americas: performing companies, music groups, filmmakers, digital media practitioners, gallery artists, architects, writers, thinkers and activists—spanning a rich panoply of forms and expressions as exuberantly diverse as the cultures and traditions they represent.

winter 2014



courtesy of jerónimo rajchenberg

Mexico City native Jxel Rajchenberg (left) performing alongside fellow CalArtians Javad Butah (Music mfa 12) and Saba Alizadeh (Music mfa 13) in The Land Trio. cap student Alejandro Lechuga in Lola in Lincolnlandia, collectively created by students in the cap/ Plaza de la Raza Youth Theater Program with guest playwright Laurie Woolery. The play was performed at redcat.

Performer-Composer Program DMA candidate, MFA 12 Mexico City musicmaker Jxel Rajchenberg entered CalArtian orbit in 2008 when he was among 10 international performer-composers invited to “co-create” an interactive opera initiated by CalArts music dean David Rosenboom and poet Martine Bellen. Rajchenberg has since earned an mfa degree from The Herb Alpert School of Music and is on his way to a doctorate. “I fell in love with CalArts in the mfa program and wanted more than two years here,” says Rajchenberg, who plays guitar and other plucked string instruments such as charango, coco-banjo and requinto jarocho, and works with more faculty members than seems feasible. Having immersed himself in the world music traditions taught at the school—from Indonesian to Indian, from Persian to Balkan—he is now applying newfound musical concepts to Mexican folk styles such as Son Jarocho. “I describe it as a ‘contemporary synthesis of traditional idioms,’ musical ideas talking to each other,” Rajchenberg says. “When I came to CalArts, I found that I could just be myself, and not pretend,” he recalls. “I didn’t have to choose my own little ‘drawer,’ a category to fit into. The funny thing is that, being in contact with so many cultures, I became more interested in my own. So here I am, more Mexican than in Mexico.”

collAboRATioN AcRoss boRDeRs Acclaimed for its daring, formally inventive original productions on stages from redcat and the Getty Villa to venues in Europe and Australia, CalArts’ Center for New Performance (cnp) joined with Cultura udg, the University of Guadalajara’s presenting arm, to bring a production of the provocative border-zone drama Timboctou to rapt audiences on both sides of the border in question—at redcat and Teatro Experimental de Jalisco in Guadalajara.

Set against an otherworldly backdrop of drug wars and cross-border politics, Timboctou was written by Veracruz-based emerging playwright Alejandro Ricaño as a macabre tangle of multiple stories, directed with great poise by Mexico City’s Martín Acosta, and realized with a u.s.–Mexican cast and creative team after two years of development on the CalArts campus and in Guadalajara. Performed mostly in Spanish with English supertitles, the multimedia play was presented in association with Duende CalArts, the Institute’s Spanishlanguage theater project. Director Acosta, one of the most imaginative provocateurs of the Mexican stage, offers a telling description of the creative work carried out across the same boundary that plays so prominent a role in Timboctou. He calls the process “a dialogue of gazes between artists from Mexico and the usa—the only way of tearing down walls and crossing rivers and tunnels without visas.”

coMMuNiTy ARTs PARTNeRshiP In 1990, the Institute teamed with two of l.a.’s most revered community mainstays, Plaza de la Raza and the Watts Towers Arts Center, to launch the Community Arts Partnership (cap)—a free youth arts education program that connects a teaching corps composed of CalArts faculty, student instructors and alumni with local organizations in the city’s chronically underserved neighborhoods. In the intervening years, the cap program—now nationally recognized and emulated—has grown throughout the county to offer high-quality arts training via some four dozen community groups, social service agencies and public schools, helping to bolster academic achievement and opening pathways to college during a time when American public education has languished. Nearly a quarter of a million young people between the ages of 10 and 18, with the majority of Mexican and Latin American descent, have studied in cap since its inception. Glenna Avila, cap’s longtime director and now its creative overseer, points out that cap has conducted more arts programs, across a variety of métiers, in collaboration with Plaza de la Raza than with

voces Resonantes


FROM LEFT Michael Aurelio (left) and Jeremy Kinser in the world premiere of Timboctou at redcat. A co-production of the CalArts Center for New Performance and the University of Guadalajara, the play written by Alejandro Rincaño and directed by Martín Acosta featured a binational cast and creative team. Virginia Grise’s thesis play blu was produced at CalArts in 2008. Two years later, it received the national Yale Drama Series playwriting prize, among other awards.

any other member of the countywide alliance. The enduring vigor of this partnership lies in “the closely shared vision of placing the students at the center of everything we do,” she explains. “The Youth Theater Program at Plaza, which was our very first program, continues to be, in a way, cap’s flagship,” attests Avila. “We’ve produced 23 original plays, developed each year by the youth participants with a professional playwright. I don’t know of any other program in the country that produces original content that’s not made for kids, but is made by kids.”

Most recently, Grise was among the 10 emerging writers who received the prestigious Whiting Award this year. Though varying in style from one project to the next, the dramatist’s work keeps its focus on “communities in struggle, communities of resistance,” and, in particular, queer women of color. Grise weaves together poetic reveries and passages of whimsy with sober reflections on history, cultural memory, contemporary politics, and lived experience—from her own background in Texas to her time in East l.a.’s Boyle Heights, whose constantly overflying police helicopters serve as a key motif in blu.

“when i came to calArts, i found that i could just be myself, and not pretend. i didn’t have to choose my own little ‘drawer,’ a category to fit into. The funny thing is that, being in contact with so many cultures, i became more interested in my own. so here i am, more Mexican than in Mexico.” — Jerónimo Rajchenberg, Performer-Composer Program DMA candidate, MFA 12

Writing for Performance Program MFA 09 When Vicky Grise’s thesis project, blu, won the 2010 Yale Drama Series playwriting prize, the competition’s judge, Sir David Hare (Plenty), hailed the San Antonio, tx, Chicana as “a blazingly talented writer.” In blu’s setting of evocative magical realism amid gritty scenes of barrio life, the School of Theater alum tells of the “starlit rooftop dreams” of Soledad and her partner, Hailstorm, as they redefine family on their own terms following the death of a son in Iraq—striving, as Grise puts it, “to imagine a time before war.” In his award citation, Hare observed how the “technically expert” drama enlists “a heady mix of Latino and musical influences to cast oblique light on people you don’t usually come across on the Englishspeaking stage.” Grise’s breakout work was published by Yale University Press and, in 2011, received its full professional premiere at Company of Angels in l.a.

Currently a resident artist at the Women’s Project Playwrights Lab in New York, Grise gave up her job as a middle school teacher in order to study at the Institute with then-faculty Carl Hancock Rux. “The CalArts program was the only one in the country for me, in terms of its expanded scope of writing for performance,” Grise recalls, adding that she saw in Rux’s practice of “working across forms and aesthetics,” and in the choices he made in his career trajectory, a professional model that closely matched her own aspirations. “CalArts made my career; I became the artist I am today because of the training I got there,” Grise says. “But it’s also true that I graduated with an incredible amount of debt, which makes life very difficult after school—and I say this as an artist who already has had success. If there aren’t higher levels of financial support, our schools will educate only an elite class of people working in elite art forms, and we need to hear other kinds of stories—a diversity of stories being told by a diversity of people.”

winter 2014


CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT CalArts dance students in a master class led by Brazilian choreographer Bruno Beltrão, whose work draws on the hip-hop street dance scene in Rio de Janeiro. A selection of works, projects and activities by Slanguage, co-founded by Karla Díaz and Mario Ybarra Jr., was presented at la><art as part of Made in l.a. 2012.

mfa candidate Quique Rivera at work on a stop-motion animation set-up on campus for the short El delirio del pez león (“Lionfish Delusion”)—“an underwater neo-noir about greed in the Caribbean reefs.” Fenessa Pineda (left) and Venecia Troncoso in a still from Aurora Guerrero’s (Film/Video mfa 99) Mosquita y Mari, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and earned the writer-director an Independent Spirit Award nomination.

World flutes virtuoso Pedro Eustache (Music mfa 91, right) and l.a. Phil maestro Gustavo Dudamel confab in Los Angeles ahead of the premiere of a new work by the CalArts alum in Caracas, Venezuela—to be conducted by Dudamel. Both Eustache and Dudamel came up through Venezuela’s vaunted El Sistema youth music education program.

Mariana Villegas performs in Se Rompen Las Olas (“Breaking the Waves”), presented by Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol at the Radar l.a. festival. The Mexico City group is in residence this spring at CalArts.

homegrown latino theater Creative Writing Program MFA 02 Acting Program MFA 12 Karla Díaz is a can-do artist, writer, curator, educator and community organizer. Or, summed up in a single title, she is co-founder of Slanguage Studio, the diy multidisciplinary artist-run collective headquartered in Wilmington, near Los Angeles Harbor. Started with Mario Ybarra Jr.—a member of the School of Art’s visiting faculty last year—Slanguage consists of any “team” of ad hoc collaborators, from teenagers and street artists to mid-career professionals, and the studio’s three-pronged practice involves education, community building and public exhibitions. An engrossing 10-year retrospective of Slanguage’s work was presented as part of the Made in l.a. 2012 biennial, and spirited public response to the show prompted the biennial’s curators to short-list the studio among the top five contributors to the citywide survey. Díaz, a native Angelena, is also an alum of the Institute’s Community Arts Partnership (cap) youth education program, first as a teenage student, then as an instructor when she was a grad student at CalArts, and finally as a cap staffer after graduation. Relying on this experience, Díaz helped transform Slanguage—initially just a shared production facility—into a wider community venture. She explains that Slanguage is not set up as a nonprofit organization but functions instead as a self-supporting studio, sustained by the participating artists and art sales. “I love nonprofits, but it was not a model for us to follow,” Díaz says. “Mario and I wanted autonomy for what happens in the space. We didn’t want limitations put on what the kids are allowed to do creatively in the workshops. Or requirements for how many students we keep, or how they are classified. Or whether young people could be in the same class as, say, their grandmothers. “If Slanguage was a nonprofit, the students wouldn’t be able to sell their artwork. But that’s what artists do to support themselves. One of the first things we teach kids is that their art has value. That they have to be cultural producers as much as they are consumers of culture.”

