INTERVIEW: INGRI FIKSDAL AND JADE WALKER
Ingri Fiksdal is choreographer based in Oslo. Ingri’s work deals with perception and affect, and places equal emphasis on sound, light, choreography, costume, and set-design within a performance. The audience is always integral to the performances, which aim to create the potential for immersion to occur. An on-going theme within Ingri’s work is the ritual and its inherent capacity of transforming and ultimately transcending its partakers. Recently Ingri spoke to Austin-based artist and curator Jade Walker about her ways of working, the inspiration for her performance DIORAMA, and the Austin edition of the work that will be presented in a unique and magical spot on the Colorado River for Fusebox Festival 2020.
DIORAMA (Oslo). Photo: Istvan Virag
Jade Walker: I wanted to start by just talking about what your space looks like and how you surround yourself in your studio?
Ingri Fiksdal: I’m working as a freelance choreographer in the sense that I’m only occasionally in production, so when I’m in a production I rent the studio space or a stage space to work in. And those are different every time, depending on what’s available, cost, all these things. But the ideal situation is when I work in a space where it's possible to hang lights and store scenography overnight, wooden floor for the dancers to be able to jump and throw themselves, etc. Then in between productions when I prepare for something I have a home with an office.
JW: Are you a wild sketcher, or are you a list maker? Could you tell me about your creative process as you’re mulling over things?
IF: I scribble in the books I’m reading, and then when it comes to communicating this to the artistic team of the project, I either go through different books with them or I use my calendar. It’s nice to have an overview of the year and see what’s happening when and how the production is organized around touring, etc.
JW: I have this work table in my studio, and I put craft paper down before I start a new project. I realized this week that I have about five layers of the paper underneath it, and so I dug a little bit to see what I was thinking five projects ago, because I’ve had kids and all this space in between them. So I was like “Woah what the hell was I thinking? That was such a different thought process.” And now I’m making a point to keep the paper on so that in a couple years from now I can look back. Do you find that the archiving to you is looking back through notes? Your website is so beautiful and I wonder if that’s a way for you to archive the way that you’ve progressed in the work?”
IF: For sure, it's a way of keeping track. I just finished an artistic research PhD, so within that context there’s a much larger expectation of documenting the work, and disseminating different findings, keeping track of method, etc. So, in connection with that I did a lot of writing, which then became this book Affective Choreographies (2019). This book is the archive, in a sense, of concrete things, but also just thoughts and findings from the last few years. And now that I’m finished and outside of the institution, I’m a bit worried as to how things will go. When there’s no one asking me to do it, it’s a different thing.
JW: For sure. Did you find that, in doing the PhD you were able to set up different benchmarks for yourself that you could keep going with? Or do you feel like you were just running for a couple of years, and now you’re going to breathe for a minute?
IF: No, it was actually okay because I had maternity leave. In Norway, this is quite well organized, so you can get paid for between 8 and ten months. In this period you get some distance from the program. The PhD is normally just three years here, but I did it over five years.
JW: With your maternity leave, did it change the groups that you spent time with? Or who you were working with in your program?
IF: A little bit. One of the people that I was close to—a visual artist—had a kid as well, so we formed some kind of research group with discursive formats and guests to talk with us about our projects.
JW: How do you feel like having a family has changed your practice. Do you feel like that’s something you can see in the work?
IF: This is kind of speculation, but both of my kids have been very bad sleepers, so I had periods where I’d wake up every hour of the night, and this, of course, affects concentration and ability to finish a task. One of the things I ponder in my book is about how my work is quite slow and meditative. I work a lot with repetition of quite minimalist material, and I’m wondering if this is connected? Does this interest come from the need to work to relax? I’d get hypnotized.
JW: I wonder if you could talk about how you source materials, how you think about materials in general, and also your experience with working with costume designers?
IF: In terms of the different materials or elements used in the performances, I see them as what together constitute the total choreography. The choreography is all-encompassing. How the light moves between the different lamps, for instance, or how the sound quakes across the room, and also how the movement of the costume itself plays a part in the choreography. I look at all of these things as contributing to the choreography of the piece. I’m trying to have different agents coexist within the work.
I have worked with quite a few costume designers, and we spend quite a lot of time developing the ideas together, and something that I work with repeatedly is the covering of the face, and this relates back to this idea of all the different elements being given agency. My experience is that if you see a human face, you’re drawn to it and that's going to remain the main focus point. However, if you hide the face of the human, it becomes somehow depersonalized, and it becomes one amongst...well, I say “objects”…and I don't mean this in a devaluing sense, but just that the pieces are performed by different types of human and nonhuman objects. So, this is why I started with this covering of the face, and that’s something I’ve been able to try to push through with different designers.
