Interview with Fern Shaffer and Othello Anderson
This was an interview conducted through a series of emails in late October, 2001. I had seen images of their perfomances over the years in a number of places. One photograph in particular of a figure in a shaggy green costume set in a spectacular icy landscape defined a cultural shift for many people after appearing on the cover of Suzi Gablik's seminal book, "The Reenchantment of Art". This was an opportunity to get answers to questions about their work that had been nagging me since the 1980's.
SB: The costume you wear for your performances is amazing. What is it made of?
FS/OA: The costume is made out of artist's materials, canvas and raffia, also some talisman objects -- things from the industrial world -- gears, screws, nuts, bolts, etc., because we are leaving the industrial age and entering into the information age. These rituals are also to help us transition from one century into another. The design of the costume comes from the materials itself, as a sculptor sees something in the wood or marble she carves it out. We bring the materials to life.
SB: Do you perform these rituals in front of an audience? Are photography and technology central to the outreach part of your work?
FS/OA: We have no audience, because the audience becomes a distraction and we need all of our attention for the ritual at hand. The photographic image is central to the outreach of the work, as it makes the work accessible. Which ultimately brings awareness of our intentions to alert, the importance of protecting the earth and its beauty and the environment that it needs to sustain itself.
SB: What do you think makes the 9 Year Ritual photographs effective tools for promoting environmental awareness?
FS/OA: Our aim is to produce images that are powerful enough to engage one in a dialogue. The dialogue is a Q & A session that produces a kind of understanding. Clues are provided through the subject matter. A Human Figure is adorned in vestments that have been used by Shamans, Priests, Priestess, Ceremonialists, and Tribal Leaders. The sites are chosen because of our concerns for the water, minerals and plant life. The 9 year ritual photographs are an effective tool as they make the rituals visually assessable. It affords the viewer an opportunity to experience the rituals in their own time.
SB: What inspired your particular approach to ceremony?
FS/OA: The space dictates to us what the ritual will entail. We organize materials necessary for the ritual. The actual ritual is a response to the environment of that time and that space.
SB: Aside from the costume, what else do you use in your rituals?
FS/OA: Materials that we have used in our rituals so far have been: sage, sweet grass, stones, crystals, cornmeal, color pigments, rocks, candles, fire , flares, black beauty blasting material, various kinds of rattles, drums, tobacco, seeds and for the future rituals, whatever is needed.
SB: In what way is your performance work a collaboration?
FS/OA: Our work is a collaboration from the conceptual stage to the final photograph. We find the sacred site, discuss what we are doing, the purpose and images that we both agree on that represent our initial ideas. We enter into the scared space and our energies become one, for the ritual. The ritual is more complete as we use male and female energy and incorporate different information, different points of view, different ways of seeing which we both bring to the ritual.
NOTE: The use of "black beauty blasting material" above, caught my attention. Many of you might be wondering what it is so I looked it up. It's "A black boiler slag abrasive with the following advantages: low moisture content, high degree of etch for permanent bonding of coatings, readily used in standard equipment in commerce, inert, fast cutting due to sharp angular edges, hardness, more economical, longer lasting and leaves minimum dust." Cool.
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