When Juan Parada and a handful of fellow actors were crafting a “creacíon colectiva” in a church in South Whittier, outside of Los Angeles, he was also attending the School of Theater, with a featured role in the high-profile bilingual drama Timboctou—a co-production by CalArts and the University of Guadalajara. The confluence of the two formative experiences, plus guidance from faculty Marissa Chibas and Rafael Lopez-Barrantes and Timboctou director Martín Acosta, brought Parada’s post-graduation “mission” into focus. “Like many others who want to do what they love, I wanted a ‘grupo’ for creating, producing and presenting high-quality, provocative theater,” he recalls. “Except I wanted to do it in Spanish.” Today Parada is artistic director of Off the Tracks Theater Company, a Spanish-language troupe housed in a 32-seat black-box theater in El Sereno, just east of downtown. After mounting the inaugural 13:20—the ensemble piece devised in South Whittier—the fledgling company has staged two full productions this year: Javier Malpica’s Papá está en la Atlantida (“Our Dad is in Atlantis”) and Arístides Vargas’ Nuestra Señora de las Nubes (“Our Lady of the Clouds”). As much as Parada is possessed of an infectious enthusiasm, he admits that the challenges facing Off the Tracks are many. “Even when Spanish is the most-spoken language in the city, it’s still a struggle to bring Latinos to the theater, or to get reviewers to discuss work made in Spanish,” he says. “But it’s a very exciting time for us, because, as a new company, we have the chance to educate and develop our audience.” Parada, a Salvadoran American who grew up in l.a., confesses that his own Spanish chops—previously considered “badass”—have improved immensely as a result of working side-by-side with Latin American artists. “I used to not get some of the cultural references, and I hadn’t been exposed to the real performance traditions that I have learned about since I started making theater in Spanish.” The teatristo says CalArts gave him “the self-confidence, as an artist and a Latino male,” to embark on the ambitious Off the Tracks project—one whose potential, he asserts, is unlimited. “The dramaturgy of the Latin American canon is just so expansive, with an incredible wealth of stories from many traditions. It’s a huge fountain waiting to be tapped.”

voces Resonantes


courtesy of slanguage and la><art

courtesy of the filmmaker

courtesy of the filmmaker

courtesy of pedro eustache

winter 2014


Faculty & Alumna Reconnect:

Illustration by David Robinson (Art MFA candidate)

MAggie NelsoN Allie RowboTToM In this, our third in a series of faculty-alumni conversations, two writers, Maggie Nelson and Allie Rowbottom (Critical Studies mfa 10), engage in a spirited e-mail dialogue about CalArts, teaching, and the writing life. Nelson has taught in the mfa Creative Writing Program in the School of Critical Studies for the past eight years. Her published work includes The Art of Cruelty (2011), Bluets (2009) and Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions (2007), as well as several books of poetry, numerous essays, and pieces of art criticism. Nelson’s recent awards include a 2007 Arts Writers Grant from the Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation, a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship in Nonfiction, a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, and a 2013 Innovative Literature grant from Creative Capital for a forthcoming book of creative nonfiction. Rowbottom is a University of Houston teaching fellow, pursuing a Ph.D. in creative writing and literature while also instructing undergraduates in the art and craft of composition. She is an assistant editor for the literary journal Gulf Coast and a world champion equestrienne. Excerpts of their written exchanges follow:

Allie RowboTToM: Maggie, congratulations on the birth of your son! How did the experience and the semester off shift writing for you–if it did–and how has time away from teaching affected your return to the classroom? MAggie NelsoN: It was wonderful to have a break–wonderful to attend to the new baby, and to have the time to get going on a new book. Honestly, I felt excited to return to the classroom. AR: Writing and teaching are pretty interconnected for me and certainly the program at CalArts sees them as important parallel pursuits in the writing life. How does the relationship between your writing and teaching function for you? How has that relationship evolved over time?

Faculty & Alumna Reconnect


MN: I’ve had the good fortune to be teaching for about 14 years now, and my writing and teaching have most certainly developed together over that time. I am not one of those writers who regrets needing to teach for a living. Quite to the contrary: teaching feeds me. My students feed me, having a sense of community feeds me, the classroom setting itself, with its civil, unpredictable, probing conversation, feeds me. AR: There are writers who don’t teach, and some who teach but don’t seem to really want to. I wonder how they maintain that connection to their mentors and I wonder if it’s necessary for everyone. MN: Writing can be very solitary, as you know; on a pragmatic level, I’m often quite glad to have somewhere to report to! Also, in this age of diminishing time, I am very grateful to teaching for the opportunity it grants–that it mandates, really–to make time to READ. Teaching at CalArts offers its own particular gift, which is that I have the freedom to teach virtually whatever topic is hottest for me; the principal imperative is to teach the students how to read, write, and think critically and creatively–indeed, to see critical thinking as a form of creativity (which it is). I’m curious about why you decided to pursue a doctorate degree in Houston? AR: I realized that if I were to make a living as a writer, I needed and wanted to teach. And if I needed and wanted to teach, I needed and wanted to get a Ph.D. Increasingly the mfa is not considered a terminal degree. That said, the Ph.D. track is a very different beast than the mfa. For me, it was the right choice because I was already very invested in teaching and also because academia is a place where I feel comfortable. The program I attend is equal parts creative writing and literature, so it asks a lot of reading and critical writing of its students. It’s also a 2-2 teaching load in addition to a full-time student course load. MN: Have you been able to achieve balance between time devoted to teaching and writing?

MN: CalArts has a very immersive philosophy, in that questions of audience are in some ways held at bay during the student’s tenure here, so that the student can concentrate on becoming a deeper and better thinker and artist without the distractions of how the work will fare in the world. I consider this a sane, just, and profound mode of engagement. Because for the world to know you via your work, you have to have something to offer the world that’s truly worth knowing. CalArts gives students the time and space to make that something,

courtesy of allie rowbottom

AR: To be honest, so far it’s been hard to cultivate a healthy relationship between the two. Each semester at the University of Houston I teach two sections of around 30 students in addition to my own coursework and my own creative writing practice. By contrast, at CalArts, even when I taught, I had much more time to devote to my writing outside of classes. So far, in my doctoral work, carving out that space has been difficult in part because by giving myself time to write, I often feel like I’m taking attention and energy away from my students. When I began my mfa work at CalArts, I knew I needed some space to figure myself out as a writer. I knew I wanted to write, and I knew basically what I wanted to write about, but I didn’t know how to identify the form or tradition into which my writing might fit. This seems like a pivotal question for many young writers: how to say what they want to need to say and who to say it to.

ABOVE Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning was named by The New York Times as one of the “100 Notable Books of 2011.” Allie Rowbottom is an assistant editor for the literary journal Gulf Coast, published by the University of Houston. Nelson has taught in CalArts’ mfa Creative Writing Program since 2005. Rowbottom in Thimphu, capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, 2009.

Winter 2014


FROM LEFT As a teenager, Rowbottom won two national titles and one World Equestrian Championship riding her Morgan horse, named Ham. Nelson en route to New York, 2009.

AR: I think the openness of mind embraced by CalArts was really helpful to me as a writer figuring out how to say what I needed to say. So far it seems to me that content really does dictate form, at least for me, and the “experimental” qualities of the writing program at CalArts helped me find a form for my content I might not have been exposed to in a more traditional program. For example, at CalArts I was exposed to writers who were working in fragments–small paragraphs or stanzas separated by white space–something I was already playing with myself, albeit with little awareness of the wide group of writers already playing with that particular form. I’d already let go of the expectation that my work fit into a single, conventional format (the long, tight paragraphs of a piece of short fiction, for example), but at CalArts I was given examples of all the other writers who’d let go of that expectation as well. Letting go of conventional expectations seems a cornerstone of education at CalArts and I am so grateful for it. That said, I find I do benefit from the advice and input of more “traditional” professors and peers. Sometimes, given that I’m very comfortable in experimental spaces, it’s good to have readers attuned to the bread-and-butter, structural, mechanical, narrative concerns on which I tend not to focus.

photo: harry dodge

photo: george rowbottom

or at least to get a start on it, to commit to making it as a way of life. We often call the CalArts Creative Writing Program “experimental” because we believe that the most talented and intrepid writers often create their own audience, not the other way around. We aren’t trying to create writers who will fill the culture’s needs. We’re trying to create writers who change what culture’s needs are, who change which voices and forms the culture can hear. How do you see the arts context of CalArts as influencing your writing practice now that you find yourself in a more traditional liberal arts/academic setting?

MN: I think your trajectory is actually enviable, because from CalArts you got a foundation in experiment rather than in stodginess. So now you don’t have to unlearn a bunch of lessons in stultification– lessons that weigh many young writers down. AR: Sometimes, in a fit of panic, I think I should write more in the direction of the culture’s wants, should try to produce tons of writing people want to read. I never stick with that (panicky) thought, though. In the end, it’s more important for me to write something I’m proud of than something I think everyone will be into. It’s important to learn to ride out the moments of panic, especially in the editing stages. I remember you telling me to put down a project I’d been working feverishly on, to let it sit for some time, and then to return to it, revise it. At the time, I had trouble doing this. I kept thinking, “It’s now or never, this thing needs to go to press NOW,” but it turned out to be really helpful. MN: Everyone must start somewhere; there are many different ways of conceiving of, and living, a writing life. But I’ve never yet seen a graduate thesis that was ready for publication on its way out the door, which is just fine. I’ve never seen any of my own drafts that were ready when I hoped that they were. Books usually take a lot, lot longer than one hopes. But that’s how they get good–the time factor can be a very important one, in growing the book into its best, smartest self. The piece about your mother’s illness–wasn’t that originally conceived as book-length? AR: The project was initially just fragments, which then, woven together, generated momentum and became a longer piece. I wanted it to be book-length, and ended up writing a little more than 100 pages, but ultimately the piece itself was better shorter. My mother’s

Faculty & Alumna Reconnect

“we aren’t trying to create writers who will fill the culture’s needs. we’re trying to create writers who change what culture’s needs are, who change which voices and forms the culture can hear.” — Maggie Nelson


