Lacuna by C. David Russell and Mateo Galvano. Entering the Liminal.

I always enjoy CURRENTS NEW MEDIA at El Museo in Santa Fe–it’s innovative video and technology in a cavernous warehouse space out of the summer heat and right in my own neighborhood. This year I particularly wanted to see the piece Lacuna by C. David Russell and Mateo Galvano. I stood at its entrance, calmed by an oceanic projection on white.

I almost missed that it was an entry way into a cube, until I followed the pathway in. Both artists were interviewed and respond here–giving another layer of appreciation for the piece.

Miriam Sagan: What is the theme/concept?

Mateo Galvano: Lacuna is a gap or a hollowed out space, or it could be missing or lost parts in a literary work. A number of elements in the installation point to the theme of a physical gap, sometimes under the earth, or underneath reality. In the film that features the Bramble Puppet, the creature comes from some place in between realities. He digs in the ground and peels away the layers to find a hollowed out area, a blue-lit cave, seeming to reveal a space that is there all along if only we know how to look and listen for it.

In the installation, the viewer moves through the environment as the silk both obscures and reveals the work, depending upon the position of the viewer in the space. Films are projected upon the silk, depicting realities in another time and space. In the Water film, which is projected onto the outside wall of one side of the work, layers of clouds filmed from above, and water from various sources, are superimposed and montaged together. The image is otherworldly and suggests the notion that reality is layered and turned upside down. There are alternative perspectives if we observe the patterns of nature. The many layers, both formal and conceptual, provide the possibility of gaps to occur between the layers. Gaps of mystery or absence or longing. The idea is that these voids may contain potentialities for something new, regenerative, or valuable in some way.

It seems as if both David and I, in our individual creative practices, have been working with themes of the liminal or the idea of absence or even loss, for a number of years. So it is not surprising that this work came about and that we chose the word Lacuna as a title and as a concept to circle around. It’s a mysterious, lovely word that felt right as a title, something with questions in it.

The Bramble Puppet finds the lifeless flowers underground, and enacts a ceremony, poking them up through the ground to the world above. He climbs up to observe his cheerful work, and moves one of the flowers to another place. He seems to cherish it before planting it. The viewer might wonder if perhaps the Bramble Puppet is bringing beauty into the world, bringing innocence, transforming a potentiality into a reality, creating opportunities? It’s like he takes nothing and makes something out of it. He reminds us that sometimes all that is necessary to find the beauty of a situation is to shift the point of view. Turn the problem inside out and find your way in through the underbelly.

It is in the unknown, in the spaces of the magical, that possibilities for redemption and healing can grow.

Miriam Sagan: What inspired you?

C. David Russell: I started a series of meditative drawings in which I breathed into each one and let the image flow. What came from those drawings were fractal like figures that were both there and not there, only coming into formation. These drawings, entitled Breaths, led me to want to see if I could bring them into a 3 dimensional form and maintain the wispy ethereal qualities.

In addition, I did a 16-day residency with the New England Puppet Intensive in summer 2018; during that time I brainstormed about materials and techniques on how to sculpt the drawings. I also created the Bramble Puppet. The figure was made of sticks, wire and leather. The quality of the line in the figure had a relationship to the breath drawings but was a bit more corporeal.

I worked with the Bramble Puppet during the intensive. I learned about four principals of puppetry, the first one being breath, second fixed point, third focus and finally articulation. After the intensive I wanted to see what other possibilities the Bramble Puppet had. This led me to the idea of doing a stop-motion animated film where I would be challenged to maintain the life-like quality and the four principals of puppetry and to carry that over into the context of the digital format. I was curious to see if the Bramble Puppet would achieve the same degree of emotional connection that was strikingly evident in the live puppetry.

Mateo Galvano: We were inspired by the Bramble Puppet himself. David had created the creature from sticks while a resident at the New England Puppet Intensive in Massachusetts in 2018, and felt motivated to create a stop-motion animation film featuring the puppet. The puppet lent itself to stories, in part because of David’s skillful handling of the object. We brainstormed a narrative and David spent many hours filming to create the Bramble Puppet film.

