Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.
Print Email

Q+A

Laure Drogoul

Laure Drogoul with her "She Pod Of Rotten Enchantment" at MICA.
Laure Drogoul's "Workshop Of Filthy Creation."

By Bret McCabe | Posted 3/11/2009

This weekend Follies, Predicaments, and Other Conundrums: The Works of Laure Drogoul concludes its run in MICA's Meyerhoff and Deckard galleries. City Paper already published a review of the show ("Mystery! Science! Theater!" Art, Feb. 11), but for a local artist of this singular vision and long-standing ties to its underground arts community, no review quite taps the extent of her contributions to Baltimore's creative endeavors since she moved here in 1979.

"I think it's crucial in any cultural community to have people who are simultaneously visionary generators of content, but who also are, themselves, benevolent people," says local artist John Berndt of Drogoul, who he first met in the early 1990s. "So that fact that Laure is somebody who is a peaceful person who is dedicated to getting along with people, who is dedicated to trying to understand people, and at the same time has this really intense singular vision, that contradiction to me is really where the action is as far as making for a healthy cultural scene."

"This is the artist living and breathing her work, this is the artist questioning everything in every waking moment, this is the artist that truly opens our minds and senses with immediacy," writes Catherine Pancake in an e-mail about Drogoul. Pancake recently completed a short film about Drogoul, "DrOgoul's Oeuvre Fantastique," as part of Follies. "This is the artist of the extreme past and imminent future. An American artist of five decades: unscathed, brutally creative, visionary."

When Drogoul started the 14-Karat Cabaret in 1989, her broad programming interests--from performance to music, poetry to film--filled its evenings with a smorgasbord of diverse bills, filling a venue void in Baltimore at the time. "In a lot of ways the Cabaret was the bridge between the 1970s, early 1980s--Ad Hoc Fiascos and Baltimore Oblivion Marching Band, Lambs Eat Ivy--and the whole continuum of artists and what came after in the 1990s," Berndt says. "It was the kind of crucial venue that really kept a lot of different scenes alive."

City Paper stole a few hours of Drogoul's time to talk about her time in Baltimore. This is the complete version of the interview, excerpts of which were published in the print version.

City Paper: What drew you to MICA?
Laure Drogoul: Well, the Rinehart program—and it was free at the time—and I was accepted. And I just kind of came by here and stopped in to look around—because I knew about Rinehart, it was pretty well known. It is an excellent program. So I stopped in, saw it, liked the train station, didn't realize that once you were accepted it was a free program. And I was lucky enough to get accepted and then I moved.

CP: Were you familiar with Baltimore much before that?
LD: Not at all. Not at all. Hadn't even thought about Baltimore, which is an odd thing.

CP: I guess the earliest piece in the show is from the late 1980s? Or is it the mid-1990s? There's a film piece with Joe Meduza—
LD: Well, I Started working with Joe later, so that's a fragment from an older piece.

CP: OK, what I'm getting at is that my earliest exposure to you was going to the Cabaret in 1989—
LD: You were here in ’89?

CP: I moved here in 1988 to go to college, and was pointed toward the Cabaret by ’89. But I have no real idea what you work was like leading up to that—what was your work like when you first got here and in the early 1980s? Was performance and installation always a part of what you did?
LD: Oh yeah. Did you see Catherine's [Pancake] film?

CP: Yes.
LD: You saw "Ha Hay Hay Hamburgers," that was probably from 1984, I don't remember what the dates were.

CP: Was that at one of the Ad Hoc Fiascos?
LD: Yes. For the second one, I went got a bunch of pygmy pigs and tried to put rabbit ears on them and ended up getting bites all over. But I was exposed to performance very early on.

CP: Through what avenues? In school?
LD: Primarily in school through different people.