“letting go of conventional expectations seems a cornerstone of education at calArts and i am so grateful for it.” — Allie Rowbottom

struggle with cancer has been ongoing for most of my life, and I began writing about it because I couldn’t not write about it. There was about a year or so, just before I started at CalArts, that my mom was in and out of the hospital a lot, dealing with complications of major liver surgery. By that point, her fourth major surgery, we were pretty inured to the idea of illness, death and the body’s failures. I moved in with her and helped out during that (dark) time and somehow, through it, I really connected to a lot of interesting thoughts, emotions and ideas about families, bodies, moms, illness and loss– as well as the sort of sterile numbness often characteristic of medical institutions. MN: And what are you working on for your dissertation? AR: I’m working on a book interweaving family history with the phenomenon of conversion disorder. [Ed. note: Conversion disorder is a mental health condition in which a person presents blindness, paralysis, or other neurologic symptoms that cannot be explained by medical evaluation.] I’m hoping to say something about gender and the mind/body connection. I’ve spent the summer writing, which feels great, and I’m about 80 pages in. But, in the vein of taking time with book projects and letting them slowly reveal themselves–was there a similar lesson of importance in your young writing life? MN: I never worried too much over publishing poems–I worked and worked on poems, and when they were done, they were done. So my first two collections of poetry were fairly painless. They were fun to write, and they bear the traces of that ease. A youthful ease, in love with life and language. By the time I hit the book about my aunt, Jane: A Murder, I knew I’d walked into a different forest. It took me about three years of researching just to admit that I was writing a

book about my aunt’s murder, and about five more years to make it the book I wanted it to be. The book became about the journey itself– it tells the story of coming to research, of coming to writing, of inviting my mother to travel with me to the place where her sister’s body was found, and so on. The book literally wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t taken that journey. AR: Can you say when you knew that you were a writer? MN: Before I ever wrote anything “real,” I used to type out on my father’s typewriter long introductions to books that I hadn’t written. I did this when I was 9, or 10, obsessively. The introductions had this knowing, retrospective, patrician tone; I think I was copying something I once read by Stephen King. So I was apparently comfortable by then impersonating someone who had already written many books: all that was left was to write them! It was exciting years later when I read Henry James’s brilliant collected Prefaces–I realized such a thing can be its own genre, after all. (But then you’d also have to have written James’ brilliant novels.) What about you? AR: I’m not exactly sure. I journaled from a young age and in college, I blogged. I’ve just always loved chronicling and interpreting my experience as a living thing and then connecting it to other living things. I’m pretty sure that I’m a “connector” as much as I’m a writer. Anyway, I remember my college roommate and dear friend saying, “You could be a writer, like, professionally.” Somehow, the words triggered some sort of epiphany for me. Of course, I already was a writer. I wrote all the time. But something about her saying it stuck with me and I began to pursue creative writing academically.


“[A] landmark realization of one of the fountainheads of western drama marries an inspired new translation to a rigorous and compelling vision of the play.” — The Hollywood Reporter

The titan, Prometheus, chained to a mountain at the edge of the world for all eternity. His crime: stealing fire from the Gods and giving it to mere mortals, just as all-powerful Zeus was planning their demise. In sacrificing himself, Prometheus has given humans life and the tools with which to transcend their lowly nature, and aspire to the achievements of the Gods—consciousness, art and culture foremost among them. This past September September, the CalArts Center for New Performance, in association with Trans Arts, partnered with The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa to present Prometheus Bound, one of the most acclaimed theatrical events in Los Angeles of this or any other season. The culmination of a full year of preparation both on and off campus, the production team enjoyed what, in the world of theater, is a great luxury—rehearsal time. Without exception, members of Prometheus’ cast and company all point toward the two workshops, spaced months apart, as keys to the play’s artistic development and critical success. Here, in a representative sampling of voices, is the chorus of talent that brought this ancient play to life. lAuRel Kishi Manager, Performing Arts, The Getty Villa Since the Getty Villa re-opened in 2006, we’ve been staging one production a year, and consistent with the museum’s curatorial mission, all have been ancient Greek or Roman plays. In this sense, all of our productions enhance the museum’s collection. Travis

Preston has been a director of interest for us for some time. We’ve collaborated with him and CalArts before, and in this case we approached him about developing a full-scale production for our outdoor amphitheater. TRAvis PResToN Director. CalArts faculty: Dean, School of Theater; Head of Directing; Artistic Director, Center for New Performance We looked at many plays, but I inclined toward Aeschylus because he brings us close to the origin of drama. Prometheus is a particularly important story to tell, because in a privileged society many believe that we can make advances without sacrifice, without it costing us anything, without sufficient labor or discipline. I’ve always been excited by the possibilities of choral work, which in Prometheus Bound is essential. The selection was also tied to opportunities it would provide for our student performers and for students across the board in the School of Theater.

by stuart i. Frolick

“gracefully lucid staging… meditative rhythm enhanced by an original jazz score… theatrically assured… establishes a dialogue between the world of 5th-century b.c. Athens and our own. Truly, this is a revival.” — Los Angeles Times

Winter 2014


photo: craig schwartz

Norman Frisch Dramaturg. Former Project Specialist for Public Programs, The Getty Villa Prometheus Bound was a text that Travis knew well, having staged it as a young director in one of his earliest professional gigs. And the Chorus—composed of young “women,” innocent water nymphs (“the daughters of Ocean”)—during the course of the play undergoes one of the most profound transformations in all of Greek drama: in essence, from princesses to revolutionaries. One of the strengths of our partnership was that CalArts has the ability to train and mobilize a fully-sized Chorus (which is rare for any theater school or company nowadays), and the Getty has been long frustrated by its inability to deploy a large Chorus in its outdoor productions (for both economic and artistic reasons—the length of rehearsal periods, etc.).

The art of choral speaking is no longer taught in most conservatories for theater training–indeed, even the sort of stage presence and “muscles” required to perform unamplified in a large theater space are no longer a focus of many academic theater programs. CalArts is one of the increasingly rare exceptions to that trend. Its students and alumni are fantastic artists, well trained, and highly professional—and its faculty even more impressive. Shelby Brown Education Specialist, The Getty Villa Prometheus Bound was unusual even in the 5th century b.c. in its immobilized protagonist, depiction of physical torment onstage, and representation of Zeus as an unyielding, self-serving tyrant… The wheel is perhaps the most unusual solution in two-and-a-half millennia to the problem of staging the desolate cliff.

Travis Preston The idea of the wheel was related to the thematic.

Prometheus is a God and as such cannot die. However, being bound, he experiences time in an entirely different way. He is literally bound to time. So, the idea of a clock became important. But I would be unhappy if it was read merely as a clock, and I began to think about many other associations. One was to the Wheel of Dharma. One was to the astrological signs and the wheel as an image of the cosmos. The physical structure of the wheel is related to a clock in Prague, where a second wheel moves around the outer rim, indicating the position of the sun. I thought that if we had a smaller wheel within a wheel, I could bind Prometheus to it and rotate him up to the height associated with a mountaintop. Efren Delgadillo Scenic Designer. CalArts faculty: School of Theater. Alumnus: Theater mfa 03 The challenge Travis gave me was this: “How do I move a guy without moving a guy?” He stays in the same place, but he moves. Once Travis had the idea of a wheel, he gave me the time and freedom to explore it. It was a long process, five months of research, in which I looked at wind tunnels, water wheels, Leonardo’s drawings… There were 15 different wheel designs, and the final one was revised 11 times—the main concerns being safety and cost. The one we originally decided on had more surface area. We skinned it down to a skeletal version, the bare essentials, marrying form and function. The wheel serves the play really well, placing the actors on a vertical plane precipice. The final design features a wheel inside a wheel, which is attached to a third, counterweighted wheel. The whole piece sits on a base that allows the actors to move it.

Art Like a Wheel


FROM LEFT Travis Preston, dean of the CalArts School of Theater and director of Prometheus Bound. Climbing the “mountain” to join Prometheus, the daughters of Okeanos are transformed from princesses to revolutionaries. A matinee performance at the amphitheater at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades. Mirjana Jokovic as Io: “devastated, caught up in an alien body…”

Laurel Kishi Almost always in the evolution of these productions, the sticking point for directors is that they can’t find adequate translations or adaptations. Joel Agee’s translation is very true. He took the play to the next level; it’s written from a poetic perspective. Joel Agee Translator I aspired from the outset to a fidelity, thought for thought and image for image, as complete as was possible without sacrificing imagination and vigor in my use of English. At the same time, wherever the original form could not be gracefully adopted, as was the case with the choral Odes, I needed to invent metric patterns of my own. There was also another challenge that could not be met by any technical means or aesthetic cunning. It was a sound, or perhaps more precisely, a tone—the noble, passionate resonance of a great tragic poem, speaking and sometimes chanting through superhuman personae, mortal and divine, in a register that would not be reduced to the cadences of realistic speech. And yet these same characters express emotions that are nothing if not human: pride, pity, fear, love, and that essentially democratic passion, hatred of arbitrary authority. Holding such competing tensions in balance is a normal and always satisfying part of a literary translator’s job. When one has the good fortune of engaging with a sublime work, there are less common rewards.

Gradually my own mind became the stage on which the revolt of Prometheus, the agony of Io, and the pity of the daughters of Okeanos were played out with ringing voices, and that in turn gave me an awed sense of participation in what must have been, at the time of the play’s first performance, a sacred event.

Norman Frisch Scholars believe that the Greek drama developed gradually out of religious ceremonies in which hymns were offered by a single priest or singer at festivals honoring one or another of the Gods. As these narrative hymns developed into “plays” (as we know them today), a second singer-speaker was added, creating the opportunity for dramatic dialogue, counterpoint and conflict—and a specially trained singing-dancing Chorus could interact with the two “characters” onstage, creating often a pattern of “call and response.” Ellen Reid Choral Composer and Music Director. CalArts alumna: Music mfa 11 I scored the sung moments with the women of the Chorus. We tried different approaches and decided that the most simple and elegant sound worked best–the music reflects the simplicity of the wheel.

Our top priority was the legibility of the text and for the shape of the sung line to come directly from the shape of the spoken line. The women first spoke the text, then I took the shape of their spoken line and turned it into a melody, almost like inflating and extending the text with the breath of song. The play required a lot of flexibility from the performers because things changed all the time throughout rehearsals. They had to quickly learn to move and sing at the same time, to blend and sing well together—but also to express themselves individually. I love narrative extended to music and this piece explored the space between speaking and singing in a very intensive and effective way. Amanda Washko Cast member, Chorus. CalArts alumna: Theater mfa 13 This was a once in a lifetime experience for us. Working chorally, we learned to feel the space and to hear each other, to interact and to concentrate in very different ways. We became one entity– always speaking and moving together, knowing exactly when everyone else was going to take a breath, but within that structure

winter 2014

"The irony is that when i was performing, i was suffering for an hour and 10 minutes each night. if you give yourself to the story, to the character and to the audience—if you give your heart and soul to living the play, you’re going to hurt a lot." Ron Cephas Jones, Prometheus

we had a lot of freedom to express ourselves. Travis continually insisted that we do so… Watching Ron Cephas Jones work and getting to know the people in the production personally, beyond their professional capacities, was very important. And as I transitioned from student to professional actor, it was immensely inspiring to watch Mirjana Jokovic take on the role of Io. She was such a mentor as a teacher, and here she was putting all the tools into action. MiRJANA JoKovic Cast Member, Io. CalArts faculty: Director of Performance, School of Theater; Head of mfa Acting I was strictly an actor in Prometheus, but all those women in the chorus were my students; even Adam Hunter [Kratos] was a student when I first came to CalArts. I was so proud of the way they rose to this occasion and performed as total professionals and first-class artists. The role of Io was very challenging material to work with and gave me the opportunity to dig deep. She is devastated because she is caught up in an alien body—Zeus has turned her into a cow— punishing her for no reason. She is exhausted.

