Ellie Ga,Â The Fortunetellers, 2008-ongoing, detail.
By Gabby Moser
In advance of her Live Images performance this Saturday, Brooklyn-based artist Ellie Ga answered a few questions about her performative lecture The Fortunetellers. Combining video, sound, narration and overhead and slide projectors, Gaâ€™s performance meditates on themes of future-telling, metaphorical thinking and forging human connections in one of the worldâ€™s most isolating landscapes.
Gabby Moser: The Fortunetellers began during a five-month residency aboard a sailboat, named Tara, drifting in the ice near the North Pole. Can you tell me a bit more about how you ended up on the Tara and what your experiences were like as an artist on board a scientific expedition?
Ellie Ga: I was obsessed with going to the Arctic because I had recently done a 15-month long artist residency at New Yorkâ€™s Explorers Club. I had done a lot of research into polar expeditions but I had no idea what I would do as a project. I just wanted to be there.
My situation joining Tara was quite different from the typical residency. I was the only artist aboard and I was expected to be a part of the crew. During my interview for the position, I was told that the conditions would be difficult and I was even warned that I might not make any art from the experience. The expedition had no definitive end because Tara was drifting with the movements of the pack ice. I was also coming aboard for the winter, which meant there would be months of darkness.
I was a one of ten people on board and was paid to be there, just like the rest of the crew. My artistic work aboard Tara was a direct reaction to life on board. I worked 8-10 hours a day, alternating between cooking, cleaning, cutting ice for drinking water, clearing the boat of snow and assisting with scientific duties. I always had my sound recorder and camera with me and I would record as I worked. The work was hard and I thought that I would gather as much material as possible and make sense of it when the expedition was over.
The social dynamics on the boat changed all this. Everyone had a role, an expertise, on the boat.
There was a doctor, a scientist, a mechanic, a captain, a carpenter. But what kind of expertise does an artist bring to this kind of society? What could I offer? I, unlike the others, had no skills to offer for physical survival.
GM: You’ve mentioned in your artist statement that the performance was partially inspired by one of the means of entertainment the crew developed on the ship, which was a lecture series. It seems like boredom, and facing a certain set of restrictions over your movement and activity, was an important influence on the work. Do you see a connection between boredom or stasis and the resulting resourcefulness or creativity?
EG: We had a â€œThursday Night Lecture Seriesâ€ on the boat where we would have some nice whiskey and some chocolate and someone would give a presentation. The subjects varied from scientific work being done on Tara, to last yearâ€™s vacation to Monaco. I realized that I needed to use the lecture series as a way to communicate with the crew, that, to gain acceptance in this small society, I needed to make art at that moment, for the people on Tara. So I conceived of a series of works for our â€œThursday Night Lecture Seriesâ€ to explain to the crew how I interpreted our world, our everyday life.
Because we never knew when we would exit the ice, I became intrigued with how we each dealt with this element of the unknown and how our emotional responses related to prediction and the anticipation of the future. I began to examine different modes of future-telling, from ancient forms of water divination, oracles and palmistry, to the scientific rituals that were part of everyday life.
GM: What were some of the topics and themes you presented on board?
EG: My work assisting the scientists in the crew was a big influence. The first lecture in the series was about the yo-yo. The yo-yo is, of course, the toy we all know, but it is also a scientific term for quickly measuring the top 50 metres of the ocean. My first lecture linked the word â€œyo-yoâ€ as itâ€™s used to describe a toy with its use as a scientific term and with its use as a word that has entered common, everyday language. Once I showed the lecture to my crew, I think I became much closer to one of the scientists as he now saw how I weaved the mundane aspects of our lives, as well as the scientific activities, with more metaphorical ways of thinking. He would then spend time with me, explaining how the yo-yo worked in science and was patient with my un-scientific questions. If I had not made my work while on the Tara, I would never have had this kind of contact with him.
This idea of social acceptance, of having to relate to and communicate with this very small society shaped my project, and when I came home I began doing the series of performances called The Fortunetellers as a way to narrate this experience for others.
GM: The Fortunetellers relies on some outmoded presentation formats, such as an overhead projector, to build a narrative about keeping time and prognosticating about the future. What role do anachronistic technologies play in your practice and in this performance in particular?
EG: I don’t necessarily think of these technologies as anachronistic. I see these different ways of presenting images as essential parts of the conceptual organization of the narrative that I’m trying to convey. For example, I started using the overhead projector because I wanted to simulate the gesture of the fortunetellers laying out cards, so the overhead was a good way to layer small images on top of each other and to have my hand visible. The slide projector I use because the slides are about watch advertisements, frozen at a certain time, so the cyclical turning of the slide projector worked well with that notion.
GM: How does landscape influence your practice as an artist?
EG: I think of landscape as the arrangement of different forms on a plane. In the case of my work, it takes shape through the organization of different media. In the Arctic, it was the human presence in a seemingly deserted space, filling the void with noise, thoughts and dialogue.
Ellie Ga presents The Fortunetellers this Saturday, April 2nd, from 3:30-4:30 pm at the Harbourfront Centreâ€™s Brigantine Room.