Artist Interview: Laetitia Sonami

The Lady's Glove by Dajuin Yao

I’ve been watching and enjoying some of your past performances via your website, and confess that I’ve always wanted to be able to modulate sounds in real-time (basically, I’ve always wanted a lady’s glove). How has that instrument changed the way you think about performance and interaction with an audience?
It was a slow process, simmering over twenty years. My original desires were to control sounds in a more intuitive way than sitting at a keyboard and [to] let the audience participate in the making of the performance through the witnessing of the gestures. But I eventually got more interested in what would happen accidentally. Even though the sensors and sound processes were tightly mapped, there were always events that would “leak out” and that I would have to adjust to. For instance some muscles would trigger sounds while I was trying to control other sounds, and it became less about control but allowing an organic process to emerge, letting the lady’s glove “participate” in the shaping of events. As odd as it seems it became more of a “collaboration” between the lady’s glove and myself and eventually this shaped my imagination.

Sound art fascinates me, but I don’t often think of sound art as performance. Can you tell me how you account for the live experience during the composition process? Are there certain things you try to keep in mind in order to allow space for the audience to enter?
The audience is the essential third element (if I consider the lady’s glove and myself the two other composites). It shapes the performance through listening and this dictates a lot of my timing and the density of the sounds. I do not record, so the piece only comes alive in the performance, with the audience. [Performing] live makes the piece, as it does not exist as a recording. Now, I have to take into account the audience with the gestures, they need to be clear, but at the same time, I am not a mime, so rather than the legibility of the gestures, it becomes the timing, the suspension. Allowing the audience to rest in the suspended gestures, or get caught in them… a bit like fishing! I have often been asked to record my pieces, but for me, for now at least, they only live in the moment that is shared with an audience, and the space where it happens. The space is also essential; it is the container.

I enjoyed the feature article the East Bay Express ran about the documentary of your work, in which you say you don’t consider yourself an interesting artist. I respect that, but—very much interested in your work—I wonder if you could talk about some artists who are currently of interest to you.
I am often attracted to artists who do work which I feel I could never do! So for instance I am intrigued by social practice work, especially as it relates to sound. There are so many interesting issues, and in that vein, Brenda Hutchinson is fascinating. The artists in the SOMArts Glamorgeddon show are super exciting (not just a plug!). Johanna Poethig works can be fun and yet relevant to contemporary issues. It is hard to have fun in the arts now. I am also still interested in my teachers, which is a good sign: Eliane Radigue, Robert Ashley, David Berhman… amazing artists!

Glamorgeddon preview image_15736001852_l

Tell me all about the digital spring spyre and your decision to retire the lady’s glove.
I got to wonder what I would be without the lady’s glove. It was so tightly meshed with my imagination, I could not consider performance any other way, so I decided to erase the slate and see what would happen. I had done this once before: I used to do lots of voice pieces, and I felt I was getting too confident or too dependent on the voice, so I stopped. I then tried to let my attractions guide me. Magnetic signals, coils, discussions with people I would meet, current restrictions on traveling, I let myself wonder around and this came out. It is supposed to be always morphing, and not settle onto any final shape, but I had to solidify it for a piece Eliane Radigue composed for me, and she would not have wanted something that changed configuration every time. It is still very much in progress.

I see you’re creating an installation specifically for Glamorgeddon, entitled Beauty Session-I. Can you give us a teaser of any kind?
I love wires, I collect them. I realize now that I mostly enjoy them for the silence that emanates from them when they are not connected, the potential yet unrealized connections. So for Glamorgeddon I decided to go ahead and build a huge nest of wire, somehow like a beauty salon hair dryer helmet that one can put their head into. And because it is the Glamorgeddon you can then hear messages and music that make you feel beautiful, make you feel super good. I should do a commercial version; everyone would have one in his or her homes. It is a very Californian piece, I now realize: wires and beauty!

Laetitia Sonami by Sabrina Chin

About the Interviewer:
Evan Karp is Events Fellow for SOMArts Cultural Center and the founding director of Quiet Lightning and Litseen.com. He writes literary columns for The San Francisco ChronicleSF Weekly, SF/Arts, and The Rumpus, and develops programming at The Emerald Tablet.

Image 1 by Dajuin Yao, Image 2 from Glamorgeddon Safety First 2015 Calendar by Johanna Poethig, Image 3 with the digital spring spyre by Sabrina Chin