Her torment comes both from the physical strain, and from her helplessness in bringing change to her condition. And from her womb will come Prometheus’ savior! Through the workshops we found a path, a channel for expression. Then it was only a question of intensity. Each performance was a little different. With the audience present, I toned it down a bit, to be more acceptable and more elegant in dealing with the waves of intensity, without freaking them out. But Io has to be who she is…

RoN cePhAs JoNes Cast Member, Prometheus. New York-based actor and expert performer of Greek and Shakespearean classics I started with the basics—a full understanding of how the character moves the story. Then I tried to find something personal in the predicament of Prometheus. There are so many emotions that have not changed over the centuries—anger, fear, jealousy. I tried to turn Prometheus into a man and portray his suffering. That he’s a God, well, that’s where imagination comes in… The idea of depicting this as a crucifixion scene came up in the first workshop, and early in the process we explored many other proto-Christian and Afrocentric ideas. In addition to suffering on the cross, we talked about the historical power of Ethiopia, of Persia and the Nile; of the possibility of Io having a black son. The material took us into so many areas, and I loved learning about the history. I felt like a kid again–going to the library and getting all these books. I enjoyed that. The irony is that when I was performing, I was suffering for an hour and 10 minutes each night. If you give yourself to the story, to the character and to the audience–if you give your heart and soul to living the play, you’re going to hurt a lot. The journey is to try to get to that place and then get lost in it… The language is dense and you have to live and breathe the language— when you’re in the shower, shopping—everywhere. At some point the subconscious takes over and the words are just there. viNNy goliA Co-Composer and Music Performer. CalArts faculty: The Herb Alpert School of Music

The key was not to make all the sounds recognizable, and when asked to underscore the show’s dialogue, to be as subtle as possible. Another challenge was finding an appropriate theme or instrument that matched the mood of the character. Sometimes, as in this case, a blending of old and new is the answer. My orchestration for the score and underscoring used Tibetan singing bowls, gongs of various sizes made in different countries, a traditional instrument from another culture–the Armenian duduk, but pitched in G, which is not customary for that instrument—the contra alto clarinet and a newly designed saxophone, a G mezzo soprano.

Feature Art Like Title a Wheel


Winter 2014


Ellen McCartney We put the actors in the harnesses and began to see how they were going to work and what it meant for them to be visible to the audience–there was no way to hide them.

I had the challenge of creating a look for a group of women who are not really human. They are deities, river goddesses, yet they are bound by a very practical problem. Prometheus wants them to climb that wheel.

This, combined with Chris Lopes’ traditional contrabass, gave me a lot of latitude to create sounds that were recognizable but not identifiable—unless we wanted those sounds to be identified, as in some of the more jazz-like sections used as underscore. Travis gave us creative latitude, but still, the score had to be consistent, even as it was pliable. Ellen McCartney Costume Designer. CalArts faculty: Director of Design and Production, School of Theater; Head of Costume Design; Robert Corrigan Chair in Theater Wardrobe choices revolved around a number of things, first and foremost, the cast. Ron, in particular, as an African American male in the role of Prometheus—a persecuted man scapegoated and punished for having been compassionate and empathetic to humankind. That he’s a black man is very significant—with associations for contemporary audiences that can’t be ignored. That concept also spread to the Chorus. Even though they are all young women of about the same age, they represent different ethnicities present here in l.a. Often a Chorus is seen simply as a group and you don’t pick out the individuals, but Travis wanted to make sure that we could see their faces and see them as different people. I wanted to take that idea of universality of imagery and apply it to the clothes: to put shapes up there that signaled antiquity—unisex shapes worn by both men and women that are the kind of shapes used in various spiritual or religious practices—robes, drapery, garments that we recognize as timeless. ROn Cephas Jones Ellen, bless her heart, tried a lot of things. There was a lot of trial and error and making of adjustments in the wardrobe design to try to keep me warm. I wore fingerless gloves and layers of thermals, little heating pads in my socks and on my back. As we got into the performance, my body temperature rose. But it was chilly out there, even more so up on the wheel.

The first solution we came up with was just too utilitarian; they looked like climbers. We were interested in a certain kind of austerity in general, but also with innocence and purity. I started looking at Amish clothing in addition to just Greek drapery. I wanted to maintain a feeling for drapery throughout the piece to harken antiquity. That’s where the pleating and the full pants on the men come from. Pleats are really designed to give that solid, column-like vertical shape. John Hennigsen Associate Producer. Theater mfa candidate Coming from storefront theater in Chicago and Kansas City, it was outstanding to be in the room with these people and to get a firsthand look at a production of this scale and magnitude. The experience has given me the knowledge and confidence to push forward toward my goals. We did a lot of advance press with newspapers, magazines and blogs, and it was very satisfying to see that work pay off. Working closely with producer Carol Bixler, who showed me the ropes, I learned how to handle the various challenges we faced with a new translation of the text and coordinating meetings between CalArts and the Getty, which have very different styles. Travis Preston Prometheus Bound is a perfect paradigm for what the CalArts Center for New Performance should be: partnering with a great institution, in this case, the Getty, in the creation of a professional production in a stunning setting, enlivened by the talents of the whole CalArts community, across many programs. The production involved faculty, students, recent alumni, and significant outside talents. Our students and alumni, in effect, continued their training in a rigorous professional context and participated in an extraordinary artistic experience. The win for the Los Angeles community and the world at large is that we invigorated the cultural landscape with the innovation we’re generating here at CalArts.

Feature Art like Title a wheel


Prometheus Bound kicked off Radar l.a., a multiple-venue festival of international contemporary theater that also marked the opening of redcat’s 10th anniversary season. It was staged outdoors in The Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, September 5–28, Thursdays through Sundays. The cnp production engaged 29 CalArts students, 18 alumni and eight faculty members. In addition to those already cited in the preceding pages, the CalArts roster included:

cARol biXleR Producer. Faculty: Head of Producing, School of Theater; Producing Director, Center for New Performance MiRA KiNgsley Choreographer. Faculty: School of Theater. Interschool Theater–Dance mfa 06 JoNAThAN lebovic Assistant Lighting Designer. Theater bfa 13 ANN MiliTello Lighting Designer. Faculty: Head of Lighting Design, School of Theater DAviD MoyeR Assistant Costume Designer. Theater mfa candidate RAchel PARK Assistant Director. Theater mfa candidate

Management MARgAReT cRANe Media Relations Manager, CalArts Office of Communications ewA cZeRNiAwsKA Assistant Production Manager. Theater mfa candidate KAThRyN eiPl Assistant Stage Manager. Theater mfa candidate AMANDA eNo Stage Manager. Theater mfa candidate FReD FiTZgeRAlD Production Stage Manager. Theater mfa 13 williAM hoNigsTeiN Technical Director. Theater mfa candidate gARy Kechely Production Manager. Faculty: Associate Dean, School of Theater JiANg “ToNy” Zhu Assistant Production Manager. Theater mfa candidate

cast CLOCKWISE FROM OPPOSITE PAGE Hephaistos, played by Tony Sancho, pities Prometheus during a rehearsal at the Walt Disney Modular Theater on campus. Michael Blackman, as Hermes, with Chorus member Heather Hewko. Faculty member Vinny Golia (right), co-composer with alumna Ellen Reid, performed the instrumental score with Ed Lopes. The CalArts School of Theater is one of very few colleges that continue to teach the art of choral speaking.

KAiTliN coRNuelle Chorus. Theater bfa 13 geNevieve geARhART Chorus. Theater mfa 13 JeNNiFeR gReeR Chorus. Theater mfa 11 heATheR hewKo Chorus. Theater bfa 13 ADAM hAAs huNTeR Kratos. Theater bfa 07 PAulA Rebelo Chorus. Theater bfa 13 JessicA ReeD Chorus. Theater mfa 13 MegAN RiPPey Chorus. Theater mfa 13 chuJA seo Chorus. Theater mfa candidate KAleAN uNg Chorus. Theater mfa 12 TATiANA williAMs Chorus. Theater bfa 11

workshop cast AleX DeMeRs Theater mfa candidate JARRyD JosePh Theater mfa candidate RyAN MAssoN Theater mfa candidate

winter 2014


“Tremendously talented kids would be held back from their full potential if it weren't for the tuition-free classes we offer through CAP. ” — Lecia Dole-Recio Art Faculty, CalArts

� COMMUNITY ARTS PARTNERSHIP (CAP) Transforming Young Lives Through the Arts Since 1990

Please help keep CAP tuition-free for youth in underserved and low-income communities. The need for CAP has never been greater.

Black Clock 17

is a topography of forbidden passions, charting the crossroads of obsession and the back alleys of eroticism. The afterglow of an affair leaves a woman to satisfy a more illicit yearning in Dana Spiotta's "Watch," a group of teen orgiasts converge in Tom McCarthy's "Pyramid Party" to re-create the sexual humiliations of Abu Ghraib, and, in Aimee Bender's "Vigilante," a young female police captain intrudes on the psychodramas of strangers to enforce the laws of the heart… Black Clock is the national literary journal published by CalArts Edited By Steve Erickson

Second Life: Light Bulb (1977-81) edited by Chip Chapman “a lightning rod for art-damaged, weird-music lovers everywhere.”

Available now from East of Borneo

Light Bulb was the house organ of the Los Angeles Free Music Society, made by and for the experimental collective of musicians that formed in Pasadena in 1972. This special reissue is presented in cooperation with the LAFMS as part of our Second Life series.



DISPATCHES News From Faculty, Alumni, Students and Other Members of the CalArts Community


In his current exhibition of collaged paintings at White Cube Bermondsey in London, MacArthur genius Mark Bradford (mfa 97, bfa 95) seizes on maps of the interstate highway system as a structural and contextual device as he combines abstract compositions with topographical points of reference that shift in and out of focus. The show’s title, Through Darkest America by Truck and Tank, refers to a chapter heading in the memoirs of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose experience in the Transcontinental Motor Convoy of 1919 motivated his championing of a nationwide highway network in the ’50s. The eventual

Colleen Corcoran (mfa 08) and adjunct faculty Roman Jaster (bfa 07) designed the exhibition catalogue for Everything Loose Will Land, an exhibition mounted by the mak Center at the Schindler House as part of the citywide series “Pacific Standard Time: Modern Architecture in l.a.” Audrey Chan (mfa 07) and Elana Mann (mfa 07) joined forces for 3 Solo Projects: Audrey Chan, Elana Mann, Chan & Mann, a multifaceted, interdisciplinary exhibition at the Otis College of Art and Design’s Ben Maltz Gallery. Using various media and techniques—video, performance, sound, painting, drawing, photography and installation—Chan and Mann have taken to “revitalizing feminist practice with their collaborative projects that engage historic models of first- and second-wave feminist strategies fused with contemporary relational aesthetics and social engagement,” summed up artpulse magazine, which ran an interview with the Los Angelesbased pair in conjunction with the show at Otis.

