Infused with a solid dose of humor and feminist theory, Wynne Greenwood’s sculptures, videos, and live performances collapse sonic, linguistic, and visual hierarchies in an effort to incite personal and political transformation. Here the artist talks about her latest project, Sister Taking Nap, a performance presented from April 15 to 19 as part of the thirtieth anniversary of Seattle’s On the Boards.
THE DIFFERENT ELEMENTS OF SISTER TAKING NAP––sculptural set pieces, prerecorded sound and video, and live performance––interact with one another to tell the story of hearing one’s instinct and making a choice. The set includes a huge and heavy, almost immovable suitcase that’s plastered shut (and gets chipped open), a TV, a sculpture of a “sister” taking a nap, a crow that gets painted black, an animal cage, a sword, and a ceiling. I use the word sister for its layers of identity and knowing. Is it a sister in the women’s-movement sense of the word or a sister in the family sense? I like how it can be both. I’m interested in language as object. To see what’s under it, behind it.
I’m interested in sculptures as sites of performance and interaction, and sculptures as performers. The suitcase, the TV, the animal cage, and the sleeping sister are set pieces that are to be stood on––I see them as personal stages. I started making the sculptural set pieces before I began to conceive the narrative of the performance. I wanted to make objects that had an objective and that had a role in determining how and even why someone interacted with them, moved around them, and had a relationship with them. The set pieces and narrative developed together, informing each other. The language that I use to talk about (and to) these pieces also helps determine their worlds. This is a sister taking a nap. Not just a woman taking a nap, or a person taking a nap, or a person sleeping. To me, a nap offers different, possibly conflicting realities. It suggests having time for a nap, but also need for one. A privilege and a right. Escape and renewal. A place between deep sleep and awake. Where dream and reality can get confused.
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The surface narrative, which the performers will speak live, is the story of a sister (played by me), visiting her sister after a long period of not seeing her. The sister that’s being visited, the napping sister, was really punk growing up, radical, on the edge, underground. And she was a poet. The sister who’s coming to visit had always mimicked her life. So she goes and visits her sister, who’s taking a nap. She’s looking around the apartment and begins to notice all these elements of comfort––pillows on furniture, pillows to the ceiling, jars and jars of jam––that her sister never had before. And she interprets this new comfort as a sign that something has changed. She starts to see what’s in her sister’s world that didn’t used to be. And she looks for what isn’t there that did use to be there. What has this comfort replaced? The napping sister was a poet and was always writing. On napkins, newspapers, envelopes, clothes, everything. There were pens everywhere. Now the visiting sister (me) can’t find a pen anywhere. Or any writing. There’s a question present not only about whether choices have been made, but what kind and why. These elements, the indications of change, do not exist as set pieces––they are either described through gestures or spoken by me or the other performers or are heard in prerecorded sound. This prerecorded sound, and the live interaction with it, is a place where the layers of narrative meet.
The narrative under the surface, what I call the structural narrative, is the story of instinct and something like self-knowledge. This includes the more emotional, nonverbal sounds underneath the surface: Sometimes it’s screaming, sometimes it’s talking, sometimes it’s almost music––the sister’s deeper response and feelings, her instinct. The visiting sister begins to hear her structural voices and sounds, and her surfaces become affected, interrupted, changed. When her structural voice begins to offer commands, such as “Run . . . run now,” she is presented with a choice. And then she must make some choices.