CP: I was curious because when you think about performance in America, when it's written about in the early years, you think about key people in New York in the 1960s and ’70s or Paul McCarthy out west, so I was curious as to how it moved around, how people got exposed to it.
LD: Well the big one was Joseph Beuys. He came to New York and did his thing. It was really fertile in the period, in the ’70s, I think, almost more than now in its radicalness. And I think its because it was kind of newer then. It’s a fairly new medium—well, you might say new. I had a professor, was taking class once in Newark, and he was an Italian and he was hanging upside down and eating a plate of spaghetti. And I remember thinking about that and different artists were living in trees for an extended period of time. And I remember telling my mother that and she said, "Oh that's nothing, saints lived for 20 years in a tree" or something like that. But it's all about context. This is this—that wasn't performance.

CP: That was just being Catholic.
LD: Or whatever. Maybe it was a monastic thing, maybe pre-Christian. Who the hell knows? So when I came here I did a lot of film and video work and I started integrating video in my figurative work. So I had a couple of installations up in the early ’80s, some of them even when I was in school—like I did one in ’82 that incorporated video. And I took a film class at UMBC with Stan VanDerBeek. He was still alive and active at that time.

When I moved here I got involved with Richard Ellsberry, who was very active, tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE, I kind of made their acquaintance.

CP: How so? What sort of activity was going on at the time? I ask because my only knowledge of that time comes from talking to people such as Richard or tENT or John Berndt, or reading tENT's books, from people who lived her at the time. But that's still a rather small group of people's views of that time period. Was it easy to run into the people who were doing these sorts of things?
LD: You just kind of meshed in with them. I think really early on I was at school working on a film project—and that's the other thing, when you do something collaboratively, and I do a certain kind of work that requires other people to either become personas or just work on different aspects of projects, so you're immediately out there looking around for a collaborators or conspirators and things like that. So I think remember seeing a little flyer. Richard Ellsberry was doing a show at the [Mount Royal] Tavern. So I burnt up two little dresses and made it a happy birthday burning party in a framed box in there, and that was probably right when I got here. And from there, the Thanksgiving Day parade happened. I did a performance called the Vibro-Lounge up on 40th Street, that involved passive exercise equipment. I did a number of installations in the ’80s about body image, I did an installation at Second Story.

CP: Second Story Books? I remember one at 33rd and Greenmount briefly.
LD: This was—I think it was called Second Story—on Charles Street in what is now, I think, Sasha's. Was that a Second Story Books? You'll have to ask around. It was like a bookstore all over and you went down the stairs and then there was a bar down and there was some spaces. And I originally moved here with my at the time boyfriend, [Chip Cordetti], who's like a glass artist now in town. And then I also got involved with—I met Nancy Andrews, I got involved with the gay community here. I remember we did these—they had that stag bar at Hausner's, and I remember we all dressed up in drag and went to the stag bar to just hang out. Things like that. We were just kind of doing our thing.

CP: Were there live spaces for performance?
LD: No, not really. There still isn't, really.

CP: I was just curious because from talking to people here there always seems to have been a very healthy strand of socially interactive performance in Baltimore, and I didn't know if that was partly a result of there not being a stable venue that catered to such, that it forced people into the streets, so to speak.
LD: You know, people say that, but can you imagine what would have happened if there was a space? And I think we're seeing some spaces now, so I wonder about that. But it was a new medium, and there still is this dearth of commercial art spaces in this city.

CP: Was there are the time?
LD: There was nothing. Well, I think there must have been Grimaldis. I don’t know when he started, but it seemed pretty inaccessible to us. And even if you look at the BMA, look at their collections at that time. They were really focusing, whoever was the curator there, on pop modernism or, I don't know. These things were happening simultaneously.

I think the thing about Baltimore that's kind of exciting is you have film people, we have a sad dance scene because its so hard to have a company and actually pay people if you don't have people that are going to be a real audience and go. I think they really struggle.