Art faculty Sam Durant (mfa 91) has had three solo shows in Europe since the spring: La stessa storia/ The Same Story at the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma; Proposal for Public Fountain at Sadie Coles hq in London; and the latest, Propaganda of the Deed, at the Centro Internazionale delle Arti Plastiche in Carrara, Italy. Back in Los Angeles, Durant developed a special multimedia project for the J. Paul Getty Museum called “What #isamuseum?” Using social media, this collaboration with the Getty’s Education Department proposed new dialogue among museumgoers and the community at large about the role of museums in public life.

BELOW The catalogue for the exhibition Everything Loose Will Land was designed by Colleen Corcoran and Roman Jaster. Installation view of Charles Gaines’ Notes on Social Justice, an exhibition held this fall at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York.

© charles gaines. courtesy of paula cooper gallery. photo: steven probert

courtesy of the designers

Ismael de Anda III (bfa 09) was among the Mexican and American artists featured this summer in iii Bienal Ciudad Juárez—El Paso Biennial 2013, held jointly by the El Paso Museum of Art and the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juárez. De Anda’s standout contribution was Wide Latin (The Artist Has a Wider Threshold for Chaos)/Letra ancha (El Artists tiene un umbral más alto para el caos), an eye-catching wall piece in which laser-cut mirrors form the titular text in an idiosyncratically arranged mix of English and Spanish.

implementation of this system had the practical effect of deepening the segmentation and segregation of many minority communities.

Winter 2014


FROM TOP Brian Roettinger designed the cover of Jay Z’s album Magna Carta… Holy Grail. James Welling, 0406, 2009. Inkjet print, 33 11/16 × 50 1/2 in. The cover of Diana Arterian’s chapbook Death Centos, designed and drawn by Natalia Porter.

courtesy of the publisher

The latest one-person exhibition of work by faculty member Charles Gaines opened in September at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York. It featured a new body of large-scale drawings of the musical scores of songs addressing political issues, assembled under the title Notes on Social Justice. Manifesto 2, meanwhile, combined video, original music and large graphite drawings to give new dimension to historic political speech. Also included: the earlier Skybox 1 installation and editions from the Night/Crimes series begun in 1994. In other news, Gaines, a 2013 Guggenheim Fellow, played music over the summer at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (moca). His group, the Charles Gaines Ensemble, included CalArts colleague Wadada Leo Smith, who is retiring from The Herb Alpert School of Music at the end of the academic year.

Bearing out the saying “big in Japan,” the CalArts Program in Graphic Design warranted 96 pages of coverage in the August issue of Tokyo-based idea magazine. The encyclopedic feature, “Suburban Lawns—A Look at CalArts Past & Present,” was the outcome of a workshop held on campus last spring by alum Ian Lynam (mfa 04), who courtesy of the hammer museum lives and works in Tokyo, and idea’s editor-in-chief Kiyonori Muroga. Facilitated by a grant from the Institute’s Intercultural Arts Project (icap), the visiting duo’s workshop with both bfa and mfa design students involved a series of research, writing, documentation and design projects “about CalArts itself, its history, its current state and ephemera… making the school both the laboratory and the subject,” writes Lynam. In addition to the copious examples of student, alumni and faculty work, the idea survey notably includes a variety of translated texts on design practice penned by CalArtians, evincing the design program’s sturdy conceptual foundation.

The blockbuster European retrospective spanning the career of the late Mike Kelley (mfa 78) arrived stateside in October, opening in New York at moma ps 1. The eponymously titled exhibition is the largest show mounted to date at the Long Island City museum—which, in fact, devoted its entire physical plant to the presentation, from the boiler room below the galleries to the classrooms above. “This show is as big as Kelley’s career,” declared The New York Times. “[It] knocks everything else in New York this fall right out of the ring... Kelley earned this blowout; his work sustains it.” Continuing through February 2, Mike Kelley had drawn huge crowds through the first half of the year at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Kelley’s artwork comes home, as it were, when the exhibition opens on March 23 at moca—which had previously presented some of Kelley’s best-known installations. Vogue magazine tapped Thomas Lawson, dean of the School of Art and holder of the Jill and Peter Kraus Distinguished Chair in Art, to paint a portrait of Hedi Slimane, the controversial Los Angeles-based creative director of the house of Saint Laurent Paris, for its September issue. “Vogue wanted an l.a. artist to do the portrait because Slimane made a big deal about moving here,” said Lawson. Lari Pittman’s (mfa 76, bfa 74) dazzlingly extravagant fall exhibition at Regen Projects was entitled From A Late Western Impaerium. The show, Pittman’s seventh with the l.a. gallery, constructed “a loose narrative of nationhood that travels between our present time and the distant past,” as conveyed through the Western canon of painting and the applied arts. At the center of the exhibit were three mural-scaled paintings—Flying Carpet of a Waning Moon Over a Violent Nation; Flying Carpet of Magic Mirrors for a Distorted Nation; and Flying Carpet of Petri Dishes for a Disturbed Nation—that wove together meticulously detailed, multilayered imagery, at once heavily abstracted and referential.

Graphic designer and Grammynominated art director Brian Roettinger (bfa 03) realized the cover art for Jay Z’s latest studio recording, Magna Carta… Holy Grail, released with enormous fanfare in July. The design—a blackand-white image of Renaissance statuary overlaid with a “redaction” of Jay Z’s name—was developed in collaboration with photographer Ari Marcopoulous and creative director Willo Perron. Roettinger’s design concepts also carried over to the massive international advertising blitz that accompanied the launch of Magna Carta. Another CalArts alumnus whose stellar career has been the subject of a comprehensive retrospective is photo artist James Welling (mfa 74, bfa 72). The Hammer Museum in Westwood was the only West Coast stop for the traveling exhibition James Welling: Monograph, which covered the artist’s explorations of the photographic medium over some 35 years. “Operating in the hybrid ground between painting and sculpture and traditional photography… Welling’s practice has unflaggingly shifted to address an impressive array of issues and ideas: personal and cultural memory, the tenets of realism and transparency, abstraction and representation, optics and description, and the material and chemical nature of photography,” according to the Hammer’s exhibition notes. The accompanying 256page catalogue was designed by faculty member Lorraine Wild and Amy Fortunato of Green Dragon Office.

SCHOOL OF CRITICAL STUDIES Poet Diana Arterian’s (mfa 11) chapbook Death Centos was published by Ugly Duckling Presse in September. Utilizing the format of the “cento”—a poetic collage technique that excerpts the language of other authors—Arterian interlaces the final parting words of one hundred individuals, from death row inmates to historical figures. “Fusing strains of investigative, documentary and

Headliners conceptual poetics, Death Centos is the penultimate panegyric,” enthused poet and critic Mark Nowak. “It is a brave and ingenious collection that deserves to be widely read.” Issue no. 17 of Black Clock, the semiannual literary journal edited by Steve Erickson and published by the mfa Creative Writing Program, launched in early November with a pair of readings, one on each coast, at Mandrake in Culver City and Bookcourt in Brooklyn. “Charting the crossroads of obsession and the back alleys of eroticism, Black Clock 17 is a topography of forbidden passions,” the journal announced. The new edition features writing by Dana Spiotta, Tom McCarthy, Aimee Bender and Henry Bean, among others. CalArtians contributed three short stories: “Business Trip” by Saehee Cho (mfa 10), “Son of Perdition” by Doug Matus (mfa 11), and “Monk and Nica” by Joe Milazzo (mfa 06). See

Jonathan Mann (mfa 06) has been known to internet and TV audiences as the purveyor of the ongoing “Song A Day” campaign—as of this writing, up to 1,743 songs and counting—and, previously, as “GameJew,” the poster of first-person comedy, music and commentary videos about old-school video games. Now a revamped version of one of Mann’s earlier projects from CalArts has made its New York stage debut: a rock opera based on the Nintendo game Super Mario Bros. In August, the deadpan satirist gave a onenight recital of The Mario Opera at the famous Joe’s Pub performance art venue at The Public Theater, backed by members of the New Jersey postpunk band The Everymen. The “opéretta,” which bears on the

existential crisis of reluctant hero Mario as he grapples with the repetitiveness of his role as a video game character, was first performed in 2005 at the Institute and l.a. stages from the Barnsdall Gallery Theater to the Knitting Factory and the nowdefunct Key Club. Architect and writer Manuel Shvartzberg (ma 11) and curator Matthew Poole organized a two-day architecture and design conference at redcat under the title of “The Politics of Parametricism: Digital Technologies and the Future(s) of Sociality.” The confab’s focus, parametricism, refers to a design style that relies on digital parametric models, originally derived from 3d animation, to create hugely complex structures and environments, while also proposing a new grasp of space, both real and virtual. The distinguished speakers included parametricist Patrik Schumacher of Zaha Hadid Architects, Teddy Cruz and Benjamin Bratton of uc San Diego, Peggy Deamer of Yale, and Andrés Jaque and Laura Kurgan of Columbia —where Shvartzberg is currently working toward a Ph.D. Faculty member Matias Viegener has received a grant from Creative Capital to produce a three-part project called Black Mirror—an investigation of the social and political effects of drone surveillance. This body of work will feature spycam footage gathered by consumer-level bots in “American utopian colonies,” mischievous “drone poems,” and a set of “dream maps” corresponding to “both the drone operators and the people terrorized by them.” Creative Writing Program faculty Chr|st|ne Werthe|m’s new book, mUtter-bAbel, “a graphic and textual exploration of ugly archaic feelings and their troubling social effects,” was just released by Counterpath Press. Proposing a unique form of poetry that integrates handmade drawings with computer-designed texts, Wertheim’s “verbo-visual” experiment probes the “very early feelings” held by babies for their mothers. “Infantile experience has rarely been the overt subject of poetry,” heralded the publisher. Chiming in was literary theorist Donna Haraway (A Cyborg Manifesto): “Why am I so figured, so drawn, so traced, so lined, so

knotted in the journeying squiggles of Wertheim’s mUtter bAbel? I know why: it’s ‘the invading presence of a nO|sy tongue.’ Wertheim gets it just right.”

