Emily Mast

 I make performances and ephemeral installations that incorporate bodies, movement, sound and idiosyncratic experience to exhibit uncertainty as live sculptural material. At the heart of my practice is a distrust in the ideal of truth, which manifests itself through collaborations in which the co-construction of knowledge is key. By working with a diverse range of people in a very personal way, we are able to create our own truths through collective experience. I am therefore continually redefining notions of authorship while affirming my role as an artist. I am particularly interested in examining the imprecision of language and the myriad ways it can be delivered, understood and misunderstood. In my work, language becomes a simultaneously mental, visual, auditory and sensual experience. Meaning is never limited to a single path.


For the past year I worked with a stuntman, a stutterer, a sign-language interpreter, an actor, an auctioneer, a stand-up comedian and a child on a performance piece that explored language as a prop onto which we project meaning. Each actor was carefully chosen for his or her real and performed relationship to language: they described, transcribed, interpreted and gestured within a landscape of vivid colorful forms that were reminiscent of elementary school classrooms, signs, semiotics and minimalist art.


“B!RDBRA!N” was originally conceived of for the Pacific Standard Time Public Art & Performance Festival as a live response to the legacy of the historical French artist Guy de Cointet. It incorporated the true story of Alex the parrot, an African Gray who was the subject of a thirty-year avian language experiment. It was later developed for the NOW Festival at REDCAT, while the set and rehearsals were on view through the windows and closed doors of a non-profit space called Public Fiction for one month, and changed on a nightly basis. To mark the end of the exhibition, viewers were invited to transition from being spectators to active participants in a re-structured “Epilogue” performance that allowed them to physically enter the set and become part of the work as decisive co-directors.


“B!RDBRA!N (Addendum)” is a short film that I made in conjunction with the live performance. It is a stand-alone work that is comprised of an accumulation of details filmed during rehearsals whose order is dictated by an abstract soundscape comprised of various language experiments.


Many of these same ideas were initially explored in a time-based installation called “Everything, Nothing, Something, Always (Walla!)” that involved a free-standing sculptural stage, roughly twenty actors and an accordionist. A one act live theatrical play looped uninterrupted for three hours on the stage, and varied slightly with each repetition. 


In 2011 I restaged Peter Handke’s 1966 anti-play “Offending The Audience” at the Velaslavasay Panorama. This 45-minute lecture about theater must, by necessity, take place in a theater while attempting to be as un-theatrical as possible. I cast seven children between the ages of six and twelve in order to remove the audience from the artificiality of a critical discourse of artifice by introducing real play into a theatrical play. The childrens’ lack of pretense allowed the audience to experience the piece empathetically. This twist on Handke by no means resembled a conventional children’s play. Rather, it was a conceptual gesture that was staged in a conventional theater. 


Currently, I am working on a series of live performances that will be presented at LACMA in February 2014. The entire series will be based on the work of the largely unknown Joan Brossa (1919-1998), a Catalan poet, playwright, graphic designer and visual artist who dealt with the essence of words, the uselessness of language and the absurd in everyday conversation. I feel a strong connection to Brossa’s work because, much like mine, it is obsessed with language, impregnated with theater, and it always employs a transdisciplinary vision of culture and the arts, and the performance arts in particular. Genres did not exist for Brossa, nor did boundaries between the arts. While I have entered into a creative dialogue with historical works in the past, this will be the first time I present my work in a museum. By taking the theatrical out of the theater, I will be breaking formal boundaries and broadening this vision of culture.


My practice exists across and between disciplines. I attach myself to writing, theater, choreography, sociology, psychology and education and use them as tools in the rich territory of art. Every project results in the creation of a physical and visual lexicon that is unique to the particular human exchanges experienced. This insistence on communication and personal interaction results in volatile works that aim to provoke real rather than symbolic consequences.