Interview With Erika Boudreau-Barbee on Algebra, Performance, and Her Time at ChaNorth
By Lauren Ryan Smith
What are you currently working on?
During my time at ChaNorth, I built a large cube sculpture to perform in. I used the numerical structures present in The Cube to create mathematical equations which served as instructional patterns for dance phrases. Right now, I've begun rehearsing these choreographed phrases with dancers on Zoom. The entire thing feels like an insane undertaking but it's exciting!
I’ve also been making cyanotype blueprints of the coronavirus. I had started working with this blueprinting process when I was at ChaNorth in the fall. Currently, I’m taking microscopic views published on the CDC website, printing them in the dark, and putting them in little petri dishes. They are oddly really beautiful.
Can you talk more about the process of developing The Cube, the algebra derived from it, and the development of the dance phrases?
The six sided cube is constructed of steel pipes and cable wire. Each side is divided with wire into twice as many sections as the side next to it, creating grids of 0, 4, 16, 64, 256,1024. The Cube’s structure gave me delineated blocks of space to work with and numerical values to create longform equations from. My goal was to use the equations to develop an evolving dance sequence based on these patterns. Initially, I just had the formulas to work with. Then, one night at ChaNorth, I sat in my room reteaching myself algebra and figuring out how these formulas worked. It was really bizarre yet so much fun. Residencies really allow you to dive deep into the black hole of your brain! Through these equations, I developed a code for the dance. I then created various graphs, drawings, and cyanotype prints showing the numerical results of the equations. Afterwards, I translated these into choreographic phrases. It is important to mention, although the equations are meant to determine a series of movements, they are in now way direct instructions for motions. My aim is to develop a pattern, share it with several performers, and have them follow the sequence with their own set of motions. I’m interested in seeing performers create their own uniquely self-referential dance using identical predetermined choreographic patterns. That’s what I'm working on now.
How did your time immersed in nature at ChaNorth influence the work you made when you returned to the residency the following year?
During my first residency at ChaNorth, I went on many walks in the forest behind the house. I would stop at tree stumps to measure their shape relative to my own body. This created a dance between myself and the forest. I intended to use Fibonacci’s sequence to create a unique dance for each element of the woods. However, sticking to Fibonacci’s sequence felt limiting because the pattern never changes. It became more interesting for me to develop my own structures and discover the patterns. I then applied the idea of sequencing to the work I had done with The Cube. It was at that point, I began to dissect the relationship between nature’s patterning and my own patterning. That experience majorly transformed the way I saw my work.
What made you want to return to ChaNorth?
I really enjoyed ChaNorth’s programming, the residency community, and the opportunities it led to afterwards. I loved the farm, the studio space, and the forest. The land itself was beautiful. I really appreciated the month-long escape from the city. It was awesome! For me it was an easy decision to make. I thought, “Yeah, I'd really like to go back again.”
What opportunities stemmed from your time at ChaNorth?
There were a few great opportunities that came from the residency. First, I was part of the alumni group show Feels Like New Beginning at One Brooklyn Bridge Park, a large Chashama Exhibition Space on the waterfront in Brooklyn. I also performed at Chashama’s 2019 Gala. The Gala performance came directly from the work I made during my first residency session at ChaNorth. The Chashama organization is really big and they frequently send emails mentioning different programs and opportunities you can apply to. It's really exciting and there is a lot going on! I see what is right for me, apply where I can, and have had some great opportunities come from it. My time at ChaNorth really kicked-off furthering this body of work and definitely gave me a boost of inspiration!
What is your favorite memory of your time in Pine Plains?
I love Pine Plains. I loved swimming in the lake filled with lily pads and hiking the mountains. I also enjoyed spending time at the local coffee shop and bookstore. It was nice to connect with locals and many of them came to our Open Studio events to support the resident artists!
Erika Boudreau-Barbee is a Queens, NY based artist focusing in choreography, performance art, impression paintings, installation, and data art. She performs with Third Rail Projects, appearing in Then She Fell and The Grand Paradise. Current projects include C3, TOLERANCE, and The Pain Project. Artist in Residency programs include ChaNorth Chashama Residency (2019, 2018- Hudson Valley), RURART (2018- Quebec), Takt Kunsprojektraum (2013, 2015 Grant Awardee- Berlin) and La Fragua (2014- Spain). Exhibition shows include: Feels Like A New Beginning (NYC), ChaShaMa Gala (NYC), RE/Configurations… at Snug Harbor (NYC), Ferme La Généreuse (Quebec), Tapir Lab Gallery (Berlin), Takt Kunsprojektraum Gallery (Berlin), Tapenwerk Festival (Leipzig), El Convento De Santa Clara ‘Root’ (Belalcazar). She has exhibited dance, installation, film and paintings, crafted site specific work, and created TOLERANCE, an ongoing performance series with social and political context currently being performed at various venues in NYC.
Erika’s work is guided by specific projects, environments, and experiences. As a performance artist, she encourages the audience to be an active participant. Her work is performed in exhibition spaces, found sites, bars and public parks- developing a connection with objects existing directly in the space. Her visual art lends itself as a form of record keeping. A project builds from one piece into the next, often crossing mediums. By observing patterns and data, she transforms dance into notation displayed as numbers, graphs, paintings and sculptures.
Published May 13th, 2020
Lauren Ryan Smith - is a Hudson Valley based artist who creates clay and rope sculptures along with durational drawings. Smith participated as a resident artist at ChaNorth in 2015 and later returned as the Program Coordinator in 2016.