CP: I think its hard for any city that isn't New York or Chicago to support a thriving dance community. It's just very hard to do.
LD: Philadelphia can do it. D.C. can probably do it just because there's so much transient dough around there. But if it was a regular city, probably not. But because of its size you got all these people doing things and they just collided on top of one another. And that is scale-oriented, whether we could predict how the scene would be different or not different, I don’t know. A lot of it had to do with the characters involved, as well as the times. I remember tENTATIVELY popped the top off one of the fire hydrants and he had a whole party down there. Everyone just kind of got the word out, via telephone or whatever. Hey, there's a party, let's go. And I remember at the time being down at the Station Building, because that's where Rinehart was, and definitely spelunking in the train tunnel. And now, of course, its all chained off and everything. But we were definitely in there doing films and—it was definitely about exploring the city. It was very much about urban exploration.

CP: What were some of your early performances? Did they star small and get more elaborate or were they so highly evolved from the start? Did the costumes come later?
LD: Most of my—of, I did a lot of costumed things for sure. "Boat Dress" is another early one. That was from ’84. You saw the "Boat Dress" [in the movie]? That's way before the kinetic thing. As a matter of fact, in the City Paper there's a picture of me doing it in the harbor.

CP: This was in ’84?
LD: ’84 or ’85. Maybe ’86. And what it is was, 'Where's your favorite place in Baltimore.' And I did, 'My favorite place is the Inner Harbor to take my Boat Dress out.' I actually put my Boat Dress in the Inner Harbor and I remember thinking, 'I wonder what toxins are in here?,' although I forget where we were. An artist at the time had made a catamaran. My ideas was to have a dress that would float. We had a boat launching and some of the footage [in the movie] was from that.

But that was probably around the same time as the Thanksgiving Day parade, which was really the brainchild of Doug Retzler and Richard Ellsberry, because I remember seeing the flyer, “artists to 'do this that and the other,’” so I said, OK. And I don't know where that is specifically, to "Ha Ha Hay Hamburgers," either. I know the knife that I had cutting the big turkey float, that was the piece that I made, I know I used the knife in the "Ha Ha Hay Hamburgers." Things are always interchangeable. So a lot of my performances are really creating a space where events occur. So I did Miss Construct in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and then I did "Workshop for Filthy Creation," which was, really, theater. And "Workshop" is a term that Dr. Frankenstein used after he created the Monster. Remember, the movies made Frankenstein a monster but, really, it's really Dr. Frankenstein [who] creates this idealized human and he is lamenting it. And that's where the bricks came from, too—because to me, the cinder blocks are like the weight of the guilt, a metaphor for guilt. I use them now with the waltz and that kind of end of the epic, the end of all politeness, so it changes a little bit.

Even the knitting, a long time ago I amplified the rocking chair and the knitting just as a manifestation of the Cult of Radical Marms, which is this kind of concept that I have of lionizing the unglamorous woman—the librarian, whatever. Because it seems like they're always talking these targets that are completely glamorized, the Gertrude Steins. And to me, I always wanted to push forward the Margaret Meads, the people who were labeled scientists or not as known or celebrated as much for being as important to the culture at large.

CP: Was textiles something you always worked with? Did you grow up sewing—as in, is it something you've known and worked with for awhile and took it somewhere else for yourself in your work?
LD: You know, I learned how to sew and I know how to sew but . . . not really. You know, people say that a lot with building things, too. These are really things that I—well, they're my activities and I do like to do them and they are connected to what I do. And, definitely, with the knitting, and all sorts of building things. I'm really preoccupied with our repetitive functions connected to that—even my own. For relaxation, I don't know if I don't know if I'm quite an assembler. The things that I create I create because they are going to be available for some manifestation of my ideas to a certain degree. Though I am a sculptor. I'm really involved in the way they present.

