Posted // 2013-01-10 -
Amy Caron has one of the most versatile careers in Utah, being a multifaceted artist with projects in dance, animation, video, sculpture, photography, performance art and about a dozen more contemporary and experimental forms. She has been seen across the U.S. with major showings in New York City, as well as several global exhibitions in China, Monaco, France, Chile and Switzerland. But with all her international success, Caron continues to produce work in Utah, most recently with showings at The Leonardo, Rio Gallery and Mestizo.
Today, I chat with Caron about her early career and getting into art, the creations and performances she's had over the years, her most recent eye-catching works, thoughts on the local art scene and much, much more. (Photos courtesy of Danielle Endow, Erik Daenitz, Susan Teare, Trish Empey and DSR Photography.)
Gavin: Hey, Amy. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Amy: I’m a Scorpio. I was born in Vermont. I have a peculiar habit of leaving about half an ounce of any beverage, hot or cold, in the bottom of my cup when I’m finished. Shots are the exception to this rule.
Gavin: What first got you interested in performance art, and what were some early influences on you?
Amy: I was generally interested in performance from an early age because I had a lot of energy as a kid and it was natural for someone as gregarious as me to express it physically. My mom took me to see Baryshnikov when I was very young. I had a transcendent experience seeing Bill T. Jones & Arnie Zane Company perform in high school. Molissa Fenely weird-ed me out, which I liked. Merce Cunningham pissed me off, which I also liked.
Gavin: Prior to college, you were very much into gymnastics and figure skating, and then branched into ski jumping as you got older. What caught your interest in those sports?
Amy: The movement and the physicality of these sports were innately attractive to me before the age of 5 – I was obsessed. The skills I developed as a gymnast and skater crossed over easily into aerial ski jumping in my late teens, when I was recruited for the ski team. At age 18, I was too old and washed up to stay in those little-girl sports. It was time to grow up, drink excessively and be reckless. This was a period of personal growth, one might say.
Gavin: At one point, you tried out for the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team. What was that experience like for you?
Amy: Dude, I was a member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team for eight years. It was a ridiculous amount of rock-star fun. The mental and physical challenges that aerial ski jumping posed were attractive to me. I was lucky to be involved in the golden age of that sport before it got too mainstream. The freestyle skiing lifestyle is helpful for cultivating one’s inner badass – mine is well developed.
Gavin: You received your BFA from the University of Utah in modern dance while also working in animation and arts tech. What made you choose the U, and what was your time like there?
Amy: I moved to Utah from the East Coast in ’93 for my ski-jumping career because USSA is based in Park City and the Bear Hollow Sports Park was being completed prior to Salt Lake’s 2002 Olympic bid. The University of Utah just happened to be the school available here and they just happened to have a stellar contemporary dance program – it was pure coincidence. I spent a long time at the U, eight years getting my undergrad, in fact! I was juggling my ski career and the dance program at the same time so I had a different path than most students.
Gavin: During that time, how was it for you exploring performance art and multimedia projects, and what made you decide to make those your focus for your artistic career?
Amy: The step between professional sports and modern dance was an easy one, given the similar application of the body and the shared aspects of performance. I made no deliberate decisions to select a creative “focus” or anything like that during my development. My choices were, and still are, more gravitational. I simply pursue my interests and I don't worry about what form they take. Combining different kinds of media in my work keeps things interesting for me. Being engaged in your own work is the key to creating, and in my case, a multidiscipline approach is most effective. I do get bored easily. It’s possible that I suffer some kind of art-medium ADD and I should probably receive a medical-marijuana prescription for my affliction. This treatment could really elevate my work.
Gavin: Shortly after graduating, you started performing and creating works
around the U.S. What made you immediately branch out across the country rather than focus closer to home, and what was it like for you starting out that way?
Amy: I wanted show work anywhere but Utah. I was seeking a critical audience of merit and straightforward, unbiased feedback. I wanted to get my feet wet so I jumped right in. I’m not one to pussyfoot around.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating anything that you do, from the first concept to the final product?
Amy: I don’t have a formula. Every time I create something, I honestly feel like I’m starting from scratch – like I’m learning how to make things from the ground up each time. This feeling is exhilarating and daunting. I suppose that tension is what makes this art shtick so compelling for me -- the renewed aspect of discovery each time combined with the steady stream of hurdles to navigate keeps the process from becoming rote. I toy with my approach a lot from project to project. A piece can germinate in many ways – it can start with a message or a topic that I select or one that is chosen for me. The medium for my pieces can be determined from the get-go or it can come surprisingly late in the game. In a nutshell, creating for me is always a process of laying out all of the decisions to be made, assigning a hierarchy to those decisions, hunting down answers to questions, reassessing the hierarchy and then plugging in that information to compose a work. The intention of my works can favor process over the final product or vice-versa. It all depends on what I want to accomplish with a work, and I usually decide on this critical point pretty early on through some soul searching and conversations with my trusted inner circle. If that doesn’t work, my default strategy is to get drunk and have numerous epiphanies.
Gavin: When it's a performance, how much time do you spend on it before you consider what you've created to be finished and ready for viewing?
