JULIA EDITH RIGBY A CONVERSATION WITH CAZ AZEVEDO FEBRUARY 2020
Image from Break, 2019, live performance, Studio 1 TB9, University of California, Davis. Photo by Julia Edith Rigby
JULIA: Let’s talk about points of origin. You talk a lot about dirt. Can you tell me more about your history with farming?
CAZ: Sure. I was born and raised on a small sustainable farm just shy of four acres. It was a family farm, just the four of us, my father, my mother, my brother and me. I come from an ancestry of farmers and ranchers. That’s where I build my practice from. There were responsibilities, waking up early and doing chores before school, when I got home from school, on the weekend…
J: What sort of chores? C: Tending to the animals, which we fed and watered every morning and evening, every day…and the crops on our farm, which needed planting, watering. And then there was just the maintenance in keeping things together, building barns and coops and fencing. Our animals were very humanely raised, and humanely harvested, with a sense of humanity, dignity, and gratitude.
Video Still from Rake, 2019, courtesy of artist
J: You talk about “farming” your art. Can you elaborate?
C: I’m using shovels, rakes, hatchets…farm tools…and it’s in how I’m interacting with the material. I think about my relationship with my body and how it relates to other bodies. What are the ways I can interact with that other body or how can I move to complement its movement or sound? I try to find these metaphors and comparisons. Clay is a body…you make a clay body. It is actually referred to as a clay body. And dirt, an animal, of course a person can be a body, but a tree can be a body, too. So I’m trying to find these relationships among the rituals of farming. My process is to farm my practice, and this involves working during farming hours, in other words constantly being on call because there is never a time off. There are always emergencies in the middle of the night that you have to be ready…during lambing season, ewes might have a breached birth…you just have to be ready. And I am trying to find that relationship with the materials I am working with. The material sets my time, my hours for me, depending on what stage it’s at. I’m only allowed a certain window of time to work with the material to do the things I want to do. Just like tending the mother sheep while she is birthing in middle of the night. The material tells me what needs to be done.
Video Still from Blink, 2019, courtesy of artist
J: You say that you are never “off”, that the materials need constant attention. Can you elaborate?
C: For instance when I’m working with clay, it has its stages. Depending on its moisture, its drying time…you can never really go backwards. You just have to start over. Clay is malleable and has a memory. When it is molded, it wants to remember where it was molded and follow that. It will always try to fall back into the shape it was previously molded into. If you manipulate it too much, it will fall on you. If you work it too little, and it may harden and prevent you from extended it to the point that you want to take it. I only have so much control of moisture, memory, all of these factors. So that’s the window of opportunity I have.
J: can you speak to that with mud as well?
C: Dirt and water interact to make these different grades of mud. Some are slick and slippery; some are gritty and sticky, depending on the ratio of dirt to water, and organic material inside the mud. Once you combine these materials, it only stays as mud for a given amount of time. Then dries and becomes cracked and hardened.
J: So mud is ephemeral. And you deal a lot with the ephemeral.
C: Yes. I didn’t know how important that was to me until I stopped firing my clay.
J. Go on?
C: Well, when you fire the clay, you transform it into a hardened artifact. That’s the final resting point of that material. Once it becomes vitreous the only thing you can do next is break it down, or shatter it. It can’t be reconstituted. It can’t come back to clay.
J: It’s like a complete metamorphosis. C: Right. It’s kind of like the last stage of the butterfly.
Image from Caz Azevedo and Julia Edith Rigby collaboration, Afterflow, 2020, installation, courtesy of the artists
J: Sometimes you take those vitreous pieces, break them, heap them and re-fire them….
C: Yes, it was still very temporal, this notion of bodies coming from other bodies, to repurpose another body. I think this was said further when you and I collaborated and how well our work synced together because of our processes of matter-flow and the physicality of several bodies merging and working as one. And it’s not to say it wouldn’t fire ever again. I’m just finding a lot of interest with it right now when it’s unfired. I do like the artifact as the evidence that speaks about a larger story. As I’ve continue my practice the archive has changed now into other forms such as video.