The Sharon Disney Lund School of DAncE Taking to Santa Monica’s Broad Stage in October, Melissa Bourkas (bfa 05) and Andrew Wojtal (bfa 11) danced in bodytraffic’s world premiere presentation of Kollide, a commission from newly anointed MacArthur Fellow Kyle Abraham. Also on the Los Angeles repertory company’s program: a suite by Barak Marshall and a romp to jazz classics by Richard Siegal. Directed by Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett, bodytraffic was named by Dance Magazine on its 2013 list of “25 to Watch.” Bourkas and Wojtal joined the troupe in 2011— the same year, incidentally, that Abraham and his own ensemble, Abraham. In.Motion, had made their l.a. debut at redcat. Choreography faculty Rosanna Gamson unveiled her latest, Layla Means Night, a reworking of an earlier full-evening opus of the same name, at San Francisco’s odc Theater in October. Made in collaboration with poet and performer Niloufar Talebi and a pair of CalArts musicmakers, faculty member Houman Pourmehdi and alum Pirayeh Pourafar (Music mfa 00), Layla derives from the saga of Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights, with the choreographer and her company, Rosanna Gamson / World Wide, transforming the s.f. theater into a chamber of Persian

FROM TOP Jonathan Mann (center) leads a one-night performance of The Mario Opera at Joe’s Pub in New York. Dancer Carin Noland in Rosanna Gamson / World Wide’s production of Layla Means Night at odc Theater in San Francisco.

courtesy of the artist

courtesy of odc theater. photo: jose diaz

In her newest book of nonfiction, Damnation (Penny-Ante Editions), adjunct faculty member Janice Lee (mfa 08) ruminates on the films of Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr, famous for his use of the long-take shot, and the novels and screenplays of Tarr’s longtime collaborator László Krasznahorkai. Lee’s creative study is “both an ekphrasis and confession, an obsessive response, a poetic meditation and mirror on time.” Faculty colleague Jon Wagner wrote the book’s introduction, entitled “A Time Like This.”


Winter 2014


FROM TOP Jacques Heim’s Diavolo Dance Theater premiered Fluid Infinities at the Holly­ wood Bowl in September.

courtesy of david lieberman artists’ representatives

Choreographer Stephan Koplowitz’s Natural Acts in Artificial Waters, a site-specific ensemble work performed in Houston.

courtesy of the artist

sensuousness. “But Gamson’s goal is not escapist; she uses the framing story of Scheherazade to examine power struggles between women and men,” noted public broadcaster kqed in its preview of the passionate new dance. The performers included Alexandria Yalj (mfa 07), who is also the managing director of rg/ww. The end-of-summer MixMatch Dance Festival returned to Santa Monica’s Miles Memorial Playhouse for its 7th annual iteration. Founded and directed by alums Amanda Hart (bfa 05) and Sandra Rasor (bfa 05), the aptly named fest puts on view an eclectic sampling of performances from across the dance spectrum, this year numbering more than 70 dances. Hart’s own group, Hart Pulse Dance Company, headlined a four-day program that included plenty of CalArts dance artists, among them Hannah Rutherford Beavers (bfa 08), Ken Datugan (bfa 02), Misa Kelly (mfa 96), Lisa D. Long (mfa 11), Natalie Metzger (mfa 11), Anne C. Moore (mfa 12), Jamie Pea (bfa 13), Princess Mecca Romero (bfa 11), Michelle Sagarminaga (bfa 12), Tiffany Stacey (bfa 09) and Kim Thompson (bfa 08). Internationally recognized for its awe-inspiring blend of artistry and daredevil physical bravura, choreographer Jacques Heim’s (mfa 91) Diavolo Dance Theater was back at the Hollywood Bowl in early September for the final installment of L’Espace du Temps, a trilogy commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic specifically for the iconic amphitheater. Heim’s new piece, Fluid Infinities, was set to the l.a. Phil’s rendition of Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3 and featured the company’s signature use of a custom-engineered architectural form with which the dancers interact. The Los Angeles Times likened the “otherworldly” structure to “an oversized simian brain, a gigantic honeycomb, or some kind of alien starship pocked with holes.” The first two parts of Heim’s Hollywood Bowl trilogy were Foreign Bodies (2007) and Fearful Symmetries (2010), choreographed to music by Esa-Pekka Salonen and John Adams, respectively.

Alonzo King’s (Theater and Dance 72, dfa 07) San Francisco-based lines Ballet teamed up with contemporary troupe Hubbard Street Dance Chicago for a four-city tour that concluded in June at the Los Angeles County Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. “Something alchemical has happened with the new collaboration between San Francisco’s reigning prince of offkilter classicism and the Midwest’s informed bastion of contemporary dance,” observed the Chicago Tribune. The combined companies— which showcased Hubbard Street rising star Jonathan Fredrickson (bfa 06)—gave the Southern California premiere of King’s azimuth, a new work that contrasts full-ensemble episodes with intimate forays. As part of a multiyear collaboration, lines Ballet and Hubbard Street had performed together earlier in the season in Berkeley, Chicago and Madison, wi. Dean Stephan Koplowitz’s Natural Acts in Artificial Water, a site-specific work staged last year in and around the Philip Johnson-designed sculptural fountain at Houston’s Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park, was singled out as Best Ensemble Production by the Houston Press in its annual “Best Of Awards” issue in October. The piece, part of Koplowitz’s “TaskForce” series of water-themed dances, had already been applauded by Arts + Culture Texas as “by far the most significant site-specific dance work in the city’s history.”

SCHOOL OF FILM/VIDEO CalArts filmmakers once again turned up in numbers at the 51st New York Film Festival’s “Views from the Avant-Garde” series—the popular touchstone for experimental film that is now in its 17th year. Curated by Mark McElhatten, the prestigious program included screenings of Alexandra Cuesta’s (mfa 09) Despedida (Farewell), Laida Lertxundi’s (mfa 07) Utskor: Either/Or, Deborah Stratman’s (mfa 95) Immortal, Suspended, Travis Wilkerson’s (mfa 01) Los Angeles Red Squad: The Communist

Situation in California, Fred Worden’s (mfa 73) All or Nothing, founding faculty Pat O’Neill’s Ojo Caliente, and two films by faculty member Charlotte Pryce, Looking Glass Insects and A Study in Natural Magic. Animation artist–turned–live-action director Thor Freudenthal (bfa 97) helmed Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, based on the second installment of Rick Riordan’s popular fantasy-adventure book series. The film is a sequel to Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010). School of Film/Video students Thalia Fry, of the bfa Program in Experimental Animation, and Nora Sweeney, of the mfa Program in Film and Video, are among this year’s winners of the Princess Grace Awards, presented to emerging talents in film, theater and dance by the Princess Grace Foundation–usa. Each received a scholarship, while Sweeney also collected the Charles Evans Film Award, an honorarium supporting the production of her thesis film. Two graduates of the Program in Film and Video had museum shows in the first part of the year: William E. Jones (mfa 90) at the Hammer Museum in Westwood and Erika Vogt (mfa 04) at the New Museum in New York. Jones curated a gallery installation called Imitation of Christ as part of the Hammer’s “Houseguest” series, in which guest artists design an exhibition by culling from the collections of the museum and ucla. The CalArts alum’s selection—which included Renaissance and Baroque prints and drawings, documentary photographs, Latin American art, and rare books—was inspired by a photo of a wounded guerrilla fighter taken in Nicaragua in the early 1980s. For her part, Vogt, whose work was in last year’s Made in L.A. biennial at the Hammer, devised an installation, Stranger Debris Roll Roll Roll, for the New Museum’s Lobby Gallery. In the piece, the artist shows videos on five monitors placed within an arrangement of cast plaster and found objects hoisted up in mid-air, playing on the visual and material relationships among the different elements, as if in a system of exchange and empathy.

Headliners Character Animation faculty Minkyu Lee (bfa 09) was among five animation artists picked by The New York Times as the “rising stars” of the form. Lee’s gorgeously visualized short Adam and Dog (2011)—a retelling of the Garden of Eden story with a bat-eared mutt—was up for an Oscar earlier this year after having won the 2012 Annie Award for Best Animated Short Subject.

Writer-director Andrea Pallaoro’s (mfa 08) first feature, Medeas, was an official selection of the 2013 Venice Film Festival, screening as part of the “Orrizonte” section. Set in the rugged countryside north of l.a., the taut family drama probes the inner lives of characters who must negotiate yearning and fear, intimacy and alienation, along “a journey,” as the filmmaker puts it, “to the unpredictable boundaries of human behavior.” J.G. Quintel (bfa 05), Pendleton Ward (bfa 05) and Skyler Page (11) from the Program in Character Animation were nominated for Primetime Emmys at the 65th edition of the awards given out by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Quintel, the creator of Cartoon Network’s Regular Show, received two noms for Outstanding Animated Program and Outstanding ShortForm Animated Program; he had already won the Emmy in the former category in 2012. Ward, who created Adventure Time for cn, and Page, who is behind the upcoming show Clarence, also on cn, joined Quintel in the running for the short-form animation Emmy. Meanwhile, another

School of Film/Video alum, Casey Kriley (mfa 98) of the Film Directing Program, was also up for a Primetime Emmy as one of the executive producers of Bravo’s Top Chef, which was nominated for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program. Kriley, a veteran of Project Runway, had won this Emmy in 2010, for Top Chef. The Toronto International Film Festival (tiff) rolled out the red carpet for the North American premiere of Maneesh Sharma’s (mfa 04) latest directorial outing, Shuddh Desi Romance. One of the festival’s select “Gala Presentations,” as well as the centerpiece of the “City to City” spotlight on independent film coming out of Mumbai, Romance offers a “remarkably fresh, delightfully shocking” contemporary take on Bollywood’s classic screwball love stories, said the festival’s curators. Sharma, born in New Delhi, had previously directed the features Band Baaja Baaraat (2010) and Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl (2011). Elsewhere at tiff, the “Contemporary World Cinema” program showed Akosua Adoma Owusu’s (Film/ Video–Art mfa 08) short Kwaku Ananse, a semi-autobiographical interpretation of a traditional Ghanaian folktale in which the contemporary collides with the mythological in both content and form. tiff’s experimental “Wavelength” lineup included the award-winning featurelength documentary Manakamana, made in Nepal by Pacho Velez (mfa 10) and Stephanie Spray (see next column). Lastly, Naoko Tasaka (mfa 11) showed her thesis project, Flower, as part of the “Wavelengths 2: Now & Then” program. The Japanese filmmaker’s 21-minute “sphinxlike allegory” unfolds like a children’s story—about a bear who eats his cohort during hibernation—before it plumbs the depths of both the physical and metaphorical worlds, with straightforward narration giving away to “sublimated abstraction.”