CP: Does your work start with your ideas? I mean, I don't expect there to be one process by which all of your work comes out, but does your work tend to start with an idea of I want to deal with this subject matter or this gesture or this linguistic observation or this confluence of ideas, or does it start from something as simple as How does this smell? I ask because I find a great deal of situational and social interplay in your work, and I'm curious if that's a goal from the start or if the work itself points itself in that direction—you know, you get an idea and it becomes this ball of ideas and you see where that process goes.
LD: I do, I like process work. And if you really notice, a lot of my process is collections. So I'm collecting data or recording events or meditations, very early on. Even with the "Nature Trail Spook House," which is also probably from the late ’80s—there is a tiny section of that in "The Hive" in the show, in the tableaux of animals, that little piece from the highway? That was really just me, every time I went to work, and dead animal I saw for a six-month period or a little bit more, I stopped and I took a picture. You feel this kind of great sadness when you see dead animals because we it's definitely us a predators through technology, so I'm always kind of exploring events as they occur. Not necessarily to place blame, per se, because I'm just observing. So I just started collecting that.

The same thing with all the bottled specimens, things that I would see—I would just collect it and then set it up as part of a tableaux. And once you put it in a tableaux, it’s like painting—you start making formal decisions for how this change is going to affect people the way a painting a might, How are they going to work with that? So I take that process of collection and incorporate that into it—and you can see that in a lot of the work. I mean, when you see everything up, you can see that very early on. And even with the earlier things that aren't in the show, I went to Hopkins and asked a doctor if I could film some of his experiments on the pacemaker, and people are just really awesome. They said, "Yes, as long as you're not going to use it for some kind of anti-research thing"—because the pacemaker, really, they work on dog hearts. This was years ago, when I was a student. And looking at all the film and I took all the bits and pieces, I edited it for an installation at School 33 called "Scrambled Paradise." And the next one I did after that was at the Corcoran, "Bananas, Scientists" which just kind of explored the process of science because—you know, we accept it like it like it's some sort of god, but it's not. There's definitely a load of art going on.

It's a creative process, thank god. There's great insight in it but it's not set in stone. So I use my collection a lot.

CP: Is collecting items or images or whatever, for whatever reason, something you've always done in relation to your work?
LD: Yeah. I collect all manner of things. Like I say, I'm a hoarder.

CP: Is it excessive at this point?
LD: It can be. My studio space—everything. So when I moved—I lived in the same apartment for a long time. When I moved, I really had this whole idea of living in a completely empty space and seeing how that might effect me. Would I always be trying to fill it? Like, what am I? A goldfish, just filling up empty space. So I'm kind of really aware of my own environment. But right now "The Root" is right in the middle of my downstairs floor, and that's a pretty big piece, and I'm thinking maybe I can put this other one in the living room, and then it's starting to get crowded in there. But with "The Nipple Project" I'm collecting data, the canvas is just kind of my body. And even with the knitting piece, I am collecting sounds. I think, maybe, the collecting and the presenting is becoming smoother. It's more participatory and its evidence is immediately present, for better for worse. I think we're—I am not alone in this—I think, basically, it has a lot to do with what technology allows you to do. Now you can go to Google Smell Map, put it in, and boom, what you have is going to be presented immediately. So interactive technology really changed our spatial compass for navigating our entire world. Again, I'm not going to say for better or for worse, but its here. In a sense, it's lovely because it's here. We are manifest, we have no idea what our final point will be—and that probably has nothing to do with technology. It probably has more to do with plain, old fashioned population—and out of our control. Like a great, big, old giant meteorite can come. Whoop—that was it. It's all over folks. They had great cell phones, though. [laughs]

CP: And lots of them.
LD: [laughs] Yeah, but damn that old meteor. It just hit them like a bowling ball and knocked the pins out.

CP: You mentioned that some of the things you collect or just some of your own ideas echo throughout your work—such as the cinder blocks, who reappear in slightly different ways. Is that something you've always worked with or something more that has started to appear as you progress through your career.
LD: It's a layer. I think a lot of it has to do with time. When you start to working on these ongoing pieces, I think all the different levels kind of come up and come down. And I wonder about it, and now I'm thinking, like, OK, so a painter would paint a painting and go, "This painting's done." But a lot of my things are ongoing. People are still adding to them. They're layers are changing over time. What they mean is changing and shifts. But am I aware of certain things like—say, even, the worm piece. Definitely, I'm just interested in, well, the worm is almost a metaphor for a human. We all just vibrate—I'm vibrating to you right now. And that's how we communicate and that's how communicate, so it's a very simple connection. But it, of course, also does this thing where it references other things—science, because Darwin was really interested in and did a seminal text on worms and was the first to say these were important creatures even though appear to be irrelevant vermin. They are just considered to be terrible. But I think he said something like every single ounce of earth that you look at has gone through the digestive tract of a worm, so that's pretty profound. So . . . I don't remember what the question was now that I have rambled on.

