Abigail DeVille’s Flair for the Dramatic

Artist Abigail DeVille in her studio residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem (Harlem, Manhattan, 04.10.14). Production still from the ART21 New York Close Up film Abigail DeVille’s Flair for the Dramatic. © ART21, Inc. 2014. Cinematography by Amitabh Joshi.

Artist Abigail DeVille in her studio residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem (Harlem, Manhattan, 04.10.14). Production still from the ART21 New York Close Up film Abigail DeVille’s Flair for the Dramatic. © ART21, Inc. 2014. Cinematography by Amitabh Joshi.

How do you get your audience to touch the art? In a new film from the ART21 New York Close Up series, artist Abigail DeVille constructs the set for a premiere performance of Adrienne Kennedy‘s play She Talks to Beethoven (1989) at the JACK arts center in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Theater director Charlotte Brathwaite describes the play’s dreamlike style and time-bending narrative: an American expatriate in 1960’s Ghana “converses” with Beethoven in early 1800s Vienna. DeVille draws parallels between the play’s temporal cross-cutting and theoretical physics—specifically the concept of wormholes, or passageways in the space-time continuum—as well as the hidden histories and absences that mark the African American experience. To create the sculptural set titled Intersection (2014), DeVille and Brathwaite drill holes into wooden flats, linking them together to form two concentric ellipses. Acquiring cast-off materials through the Recycled Artist in Residency program in Philadelphia, DeVille describes what attracts her to the discarded: “Material already has so much information trapped inside of it. It has whatever it’s chemically made up of, its physical and chemical properties, whoever owned it, loved it, and threw it away…What can you improve on that?” In a performance set to Beethoven’s Fidelio, the actors move fluidly through the dramatically lit set, sharing the sculptural space with an equally mobile audience. “You can hold an audience captive,” marvels DeVille, who is fascinated by the possibilities a theatrical context can provide. The film also documents DeVille at work in a residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Features the installations New York at Dawn (2010), Dark Star (2010), Dark Day (2012), “If I don’t think I’m sinking, look at what a hole I’m in” (2012), Street Life: A Vortex (2012), and XXXXXXX (2013); and includes music by Ludwig van Beethoven—Egmont, Op. 84; Symphony No 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55; Coriolan Overture, Op. 62; Fidelio, Op. 72—performed by the Musopen Symphony.

Abigail DeVille (b. 1981, New York, New York, USA) lives and works in the Bronx, New York.

CREDITS | ART21 New York Close Up Created & Produced by: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Editor: Erin Casper. Cinematography: Amitabh Joshi & Erik Spink. Sound: Nick Ravich. Associate Producer: Ian Forster. Design & Graphics: Crux Studio, Open. Artwork: Abigail DeVille. Music: Musopen Symphony. Thanks: Hao Bai, Charlotte Brathwaite, Gabriel DeLeon, David Dempewolf, Antonio DeVille, Billy Dufala, Alec Duffy, Fern Gookin, Elizabeth Gwinn, JACK, Adrienne Kennedy, Eric N. Mack, Jason Mitja, Natalie Paul, Paul Pryce, Recycled Artist in Residency, Revolution Recovery, Studio Museum in Harlem, Lucia Thomé, Hannah Wasileski, Yuka Yokoyama, and Yi Zhao. An Art21 Workshop Production. © Art21, Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

ART21 New York Close Up is supported, in part, by The Lambent Foundation; the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; and by individual contributors.

Contributor
Jonathan Munar is the Director of Digital Media and Strategy at ART21, overseeing the organization's overall digital, Web, and social media presences. He edits and contributes to the Magazine's "Art 2.1" column.

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