Rodney Veal, an independent choreographer and interdisciplinary artist (as well as DMM Contributor), serves as adjunct faculty for both Stivers School of the Performing Arts and Sinclair Community College. Mr. Veal is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University with a B.S in Political Science and Visual Arts. He recently received his M.F.A in Choreography from The Ohio State University. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Ohio Dance and Involvement Advocacy/Blue Sky Project.
Mr. Veal was recently awarded a MCACD Fellowship for 2010-2011. Several of his works have been performed as a part of the Ohio Dance Festival. He recently exhibited “Seen/Unseen” at Gallery 510 as a part of the 510 Project Initiative. Rodney recently directed “Soul Rhythms” a multi-disciplinary show on culture and dance, the culmination of the culture builds community-Intensive Cultural Residency Project created by CityFolk; recent projects include a solo multi-media performance exhibition at the Springfield Museum of Art, Reveal: Five Zones of Beauty in the summer of 2011.
Blue Sky Project is a summer experience that empowers professional artists from around the world and local youth to collaborate and build community through the creation of ambitious works of contemporary art and performance. Rodney Veal participated in the Blue Sky Project in 2009 and has continued his involvement in the program since then. He is now one of six returning resident artist who have come back to the program for the summer of 2012. He is also temporarily functioning as the programs artistic director. I had the opportunity to sit down with Rodney and discuss his upcoming projects.
Philip Titlebaum: How did you find out about and become affiliated with Blue Sky Project?
Rodney Veal: I became aware of Blue Sky in 2009. I saw an ad for an artist residency program and what was unusual about it was that it was a call for artists from any and all disciplines. Which is kind of rare. Usually it’s very specific to a genre of art making. It’s all visual, or all music, or all dance, but never where you have visual, music, dance, video, performance art, installation art, environmental art, everything combined. So I applied for one of the residencies. It was really competitive for five spots, I got in and that started my connection to Blue Sky in 2009 that has continued until today.
PT: How are you balancing being both a resident artist and the artistic director of Blue Sky Project?
RV: The artistic directorship is very temporary, just for the summer, but the balance part is going pretty well because I know what the other artists are in need of and that’s someone who is going to listen and someone who is going to take it very seriously to help them achieve their goals, whether that’s finding their materials or finding them a place to show their work or if it’s just somebody to have as an extra set of eyes in the artistic process and as they develop things. I’m really glad to be able to take on that role temporarily for the summer. Mequitta [Ahuja] is phenomenal, who’s the artistic director of the program, so I had some very big shoes to fill but I took it as a really good challenge and an opportunity to give back and so far the balance has been pretty good. I’m working just as hard making my art. I think Mequitta would be the first one to say that she still followed her own practices while she was artistic director when she was a part of the Blue Sky summers, so I just followed her lead and it seems to balance itself out really well.
PT: You’re an artist of many disciplines. How has your interest and involvement in different art forms developed over time and how do these different disciplines inform one another?
RV: I struggled with the combination of these multiple disciplines because of my background. My undergraduate degree is in political science and visual arts so I had a completely different take on how I was going to move forward in my life and then dance appeared. I pretty much sublimated the visual arts and the political science aspects to really take seriously studying dance because it just required so much. I was getting thrust into dance in a very unusual way, especially the fact that it was ballet. I was pretty much an experiment because I started so late. I started when I was 19 and then really didn’t take it seriously until I was 23 or 24. It required a lot of focus and intention and it required a lot of time. Training at that level required me to be in the studio taking class and rehearsing six days a week and so there wasn’t really much time to develop anything else.
Those talents and skills and desires to create paintings and drawings and sketches still existed and they manifested themselves every now and then but nothing very seriously until I got toward the end of my dance career. You start to look for other options and you start realizing, well what’s phase two of this dance career and there’s teaching and choreography, which I fell in love with but then what happens? What makes you different? What’s going to make you stand out or what’s informing the process? I realized looking back on the things I had created that I was really painting the space with human bodies. I was using broad brush strokes to move and manipulate people through space, which is very similar to painting and I just thought, wait a minute, you’re using the skills you already had. Well how do you combine all your loves and passions and the things that you love and the skill sets you have into one?
