Efficacy in Practice: Performing Arts students at large in Houston

Four University of Houston students, Amber Baker, Anasheh Partiai, Sarah Rodriguez and Brandon Zech recently performed at Fringe Festival, the self-described “forum” of performance art. The Aletheia teamed up with two of these artists, Sarah Rodriguez and Brandon Zech, to talk about visual art, performance, experience, and the spaces in between. The resulting interview gives us a look at the University’s role in creating a multi-faceted art experience for all of Houstonians to enjoy.

The Aletheia: Your work together began in IART 3395, Efficacy in Practice. What about the class led to this collaboration?

Sarah: IART 3395 was a tiny class, four people total. So it was kind of impossible not to collaborate when we got the opportunity. Our intentions and hopes for the project were so similar we just decided to roll with it. 

Brandon: After the class ended, I believe all of us still had a desire to create. We mounted a successful exhibition together, and therefore believed we could do so again.

TA: As art history, philosophy and dance students, you’re a pretty diverse bunch. What unites you in your practice?

S: This is kind of a cheesy answer, but what really tied us together were ideas of accessibility. I think our works embody that idea very differently (Brandon’s piece, through vulnerability, Amber’s piece through education, and mine through queer spaces), but at their root, I really think accessibility is what’s important. 

B: Our practices are united in the fact that they do not stick within one discipline. I study art history, but I also make art. Further than that, some of my performances have a very dance-like fashion to them. No one in the group sticks within any boundaries. This is why everyone’s practice works so well together.

TA: How has your creation process worked as collaborators?

B: We are interesting in our collaboration in that we put on a show as a collective, but each member has a distinctive voice. The ideas and motivational forces behind the pieces are not necessarily directly related. We are not trying to put on a themed show. Rather, each artist addresses issues that they are concerned with, and in turn, there is a poignant theme of personal challenge running throughout the show.

TA: Is it most individual or collective?

S: We give each other advice and critiques, but I think we work pretty individually when it comes to final products. 

B: In the creation of single pieces, I would say it is mostly individual. However, the conceptualization of the pieces has involved a large amount of input from all members of the group.

TA: Neither one of you comes from a performance background originally. Why performance, now?

S: I like to think of performance as a way to create experiences, not necessarily through a stage and lighting. I use performance as a way of interacting with a space or idea that one normally wouldn’t seek out. Performance then becomes something I, as an artist, can experience along with the audience, so I gain something I normally wouldn’t from just putting up work on the wall. 

B: For this piece, as it has to do with everyday acts of vulnerability, performance was the best way to present it. It was a work that involved lots of doing. Also, it had a strong relation to the physical body – particularly, my physical body. In this sense, performance was the best way to communicate the message of the work.

TA: Talk a little about what has happened since Fall 2013 with your collaborative.

S: Well, we’ve actually gotten quite a bit from our collaborations. Last April, we had a show at DiverseWorks that was a more traditional collaboration. We developed the piece together and incorporated all of our styles, very successfully, I would say! So that was very cool. 

B: We have been through a few different stages of thinking about things. We presented a performance at the art space DiverseWorks that was in dialogue with our 2013 exhibition The Art of Everyday Politics, and then, for the Houston Fringe Festival, we reconceptualized our original exhibition. All in all, it has involved a large amount of meditative thinking on the original issues we chose to address.

TA: What did you bring to Fringe Festival?

B: As a performer, I brought a piece of performance art. It resembles dance, but upon closer inspection, it has many nuanced qualities that blur traditional media. As a collective, we are bringing a new look on the politics of everyday life and what makes up the world around us.

TA: How have your performances morphed?

S: I like working, and I think we all like working, with materials inspired by or borrowed from the everyday. So, for our show at Alabama Song, I created a reading space that lasted for twenty four hours. For Fringe, I decided to narrow the focus a little bit. The piece is only in the women’s bathroom, and uses queer and feminist texts in a way that attempts to remove the stigma of accessing these ideas by effectively removing the male gaze. 

Maybe that’s actually widening the lens after all. Haha. 

B: Since it has been a number of months since I originally performed my work, I have been able to look back on it and see the effect it had on my art making. I have taken this into account, and, for the Fringe Festival performance, I modified my original dance to include a segment of me talking about the project in an intimate fashion. Recorded days before the festival, it was the first time I deeply looked back at the project itself, and by recording it, the project became self aware.

Interview by Sara Balabanlilar

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