- As Hana Lee Erdman and the team
prepare to premiere at MDT this Thursday, Jessie McLaughlin emailed a few questions back and forth with Hana to learn a little about her practice and this, her newest work, “Companion”.
J: So, first – I wanted to ask about your practice as a whole. Can say a little about where your work began and some (if there are any) things or ideas that have continued to interest you, or continued to appear in your work?
H: I come from dance, and more specifically from dance that is performed live and in front of people, and I always feel the pull to return to that situation. But if I look at the artistic work I’ve made, it often trails off to something towards the installative, and then it deals with choreography, performativity, and transmission in another way. Other works have revolved around a specific relationship with a collaborator and they don’t necessarily end up as dance pieces, but rather as video, book, music, publication, workshop, installation, etc.
I’ve been interested in animal art for a long time. It has a certain flavour and I think I can tell when an artwork has been affected by animal-human relationships. ‘Companion’ is the second work I’ve made that uses what I call principles of interspecies relationships to make the choreography. The other work is ‘Animal Companion’ which is a one-to-one performance in an exhibition setting. As a visitor to an exhibition you can receive companionship from a performer, while you walk around together looking at art and making intersubjective readings of artworks. I also made several performances where I brought animals into the performance space.
J: I really love this quote in your artist statement: “I’m interested in how art gets made, and how making art affects the people doing it”. Can expand on it a little – what, for example, do the “made/making” words mean in this context for you?
H: First off, how does art get made?–how do you set up the container for a process? What are all the ingredients? There are material things, like space, people, objects, materials, books, music, animals, babies, babysitters, mothers and fathers, food, shamans, dramaturges, therapists, but also, where does inspiration come from? What do I need to do to prepare myself, my body to receive the download of ideas and information. What kind of state do I need to be in and how do I get there? From who and in what form does information pass through? Through a body or a collective body? How do we inspire each other? And then there is all the politics around funding, applications and money, and who’s on which selective committees and what kind of art and ideas are popular and why? The waiting or the not waiting to make art. Paying people to help you make art. I love paying people.
And then how making art affects the people doing it?– In dance ecology you get to be part of temporary collectives while you’re making a piece and touring it. I’m fascinated by these group dynamics–the way people show up in different constellations, the psychology, the emotions, and opportunities to transform through these relations–not just individually, but collectively. Experiencing personal transformation is a great high, and experiencing it in a group is the best. I think the things you learn about yourself and the blocks you can move through in artistic processes is profound. And I guess I’m thinking also about how most of the emphasis is put on the performance or the art object, and that’s fine, but I’m just so curious about how it came into existence, and the web of relations that was spun to produced the thing. How they spoke to each other, what kinds of hierarchies and and dynamics were established. What was explained and not. What was resolved and not.
J: Moving onto “Companion” itself, I’m interested in this word companion – what does it means and where does it comes from for you?
H: It comes mostly from Donna Haraway’s writing about ‘Companion Species’–that’s her term for describing two different species that evolved alongside one another and who’s histories and futures are interconnected and mutually dependent. When I found her book ‘Companion Species Manifesto’ I was elated. She put interesting, albeit very complicated words to relationships that I had experienced with animals.
Additionally the word speaks to how I organise myself in the world–very often in a close duo relationship. Many of my artistic projects are made through a tight relationship with a collaborator. ‘Companion’ is one of only a few projects I’ve realised as a single author, and even this work is in very close collaboration with my partner, Louise Dahl.
I also like this word because it speaks about a relationship that is uneven, where there are two different roles. I thought that dealing with the term companion could be a way to look at otherness and difference, and to do so in dance and choreography. I think it’s a useful word to think difference through. Rather than trying to make everything the same, or horizontal. I like difference and I like distinguishing different roles. Like with a herd of horses, there are different roles: Leader, Dominant, Nurture/Companion, Sentinel, Ambassador. Those terms I take from Linda Kohanov, a horse trainer and equine therapist.
J: There is a beautiful and intriguing list that opens the accompanying text on the MDT website: Animals, plants, aliens, ancestors, ghosts, mountains, the ocean – what connects these things for you? What do they share? And what about them welcomes us, your audience, to the work?
H: This body of artistic research started with my wonderment, not just of interspecies relationships and the companionships that I bring with me, but with the sentient nature of animals and plants and our mutual desire for more life through creation. My curiosity of more-than-human companionships quickly expanded to include mineral species, and then feeling my way back to cosmological stories like turtle island I think about what a mountain could teach me? And then further into the animal-human discourse I found ancestors, aliens and probably, I hope, more…
When I wrote this list I was thinking about all the different kinds of non human entities that you could be in relation to and all the kinds of non human companionships we have. When I read this list again I think about a grouping of archetypes. It’s definitely a landscape of relations whereupon I can know myself deeper.
J: Amazing, thank you Hana! I’m really looking forward to it <3