Marchland: Carrie Hanson And The Seldoms Is By No Means Routine

By Sid Smith / Chicago Tribune
March 8, 2010

Carrie Hanson and her troupe, the Seldoms, have never particularly sought institutional imprimatur. They trend toward the offbeat: Swimming pools and dank, cavernous South Side warehouses rank high on their list of past venues.

But, in their eighth season, the Seldoms are about to play the Museum of Contemporary Art, a sure sign of establishment approval.

“Carrie is one of the great independent choreographers working in Chicago,” Peter Taub, director of performance programs at the MCA, puts it unequivocally. “She creates really vigorous, muscular work that also has moments of lyricism and incredible elegance.”

The new work, “Marchland,” is by no means routine. It’s a collaboration involving a wide sample of talents, including visual artist Fraser Taylor, whose animation and sound video, “Crevice,” inspired the project.

“We have a long friendship, dating back to when we were both in London in 2000,” Hanson says. “But it was costume designer Lara Miller, whom I’ve worked with a lot, who brought us together for this project. She invited us both over to watch ‘Crevice,’ and the new piece began from those conversations.”

To fashion “Crevice,” Taylor took strips of clear 16 mm film and drew directly on them, using pencil, pen and ink, and other media. “I even stitched onto it in places,” he says. Collaborating with digital artist Nicholas O’Brien, he transferred the film to video, so that when broadcast, it projects an ever-changing array of squiggly images. The use of 16 mm film has a retro feel, an antique medium by today’s standards. But Taylor sees the overall process as linking old and new technologies.

“My core interest is what I call mark making, an analog process associated with paper,” says Taylor, who teaches as a visiting artist with the department of fiber and material studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “So, in that sense, I use traditional methods of drawing. But I’m interested in how these images transfer to the digital, where they can be manipulated in so many ways. I see this as a bridge between analog and digital.”

“Marchland” takes that urge for synthesis a step further by including live dance and music. Hanson applied Taylor’s conception of mark making to dance. “I thought more in terms of humans marking space, of occupying designated territory,” she says. “To me, the dancers (four men and four women) represent different regions or groups, marking off their own personal domain. It’s about people claiming space, how allegiances form, break up and shift to new alliances.”

The title term, in fact, is a somewhat obscure alternative word for boundary – “Marchland” is about what happens on a demarcation line.

Taylor has expanded “Crevice,” including some shots of Chicago – though ones manipulated to represent more ambiguous locales. “We’re not trying to be specific,” Taylor says. “Borders can be psychological.”

Another collaborator, Tim Daisy, a musician and percussionist, will provide live accompaniment.

For the MCA, the project is part of a growing emphasis on cross-disciplinary work.

“They spent 10 days here in August and again in September,” Taub says. “They actually built the piece in our theater.”

Taylor likes that the mostly white background of the stage evokes a giant canvas.

“The MCA theater, so minimal, is the perfect fit,” Hanson agrees. “This is a fantastic opportunity.”