Smoke in the Mask
My most recent series, Smoke in the Mask, is a series of oil portraits of fire performers connecting with their audiences. The series came out of a yearlong exploration of the relationship between performers and their audiences and the strategies performers use to entertain and illuminate an audience. I collaborated with six fire performers in the Boston area. My interviews with them dovetailed with an inquiry into the metaphysics and mechanics of performers and their shamanic ancestry, the participation of the spectator and the separation between the two needed to create the phenomenon of entertainment. The question of separation led me to investigate the work of Emmanuel Levinas and his Ethic of the Other. I submitted my research to the Transart Institute in my 2012 Master's thesis, titled Smoke in the Mask: Shamanism, Showmanship and the Promethean Ethic.
The show space of a darkened audience and the showman/shaman magical duality inspired me to exhibit the work in a darkened space. Visitors received candle-lit lanterns to enter the space and discover the work at their own pace. This active reconstitution of the images was dictated by their own inclinations and so they engaged the work more enthusiastically . This strategy required visitors to become participants, to engage the work actively and physically, because of the critical role they had to play in the work's final illumination, rather than stopping their encounter at the passive and strictly visual stages.
The work was first exhibited at the biannual Wildfire Retreat in Connecticut, a national event which many performers attend to reconnect with the fire community and either teach or hone their skills as well as perform. I also attend Wildfire as a fire spinner and I was inspired to create fire performances of my own and push myself to learn new skills, including breathing fire for the first time. I also invented (as far as I know) the Slack Poi technique to perform at the Berlin residency in the summer of 2012, where I also brought the paintings for exhibition at the Atelierhof Kreuzberg.
Following the most direct and simple method of painting, and in a nod to the obvious allusions to primitive fire and to cave paintings that were beginning to develop, I painted the work on brown paper attached directly to the wall, using only oil bars (oil paint in stick form) and a palette knife to shape occasional passages. After they were cured it was possible to roll the paintings carefully for transportation.