Mark Joseph Jeffery
Assistant Professor, Performance (1999). BA, Visual Performance, 1994, Dartington College of Arts. Exhibitions: Nightjar/Lincoln Performing Arts Center, UK; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago; Chicago Cultural Center; Ontological, NY; Landmark, Bergen, Norway; Performance Studies International, Zagreb, Croatia; National Review Live Art, Glasgow; House World Culture, Berlin; Eurokaz, Zagreb, Croatia; Venice Biennale, New Moves; Glasgow, NY; PS122, Kampnagel, Hamburg; Alfred ve Dvore, Prague. Curator: The Simulationists; In>Time; OPENPORT. Publications: Dance Theatre Journal; Jacket2; New ScinChicago Art Magazine; WBEZ; Frackjia; National Review Live Art 30th Anniversary Catalogue; Goat Island; Small Acts of Repair. Awards: Illinois Arts Council; Arts Council England; Legacy Trust, UK; Igniting Ambition, UK.
Experience at SAIC
Fall 2014 marks the beginning of my 16th year of teaching at SAIC. I started instructing just one class a semester in the then first year program with 4D in 1999. As a part time faculty member, I was promoted twice and gained the rank of Adjunct Associate Professor. At Commencement 2010, I was awarded Part-Time Faculty of the year. During my time at SAIC, I have also been an academic advisor, a faculty advisor in the office of Career Services, and a faculty representative who travels extensively across the country for the Office of Admissions at SAIC Days.
My fourth year of teaching at SAIC as a full time Assistant Professor in the Department of Performance began in fall, 2014. In this process of seeking tenure, I am still learning, still understanding the institution that I have been apart of these past years and am grateful for a chance to relook at myself, my practice, my research, my teaching and an opportunity to strengthen these areas. Having now taught in multiple institutions and spaces for almost 19 years and entering into my 20th year of interdisciplinary collaborative performance practice, I am deeply connected to my field of interdisciplinary performance locally, nationally, and internationally. I bring these networks and spaces of research and inquiry to Chicago, to SAIC, to my classrooms, and to the programming I organize in fall (propositions) and spring (symposia) semesters.
2014 is my 20th year of performance making. In the last 20 years, I have learned that invitation, interruption, and opportunity keep me creatively evolving. Twenty years of performing, collaborating, rehearsing, touring, exhibiting, and questioning what it means for my body and the bodies I work with to capture and craft highly disciplined, focused, and visually striking images that are still, slow, deliberate, and always in active motion.
My early background is integral to my performance vocabulary and my investigations into disappearing working-class iconographies. The word tied is used to describe the dairy farm cottage in which I was born and raised in rural England. Our home was tied, according to a now-outmoded employment arrangement, to the owner of the land, our habitation contingent on my father's able body. I remain psych-geographically joined to this landscape of domestic and agricultural gestures and rituals, internalised images of butchered animals, milked teats, kitchen tiles, and laid hedges. In my practice, I re-map and re-contextualise embodied geographies and obsolete occupational gestures, combining the personal with historical research and sampled sources to create complex visual choreographies. While steeped in history, I am fueled by an active engagement with technology, social media, and ever-expanding collaborations with a range of artists to create contemporary art works that resound most recently with gestures of anatomy, sex, forensics, labour, and commitment of the worker. By extending my solo practice into direction and collaboration, I have uncovered a vast terrain of exploration and image-making on a large scale for current and future works.
As a careful new strategy to co-authorship and collaboration, I recently co-founded and I am the director of Anatomical Theatres of Mixed Reality (ATOM-r), 2012–present. We are a collective exploring forensics, anatomy, and 21st century embodiment through performance and emerging technologies. I am concerned with revealing the reality of the computationally mediated body and in foregrounding queer histories of computing. Our use of augmented reality, an emerging platform in which virtual content is mapped onto the physical world through the intervention of a mobile app, is unique to live performance. Our processes create a deeply entangled exchange between the live body and technology. The work is inherently variable, experienced as a tightly constrained but flexible information pattern that allows for close attention, emergence and interruption.
"To experiment means you must put what you know at risk to what you do not yet know."
—Ann Lauterbach, The Night Sky
In my role as teacher and mentor, I ask each student to pause, listen, and situate in silence, to take risks and always maintain regard for themselves and each other as creative thinkers. I strive to create a collaborative community that one needs to build and participate within the classroom, local, national, and global culture off and online. This is the challenge and opportunity in a highly technologically networked and collaborative climate of the 21st century. I am interested in exploring how presence, and engagement with the live and mediated body can create and construct images we can read, critique, and digest in a contemporary accelerated culture.
I see my role in the classroom as facilitator, one who imparts a framework and set of tools. I invite the students to make these tools their own and utilize them in the generation of material in their studio practise and ultimately the creation of works of performance. In addition, I bring contemporary and historical materials in for investigation and discussion. I arrange fieldtrips to expose the students to new work, content, and approaches. I provide readings to fuel their investigation into their own material and practise. I see one-on-one tutorials throughout the semester as key to engaging each student in the particulars of their process as well as a way to inform my approach to the curriculum. Throughout the course I demand a student to be present, and attentive to the specific task that is being attempted.
