Dawn Kasper is living in a gallery in Brown’s Granoff Center, enacting the final chapter of her performance series “On the Exposure of Process: The Nomadic Studio Practice Experiment.” In the series, each exhibition title is the hypothesis that she explores throughout the duration of the performance. For the series’ penultimate installment “This Could Be Something If I Let It,” Kasper camped out in a Whitney gallery for their Biennial earlier this year, where she met the Granoff’s Richard Fishman who invited her to Brown. In the current installment “Everything You Could Ever Want & Be You Already Have & Are,” Kasper has filled the gallery with all of her belongings and occupies the space daily.
Kasper first conceived of the series when she found herself out of a job in 2008. Unable to find steady work, she lost her apartment and her studio. From this struggle, Dawn created a nomadic studio for herself. When I met up with Dawn Kasper for an interview, she was having a difficult time. “I’m out of place, and I wanted to want that, but I’m too unstable. It’s stressful, it’s taxing. I need to go to therapy again.”
Dawn Kasper: I take interest in certain things, like the universe. Like a laymans approach to general topics, and I interpret them creatively, so I consider that research. I kind of have this formula that I’ve created for myself, which I liken to writing a middle school science paper, where I have a hypothesis or theory and I conduct experiments or do performances to prove or disprove those. And the documentation or the project—that becomes the findings. So I put myself through these stressful experiences to become acquainted with my research in this more hands-on way.
One was on ‘What Is Inertia and Anger and How Do These Collide?’ I was doing performances about not having a studio, “On Inertia and Anger” being an example, so I started to expose that process in order to deal with that question. It sort of reached a developmental crescendo: I kept saying yes to everything. I was doing performances everywhere, and it became about needing to fulfill a production rate, so all the performances became about the stress that goes into making a drawing. I would put that energy into the drawing and the performance, and that would be the drawing, and that piece was on drawing. They’re kind of like a monologue: they’re kind of funny, and they’re silly, and they’re embarrassing, and they’re vulnerable, and spontaneous. And then there’s this magical thing that happens, where I become this sort of channel or this cipher, and I kind of get into a trance, and once I let go, something is resolved. So although I’m not sitting by myself in my studio making this drawing in order to feel that feeling of resolution upon its finishing, I’m able to do that and have that experience in front of an audience and share it. So I deduced that there’s no way to fail. Failure is not an option, but it’s a variable. So it’s there and you’re aware of it, but it’s the same as facing a fear. You realize your fear is there but you can’t let it own you.
DK: I was invited to do a studio visit with the carriers of the Whitney Biennale. That’s something I’ve wanted for a very long time and I never thought it would happen. I freaked out, I don’t have a studio, what do I do? So I thought, “all right, if I got nothing, I got nothing to lose,” so I went for it. What could I do to really include all of my interests in this one opportunity? But then I also made it about the studio. I had been working from home, and my mother’s a hoarder, so I have this anxiety about having people in my home because of how I was raised. There’s a lot of vulnerable shame about having people in my space. So I didn’t want them to come to my home, but I did want them to come to see my stuff. It was the best studio visit I’d ever had. They got it. They contacted me for a second visit, so in the second visit I told them in fact they were part of a performance installation, and that the whole thing was a performance. They were like ‘oh, ok.’
I initially wanted to move the entire contents of my parents’ garage into the museum, and the registrar was saying we would have to account and inventory every single thing, and I was like ‘Yes!’ So I thought, “They get a clean garage and they know what all’s in there and I can help my parents and have an art installation at the same time, and I could be in the Whitney every day and be organizing it and re-organizing it.” When I asked my parents if I could do this they were very upset. I kept trying to ask them but I quickly let it go. I felt that energy—I wanted to do something of that nature. So I thought, maybe the message here is not to expose my parents, I’ll just do it with all my stuff.
The Independent: Why in a museum? Why was it art?
DK: I don’t know. I didn’t get to that point yet. I got to the point I just described. I didn’t get past that point. I got excited about inventorying their stuff, making it manageable for them. All these things I’ve wanted to do for years. But then I realized I wanted to do that for myself. So after the second studio visit they invited me to be in the Biennial. So then it was like, what am I going to do? I wanted to show people I could actually make work. Prior to the visit by the curator of the Whitney, I would practice—oh my god they’re wearing the exact same outfit. Um, I would prac-it’s incredible.
Indy: It’s because they’re waitresses together.
DK: But like, it’s amazing.
Indy: Yeah, totally—same shoes, too.
DK: Yeah! And both their phones were on the right hand side of their faces. They were mirroring. Anyway, I had been performing so much I had never stopped to take inventory—there wasn’t music before... and something I’d like to add is that I was working as an art handler part time so when I wrote my proposal I needed a quote for how much it would cost to ship as part of my budget. I thought, this is really amazing because I have access to a company that can answer this question. So to my boss I was like, “Can you help me?” And he was like, “Yeah, send me over everything you want to ship” and he said it will cost this much and I put it in the thing. And it ended up getting my moving company the job to move the stuff. It was incredible because my friends were moving my stuff and it was just a really beautiful thing because I got them work and it just felt really good and it felt like everything was falling into place.
Indy: What was your relationship to your stuff when you started? How has it changed?
DK: It’s just this ongoing self-discovery of what I can actually put myself through. It has changed; I’m more attached to it now as a unit as opposed to individual, fragmented memories. They represent the solution of a problem, again, if you think about it like an equation; they’re an illustration of a solved problem.
Indy: Problem being what?
DK: In a sense the question of sentimentality, legitimacy. I am now comfortable in letting go of these objects; before, they were just an anchor. I created a job by facing that fear of not having. I took all of these fragmented issues I was facing and I put them together and that was the solution. Am I not myself? Am I my objects? Am I a legitimate artist?
Indy: Are you your objects?
Indy: Did you ever think you might be?
Indy: Was there a specific time when you realized you weren’t?
DK: I’m realizing that now. But I’m aware of the sentimentality of it being a unit now, and that’s why I’m having such a hard time. I just want to make sure it’s safe at my home. It’s getting to the point where it’s unhealthy. It’s affecting my psychology. It’s very taxing. It’s depressing—being so exposed, and for people to just walk past it.
At first it took me a while to adjust so I wouldn’t bring food or a lunch, and I wouldn’t want to leave because I would be talking to people all day. Every day people would give me food out of their bag, like you did today. I get so caught up in it because it’s a durational performance installation. That’s what’s happening. But people—being human beings—if they choose to see it, there’s something else there. We’re just mirrors, you know?
Indy: Yeah, I know. So obviously we’re performing all day no matter what. But is there an added level of performance to your pieces?
DK: I’m trying to bridge that gap. I did come to a point where a variable was this question that you ask. What does it mean to have an audience and not have an audience and to take responsibility? The ability to connect or the ability to relate—what if that’s the performance? Being here at Brown and not engaging with as many people, and this weird threshold thing [in the Granoff gallery], because there’s this thing in the floor so people think that they can’t cross over. People don’t want to engage. People would look at me as they’re walking out the door and look away very quickly, so there was more of that than direct contact. There were a few people that would connect, and I began to realize that I can’t have a successful performance without an audience. Kind of like what we were talking about earlier; you were asking me if I would rather be isolated or be vulnerable. I can’t stress enough how I feel that human connectivity is vital. People want to relate, people want to be understood, people want to be heard. That plays an important role in this project, but there isn’t a lot of that being realized here. It just felt like it was failing and I realized it’s because I don’t have an audience. Who am I doing this for? Why do I have all this stuff with me?
Indy: So what’s a ‘variable’?
DK: The variables are how I choose to interact in the space or be in the space. The variables are you and I and the experiment is the conversation we’re having. All the things that we’re talking about are the variables. And I’m the control or the constant. So I began to realize that I’m the only one who sees the whole performance in its entirety. In a sense, I’ve turned it around and made the audience the performance. I’ve become the viewer, the only one who sees everything. It goes with me everywhere. I’m trapped in it though; I felt trapped when I got here. None of this is negative, it’s just happening. Here it started to feel like a rejection. And I got scared to connect with people because I was leaving—and those became the variables. My separation anxiety is heightened.
Indy: Do you feel like you’re inviting people into your room by doing this piece?
DK: No. I’m sort of suggesting it. I’m not saying anything. I am coming from this place of political occupation where it’s like I’m a part of the 99 percent or the other half that had been dependent on unemployment. I needed a job, so I created a job. I have an education that I can’t afford in a specialization that’s a risky, dicey career choice. I don’t expect anyone to be empathetic, but I am dependent on institutions, collectors, and galleries in order to afford my cost of living.
Indy: You were saying that one function of an object is to legitimize. Is showing all your stuff here a way to legitimize your identity or profession?
DK: It’s a variable, but I’m also suggesting that in this climate, it’s deconstructing or dismantling. What the fuck do I have to do to be legitimate? So it was sort of a ‘fuck you’ to the institution in that way. You’re paying me to work on my own work and live. It’s pretty incredible.
Indy: Which is a metaphor for the life of the artist?
DK: It’s a metaphor for anybody. You can do whatever the fuck you want to do. It’s no different from patenting Coca-Cola or making a perfume. If you stay focused for long enough, if you just keep at it people are going to listen. It’s all variables, it’s nothing definitive, but I’m suggesting that I can be this person I think I am. But there’s so much information that comes from the outside, like you’re a piece of shit or you’re a woman or whatever. I have to prove myself. It’s not about that, is my point. It’s not about being at Brown University. For the most part, I’m still bummed out, I still go home alone at the end of the day, I still cry for whatever reason, I still need to eat yogurt for breakfast. There are all these other things I still need to do in order to maintain my existence; but then at a certain point they become an inconvenience.
Indy: Eating and loving? ‘Oh wait I can’t eat I’m supposed to go do this job that’s going to make me happy?’
DK: Yeah ‘Oh I can’t let you love me because I have to go do this job.’
Indy: ‘…so that I can love myself to be ready to love you.’
DK: Exactly. Exactly what you just fucking said. It’s me getting in my own way. It’s an illustration of me getting in my own way. Because I have to get all around my stuff. It’s all poetry; it’s all visual poe—turn off your car it stinks!
The focus of Dawn’s installation, while at first concerned with the question of holistic self-containment, seems to have shifted towards exploring how we connect. The project ends up as a study of intimacy, how we invite, deny, contrive, and create an environment to foster intimacy—especially how we fixate on cataloging and organizing the relics of our experiences. Dawn isn’t sure what results the experiment has yielded. She says she has to be distanced by time and space to properly observe, but maybe even if the hypothesis isn’t true when applied to one person, it could still be true when applied to the whole—it could still be true that we’re holding some things for each other.
CLAUDIA NORTON B'13 wrote this lonely in her room.