At that point I was teaching and I was retiring and a good friend of mine, who was also a professional dancer, made a suggestion that I should go to grad school at The Ohio State University. I applied and I got in. When I got to grad school my goal was just to focus on choreography but what was interesting was that they had a really strong technology and media presence in their degree program and I think a lot of it had to do with my background in visual arts and my love for film and it was just that love of and passion for the moving image plus the visual arts degree that allowed me to navigate learning Final Cut and Photoshop and picking up software programs a lot easier than most. I found that I loved it and I actually changed my focus that first year towards making my final thesis project combine everything that I do.
I’m glad I did because then, in the midst of all of that, I got my residency with Blue Sky, which is very unusual. I was still in grad school, doing a major project in the summer for the residency and developing my MFA project. I’ll be honest with you I feel like that was the best thing I could have done for me to have my first stepping out in that sort of way to do a large scope performance art installation piece. It was really successful and I’m forever tied to these sort of cross disciplinary works because I think it’s just a much more exciting process because while there are rules within the individual genres of the art forms when you’re combining them cross-disciplinary, there are no rules for the final product. So you’re making your own rules of the usage of and how it’s being used because it’s not strictly one thing or another. So it’s not someone judging it solely as a photo exhibit. No, it’s the photography, combined with the video imagery, plus the installation so it becomes something different entirely and then there’s a performative element if I choose to perform with it. A lot of people aren’t very comfortable with that as art makers because they’re very “Oh, I must stick to my rules,” but I love that it has rules up to a point and then you’re on your own and that’s what excites me.
PT: Your upcoming exhibition, “Mythologies,” focuses on early Greek culture. Can you speak a little bit about that project and what inspired it?
RV: Yeah, I think the biggest thing was that in 2011 I was coming off of an exhibition at the Springfield Museum of Art called ReVeal: Five Zones of Beauty. Part of that opened up this question of representation because there was a strong element within it of a segment called epic beauty, which dealt with beauty that is larger than life, so to speak, where the beauty was entailing of a sort of almost mythical stance. I think this is kind of an extension of that.
How do you represent the mythic form? How do you represent and pull out the personality and character within that and make a larger statement? Then I started thinking about Greek mythology because Greek culture is pretty much the foundation for the republic that the United States is formed on, which is that political science connection, then seeing how their culture embraced the body, how their culture embraced beauty. Greek mythology isn’t just straightforward. It’s so rich. There’s a lot there. I feel like I’m only scratching the surface of it but I thought I’d start at the top and start with the mythology of the gods and goddesses. In that research I found that the Greek city-states and the towns and the villages all had a different relationship with the gods and goddesses. So there was no real straightforward myth, only what survived in the records. One of the gods in one city could be viewed as a very vengeful god and in another one as a heroic savior-protector and that could be the next town over. So this whole notion that within a culture everybody can have their own different interpretation of this mythic figure and what that mythic figure represents, which gets into a question of spirituality and religion because it was their spirituality and religion was based upon multiple gods and goddesses.
How does that relate to a monotheistic society, like our culture, that is predominantly Judeo-Christian, that question of a god and what does that mean? And then to have twelve, talk about a very complex relationship with your spirituality if there’s a representation of twelve and to have a category for each one and what they represent but then how it all is intertwined into your world and your belief system and how you function. That to me was very fascinating. And what if that still existed? What if that had never really gone away? What if it had been a parallel tract of the one God in all these other cultures, to still have that multiple god stance going through? We’ve had a lot of fictional what-ifs about “What if Germany won World War II?” and those kinds of things, there are some interesting books there. But then to take it to that extreme with spirituality and how you represent that, that’s kind of how this started to come into fruition. I started off with one question about beauty and it led to this whole question about representation and spirituality.
PT: And how are you representing that in the works?
