Sunday, December 30, 2007

Essential Jill Pangallo: AVB interview #1
with Kate Watson

In this first installment in our AVB interview series, Kate drills Jill about the mish mash of art, comedy and theater and the terror of proclaiming oneself "Artist." Throw in a slap dash of video and away we go.

KW: I’m gonna start with a quote of yours from an interview for a CRL show a while back--

" 'I always wanted to resist the one-woman-show shtick,' she confided, 'but it seems to be something I can't quite get away from. I just try to stay within an art context…you know, to avoid performance venues.' "

That question stuck out to me because I struggle with that all the time, why I, myself, transitioned from theater to art. So I guess the question is what draws you to the context of the art world, and why not theater?

Just to situate this quote, I think this is one year into the three-year MFA program at UT (University of Texas at Austin), so I had just begin to chart my "art" course, so to speak. What I was responding to is that most of the work I was making at the time was persona-based and I had become hyper-aware of the tendency of that type of work to remind people of theater, television and film. Not to say I don't like that stuff. I am a big fan of Carol Burnett and Lily Tomlin — they were my heroes growing up. But there still exists the cliché of the one-woman character show — terrible actress in crappy wig monologue-ing in an unrecognizable foreign accent about something or another. So in response to the fact that I just started working within an art context, I was trying to work more in an "art" related way by steering clear of any theater-type venues for clarity’s sake... but that is not necessarily a long-term scenario.

Nancy Makeover

For me, working in an art context (versus theater or film) is more of an experiment rather than an act of desperation since I don’t feel pushed out of the entertainment realm. In fact, I feel like I can revisit it whenever I choose and I do. I just was dead set on trying out something new and for me this meant throwing myself into a world that I had less familiarity with — the art world. My transition into this genre happened rather organically. In New York, I was involved with what I always call a “comic cabaret” scene in which I performed for several years [most recognizably with collaborative groups the Hohos and Hot Sausage]. What happened was that I started supplementing our live performances with video projections. That started to be fun for me and I felt like I might get a kick out of exploring it further. I would say that the live performance was closer to performance art than the video was to what you would call video art, but it was going in that direction, this sort of hybrid. I began to notice other performers who blended entertainment and art — rather I had been watching and performing with many of these people for over a decade, but I never really thought about the implications of classifying the type of performance they were doing. This lead to my reinvigorated interest in the art world. As I grow older, it becomes all about the experience and the journey and this art thing is my latest exploration, basically.

The Hohos - Gold Dust Woman

Do you feel like the ‘world’ of contemporary art is more open to that sort of experimentation than the ‘world’ of contemporary theater?

I actually find the contemporary art world more confining, more constricting. As a way to soothe my jangled nerves when I first got to school, I tried to come up with a secret formula so what I made would be considered "video art" rather than “music videos” or “sketch comedy.” That didn't go so hot. The feedback I kept getting was that people wanted me to remove information. I have some experience in sketch comedy and improv — genres in which detail is celebrated — so it was initially hard, painful actually, for me to remove a certain type of information. Another thing is that I find that contemporary video and performance art is much less polished then TV or film. It’s often more rudimentary in terms of the technical aspects and production values, but at the same time has this very specific taste meter that allows or disallows a naïve style based on something… I am still trying to figure this out. To be completely honest, I’m not sure I get the contemporary art world thing. I haven’t figured out that thing that makes things art and not entertainment yet. I haven’t figured out a way to present my work and have people not say “I’m not sure… I’m not sure that this reads as art.” That happens to me all the time. I guess it boils down to, some people think it’s interesting and some people don’t.

KW: You went to Parsons. Do you feel that “art school-y” experience informed you?

It did inform me. I had a fine arts foundation year at Parsons and even though my communications degree was very commercially driven, I was going to school with fine artists as well as commercial artists and we’d always go to museums and galleries. Plus, when I got to New York [in the late 80’s] the tail end of the downtown performance scene was still happening. So yeah, the exposure was there, but at the time I didn’t put my interests together with my career pursuits. I thought I had really solved things by having this graphic design day job where I would get to design all these hot magazine layouts (the internet wasn’t going full force yet) not realizing that that probably wasn’t what I was interested in to begin with. Not to bash it though, the design background has equipped me with a great set of skills that I call on all the time because I design many of my own props, costumes, signage… anything I need for my projects. Not having to outsource that is a good thing.

I’m not surprised to find myself in this position because I’ve always found myself in between things — In a way I’ve always felt like a hybrid person. I am fairly good at many things; I’m not sure I’m really excellent at one thing. Which is why my exploration continues — it’s not like I’ve found this one thing that rocks my world and I’m really amazing at. That can be painful sometimes but it can be rewarding too because I’ve had all this exposure to different realms.

Some Lady Kickboxing
(Please see comments on the youtube page)

KW: It seems very practical of you at age 18 to have chosen design as your major. What you just said about how that was going to be your day job…I don’t think most eighteen year olds think in that way.

JP: Worse, I was seventeen… you know, this obsession with “normalcy” (which I am not) and “security” (which I will never be) has existed in my life since I was a child. I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t trying to balance the practical and the impractical – my fantasy life and my real life. This duality is expressed in my work all the time. As a child, being an artist did not seem like an appropriate career pursuit. So it’s funny to me that I’m now back in school studying to be a “professional” artist because I’ve been resisting it for years. I guess I couldn’t deny it any more; I owed it to myself, and anyone who was close to me, to explore it. There’s this esteem thing about calling yourself an artist. It’s interesting because we’re living at a time when they’re spitting out thousands of MFAs every year. And technically that makes you an artist, but it’s so much bigger than that. For me, “artist” is such a big word. Acknowledging that and revering the scenario that allows you to call yourself one is important to me. When I travel, luckily I still can write ‘student,’ in the occupation box but next year I’m gonna have to be honest and finally decide whether or not I am ready to call myself an artist. I’m gonna have to face that and say ‘alright, is that what I am now?’

Sexy Hobo

Jill Pangallo will graduate from UT Austin in May 2008 with an MFA in Studio Art (Transmedia).

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