CP: I asked about those layers that recur, not as motifs, but ideas or elements that appear over the years in the work itself.
LD: You have to play with it because even when you present a piece, you want to invite people into the world of idea, not necessarily to invite them into the world of amusement, per se. There's a mix of how you're going to engage the viewer. Even with the smell cards, when they first came out, I felt like some of these feel a little bit like homework. Like, when I get surveys, I'm not so into it myself. But I love mail art—that's another thing that's really moved. Is there e-mail art, maybe?

CP: I don't know.
LD: Maybe not. People really used to be really into it—they'd mail bits of bark to people with drawings on it because you're just using a system that existed already and using it as a vehicle for your own ideas. Which I think is a fairly common aspect of a lot of art, specifically public art. I mean, if you look at something like Christo—like, what has he done recently? That piece in New York City?

CP: "The Gates."
LD: It was amplifying the existing architectural spaces and bringing them to light. And that's just a layer of it, but it also has all this experiential stuff that goes on. Everything always has multiple layers.

CP: You mentioned how, unlike a painter with a painting who gets to a point and says it done, a great deal of your work is ongoing, is taking place over time. And I forget who talked about it in the catalog, but it mentioned how your work has always existed outside a market, hasn't been affected by the so-called art market, and really doesn't have anything to do with it. Is that because your work doesn't fit into a conventional art market? Is that because Baltimore has never really had much of a commercial art market? Do you attribute that fact to anything at all? Or does it not even enter your thinking about your own work? How has it been working as an artist in a setting that has no visible art market?
LD: Well, I think it's always hard to push a project forward. So I spend a lot of time, of course, looking for ways to have that happen—either residencies, or grants or shows that might be interested in having something like that and then presenting an idea. Or, you know, when you get a whole bunch of rejections, hey man, just put your boots on and go out there and do your own thing. Bring it out to the people yourself. Do it in a storefront. Do it. Just get it out.

I mean, no one, really, should have control over how the public sees the work or experiences the work. I mean, gallerists—they have a hard job. They have a lot to deal with. They either have to rent or buy a space. And how the hell are they going to pay for it? They have to sell work. So you have to be sensitive to their situation. They might have something to bring somebody in and then try to sell them something else.

The Cabaret works a lot like that. I like to mix difficult stuff with very simple stuff, because that way sometimes people will not go to see something that's conceptually difficult or more dissonant or something. So with the mix, you try to introduce them to new ideas. And you have the music at the end of the night. People will go out to see music. And I always wonder about that, and I think it's because they're freer. They're freer to come and go during music, I think. And I think when you sit down to see some music theater you feel some sort of level of commitment to it.

CP: That makes sense.
LD: You know, I'm here, how am I going to get out of here without looking like a big . . . .

CP: Jerk.
LD: [laughs] Yeah, I'm outta here, buddy. I think it's the mix. And I teach.

CP: I ask because a number of you more recent projects appear to be very labor intensive, materials intensive, large-scale—things that look hard to do by yourself.
LD: Oh yeah. For the exhibit, I made a piece for the exhibit. I rented a space to start building and—these are all things I would have done anyway—but you don't necessarily start building something like that and renting space and investing a whole lot of money unless you have some sort of end point in mind. It would be really hard to finish that piece in a studio and then shop it around.

