For Better or Worse

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in Arts & Film, Theater.


A Q & A with and of A : 1 (Suburbia)

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Photo by Ayumi Sakamoto

Photo by Ayumi Sakamoto

Real-life married couple Jake Margolin and Nick Vaughn conceived of A Marriage: 1 (Suburbia), an integrated work of about the trials and tribulations of marriage. The show utilizes the entirety of HERE Arts Center – including hallways, dressing rooms, even restrooms – and such forms as video, sculpture, and drawings to document modern married life as they know it. New York Press discussed this irreverent show with the two.

How and how long ago did you two meet?

JM and NV: We met in 2006, working when Nick started working with the TEAM as a designer and Jake as a performer/writer. We still both work with the TEAM but we started making our own work together in the fall of 2007. Our first installation, at Pittsburgh’s Future Tenant Gallery, was created as a partner piece to the environment that we co-designed for (S)even, choreographed by Pavel Zustiak (Palissimo) for Pittsburgh’s LABCO Dance. That was where we started laying the groundwork for the collaboration that has continued until now.

What led you to determine to do a multimedia performance about marriage?

JM and NV: It’s sort of a two-part question, so . . . addressing the second part first, I don’t think we initially set out to make a piece about ‘marriage.’ When we actually started this project it was called Vietnam, Texas, and was about the oddity of the suburbs, of these strange isolated enclaves that are so deeply tied to the American Dream. And the deeper we got in the project, the more we realized that essentially we were trying to understand our place within that iconography, and that our ‘frame’ on the whole thing, as a same-sex married couple was really at the core of the work. Since then, the project has continued to develop and we’ve sketched out the beginnings of A Marriage: 2 (West-er) and A Marriage: 3 (50 States), each of which take on other particularly American iconographies.

As for the multi-media performance, I think all of our work develops in some way tangentially. We’ll start working within a given form, say, cut paper or print making, and as we work through ideas, suddenly we’ll find something that doesn’t fit anymore, and really demands to be handled as a video piece. Then working through that idea we’ll stumble across something else that really works better as a live performance, or a sculpture. Ultimately, we’re trying to make material/media decisions based on the content, which by its very nature ends up as a multimedia performance.

Could you explain a bit more about what HEREart does, and how you have found the many artists with whom you have worked?

JM and NV: We should differentiate between HERE, HEREart and HARP. HERE is this amazing arts center with a mission to commission, develop and produce hybrid performance work (/music/dance etc.). HEREart refers to the visual arts programming at HERE (including a stand-alone program of gallery exhibitions) and HARP is the HERE Artist Residency Program, which is a 1-3 year residency that supports the development of new hybrid work.

A Marriage: 1 (Suburbia) is a confluence of both the performance and the gallery programming. As HARP artists for the last three years we’ve been surrounded with a community of some of the most adventurous, exciting, and boundary pushing artists in New York, and that community and the feedback we’ve gotten from being a part of it has had a tremendous influence on our work.

How much of the “story” of the performance is autobiographical, and how much is fictional?

JM and NV: It’s handy that you put “story” in quotation marks, because there is no traditional narrative in the performance events that go along with the exhibition. There are several narrative strands in the rest of the installation (video works, some sound installations) which are mostly derived from the writing of Jessica Almasy and collectively paint a portrait of one fictional cul-de-sac, and in one video piece in particular you’ll see Jake and I trying on these identities, sort-of wearing them like clothing. There are also some documentary elements in the piece, including a series of interviews we conducted with some seminal queer performance artists and active participants in queer issues, as well as an accumulative sculpture created by reading the entire 13 days of testimony from Perry v. Schwarzenegger into plastic bags.

That said, the performance work while non-narrative is autobiographical in that (while abstract) it attempts to invite viewers to look through our eyes at the iconography of the traditional “American Dream” and it’s our hope that we present ourselves in a very direct and honest way. We like to talk about it as if we’re inviting the audience into our ‘workshop’ as we attempt to figure out how we fit into the American Dream.

Do you find there are specific challenges to same-sex marriage that differ from male-female marriage? What might they be?

JM and NV: I don’t know exactly if ‘challenges’ is the right word, but there seems to be a difference. One point of discussion that’s come up multiple times with multiple people is that same-sex marriage is (or could be positioned as) a direct attack on ‘traditional’ marriage, in that it suggests a partnership that is, by it’s very nature, free of the baggage of gender roles, resulting power structures, property implications and all the other questionable aspects of ‘traditional’ marriage. That queer marriage actually has the potential to reinvigorate and redefine straight marriage for the better.

Having just written that, there is a danger (challenge?) in the Marriage Equality debate though. There’s a danger in (and I/we say this as a married couple) buying into a system blindly. As Lisa Kron so eloquently says in the interviews section of the piece, (and we paraphrase here) it is a cause of concern when right wing politicians are suddenly jumping on the bandwagon of Marriage Equality as a sort-of token while simultaneously trying to dismantle the voting rights act. I think we have to remain vigilant to keep marriage equality from subsuming/coopting broader human rights issues.

Further information can be found at http://here.org/shows/detail/1165/.

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