When beginning the generation of material in a studio class I present a specific, highly visual text, video, audio clip, or object. I will then ask the students to embody this material for a defined period of time. Through investigation and repetition the movement becomes a piece of vocabulary. Through simple assemblage of the students into duets, trios, solos the sequence gains or loses form and complexity. During this exercise, I act as the rowing coxswain and keep the pace and recombination of the material flowing. The duration of this exercise may range from a few minutes to an hour or more. The pace compresses and opens allowing the students to explore temporal and physical capacities of themselves and the group.
I evolve this type of exercise by introducing specific constraints. These constraints could be in the form of a film reference, a photograph, a diagram, an article, a surface to perform on, or the weight of time. As I facilitate this image making, I will ask the students to consider how they embody, fracture and reorganise the material within the space. I have discovered that imposing diverse and specific parameters facilitates discovery, engages the mind and body transforming the student into an instrument of expression.
There are two concerns that I am interested in right now—I will begin a new two year project with ATOM-r—this is a starting point here:
Kjell Theory: Queering Computational Embodiment and Liveness
In 1952, gay computing pioneer Alan Turing sent a letter to mathematician Norman Routledge:
"I'm afraid that the following syllogism may be used by some in the future.
Turing believes machines think
Turing lies with men
Therefore machines do not think
Yours in distress,
On June 7 1954, Turing, at age 41, committed suicide.
During the fall of 2014 ATOM-r will begin a new two-year project in Chicago. The above letter entry will allow us to identify specific points of research with text, performance, technology and mathematical diagrams as starting points for the work. We will start in rehearsal to generate live and technological material through questions such as: how do we create algorithms into the rehearsal process? What is an act of gross indecency and distress? What is the division between the personal and technical? How do men and men live and lie with one another on machines? From this rehearsal process, we will generate a series of monthly reports, texts, and diagrams in the form of syllogisms we consider as potentially true. These will form this basis of this short chapter which will look at performance in relation to artificial intelligence, contemporary theories of digital embodiment, queer histories of computing, and Turing's engagement with the mathematics of flowers.
This was our interests and concerns with our last project THE OPERATURE:
The Operature (2014), the first work of Anatomical Theatres of Mixed Reality (ATOM-r), is a live performance and augmented reality poem engaging themes of anatomical science and spectacle. The work's choreography and use of technology are influenced by research into a series of diverse anatomical histories including early-modern surgical theatres, Francis Glessner Lee's miniature crime scene re-enactments known as the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, and The Stud File, an autobiographical record of the sexual exploits of Samuel Steward, a 20th century tattoo artist, gay pornographer, and friend of Gertrude Stein.
ATOM-r formed out of a 10-year history of collaboration between myself, a performance-based artist now working as a choreographer and Judd Morrissey (Assistant Professor Art and Technology Studies) whose primary background is in combining writing and computation to create new forms of literature. Our interdisciplinary body of work combines large-scale installations of dynamic language with a visual choreography of performing bodies in response to specific research contexts. For example, our most recent project, Precession: An 80-Foot Long Internet Art Performance Poem, used the site of the Hoover Dam, which includes an astronomical memorial to its construction, as material for a performance exploring both the laboring body and the poetics of the night sky. Formerly, both Judd and I were members of Goat Island performance group, a process-based company known for their experimental use of mathematical concepts or architectural principles to construct collaborative systems of performance that borrowed from dance, theatre, literature and film, but with no loyalty to any specific historical genre. Goat Island's motto, we have discovered a performance by making it, could be equally applied to the working process of ATOM-r.
We formed ATOM-r in 2012 out of an instinct to begin to dismantle the distance in our work between the performing body and the 2-dimensional screen and to delve into the rapidly emerging computing paradigm of mobile Augmented Reality (AR), in which virtual content is distributed spatially and captured by portable viewing devices such as smart phones or glasses. At the same time, we also wanted to decentralize the hierarchy between lead artists and performers and so we invited several of our collaborators—Justin Deschamps, Sam Hertz, Christopher Knowlton, and Blake Russell—dancers and actors who had participated in our past projects, to share authorship and creative responsibilities.
In making these transitions, we accidentally discovered the early-modern institution of anatomical theatre, which served as a conceptual and architectural symbol for our experimental inquiries into technology and the body. Beginning in the 16th century, anatomical theatres were built for the teaching of medicine. The prototypical anatomical theatre was an elliptical, multi-tiered space where training surgeons and the general public could gaze down upon live demonstrations of autopsies or new surgical techniques. The image of such a space served as a seductive mis en scène to engage the spectacle of the body altered by tools and technologies, the practice of observation, the instinct towards voyeurism, and the way in which a precisely enacted live process can become the basis of pedagogical exchange among colleagues.
Disclaimer: All work represents the views of the INDIVIDUAL ARTISTS & AUTHORS who created them, and are not those of the school or museum of the Art Institute.