DIORAMA. Photo: Briony Campbell.
JW: It seems like this must be an interesting way to discover new fabrics and materials in the work. I work in such a solo studio practice of being on my own, but I'm always interested to see how people can make new discoveries through collaboration. Do you feel like, in general, the evolution of the work is dependent on those relationships?
IF: I think the work definitely develops in the meeting with other people. I think there’s something to be said for continuation in collaboration—that you can build on something that’s already there. But next year I’m going to do a performance with six performers I haven’t worked with before, because I think it can be a big problem when everyone is already agreeing on things, so you don’t have to explain yourself and you start making the same work over and over again.
JW: Yeah, I think that’s a very good challenge to keep yourself in that moment of being fresh and having to reexamine things from a different point of view. When you start a new project, do you take one thread from the last project and move it through to the next? Or do you feel as if you’re closing one door and opening a new one?
IF: In 2020, I’m going to be doing two different projects. Spectral will build on DIORAMA (which is going to be performed at Fusebox Festival in April) and is a collaboration with Fredrik Floen. We are continuing to investigate the border between the human and other-than-human and the living and non-living, and the performance will include materials such as dough, plastic bags, hair, plaster casts, slime, silicon, and soil. In the second project Horde, with Solveig Styve Holte, we are going to work with a group of young people, and the whole project has a very different nature to what I’ve done before. However, although the circumstances are different, I can presume that somehow the general approach to choreography won’t change too much.
JW: I read about an instance when you had a dancer drop out and you had to replace them, and how all of a sudden the work became very fresh—you had a new understanding of what the demand is on the role of the dancer in the work. Are you interested in appearing in your work for this reason?
IF: Well, I trained as a dancer before going into choreography, but I think I’m kind of an irritating performer because I’m always saying “Oh wait, can we not do it like this, or let’s do this instead.” But it’s also because I’m so concerned with the perception of the audience, and how particular work affects the audience. So there was a period where I tried to be both in the work and outside of it, and I feel like I start to lose access to these perspectives. So, for sure I could step in in order to have the experience and be able to talk to the performers about the work more precisely, but it's not my favorite spot.
JW: That kind of leads me to this other question which was about audience experience. Where in the hierarchy do you position how you want the audience to engage, and at what level?
IF: My main research question in doing this PhD is how to make choreography that creates the potentiality for affect to occur amongst the audience, and this is sort of implicit to all of the research in a sense. I don't work with interactions, but I like to think of the audience becoming part of the work through their bodies, just in the sense that they are kinaesthetic beings sharing the space with their bodies. I think, for me, this works better if you have some proximity to what’s happening, or like in DIORAMA, people aren't sitting so close, but they’re in the same outdoor environment and can feel the same wind. But in most pieces I do for the stage, people are very close by and I usually don’t operate just from the front. I usually have the audience surrounding the performers.
JW: What are your thoughts about bringing DIORAMA to Austin in April?
IF: I’m currently working with members of the Fusebox team and they’re virtually showing me different possibilities for sites. We’re looking at some spots along the river.
JW: Water is so important here in Austin. It’s beloved by people here -they seek to be near the water. I know the original conception for DIORAMA was at a pool—is that correct?
IF: The first version of DIORAMA was made for a seaside swimming pool in the town of Brixham on what is called the English riviera. It was commissioned by the live-art organization Situations as part of their project The Tale. The Tale was a day-long journey through the landscape of Tobay, where nine different artists presented works along the way. We went on several site-visits to Brixham and this beautiful seaside spot, and what stood out to me was to make something that didn’t try to compete with the surroundings for attention, but rather something which would allow for a meditative sinking-into, and being-with, the landscape.
JW: Have you had a favorite location for this work?
IF: In Iceland, they have these black volcanic beaches—those were really cool. Because it’s an island, the weather changes really quickly, so for one of the performances we had sun, a few minutes of rain, then wind, and suddenly within fifty minutes we had four different weathers.
Jade Walker is a sculptor living in Austin, Texas. She received her BFA from the University of Florida and her MFA from The University of Texas at Austin. Her work has been included in solo exhibitions at Austin Museum of Art (now The Contemporary Austin), Blue Star Contemporary Arts, Lawndale Art Center, and the University Art Galleries Texas State. Currently, you can find her work in a solo exhibition at Dimension Gallery and upcoming at Women and Their Work. She is also participating in the Artist Residency Program at Facebook in Austin and will complete a permanent installation in February 2020.