Amy: Well, a full-length performance can take up to a year to develop. Shorter pieces generally take less time. I’m not too precious with my performance work and I will typically show pieces in process a ton via workshops while they’re taking shape. I prefer to use a style of feedback called Fieldwork that emphasizes non-corrective and non-suggestive feedback. After I premiere a work live, it takes several performances to tighten the screws. This is why touring makes performance work stronger.
Gavin: When it's a piece of artwork, how much do you play with the idea before you finish, and how often do you stick to the original concept?
Amy: Personally, I don't maintain a studio for my visual art unless I’ve got a specific project that necessitates it. I find traditional studio practice kind of corny, but that’s probably just because I wasn’t reared in visual arts. Concept-wise, I have ideas and I then pursue them. I’ll ditch anything at any stage of development if a stronger idea comes into play. I expect things to change course when I’m creating and they usually do, to a degree; I’m never emotionally attached to original concepts. Working in a linear fashion is certain death, in my opinion. I think the design-build process is a recipe for creative constipation and being constipated is no fun. People gotta let it flow.
Gavin: As your career progressed, you started going international, much of your time spent in China. What influenced you to start hopping the globe, and how was it for you performing and showcasing in those countries only a few years after going professional?
Amy: I moved to Belgium right after graduation. All of my fellow art-school chums were heading to NYC and that sounded painfully predictable; whiny art students have no sense of adventure! Everything is better in Europe – the art, the language, the food, the wine, and the second-hand smoke is particularly divine... it’s saturated with the finest nonchalance. I moved to China later on to get stimulated and shake off Salt Lake for a bit. Both experiences were fantastic for my real-world development personally and professionally. My network is global and I dig it.
Gavin: You've also received a considerable amount of grants to work with over the years and create new pieces for the public. How has it been for you earning those and receiving that kind of recognition for your art?
Amy: My past funding was indeed earned through some serious work. I’m grateful for the support I’ve received and, of course, it’s nice for my work to be acknowledged in this way.
Gavin: Considering the way your career has gone, which do you prefer more, the choreography and performance art, or creating pieces of art to show off?
Amy: I have no preference for any medium. I will continue my career with a fully loaded palette of “anything and everything.”
Gavin: One of your more recent local works was the Holotype
installation at The Leo. What was it like putting together that piece in a building with so much room to play in?
Amy: That was an absolutely fantastic commission. I loved the obscure topic of algae and finding a way to convey it in a way that wasn’t trite. It was certainly the largest space I’ve ever presented work in. That main floor atrium was incredible – almost big enough for my giant ego.
Gavin: One of your current projects is Dressed, which you're working on with Erik Daenitz that has gone longer than you originally planned. What was the original concept and how has it progressed to its current point?
Amy: The active part of this project didn’t go longer than originally planned per se, it’s just that I did not define an ending point and it happened to extend longer than people guessed that it would. The basic idea was to explore the concept of commitment through the act of wearing a couture wedding gown every single day. I ended up wearing that dress for over two years straight. Right now, I am in a place of personal reflection on the practice of wearing the dress daily, and Erik and I are gearing up to dive into his extensive photo archive to see what we find. Erik has seen more of the image content than I have at this point. Until now, I was invested in the experience of wearing the dress more than documenting it, which was Erik’s primary role, but I’m preparing to shift gears in that respect.
Gavin: Without giving too much away, what current projects do you have in the works for 2013?
Amy: I’ll be touring my previous works, delving into the archive for Dressed, and nudging along other projects and ideas that are in their infancy.
Gavin: Moving on to local, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Amy: The good: The cost of living here is cheap, which is good for artists. The bad: The level of the art scene here is subpar, which is not of major influence. When I refer to the “art scene” here I am referring to all of it – not just the art work and artists, but also the arts organizations, administrators, journalism, programming, collectors and funding distribution. These elements work collaboratively to form an art scene and they need to operate at a high level to justify worthy distinction. Right now, the small percentage of the art scene that does operate on par here is too obscure to have significant impact or be competitive on a national or even a regional scope.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Amy: Yes, I believe there is a lot that could be done, and the people who want to "get ‘er done" should hire me to consult with them on their efforts. I ain’t cheap, but I talk straight.
Gavin: Who are some local artists you like checking out or recommend people should look for?
Amy: Clearly, this interview is about me, myself, and I, so why mess with that brilliant theme? I recommend your readers check out the earth-shatteringly brilliant local artist Amy Caron. Invest in her work -- come drink the Kool-Aid, you know you want to.
Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll and the work they're doing to promote local art?
Amy: Gallery Stroll is bullshit. I mean, have you ever tried to complete this so called “stroll?” How am I supposed to wear my platform hussy heels and walk that entire beat all over Salt Lake buzzed on magnum wine in one evening I ask you?! Stroll my ass.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Amy: You can expect to see me wearing pants for a change.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Amy: Speaking of plugs, I would like to pull the plug on whatever is holding this nasty inversion over Salt Lake right now. I would like to promote world peace, but with a feminist slant -- the kind of feminism that is pro awesome dudes, but anti “ba-gina” (bald vagina).
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