And it's collaborative. Because I live in this small community, and because I've been here a long time, I have friends that are working with the greening of the Baltimore, so I want to introduce some of that into the piece and they say, "OK, and I'm into that." That's the beauty of Baltimore. These are relationships that I established right when I moved here that I still have and, of course, I'm always adding on to that as well.

And, again, that's like theater or even film. Look at [Pedro] Almodovar. I think his films are amazing and look at all his people in there. These are actors you don't see around much in other things but you always see them in his films, because they've found a core group that works together, that has an idea, that always contribute to the thing going on.

CP: The way [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder like to worked with the same people, from cinematographer on down to composer.
LD: Exactly. And I guess that's different than Hollywood, although that may have been the case in the ’30s and '40s, because it was still relatively small and they knew each other.

CP: I forget—when did you go to Japan? Was that in 2004?
LD: Yeah. I went there for a U.S.-Japan fellowship. It was great. I went there to study lanterns.

CP: OK—I was going to ask if you had a specific interest you wanted to look at.
LD: I did. I actually had to write a proposal and the whole thing and, of course, I started doing a bunch of other things. I knew I wanted to do my smell project there, but I didn't really write it into the proposal because I really wanted to study lanterns. Because a lot of the big follies are also lanterns, and I like to play with the idea. And lanterns, traditionally, had the flame in them, which represented the soul of the person—because it's a funerary item, really. So I went to see the oldest flame—and I think it’s the oldest flame in Japan. It's Shinto, I believe, and they never let it go out, this little flame that's been lit forever. There's also all those festivals where they light all the lanterns and lower them down. So I studied how you make those simple, damn lanterns—they're hard—and they're made in individual houses, one by one, and then people in vans pick them up, and they package them and then they ship them off to Ikea or wherever they're distributed. It's amazing, their idea of a factory is very different.

CP: How long were you there for?
LD: A little over six months.

CP: Wow.
LD: It was great.

CP: Were you in Tokyo?
LD: I was in Tokyo, had an apartment in Tokyo and then I went to Kyoto, traveled to a lot of great places.

CP: How did that experience filter into your work at all? Or did it? Did you spend much time looking at Japanese theater of any sort or costuming or stuff like that.
LD: I did. I love Bunraku, the puppetry. But you know, the thing is, when I went there, I did not really expect—I expected a very secular, homogenized culture for lack of a better words. And when I went there I was amazed at how empathetic and how family oriented they are and how demanding their—we have a very loose culture. I don't think we even know just how loose it here. I mean, I come from a European background, and the family requirements are pretty rigid there but nothing like in Japan.

Aesthetically, possibly I became even more enamored with negative space. I mean, I've always loved negative space. There's a very famous scroll about the wheel and the spokes of the wheel and what really matters is the negative space between the spokes. And, really, as an artist, when you go see a show, you see all of this manifestations but you know doggone well you're just seeing the top of the iceberg, but its all there.

So I did a smell performance, and I had to work with a translator, so I started working with a painter, Mami Takahashi, who was great. She had never done any performance before, but she spoke English and she spoke Japanese. And I wanted to do a masked performance because I didn't really want people to know that I was Caucasian, because I though that that might mean that we wouldn't have a rapport. I didn't know how people would respond to me.

So I got really involved with incense, which was another reason I went over there. They go with the lanterns, too. So I got involved with the incense ceremony, which is a little bit like the tea ceremony and, again, it's that repetitive movement thing, which is something I was already working with in—I would say a lot of my performances are movement theater, with the costumes and the various dimensions to it.

CP: That was originally why I asked, because I haven't been that exposed to Japanese theater’s extremely limited—I've seen a bit of butoh performances and Noh theater—so I couldn't be sure if I was detecting any sort of Japanese influence on any of your recent performances, such as the piece at Transmodern Age in 2005—the one at Area 405? And I didn't know if some of the masks and movements and minimal sound accompaniment came from any element of your experiences over there.
LD: That was 2005. What that was was a continuation of a piece that I had done maybe in 2003 before I went to Japan. But another thing that I had been doing was working with magician's devices, which that was. Straight-up European, imitation-suspension device.