J: Talk more about archives. C: Well, when I do the video archive, I’m capturing the matter flow, or the matter in certain transitions from one state to another. It allows my viewers to see this art that can only be captured in that one time. I also do it for myself, so I can capture this moment, this moment of the matter in motion. I can see how it’s reacting. For instance say I take some greenware, some bone dry clay that is dried out and ready to be fired, but instead of firing I reintroduce it into water. It has this reaction to the water, it starts bubbling hissing and sizzling. I can capture that on film, this transition of the matter happening. It never happens again in exactly the same way, and the video archive allows the moment to be replayed so people can experience some of it, if not the live performance. The live performance is really where the art is. Improvisational movements happening within a moment can be captured on film or still images for documentation of what happened. The viewer who sees it live sees the true art in the making. And then the viewer who sees my edited videos sees the performance more through the lens I want them to see. When I am looking over the raw films, I have this reaction to it, where I feel like I can sit with it and lean into this larger narrative. I have these small clips, these artifacts that I can later splice into a video work that is more narrative, but I wouldn’t know what that narrative is until watching the archive. So I’m reacting to these recordings. I go to the editing room, I edit, and as I edit I slowly realize which elements of these video clips, these archives, are going to build the narrative.
J: What narrative, what reaction? Is it a purely emotional reaction? Or more cerebral? Can you trace an origin point? C: So, this is where the material is telling me what I want to do. For example when I drop that greenware in water, I’ll hear the hissing of the clay, I’ll hear it bubbling like it’s singing, and I now want to give it a voice . I want to incorporate the sound of human singing, like a bubbling, gargling sound, a song. So this bubbling clay is a performative action that tells me it needs to be humanized.
Video Still from One Bits, 2020, courtesy of artist
J: So you might then collaborate with a vocalist?
C: Well, as many as needed. The material will tell me when I need to collaborate and what to collaborate with, the material or the archive. But then the archive to me can be material.
J: I want to dig into this idea a bit more. You work a lot with sound, and write that sound can both generate the movement as well as be the effect of the movement, creating new layers of instinctual improvisational reaction. You work often with sound, vocalists, and also movement, bringing performance artists and dancers into the work. How does that feed in with the idea of the material telling you what it needs?
C: I think there’s an instinct there, an intuition. Improvisational movement stems from instinct. You don’t think about it, you just react. There’s no wrong move, and one movement is a reaction to another. You can’t change a movement once it has happened; you can only react to it. So I rely on the person I’m collaborating with, their instinct, and their movements. They respond to my movements and I respond to theirs. I remember reading about an interview with Pina Bausch, a prominent German dancer and choreographer in the field of modern dance. She asks why we dance in the first place. Why do we move? What makes us move? I have also studied under professional choreographers who worked in a “call and response” type improve movement as well as how to utilize the entire body when performing. For me, it’s like you hear a sound, and you react to it. You just start naturally moving to it. You absorb the rhythm without thinking about it. It’s an instinct. This is true for any type of sound or movement, because one movement leads to another movement. That first reaction, that first instinct is what I’m most interested in. As opposed to trying to come up with this notion of how I should move to this particular sound I hear or a certain visual cue. I just move. I just react to whatever it is, an emotion, a feeling, and a sense.
J: Could you say that there is a sense of play in your process?
C It’s a sense of being carefree, a very carefree state with no boundaries, no judgments. Like how I was when I was a kid playing out there on the land way out in the middle of the field. The only other ones around where the animals and they weren’t going to laugh at me. So there is definitely a carefree connection that I am revisiting with my movements in the studio now. I think about being a small child out in that field, just moving how I wanted to move, with no one to judge. Twirling, spinning…dancing with a rake, a shovel, a stick…
J: Can you speak to times when you weren’t so carefree, when you felt blocked or stifled? How did you emerge from those places?
C: I’ve run into many blocks, as many artists do, and my best way to get through it is to touch the material. And to listen to the material, to revisit the material, to try to connect with it, and try to find what it’s telling me to do. What causes the blocks is when I stop listening, when I stop listening to the material. When I’m not hearing what the material is telling me.