RV: I’m representing it by the scope and scale and how it’s being installed. The photographic images are large-scale; the video is obviously large scale and very layered. The video will be projected on canvas but it will also be reflected through mirrors in the space so it starts to take on a theatricality and a walking into another worldliness. And I’m adding some camp elements a little bit, not a lot, but just enough to give a sense of humor there, but then there’s also a sense that you have to take it in. You can’t just dismiss it. It’s not going to be one of those things where you just walk into it and go “Oh, pretty pictures,” and then walk away. You’re going to be confronted with some other things as well. My goal with the exhibit is that people take time to be in the environment and then to ponder these large images because we are a very puritanical society. There are a lot of people who are not very comfortable with their bodies. The human form is being represented pretty extensively and I think that that already puts you at a distance because anyone who would agree to show themselves like this is already elevating themselves beyond the rest because most people wouldn’t do it. The layers and the representation will be there immediately once you walk in just because of that alone.
PT: Blue Sky Project has always been a hotbed for cross-media collaboration and this year is no exception. Can you tell us about your project with Katherine Mann and Shaw Pong Liu?
RV: Ah yes, today I just had my first encounter with the tech crew. They’ve already started reprogramming this software that will recognize body shapes and forms as they move through the space. What’s really great about this collaboration is that it’s not just cross-disciplinary within three different art forms, a visual art form, music, and dance, but it also brings in technology and the use of technology to kind of infuse and inform all three.
The hope and goal with the imaging software program is that it uses the body and facial recognition to affect how the sound is being made within the space. It will alter the soundscape that has been created by Shaw Pong but then the dancers will be responding to that alteration and Shaw Pong will be responding to that. You have these layers of relationships, which is what technology does. Technology is about building and/or defining relationships and connections and so it’s redefining those connections between a dancer and music. It’s very interesting because they’ve pinpointed the major parts. The computer will recognize that this is a hand, this is a wrist joint, wrist, elbow, head, knee, ankle, head tilt, whole body, right and left, based upon which sides of the body they’re on and where they’re in the diagram of the body.
This kind of a collaboration has allowed us to reinterpret what we would normally do. Katherine’s work now has a three-dimensional quality that begs the question is it a painting or is it a sculpture. It introduces even bigger questions. If the music is generated via the gestures of the performers are the performers musicians? If the composer is reacting to her own feedback in loop but she’s responding to it as the dancers is she now the choreographer? So the hats that we wear and our roles as art makers expand greatly. I feel as though that’s the power of having these cross-disciplinary collaborations. It allows for the bigger questions to be asked and an expansion and redefining of the roles within the art making practices. Which means that it’s something new, which breaks rules. Which is something right up my alley.
PT: What about the performance on September 15?
RV: September 15 is “By Nightfall All of the Migrating Souls Will Be At Peace.” It’s ambitious even by my standards. It’s an ambitious project using UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) technology and cameras and video to capture, record, and feed a performance that moves through the streets of Dayton. So basically they’ll be individuals and groups moving on five paths through the city of Dayton to one central location and we’ll be recording it using that technology, which allows us to document and also present that information via a live feed to the central location where all the migratory groups are coming to. So people can observe it walking and moving through the streets of Dayton and/or at the central location. You’ve got two vantage points and hopefully this will be streamed on the web so that’s the goal is to present this information and performance in a different way. I’m excited about that because I feel like it’s taking the scope and scale of the performance and making it really larger than life. Also people will be following the performers through the streets with regular video cameras just to record and document as well. So ultimately, from all this information, there will end up being a second performance piece that could really end up being something pretty amazing.
All three of the events mentioned in this article are free and open to the public. “Mythologies” will take place on Friday, July 20 from 6:00 – 8:00 PM at 8 North Main Street, Dayton, Ohio. “2, 3, 4,” a collaboration between Rodney Veal, Shaw Pong Liu, and Katherine Mann, will take place on August 10 at 7 pm and on August 11 at 5 & 7 pm. All these performances will take place at 8 North Main Street, Dayton, Ohio. “By Nightfall All of the Migrating Souls Will Be At Peace” will take place in downtown Dayton on September 15 from 4 to 6pm. The central location for the exhibition will be Tech Town at 711 East Monument Avenue, Dayton, Ohio.