What probably gave it the Asian feel was the sound was just the buckets with the water dripping that I amplified, and then I had Joe [Meduza] use the gong to separate the events, and it's also a visual distraction. You have to have a distraction. Well, I needed a sound component. I wanted to integrate our platform into the space. So I hung the ladder and all the fire stuff and all the extra hydrants. So it looked right—I just amplified what they had there, and the buckets worked very well because of the water sprinkler system.

The masks—I had done a head wrap before. So that was just part two. And I was very careful not to bill it as a magic act but as theater. People, if they think magic's coming . . . well . . .

CP: They'll be waiting for the trick. It's builds an expectation.
LD: It does. So that's what that was.

And the movements—you haven't seen the early "Workshop" or something like that, but I'd say it's more just slowed down choreography. You saw "The Two Janes," and there's a lot of that. And with "The Two Janes," I reversed a lot of the dialog and slowed it down so people would go back. So it's really, kind of informed by a movie aesthetic.

But in essence, we're wearing the kimono—it's very transgressive. That kimono, people don't wear out ever white. That's what you get buried in, white. But that's also the under clothing of the kimono. I didn't know that, and I made the masks for Mami and I didn't want to wear a kimono, but I was so interested in the incense, and incense is so connected to the spirit world, our nose right to spirits—in Asia and the West. Frankincense, myrrh, all that.

That's what I'm more involved with, how sense is connected to the spirit world, so it made sense we were wearing funerary garb. But then we did the same thing I was doing in New York or here, just blindfolding people and asking them to respond. Collecting data.

That performance I like a lot because it's so experiential and it's such a workout for people because once you're blindfolded and you smell things, your response is so immediate and so definite. I always try to choose things where you don't know what it is, because I don't want people to do, "That's this." Because it's irrelevant. We don't you to categorize it. We want you to respond, and you record. But in "Fugue Chamber for Amnesiacs" I had already started with the forms, that was later, that was ’94. It was at School 33 and it was at the Delaware Biennial, and I think it was somewhere else. And people go in and they respond. But that form, before they put you in the loony bin, these are the questions that they ask. And I actually got them from Catherine, who was a social worker at the time. So I just collaged them all. And forms, that's more of the collection process.

CP: What I like about the smell performance is that it's so intimate and personal, but it's not invasive. Performance art can be threatening, very in your face, and this does that but doesn't, and in a way produces a much more extremely personal response from it.
LD: And it’s also a little bit of a gift, to me. Because it's a parlor game of sorts, because I say, OK, we're going to do this, and I'm going to introduce you to the way you experience the world and you might not be so aware of it. And some people will sit down and smell and then, later on, we'll say, "OK, here, this is what you smelled, this is this, and this is what you said." And they'll be Oh my gosh." So there's a self-revelation in it and I'm glad I can do that because, as I was telling you, one of the problems I was having with it was how many people like homework? That's kind of tedious. And this is not like that.

CP: Let's turn to the Cabaret. It started in ’89, correct? Was this an idea you had and wanted to do for a while? How did it come about? Was it matter of finding a space?
LD: Yes. Well my first event was the "Let Them Eat Cake Waltz," which was when Reagan was re-elected. What year was that?

CP: 1984.
LD: Right. That was my first event, where I basically went into the Marble Bar—the Marble Bad had closed, actually. And that was a really bad thing, the Marble Bar scene just died.

CP: It had closed by 1984? [Editor's Note: The Marble Bar officially closed in 1985.]
LD: I don't know, but sometime around there. All I know is that I was going to do a performance one night. I was going to do a sheep shearing and have polyester foods made up, all ready to go. And the guy [Marble Bar co-owner Robert Anderson] died that day. So I'm thinking that it's after [that] because LesLee [Anderson, Robert's wife] kept that space going herself and I remember seeing a few shows. But anyway, this was upstairs, they had a bar up there. And a lot of people that I know now—like, Anne Watts played the piano. And I was just out of school and she was probably still in school or just out of school. And I made a tape, "How to Waltz," and we had the election results—and, actually, I think the new media actually covered it.

