Mark Russell’s Lecture at W+K
…or Mr. Russell? While the rest of you are out gallivanting around from performance to performance, some of us are gettin’ serious digging into the bones beneath the flesh, the who’s who of who’s making things happen here. Mark Russell’s lecture at W+K yestereve became a chat with PDX Everywhere Man, Matthew Stadler, sitting in to pose questions. Getting to know Russell (and having similar talks by Erin Boberg and Kristan Kennedy would be equally interesting) is enlightening and vital to understanding what kind of thinking goes in to programming this festival that’s come to be so important not just to audiences in Portland, but to artists, providing windows to new work, inspiration, and critical conversation.
Russell began with a little talk laying out some of his criteria or touchstones for work that excites him. He said he believes that, “transgression is a part of all good art.” “Taboos must be broken, new truths found.” Fortunately he restated same by talking about the need to “stretch rules of the art form until they break,” the artist then having to invent new rules, and often finding himself outside the art form in which he started. That’s work I want to see.
It’s good that he went further than just talking about transgression, because in this kind of conversation the word “transgression” is associated not with its dictionary definition, “the violation of a law or a duty or moral principle,” but specifically with what it’s come to mean in performance: shock, bloodletting, naked stuff, which is feeling a little played out and audience-manipulative at this point. And saying that “taboos must be broken” in good art makes makes for a terribly narrow slice of possible inquiry.
Russell looks at performance as a chance for audience to “participate in a little history,” to be able to say, “I was there when…” At the same time he’s currently attracted to “back to basics,” the “person in front of the watcher…in all of its naked awkward humanity.”
He also talked about the beginnings of P.S. 122 in the late 70s with “refugees” from touring productions of both Robert Wilson and Meredith Monk, with contact-improv dancers and the weekly Open Movement nights where there was no music, no talking, no watching.
It was a brief introduction, a little look back at Russell’s path thus far, a little window on where he is now, and some thoughts as to what TBA’s and Russell’s futures might look like.
four Russell fun facts:
MR has a degree in directing from the University of Texas, Austin.
After graduating, MR went to Poland to find Jerzy Grotowski.
Politically, MR describes himself as a feminist.
MR was at one point on track to become an Episcopalian minister.