We’ve been inspired by Currents New Media for a number of years and finally had some ideas of putting together a collaborative effort for the 2019 Festival.

Miriam Sagan: How did the collaboration work?

C. David Russell: We chose elements that had originated in our personal practice and decided which to develop as part of the project and then bounced ideas back and forth as we made sketches and had many discussions about what created meaning. After each step we looked at the work together to offer observations and feedback to each other.

Mateo Galvano: Even before the Bramble Puppet and the idea of a film about him came about, we each had several elements that we felt would fit together nicely and speak to each other in an installation format. Among other projects, David had been envisioning making a series of sculptures based on the Breaths drawings he had created and exhibited several years ago. The Breaths drawings were made from an urge to discuss the spaces between one breath and the next, and the possibilities in between those spaces. The drawings feature abstract, spindly, feathery, elongated beings, rendered in graphite and hints of colored pencil. Eventually David began making the sculptural version of the Breaths out of wire, fabric, and neoprene rubber forms he had cast and painted. He added strings, beads, paint, glue, leather, found objects, industrial materials and dyed fabric to create a group of sculptures for Lacuna. We talked about their presence in the piece as a kind of silent chorus. Also, they were congregants at a watering hole, witnessing the morning at the brightening of dawn. Perhaps they were animals or spirits or deities. Some of them resemble burnt out, white-encrusted, floating driftwood from some celestial tree.

I wanted to include experimental sound recordings I had made in which I incorporate my voice and indecipherable words into ambient soundscapes. We tried some things I had developed earlier but decided, in the eleventh hour, weeks before the opening of the festival, that I needed to make a new sound composition. The results were successful, and we felt that the sound helped to unify or tie together all the components of the installation.

As we continued to conceive of the piece, it seemed important to allow the Bramble film to take precedence. There was an anchoring effect to the narrative arc in the film, and the Bramble Puppet mesmerized us. David put so many hours into the film, and we workshopped it, with David needing to re-shoot parts of the film when necessary. We were willing to let go of my Water film or to forego sculptural or audio elements of the installation if they in some way reduced the experience of the Bramble film. However, in the end, all these components we had brought to the table were able to work together nicely in the space we had created. There was a harmony in the way our separate contributions and approaches came together.

So, included in the piece was the Bramble Puppet film and my Water Film. We used my cast plaster leaves and David added a lighting device to truly enhance the collaboratively wrought sculptural element that became The Well. We positioned David’s group of Breaths Sculptures above The Well and used my Lacuna Soundscape in a hidden speaker system behind the silk wall. All of this was placed into or onto the white Silk Cube.

Miriam Sagan: Does the piece have any secrets? A thresh hold?

C. David Russell: In my research as a professor, I have been exploring the concept of the liminal in the theater and theatrical design. I see this entire project, Lacuna, as an exploration of this research. Here are some of my notes on Liminality :
In my ongoing, current research, I am exploring characteristics of liminality in Scenography and performing objects as it relates to the ritualistic and aesthetic aspects of performance and the use of space.

The word liminal is from Latin, meaning ‘threshold,’ and refers to a transitional state or a position occupied on both sides of a boundary. Trails, tunnels, roadways, treetops, balconies, alcoves, and rivers are crucial factors in my work. Doors are full of potentialities and are often cruxes of tension. Scenic designs I have devised consist of dynamic pathways of action; the ground plan is the essential basis of the design and delineates the universe of the piece, the essential boundary. When players cross the threshold from the back stage onto the set, they enter the world of the play. The design guides the performers though the narrative.
The audience exists in a place that is both within and outside of everyday life. The notion of the suspension of disbelief is often used to describe the theatrical experience; in order for suspension of disbelief to be successful, viewers as well as performers must accept the underlying scenographic cues. My work is to provide poetic images that help facilitate this process.
The liminal contains aspects of both wonder and peril. In the ancient mystical Tarot, the Fool is blissfully unaware he is poised to step off the edge of a precipice.

The Bramble Puppet is a still from the video. All other images thanks to Tasha Ostrander