Ann Garner collection of work for Blacklisted

Anna Garner and her slapstick minimalism

Anna Garner in conversation with our partner ArtFile Magazine's Jade Yumang

Published: March 6, 2017Words: Anna Garner & Jade YumangArtist Link: www.annagarner.com/

Anna Garner was one of my residency mates at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in the summer of 2016. During our three months stay I was very lucky to know her as an artist and see her process. Her mixture of minimalist aesthetics both in her sculptures and video performances create a striking tension between systems of control and the parameters of the body.

In Proof and Permutations, you push the limits of the body through various tasks. Your body goes through certain restraints with the objects you selected. They have a visual linearity, but purposely unsettling as it does not set the viewer up for a reason why you go through such actions. What is this push and pull with control, limitation, and uncertainty that is present in the work?

I tend to work and think in a very linear manner. There is a tightness in my work; it is very formal and minimal. However the actions create a differentiation from these aesthetic qualities, they are loose, uncertain, and instinctive. I like the incongruity within these two components of the work. My intention is for this contrast to suggest the distance between perceived and actual controllability. The methods I use are born from a desire to destabilize risk as a managed and regulated principle and to undermine control as a visual space.

You reference cartoons, especially slapstick devices in your work where you set yourself up to do tasks that have elements of danger and humor. How do you go about in deciding which tasks/movements to undertake?

It’s always different. At times I make lists and lists of simple, absurd actions, then distill them down into something doable as a performance. I am also frequently researching physical comedy, stunt work and sports. This includes watching old slapstick films and cartoons, action films and sports (particularly and most recently gymnastics). I am very interested to see how athletes, performers, comedians, actors, and even cartoon characters use their bodies to create beautiful spectacles of control and failure.

How important is costuming in your work? And do you have a physical regimen or routine as part of your practice?

Costuming is becoming more and more important in my work. The aesthetics in my video performances are minimal, so wardrobe is very prominent. I see costuming as an opportunity to continue playing with color and form. I spend countless hours looking for clothing that match the color schemes and aesthetics I want in the piece. I am considering working with a seamstress/clothing designer on future projects so I can create pieces that are specific to each performance. I also see my body as an integral part of the work; I try to hit the gym 4-5 times a week. I would probably do this anyways, but because of the physicality of my work I feel it is more important to stay in shape.

In Mishandle, Mishap, you have taken the body out altogether, yet the objects are arranged in a way that conjures teetering moments that can be activated by bodies. They almost become like traps. What is the impetus in moving into a 3D world and the absence of the body?

I had been working with performance for so long and my presence was such a vital part of the work; I wanted to see what happened when I took myself out of the work and where that could lead. I also frequently made objects for my performances that would exist only temporarily in the video or sometimes would even be completely unseen, because they were off-screen. In this body of work I focused on the physical objects and environments within slapstick; it was my intention to create a sense of motion and time, to find a still frame, an event at a precipice, a fall about to happen, a person about to stumble, a calamity about to ensue.

How is your body read when audience see your work? Do you want it to be deciphered a certain way?

I am very aware that because I am a woman, my work is often read through a feminist lens, seen as a statement of femininity or women’s station/roles. It is not my overt intention to address this as primary subject matter; I am more interested in addressing perceptions of risk and the controllability of the body and one’s environment. However I also know that it is there, it is a part of it, whether I want it to be or not.

What are the underpinnings on your inclination with minimalist aesthetic in relation to performance?

I am very drawn to clean, formal, and minimal work, and I use minimal sets/backgrounds in my work to emphasize the actions of the performances. I am also aware that minimalist sculpture was very masculine, and was performative for the viewer; I see the work being in dialogue with this historical context.

In Pratfall, there is a shift on framing by making it portrait, and the action follows this vertical move. It does not read cinematic, but more to do with the verticality of the body and the notion of falling, whether literal or implied. How do you see your work in this arrangement?

I felt the verticality made sense in this work, because it is about falling. By turning the camera into portrait mode, it creates more visual space for the fall to take place, and for anticipation to build. I also find it exciting to pull the work away from a cinematic context, by doing this I feel the action and the sculptural space of the performance become more important.

You have done some collaborative work before, how does that change your approach in terms of movements and sets of aesthetic and conceptual criteria?

I worked on a couple collaborative projects with a colleague. When we worked together the focus was on our interaction: creating movement and situations where we could relate to and challenge one another. I am very used to performing alone, so the process of constructing the work felt very different. We had many conversations about what each one of us was willing to do physically and emotionally in the performances.