SPEAK By Erika Chong Shuch

By Erika Chong Shuch

September 1, 2008, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

I went to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the SFMOMA. It’s presented to show how her life affected the aesthetic trajectory of her artistic work. I found it impossible to separate the story of her life from the stories of her images; to separate art from artist. I wondered why that act of separation was important for me. I felt that in order to see her work clearly, I needed to forget about the details of her life. But her work is blatantly autobiographical, and isn’t there an insane boldness in that?

Frida said in an interview once: “They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” What would it be like (and I’m not saying Kahlo’s life was like this) to have no filtration system between the things we imagine, and the work we create? What if we were able to put into the world the raw, unedited, full and messy story?

I wonder if maybe we are getting better at describing our work than we are at doing the deed. I wonder about myself being caught in this trap of self-justification, scared that I might confuse the description of what I do with actually doing. I imagine myself convincing an army of experts that a series of images is relevant, has the right to exist in this world. I cannot confuse THIS with the art. I cannot let THIS be the art. I fear a loss of mystery, a loss of trusting the parts of ourselves that don’t make sense, the parts that cannot be explained but still deserve an opportunity to live. I want to live in a world where people follow mysterious impulses, the ones that keep them up at night. I want to live in a world where we can all paint our own realities.

When I was a kid, I had a dollhouse. I didn’t want dolls because I knew that there were REAL little people (that happened to be invisible), and that dolls would scare them away. I put food out for the little people on mini dollhouse plates. Every morning, I noticed that the mounds of food were smaller. This was for certain. I need to start leaving food out for my little people; to feed the dark night where my funny little monsters can live without the pressure of defending their existence.

Today I thought about the albatross. There is a very old poem about a sailor who shoots the bird down from the sky, leading to bad things involving ghosts. Today, I wondered how we will explain to kids the Santa Claus thing if the North Pole melts. Today, I read it’s a myth that goldfish have a three-second memory. It’s actually more like three months and they distinguish between times of day and can be taught to follow a routine. Today, I thought about the show I have coming up at YBCA, Sep 12-14. It’s called After All, Part 1, and it features a goldfish, Santa Claus, a song about an albatross, 33 performers, and so much more.

This article appeared in the September 2008 issue of In Dance.

Erika Chong Shuch is a choreographer, director and performance maker whose work spans devised experimental performance and social practice, and produces unexpected forms of audience engagement. She is a choreographer for regional theaters across the country, and co-founded the performance and social practice group, For You.