Called “the must-see cinematic experience of the year” by Indiewire, the stunning documentary Manakamana by Pacho Velez (mfa 10) and Stephanie Spray won the Golden Leopard for “Filmmakers of the Present” at the 66th Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. The doc also collected the honors for Best First Feature. Shot with a fixed camera inside a state-of-the-art cable car as it courtesy of the new museum, new york. photo: benoit pailley transports pilgrims and tourists to and from the Manakamana mountaintop temple in the Gorkha district of Nepal, Manakamana is produced by 2013 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts winner

courtesy of the filmmakers

The latest installment of Marvel’s X-Men franchise, The Wolverine, was helmed by award-winning director James Mangold (bfa 85). Starring Hugh Jackman as the epo­ nymous adamantium-clawed mutant who finds himself in Japan fighting ninjas and yakuza, the movie opened this summer at no. 1 in 100 countries and has since grossed $375 million worldwide. On the small screen, Mangold directed the epic oneminute commercial for the new Activision–Infinity Ward game Call of Duty: Ghosts. The spot is a delirious mini-action movie that follows four gamers and a dog-friend as they battle their way across locations from a bombed-out Las Vegas to Earth orbit to Antarctica.


Lucien Castain-Taylor and his Sensory Ethnography Laboratory at Harvard. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, critic Dennis Lim deemed the film “thrillingly mysterious in its effects: a work of staged documentary, a cross between science fiction and ethnography, an airborne version of an Andy Warhol screen test.” In addition to screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival, Manakamana was shown most recently in the “Motion Portraits” section of the New York Film Festival.

FROM TOP Erika Vogt, Stranger Debris Roll Roll Roll, 2013. Installation view. Digital video, plaster, paint, rope, wood, dimensions variable. Hugh Jackman as the titular character in The Wolverine, directed by James Mangold. Still from Manakamana, the awardwinning documentary shot in Nepal by Pacho Velez and Stephanie Spray.

Winter 2014


THIS PAGE, FROM TOP The cover of alumni trio Dawn of Midi’s new recording, Dysnomia, designed by Fabian Oefner. Saxophonist and composer James Brandon Lewis. Chamber-pop singer and composer Julia Holter. OPPOSITE, FROM TOP Emmy nominee Don Cheadle as Marty Kaan in Showtime’s House of Lies. As part of the Radar l.a. festival, Miranda Wright produced the Englishlanguage premiere of Rodrigo García’s You Should Have Stayed Home, Morons, staged at four public locations.

courtesy of the artist. photo: thomas sayers ellis

Condola Rashad and Orlando Bloom as the leads in the Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet.

courtesy of rvng intl. photo: rick bahto

THE HERB ALPERT SCHOOL OF MUSIC Herb Alpert, iconic trumpeter, bandleader, entrepreneur, philanthropist and namesake of the CalArts School of Music, visited the White House in Washington, dc, in July to collect the National Medal of the Arts from President Barack Obama. He was among 12 recipients—alongside director George Lucas, dramatist Tony Kushner and author Joan Didion—of this lifetime honor, the highest recognition bestowed on artists and arts patrons by the u.s. government. Best known for leading the Tijuana Brass and co-founding a&m Records, Alpert is an eight-time Grammy Award winner who has sold more than 72 million albums throughout his career. Through The Herb Alpert Foundation, the artist and his wife, Grammy-winning vocalist Lani Hall Alpert, have provided sustained support—more than $125 million to date—for music and arts education, jazz studies, and organizations working toward a more compassionate society. Alpert’s association with CalArts goes back nearly a quarter of a century, covering a variety of programmatic areas. In addition to establishing a $25 million endowment for the School of Music in 2008, Alpert and the foundation had previously launched the Herb Alpert Awards in the Arts, a fellowship program administered by the Institute. The mesmerizing Brooklyn-based acoustic trio Dawn of Midi—comprising pianist Amino Belyamani (08), bassist Aakaash Israni (08) and drummer Qasim Naqvi (mfa 08)— released its sophomore full-length album, Dsynomia, on Thirsty Ear Records to terrific critical plaudits. “It is a ravishing mind-fuck with a hardcore groove,” says The Village Voice. “I cannot urge you strongly enough; go see Dawn of Midi,”

advises Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker. Featuring a single 47-minute composition that spirals through nine movements, Dysnomia is “dedicated to perpetual forward motion, a rigorously composed blend of minimalism and trance music,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The “totally unprecedented” rhythm-focused sound of the trio is “a new bridge out of traditional jazz to the rest of the world, and it’s built with obsessive precision,” declares Pitchfork. Dawn of Midi’s polyglot fluency is an apt reflection of how different music lineages can come together in one community to forge wholly new expressions: Belyamani is from Morocco, Israni from India, and Naqvi was born in the u.s. to Pakistani parents; they met at the Institute and have grooved together since. When the highly touted Dedalus Ensemble from France finally made its American debut at Brooklyn’s Roulette venue in September, its nine-part set featured six newly commissioned compositions by CalArtians residing in New York: John Hastings (mfa 08), Travis Just (mfa 02), Catherine Lamb (bfa 06), Jonathan Marmor (mfa 03, bfa 01), Devin Maxwell (mfa 02) and Quentin Tolimieri (bfa 01). In the wake of the widespread critical acclaim that greeted Julia Holter’s (mfa 09) Ekstasis in 2012, the l.a.-based experimental singer and composer has now cemented her reputation as one of today’s foremost chamber-pop visionaries with the release of Loud City Song, her third album, on the British label Domino. Critic Randall Roberts of the Los Angeles Times calls the new collection of songs “a monumental construct unlike anything else.” Weirdly inspired by the 1958 mgm musical film version of Gigi—the novella by Colette about a courtesan in training—the recording is Holter’s “first with a production budget to equal her vision,” declares Roberts. “The result is a confident— if at times atonal and obtuse—work, the creation of a 28-year-old artist whose recordings can be both headscratchingly ‘difficult’ while conveying a singular kind of beauty.” Roberts is not alone in his praise; an adulatory profile of Holter in The New Yorker places her at the leading edge of “daring, compositionally

complex” music that has developed from the concert hall into an elevated form of pop. In her time at CalArts, Holter was the mentee of Michael Pisaro, co-chair of the Composition Program, while also cultivating low-fi pop creds in association with the collective Human Ear Music, whose members included Ariel Pink (Art bfa 00) and John Maus (bfa 03). In September, faculty Amy Knoles (bfa 82) traveled to Goddard College in Port Townsend, wa, to premiere her new solo electronic percussion arrangement of Julius Eastman’s Crazy Nigger, the composer’s legendary 1978 work for four pianos. Her performance was accompanied with dance by choreographer Michael Sakamato. Knoles subsequently toured the Eastman piece in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, playing at venues in Brno, Opava, Bratislava and Nitra. Anne LeBaron, co-chair of the Composition Program and new holder of the Roy E. Disney Family Chair in Musical Composition, was joined in New York by baritone Thomas Buckner, shakuhachi player Ralph Samuelson and the flux quartet for a performance of Breathtails, set to poetry by Charles Bernstein. Presented at Roulette in Brooklyn as part of the “Interpretations” series, the program also included Creación de las Aves, a solo written for Mexican pianist Ana Cervantes, and Planxty Bowerbird, for harp and electronics, which LeBaron played herself. The composer promptly traveled to London to give a talk at Goldsmiths College on the “concert theater” of the late Greek composer Jani Christou. In other goings-on, essays by LeBaron have appeared in Columbia University’s Current Musicology and Journal of the International Alliance for Women in Music. Ebony magazine named saxophonist and composer James Brandon Lewis (mfa 10) as one of “Seven Young Guns 30 and Under to Rep Jazz for the 21st Century.” Said the mag: “For many, the sax is jazz. And for modern times, [Lewis] holds it down. Just one listen to his 2010 debut Moments proves the point.” Lewis’ second album, Divine Travels, came out in October on Sony’s new incarnation of the historic OKeh Records label.

Headliners Retiring faculty member Wadada Leo Smith led the Washington, dc, premiere of his epic, Pulitzer Prizenominated Ten Freedom Summers to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. Performed over three concerts at Atlas Performing Arts Center on October 25 and 26, the multimedia presentation of tfs included the debut of a new addition to Smith’s soul-searching tribute to the Civil Rights Movement: That Sunday Morning: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley: We Carry You In Our Hearts, which remembers the victims of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, al. Trumpet and creative music legend Smith performed with his signature group, the Golden Quartet—featuring Anthony Davis on piano—and the Pacifica Red Coral ensemble, which included violinist Mona Tian (bfa 13), violist Andrew McIntosh (mfa 08) and cellist Ashley Walters (mfa 07), while video artist Jesse Gilbert (Film/ Video mfa 01) provided live-mixed visual accompaniment. In addition to his Pulitzer nomination in 2013, Smith, the longstanding coordinator of African American Improvisational Music within the graduate PerformerComposer Program, was hailed by DownBeat magazine as Composer of the Year and by the Jazz Journalists Association as both Trumpeter and Musician of the Year. He steps down from CalArts this spring.

SCHOOL OF THEATER E.B. Brooks (mfa 07) designed the 1940s-era costumes for the world premiere of Jeffery Hatcher’s adaptation of the thriller Wait Until Dark, which opened in October at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. Faculty James T. McDermott was the show’s production stage manager. Traveling to Scotland under the banner of CalArts Festival Theater for the tenth consecutive summer, a strong School of Theater contingent led by Jon Gottlieb, head of Sound Design, offered three productions


at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival. Presented at Venue 13—a stage for new writing jointly run with the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama—the CalArts slate consisted of: Goose, the award-winning play written by and starring Michael Yichao (mfa 13) and directed by Rachel Park; Mask, a two-hander written by John Michael Johnson, directed by Allison M. Keating, and starring Sandy Simona and Ernest Long; and Whispering in the Dark, a one-act multimedia work created and performed by Caitlin Teeley (bfa 13), Kat Ortiz (bfa 13) and Kaiso Hill. Elsewhere at the Fringe, another CalArtian, puppet artist Allan Trautman (mfa 78), performed to delightful effect in Henson Alternative’s zany show for adults, Puppet Up! Uncensored. Having already nabbed a best-actor Golden Globe at the beginning of the year, Don Cheadle (bfa 86) was once again among the contenders at the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, up for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his portrayal of management slick Marty Kaan in Showtime’s House of Lies. The Emmy nom was the sixth of Cheadle’s career and his second for playing Kaan. On the Creative Arts side of the Primetime Emmys, lighting director Robert Barnhart (bfa 87), nominated in four categories, collected his seventh career Emmy for Outstanding Lighting Design or Lighting Direction for a Variety Special as part of the team behind Super Bowl xlvii’s halftime show with Beyoncé. Harrison Lippman (bfa 08) was a nominee in the same section. Fellow lighting director Daniel K. Boland (bfa 95), in the meantime, was a member of the unit that earned the Emmy for Outstanding Lighting Design or Lighting Direction for a Variety Series for its work on The Voice. Following back-to-back Tony nominations in 2012 and 2013, the meteoric rise of Condola Rashad (bfa 09) continued apace with her starring turn, opposite screen heartthrob Orlando Bloom, in the picturesque, modern-dress Broadway revival of Romeo and Juliet—this time conceived by director David Laveaux as a saga of star-crossed interracial lovers. “Mr. Bloom and the gifted Ms. Rashad exude a too-fine-for-this-

world purity that makes their characters’ love feel sacred,” wrote Ben Brantley in The New York Times. “Ms. Rashad, who was enchanting in this year’s revival of The Trip to Bountiful, here commits to the allout innocence of a sheltered character who is only 13. This Juliet is incandescent with virginity.” Rashad is the first African American actress to play Juliet on Broadway, prompting abc News to name the breakthrough Bloom-Rashad pairing as its “Persons of the Week” after the show opened in September. Romeo and Juliet concluded its run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on 46th Street in early December.

