Spring Performance Series: Kristopher K.Q. Pourzal and Heather Kravas

Meeting Kristopher K.Q. Pourzal and Heather Kravas, our guest artists in Spring Studio Series, was overwhelmingly fresh and stimulating. The following text was transcribed from a live interview.
Nhi Cao: What were you concerned with when you first began to make work? How or why have your concerns changed as you’ve developed as a maker?
Kristopher K.Q. Pourzal: I have to start by saying that before I was a performance maker, I was training to be a classical musician, a flutist. And I was feeling stifled by always playing music written by other people because that’s the tradition and training. So when I first started making performances, it was because I was really craving to make something that was wholly mine. Initially, for me, making solo performances, which is what I started to do and continue to do, was an exploration of my physical body, of my voice, of my power, of my agency, of my failures, of my relations to an audience, of my relation to a theatre space, and all of those issues and curiosities continue now in my work-making. I think, in terms of the second part of your question, the thing that has shifted pretty profoundly, maybe in the last two years, is that my interests have zoomed out. Rather than staying so focused on my own capabilities as they relate to my own body, I’ve become more interested in thinking about how I am shaped by, and affected by, and a product of systems of power, and the dynamics and structures of which I am a part, in this country and this culture and this society, with its own codes and rules. In a way, to me it feels like a really unoriginal trajectory; I think it’s almost inevitable that the interest starts very close into myself and then over time, greater awareness emerges of how I’m not operating in a bubble or a vacuum. I am only a socialized being.
Heather Kravas: I think when I first started making work, I had a desire to start making work but didn’t know how to do it, and at the time I felt it was important for me to cultivate a language and even a style, so I really tried to develop those things, something that I considered my own. And I no longer have those concerns at all, like I’m not interested in what my own style might be, or style at all, I’m much more interested in structural decisions or like how things organized rather than what the specifics are. For example, when I started making work I didn’t really know even what I like and I cultivated that just by watching so many things but also making so many things and realized certain things that I was interested in like repetition, something that I utilize in my work quite a lot. One of the blessings of repetition is that there can be a great dynamic range with not so much actual material, so my early preoccupation with movement generation is obliterated because I don’t need to generate endless material. It’s like something can be reduced.

 

NC: How much of what you perform is a direct outgrowth of your daily physical practice? How much of what you perform comes from a more imaginative, theoretical, or critical form of work? How do the two relate, or intersect?
KP: What I perform in my work is not a physical practice that I engage with every day, at least not in a way that is directly visible. Especially in the last couple of years in the shift that I described, my making practice has become very connected to and informed by things that I’m reading and listening to, works of scholars, activists and other artists. So much of my practice now is one of observing, reading, and going to hear people or see people. In a way, at this point, that’s how I spend more of my making time than actually being in the studio, which is a really huge shift from when I was in school. Right now I’m in the studio maybe a couple of times a week exploring practices that do show up very legibly in my performances.
HK: I don’t even separate them out very much. Sometimes if things are getting a little too cerebral, it’s really important for me to come back to the body. So I don’t always perform in my own work, but I think of myself as a performer first and I’m interested in bodied practice, that aspect is central to my ability to create. It’s important for me to think of course also, and I really like the heart-mind-body conversation that happens, senses or kind of something I’m returning to and activating, listen, fall into.

Guest artist Heather Kravas and her collaborator Victoria Haven answering questions from the discussion after the performance on April 7, 2018

 
NC: Which artists, writers, musicians, or scholars are you into at the moment? What are the connections between those things and what you’re thinking about or working on right now?
KP: The most immediate answer is the works of Sara Ahmed, who is the scholar that I mentioned in our workshop, and whose work also shows up in my performance at Whitman. She is a scholar working in queer theory, feminist theory and critical race theory, she is multiracial, a woman and these identities are showing up very directly in her work, in terms of how she’s challenging and revealing systems of power that are so taken for granted, that become concealed. It’s that dynamic that’s really exciting to me right now, and that kind of characterizes the people whose works I’m interested in, very incisively excavating, like revealing things, systems, or structures that get concealed. I just read, not too long ago, Karl Marx’s Capital: Volume 1. So I am thinking about critiques of capitalism too. I recently have been reading works of bell hooks, a scholar thinking about sexuality, gender, race and class. Again, I think, like a social theorist who is revealing, revealing, revealing. Also, I just saw this amazing show Figuring History at the Seattle Art Museum last weekend which shows the works of three black painters who are all from the 20th century but of different generations, their names are Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, and Mickalene Thomas. I was really excited by their works because they are three painters who have very much immersed themselves in canonical painting tradition, and have done that in order to subvert it by inserting and situating black people and black bodies as their subjects. The way they are in dialogue with tradition or convention but then meaning to reveal something about a problem, namely the absence of black people as subjects in art, in a bigger way. It’s really powerful to me the way they are having that conversation in their artworks.
HK: I’m working with a visual artist, so I’m definitely thinking about her work. Her name is Victoria Haven, she’ll be coming here, participating in the work also. I don’t feel like that my response is very linear, I have artists that I feel an affinity towards or have been people I look at for a long time in relation to work, but there’s also something about working right now that is almost like a closed circuit, like I’m looking towards the work as kinda a world onto itself—in some ways it is not so much a response to the outside world, not that it’s not relevant to the outside world—in some ways it is a response to the outside world, but it’s trying to achieve a structure onto itself that doesn’t rely on existing ones, or it might mirror existing ones but it’s not a right angle reference to it. So I find that lots of time when I look at the work of other artists, right now it’s not so much a direct inspiration for my work but as a spiritual inspiration to see how other people continued, or persevered or figured out something contrary to what they had thought. I have been looking at Lygia Clark’s work a lot. The title of the piece that I’m beginning to work on, of which this is a study, “solid objects” actually refers to a Virginia Woolf’s short story. It doesn’t directly correlate, but there’s an opening image in that story that is very compelling to me and it deals with an abstraction that becomes human. And I feel like my work has been grappling with that a lot, about a feeling, emotional state, something that we might say more abstract, so I like work that deals with either one of those conditions and the work that I think I response to most is grappling with those things at the same time.