CP: Oh, it was election night?
LD: Yes, it was election night. It was "Let Them Eat Cake" because it was, like, "Oh my god. More Reagan, how horrible." I mean, that was pretty bad—it was Reagan—but that was nothing after what we just went through, right? But then it was kind of horrible. Isn't that funny?

So that was my first event, and midway into that event I met Betsy Green, so we must have been doing the boat thing around that time. And so she helped on that and then we did a Russian Party in—you know the big pier building in Fells Point?

CP: Yes.
LD: It's like this big, derelict thing and we went in there and did this big party. And the first cabaret-like event was in ’89—I was just looking at the flier for it the other day. It wasn't really a cabaret. It was, really, just different events that people were doing. Like the fashion show and bazaar, it was basically a cabaret involving different performances, and it was on the third floor of MAP [Maryland Art Place, originally located at 218 W. Saratoga St.]. And it was huge. And when I was there I happened to go down into the basement. And one thing I really thought was lacking—

CP: MAP had that whole building at one point?
LD: They still own the building.

CP: OK, I didn't know that. Because I remember when I fist went to the Cabaret, it was in the basement, there was a MAP gallery on the first floor, and then, I think, architecture firm Cho, Wilks, and Benn was there, too.
LD: They were on the third floor. So I saw the basement down there, and I suggested that we have an ongoing performance space. And there was really no what I would consider performance space in town. There really wasn't. I mean, I think there was the Bauhaus [on the 1700 block of North Charles Street] at one time. And I remember going in there and they had carpeting and it was set up like a gallery. It wasn't a performance space. And I remember going in there or planning to do something there and you couldn't change the lights, it really wasn't designed to make any magic happen other than a gallery. And I understand why. Back then I might have been a little grumpy about it probably, but now, it's a lot of work. It's a lot of work to do it—who's going to do it, who's going to undo it. Who's going to do all this? There's so much grunt work involved in all this stuff.

And really, John Henley, who worked at MAP, he was really supportive. And the director at the time was leaving and a new director came in who was just an interim director. And Henley and his boyfriend, he did the lights and we really got it together. It was really this hybrid collaboration between myself and MAP, but those two were seminal in that and worked on the Cabaret for about a year.

That was a big time commitment, though. We were doing it two nights a week, Friday and Saturday—I don't know if you remember that—and then John continued on., I think he moved to Chicago, and I kept going down there. But we've always had an advocate in MAP.

CP: What was the very first show proper at the Cabaret?
LD: [smiles] You know, that's a really good question. I remember one thing. It was in November and it was really, really cold. There was no heat. There was practically no sound system—our sound person was Linda Smith, who is an artist in town. You know, I don't know exactly who it was at that first show. I'd have to look at the flier. You'd think I'd remember but I don't.

CP: Well, there's been a few since then.
LD: I know, I know. But I'll have to look at the fliers. If you look at the fliers [in the exhibit] you'll notice that the early ones don't have any dates on them because, you know, who'd have thought it last this long?

Related stories

Q+A archives

View Michael Northrup's Laure Drogoul photoshoot.

More Stories

A Celebration of Flo McGarrell's Life: Tonight, Jan. 20, 7 p.m. at the Middendorf Gallery in MICA's Station Building (1/20/2010)

Local Art: Annual Mayor's Cultural Town Meeting Postponed to 2010 (10/21/2009)

Local Arts: BMA Curator Appointed Chief Curator at Walker Art Center (9/10/2008)

More from Bret McCabe

Unnatural Wonders (7/7/2010)
Soledad Salamé's works become more persuasive through distortions

That Nothing You Do (6/23/2010)
Will Eno embraces the banality of everything

All Eyes on Him? (6/16/2010)
John Potash's The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders offers a different version of the slain rapper

Comments powered by Disqus
Calendar
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter