Close Encounters of a Third Kind: An Interview with Maria Hupfield – Andrea Zeffiro

The theme of NMP’s issue #36 is encounter; a relatively straightforward term, encounter denotes a coming together, but it can also convey confrontation or conflict. Encountering an artistic work, for example, expresses this push-pull dynamic. We are pulled-in or called to an artwork because it speaks to us in some capacity – viscerally, intellectually, or both. At other times, however, our reactions are sparked by a confrontation, between our anticipation as viewers and the expectations the artwork displaces onto us. The relationship between an artist and her audience is one activated by encounters. These encounters, which are materialized at the intersection of the artist’s intentions and the audience’s anticipation, generate a third space of encounter. This encounter of a third kind is precisely where the artist, her intentions, and the work itself take on meaning in relation to and in mediation with the audience, their anticipations and reactions. Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with Brooklyn based Canadian artist Maria Hupfield along these lines of inquiry. For Hupfield, encounters with materials, objects, places and individuals is encompassing of her cross-disciplinary body of work. These encounters of a third kind create the moments, spaces, and events through which Hupfield forges new connections within the world, with her practice and with her audience.

Andrea Zeffiro: What does ‘encounter’ signify for you? How is it signified through your work?

Maria Hupfield: Currently I am working with in-the-moment-encounters where there are many truths or where meaning is acquired over time and objects often reappear or have multiple purposes. I live in the city – everything is constantly changing – so seeking new experiences outside of my knowledge is part of my daily growth and what currently fuels me. Brooklyn is a vocal place, people speak up and negotiating the public is regular practice. I view art as part of the fiber of living and my creations have their own lives as “expressive objects” that are put to use in various live performances and as static items at rest. I like how the term encounter when applied to art acknowledges context, while at the same time, it doesn’t let the viewer’s role and personal accountability off the hook. Things can’t be unseen, unheard or undone once they are in the open, and we each have to think about how we choose to act and deal with what we create and come across.

HUPFIELD1absentpresencefigure

Absent – Presence. Frosted glass silhouette on front gallery doors to demonstrate commitment by gallery to artists. Included in performance of the same name (30 min, 2014), as part of the exhibit “Stage Set Stage: Identity and Institutionalism,” Barbara Clausen, Curator. I use live performance to interpret a selection of labels taken from four different artworks on exhibit and displayed in the gallery along with a frosted outline of myself on glass. Using the labels as scores, I introduce a physical presence in the space with additional movement, audio, skittles, water bottle and a sharpie.

AZ: The tension of initiating an encounter – between forging relationships with the audience and actively seeking to incite confrontation – does this tension direct your work in any capacity?

MH: Yeah, there is always tension and crazy social awkwardness to overcome when humans gather, yet we are all in it together! I like to know who my audience is and for safety have a comfortable degree of control over the situation. It is not an attack and it is not personal. If there is confrontation we are confronting it together through me. Generally I want to trust and I am more interested in the communal aspects, it’s what attracts me to active participation and details like strategic eye contact or making a direct connection. Moving confidently through the moments of unknowing that come up with a live audience are the best. As a result, I constantly work on how to slow down, feel the energy of the room, be open to bodily response and the presence of others. I often start my performances by stretching or greeting individual audience members. When I performed Get it Up at Beat Nation in Montreal, I spent 3 hours preparing for a 15-minute performance by breathing in front of my silver wall to calm myself down because the history of oppression and commodification of culture/sex in hip hop is intense.

HUPFIELD8TheWorldisJustBeginning

 The World is Just Beginning (15 min, 2013), ABC No Rio at “I’LL SHOW YOU MINE IF YOU SHOW ME YOURS”, JUNE 20 – 27. Participating artists shared recent work among themselves, No Rio viz arts collective, and the public at large.

HUPFIELD10vv

Vestige Vagabond (2 hrs, 2014), Viger Square, Urban Interventions Encuentro Hemispheric Institute. Hupfield and Vickers present Vestige Vagabond (VV), a mash-up of unexpected visual references and interactive experiences. Using items worn and carried on the body, the artists perform and occupy economic and cultural sovereignty through a combination of choreographed movement and free demonstrations. Creative ingenuity and cultural survival mix with humour and animated objects to reflect the strength and adaptability of the human spirit.

AZ: You describe your practice as “locating the body in relationship to self, objects and place. I insert myself into new conversations with objects functioning as tools.” What does this process look like? How do you activate new conversations?

MH: Ha! Here is where I say “I’d rather show you…” I start with familiar items and unsettle them, shift or alter them in unexpected ways to create meaning. Sometimes I collaborate with other artists, such as musician Laura Ortman or Charlene Vickers for Vestige Vagabond. Basically it takes freedom and is a process.

HUPFIELD11containthatforce

Contain That Force (30 min, 2013). This interdisciplinary performance includes video projection, live performance and features objects that I solicited from 7 individuals to be utilized in this project: writer and journalist Waubgeshig Rice (Ottawa Canada), musician Laura Ortman (Brooklyn), artist and founder of the Neon Raven Gallery Anne Beam (Manitoulin Island, Canada), photo based artist Andrea Geyers (New York), director Sterlin Harjo (Tulsa), performance artist Zachary Fabri (Bronx), and senior artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Alburquerque). Activating the items through performance, I form a new compendium of personal and historical narratives that intersect Native American performance and art.

HUPFIELD12Reflectivestep

Collaborative interactive live performance with musician Laura Ortman at Museum of Art and Design, New York. Violin performed live with pink surveyor’s tape, blue tape, mylar survival blankets, tin jingles, audio track, and video projection. As Ellen Moffat says, “Sound moves through the body as a physical vibration and a tangible felt experience that brings us back to our corporeality and reminds of our connectivity to our world, […] But a deeper impulse than means and currency may be at play, namely a call for a renewal of embodiment and wholeness.”

HUPFIELD13ghosttrophy

Ghost Trophy (24 min, 2014), a durational performance for the exhibit Body as Omen, Ortega y Gasset Projects. This work comprises video projection (by Maria Hupfield & Jason Lujan) and live performance in which I activate the space of a lavish historical interior using handmade items, one of which is a vest featuring crystals recovered from a chandelier. Select items will remain on display in the gallery after performances for viewing.

MH: When bell hooks said, “imagine what we look like when we are free,” that is what I’m doing, what I’m up to. New conversations are about today and creating language to address the past that speaks to what we now know so we can move into the future. When I say new conversations I am also using my own artistic vocabulary to build on the innovative, cutting-edge traditions of my dad, who builds lightweight decked lap-strait double-paddle canoes out of marine ply, and to acknowledge our predecessors who mastered “embroidering” surfaces with porcupine quills for both cultural and economic survival. I am like the ones that came before me, and when I think of my work I want to recall fresh, unexpected visuals that speak to our world of mass information. I am not interested in nostalgia for comfort or affirming a historic agenda of dispossession; some things are not for sale. I am alive today in our messy complicated present – it is fluid and it takes work.

HUPFIELD4bearmask2

Bear Mask (2011), 1” x 1” x 1” Silver fabric, polyfil and cotton thread. Used in various performances until it was stolen in Toronto during the 7a*11d International Performance Festival.

HUPFIELD5Jingleblanket

Jingle Blanket (2014), 70” x 70” x 1”. Industrial felt, cotton fabric, tin jingles and cotton thread.

HUPFIELD7SnowmobileSuit2

Snowmobile Suit (45 min, 2013), Performance Lab, Day 3. For three nights I took over the space at Galerie Hugues Charbonneau and used it as a public platform for collaborative engagement with four Montreal artists, Emilie Monnet, Karen Elaine Spence, Emma-Kate Guimond and Scott Benesiinaabandan. We were asked to present new ideas and participate in evening art performances workshopped on the premises. Characteristic of my live interdisciplinary performances, I aimed to craft a visually rich and multisensory atmosphere for an active exchange of ideas across cultures, disciplines, and borders. In addition I brought selected items to work with and activate in the space.

HUPFIELD9vamps

Thunderbird Vamps (2013), contribution for the Walking with Our Sisters traveling exhibition of over 1600 vamps represent the 6000+ missing and murdered Native Women in Canada.

AZ: As the artist, what are you encountering when you insert yourself into new conversations?

MH: I explore possibilities, imagery, movements, sounds, feelings, tastes, have discoveries, include others, and make connections.

HUPFIELD6PolariodFTgloves

Jingle Gloves (2011), Polaroid, 5” x 5”. From the performance Fixed Time (15min 2011), commissioned for the 7a*11d International Performance Festival Toronto, Canada. Marina Abramovic in dialogue with Heidi Grundmann states, “the performance you do in fixed time, and in that fixed time you see the whole process and you see the disappearing of the process at the same moment and afterwards you don’t have anything, you have only the memory.” Using oral tradition strategies I move through a series of basic customs and procedure creating a set of unique visual triggers marking the space between audience and me. Interpersonal interactions imprint for recall the memory of the performance.

AZ: In a recent interview with Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory you referred to your various travels as having afforded you an opportunity to understand how you fit into a bigger picture. Is this self-reflexivity imbued into your work?

MH: My choice of materials, using repurposed or modified items, hand-stitched tactile industrial felt, and shiny reflective surfaces mirrors the idea of using a material language that is versatile, that speaks to me and yet is bigger than me. It’s an ethical choice that connects to a history of repurposing, comfort, and craft.

HUPFIELD2allplaces

All Places, All Times, Always and Forever (2014), folded Silver mylar emergency survival blanket with felt lettering, 12” x 14”.

AZ: Does travel – conceptually and/or practically – filter through your work? Have these encounters contributed to the conversational thread in your work?

MH: I travel light and there was a time I moved once a year for seven years. As a result I am curious about the things we become attached to, the things we carry on our bodies and what those things say about what we value. I love the book A History of the World in 100 Objects. For practical reasons I am relieved that my work is lightweight and manageable for shipping. The most obvious connection to travel is the Crossings Exchange with the BBeyond Collective in Belfast, Ireland. Lady Moonrider Time Traveler embodied a universal traveler of the cosmos across time and space. The suit was a mash-up of Amelia Earhart and the original David Bowie ‘Space Oddity’ video. I was flying a back and forth across Canada a lot at the time so it really fit my mind frame. So yes, the reference is there.

AZ: In that same interview, you also describe how having lived in many cities in North America has enabled you to identify home: Georgian Bay and “on various dirt roads between Shawanaga First Nation and Wasausking First Nation.”

MH: Yeah… funny I am constantly asked by others when the last time was I went back home, and it is something I try to do as often as possible. Place is important and can be a big part of identity. Places can change you, make you want to grow a beard or ride a bike by the waterfront. Places change too as we see through gentrification, after hurricanes or when someone we love dies. Being from the Great Lakes region in Ontario when I was teaching on the west coast, I felt like a guest in someone else’s territory. I thought I shrunk and could feel the mountains, the ocean and the low-hanging clouds. It took me years to know some local customs, like when the blackberries come out, so I did not feel like a stranger on the land. I am careful around this idea because I see native people constantly under threat of assimilation as a strategy to remove our rights for political reasons, like we have always only lived on reservations, have no mobility and cannot exist in cities and still be native. When things get too heavy I just think of Superman and how he still had his indigenous powers after Krypton blew up. Ultimately I carry a sense of home with me in my heart wherever I go. I have a hand-cut, floral design felt mat I made called “Traveling Mat” and another work called “Traveling Bag” and both deal with the idea of being on the move and keeping home close.

HUPFIELD3artisttourguide

Artist Tour Guide, Locating coordinates on the map (30min 2013), commissioned by the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Three scheduled performances that respond to and intervene in the exhibition “Before and after the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes.” I lead three tours over the duration of this exhibit. This is a work in progress; each tour informs later ones, creating a living, ever-evolving art experience that is the essence of this performance. For Artist Tour Guide I have created a set of objects that are worn and carried by me and activated throughout the performance.

AZ: Are your personal encounters with home – both the real (i.e. the real place) and the imaginary (i.e. the idea of home) – explored in your work?

MH: I am from a gorgeous part of the world that needs to be experienced to be understood. Georgian Bay is a place where everything has a purpose. We are a very humble part of that bigger system with a disproportional amount of power. In that simple way it is regularly explored in my work.

Maria Hupfiled is a Brooklyn-based artist from Canada and a member of Wasauksing First Nation, Ontario. She is a 2014 recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painting and Sculpture Grant and the AIM residency at the Bronx Museum. Her performance Contain That Force: 7 Solo Acts was presented by the National Gallery of Canada for the exhibition “Sakahan: International Indigenous Art,” in partnership with SAW Video and Media Arts, Ottawa Canada. She performed All is Moving in response to the paintings of Artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith at Accola Griefen Gallery, Chelsea NY and participated in “A Conversation on Performance Art: Women Redrawing/ Performance,” organized by The Feminist Art Project at SOHO20 Chelsea, NY. She has shown at the Museum of Arts and Design New York, Toronto Power Plant, and 7a*11d International Performance Festival. Her project Artist Tour Guide was recently commissioned by The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, New York. She is currently developing an exhibition supported by the Canada Council of the Arts. For more see: mariahupfield.wordpress.com

Andrea Zeffiro is a regular contributor for NMP. For more see: andreazeffiro.com