photo: randy tepper/showtime

Fresh off winning a Drama Desk Award, Justin Townsend (mfa 03) designed the sets and lighting for A Night with Janis Joplin at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway. OffBroadway, he created the lighting design for Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, Anne Washburn’s blistering dark comedy at Playwrights Horizons. Alice Tuan, head of the Writing of Performance Program, was the writer-in-residence at the Ojai Playwrights Conference’s Summer New Works Festival. There, she worked on her new play Cock’s Crow, a geo-strategic satire in which an American start-up called Clean Tech Corp. chases the disappearing entitlements of the 20th century as it tries to set up shop in China. Producer Miranda Wright (mfa 09) received Center Theatre Group’s prestigious Richard E. Sherwood Award at this year’s presentation of l.a. Stage Alliance’s Ovation Awards. Established in 1996 in memory of the civic leader, philanthropist, lacma president and CalArts trustee, the $10,000 annual Sherwood prize helps to sustain the work of l.a.’s most promising theatrical innovators. Wright is the founding executive director of Los Angeles Performance Practice (lapp), a

courtesy of the hartman group

Winter 2014


BELOW The site-specific opera Invisible Cities was staged by The Industry and l.a. Dance Project at downtown’s historic Union Station. Directed by Yuval Sharon, the production featured music direction by Marc Lowenstein and costume design by E.B. Brooks, among other contributions by CalArtians.

courtesy of the industry. photo: dana ross

producing organization dedicated to supporting the city’s contemporary performance community. This fall, Wright and lapp have been involved in two major projects: the Radar l.a. international theater festival, which was presented by CalArts and redcat in association with Center Theatre Group, and Live Arts Exchange (lax), a co-production with Bootleg Theater. As part of Radar l.a., Wright produced the u.s. premiere of You Should Have Stayed Home, Morons, an English-language adaptation of the play written by Madrileño firebrand Rodrigo García and staged in situ in four separate locations— a dog park, a bar, a building stairwell, and an apartment interior—by Colombian director Manuel Orjuela. Concurrently, the first-ever installment of lax was set up to “pull contemporary theater and dance, film/video, animation, punk opera, and party into one space.” The lineup featured performances by Early Morning Opera, the company directed by Lars Jan (mfa 08); Poor Dog Group, a collective of School of Theater alums; director Chi-wang Yang (mfa 07); and Show Box l.a. Additional special events enlisted the talents of Timur & the Dime Museum, with Timur Bekbosunov (Music mfa 08), Zoe Aja Moore (mfa 11), and Miwa Matreyek (Film/Video mfa 07). Wright is also the School of Theater’s admission counselor and director of the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, which she co-founded in 2008 with previous Sherwood Award winner Ian Garrett (mfa 08). Also at the Ovations Awards: In addition to Wright, honorees at the November 3 ceremony included alums Christopher Kuhl (mfa 05) and Jeff Teeter (mfa 06). Kuhl won the Ovation for Best Lighting Design for a Large Theatre for his work on The Nether at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, while Teeter received an Ovation Honor—a designation for recognizing outstanding achievement outside the standard award categories—for his video design for On the Spectrum at the Fountain Theatre.

INSTITUTE A cadre of CalArtians contributed this fall to the site-specific production of the opera Invisible Cities, by the experimental Los Angeles company The Industry and l.a. Dance Project, at the city’s historic Union Station. Dubbed “an invisible opera for wireless headphones,” this one-of-a-kind adaptation of Italo Calvino’s eponymous metafiction by The Industry’s artistic director Yuval Sharon, composer and librettist Christopher Cerrone, and choreographer Danielle Agami could be heard in full only via Sennheiser radio headsets, as audience members were invited to wander through the downtown transportation hub and encounter scattered singers and dancers among the station’s nighttime commuters. “What you hear is the same as everyone else, but what you see belongs to you alone,” explained Sharon ahead of the production’s opening night on October 19. Faculty member Marc Lowenstein, music director of The Industry, conducted an 11-piece orchestra, assisted by dma candidate Andreas Levisianos; the players included trombonist Matt Barbier (Music mfa 10), violinist Eric km Clark (Music mfa 06), bfa percussionist Jodie Landau, harpist Jillian Risigari-Gai (Music mfa 12), cellist Derek Stein (Music mfa 10), pianist Richard Valitutto (Music mfa 11), clarinetist Brian Walsh (mfa 08) and flutist Sarah Wass (Music mfa 03). On the theatrical production side, lead sound designer E. Martin Gimenez (Theater mfa 09) and bfa sound technician Veronica Mullins had the critical task of handling Sennheiser’s cutting-edge audio technology, while E.B. Brooks (Theater mfa 07) designed the costumes. Rounding out the CalArts production

contingent were The Industry’s general manager David Mack (Theater mfa 08), associate house manager Michael Yichao (Theater mfa 13), bfa assistant stage manager Rita Santos, and marketing outreach coordinator Mitchell Colley (Theater bfa 11). Invisible Cities was the second large-scale production from The Industry; its first was the widely acclaimed 2012 presentation of the “hyperopera” Crescent City, composed by faculty member Anne LeBaron with a libretto by fellow CalArts faculty Douglas Kearney (Critical Studies mfa 04).

courtesy of the filmmaker


(Film/Video bfa 72) As a member of CalArts’ first graduating class, filmmaker Curt Hahn has a special bond with the Institute. His mentor at CalArts was the founding dean of the School of Film/Video, legendary director Alexander Mackendrick (The Ladykillers, Sweet Smell of Success), and Hahn fondly recalls the many hours he and “Sandy” spent together discussing Hahn’s films and deconstructing Mackendrick’s work and that of other successful directors. The experience helped Hahn develop the conceptual skills, historical framework and confidence with which to launch his career. Hahn is one of many alumni of his generation who have begun thinking about estate planning as a way to give back to CalArts. His planned gift qualified him for membership in the CalArts Legacy Circle, a community of artists and supporters who have provided for CalArts through their estates or through a life-income gift. The Legacy Circle keeps the Institute’s educational programs strong, helps ensure CalArts’ future, and allows students to define and pursue their creative goals. Currently ceo of Film House, the largest film production company in Tennessee, Hahn began his career in the film department of a small public television station in Charlotte, nc, thanks to a recommendation from a CalArts staff member. The station had an active documentary operation, and Hahn directed or assisted on several films. He followed a former colleague to Nashville in 1976, the year after the release of Robert Altman’s landmark multi-narrative film (Nashville), which depicted the city’s vibrant country music scene. Hahn believed that the local economy would only continue to grow, and he and a friend started Film House in two adjacent homes in a modest Nashville neighborhood. In 1980, Hahn bought out his partner. Hahn’s early clients included Vanderbilt University and the National Dairy Council, among others, but his big break came through the production of a television commercial for a local country music radio station. The spot featured a cowboy riding a horse through Monument Valley and turning on a transistor radio to listen to the station. Hahn owned the copyright to the creative elements of the commercial, and realized that he could "repurpose" it for other country stations—all he’d have to do is change the narration and add new titles. Hahn sold the spot to 37 stations across the United States for $10,000 each—a bargain for the stations and a windfall for him.

Over the years, Hahn has directed or produced three feature films through a subsidiary called Transcendent, and he continues to produce and direct tv commercials, corporate films and documentaries. Film House is also the largest producer of films for the u.s. government—a $50 million contract primarily for making short pieces geared toward military personnel. “Because of lower costs in Nashville, our prices are 10 percent below production houses in New York and Los Angeles,” says Hahn, whose staff of some 50 full-time employees works out of a 40,000-square-foot complex on a hill overlooking Nashville. Hahn’s latest venture is producing “mini-movies” to help real estate agents sell pricey homes. These short videos include original music, actors and a story that takes place in the home that’s for sale. Beyond the lush interior and exterior shots, the videos grab viewers with moving narratives, such as one that follows an older man through his house, walking room to room as he discovers Post-it notes that refer to happy occasions in his and his children’s past. The trail leads to a final room where he finds his daughter, now a young woman, and embraces her. The message is that if you buy this house, it will be more than a roof over your head—your life will be filled with rich memories. So far, he’s made a few of these videos in Nashville, and the first house sold within two days to a buyer in London who made an offer after watching the video online. Hahn says that he thinks of himself as an entrepreneur as much as a filmmaker, and when he considered putting CalArts in his will, he relied on his entrepreneurial skills. With three kids, he worried whether including CalArts would prove to be a burden to them, but he and an attorney designed a tiered system. After estate taxes are paid, CalArts will receive an amount dependent upon the size of his estate at the time of his death. “No one wants to talk about estate planning, but I feel really good about this, and my heirs won’t have to sweat it. No other institution remotely approaches the effect CalArts had on me. I want to make this contribution as a way to give back to CalArts in return for everything it did for me.”

For more information on becoming a member of the CalArts Legacy Circle, please contact: Randy Lakeman, Executive Director of Development (661) 222-2742 or

CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF THE ARTS Office of Communications 24700 McBean Parkway Valencia, California 91355-2340

non-profit org. u.s. postage paid santa clarita, ca permit #18

COVER IMAGE CalArts’ Center for New Performance partnered with the J. Paul Getty Museum and Trans Arts to present a new translation and production of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound—one of the few surviving plays from the earliest period of staged drama in the West. Performed for three weekends in September at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, the production’s set featured a five-ton, 23-foot-high steel wheel. Ron Cephas Jones (top left) played Prometheus, while faculty member Mirjana Jokovic (center) appeared as Io. The cast also featured a 12-woman Chorus (bottom right)—all CalArts students and alumnae.

CalArts Magazine #15  
CalArts Magazine #15