J: Sometimes you superimpose these video clips of people doing movement onto other clips, for instance landscapes that document the matter flow of mud and clay happening in your studio. What’s going on there? C: That’s an experiment, an exercise of filming the archive and then coming up w this larger narrative for the storyline. That was matter flow I was archiving, and after seeing the results of that archive, I started thinking how I could relate this to a body movement. Because matter movement speaks to flow, direction and energy, composition. And all of that is related to dance. How is your body taking up the space? What mark is your body making within that space? Because your body becomes the mark with every movement that it makes.
Image from, Mud Bathers, 2019 live performance, Light Cage, Art Building, University of California, Davis
J: Do you consider yourself to be a performance artist?
C: What is a performance artist…? Should we define that first? I’ve been told I am. I also have been told that I’m a video artist, sculptor, painter, and a printmaker. It depends what I do, but yes, I perform. Performance is part of my tools most definitely. It’s difficult for me to categorize myself as one kind of artist. I don’t want to be cornered into sticking to a particular way of making art or thinking about art… I have been doing performance and video for a while now.
J: I mean, we all perform in our studio. It’s just whether or not that performance is publicized…
C: Right. My performances are often viewed through video. Where I set the scenes, though still perform improv movements. They are performances, but I am in control. I can edit what the viewer sees. Unlike a live performance, the viewer can only see what I want them to see.
J: So it’s curated.
C: I think it is about having the sense of privilege. In that I can edit and choose what I allow the viewer to see. And I like that sense of control. I feel like I can direct more where I want their gaze to be. When I am working more in 3D art, I have less control. The whole piece is there for the viewer so see however they wish to look at it. Whereas with performance for the video, they only see it in the order that I want them to see it. So there is that control.
J: Do you ever have an itch to relinquish some of that sense of control? Because your work with matter flow feels very undirected. And yet your video work feels very directed.
C: Well in working with matter-flow, I work with cause and effect, and you may want to control that as a mark, but it is unlikely to can be done with the exact results. Though truth be told, I am the one who usually directs the cause of the matter, although only to what control I may have. So there is a sense of chance, too. There is a lot of vulnerability with live performance that you have to deal with. That’s a reason why I like the video work. But I’ve been doing more live performances while figuring out how they are supposed to look along the way.
J: You’ve said before, in other conversations, that dirt is like people…can you speak more to that?
C: Well, I was using it as a metaphor. People may see dirt is cheap, they say dirt cheap, they don’t value it, but dirt makes up the land that people value. Dirt is a body. It’s like any other type of body, human, animal, earth body; not everyone values it the same. So I’m thinking about how people disvalue dirt, misunderstand it, just like they do with one another, because we don’t always see the true value in one another. So I’m thinking more about value, how one would value dirt. Life would not exist without dirt. It’s nourishment, it’s sustenance, it commands respect, yet is often mistreated.
J: You talk a lot about the tools you work with, especially farm tools such as rakes, shovels. What is your favorite tool?
C: My favorite tool is my body. I’m still finding endless ways of using it in working with the material. It’s more versatile than any other tool.
J: You’ve had a long history of being an artist. What drew you to being an artist then? What draws you now? C: I like to make stuff. From the very beginning I really wanted to make. I was really drawn to colors. And growing now more into my practice, it’s still about the colors, it’s still about the pigments. But I am more interested in the natural colors and the natural pigments and that’s getting me to think about what can be considered a pigment. And what can be used as a pigment. Like the earth, and the relationship I had with it as a small child digging in the dirt and making mud back on the farm. I was doing then what I’m doing now. I’m not doing anything different now than what I was doing then. So I haven’t grown up. I’ve actually come full circle. I went through all the training, all the techniques, all the proper ways of working with these materials. And now I’m growing back into that childhood instinct of just grabbing things without knowing how to work with them, and just experimenting with them. I’m revisiting those instincts. So I’m reconnecting with it in that way. So I do think about that when I’m digging in my studio. I think about the farm I grew up on.
Video Still from Free Range Studio, 2020, courtesy of the artist
Interview Copyright Feb 12, 2020, Julia Edith Rigby and Caz Azevedo