Kara Hearn and Bill Miller
KARA HEARN AND BILL MILLER
Our Time In Wassaic
Our time in Wassaic was a magical pocket of time that none of us will forget. With such a short stay (two weeks), we were focused on the work at hand — a complicated collaborative video project that we couldn’t have jump started inside our busy lives in Brooklyn. We got a lot of work done during our stay and it was a real treat to have the time and space to do that, but it was the bits around the edges that made it such a unique and charming experience — frozen waterfalls, beautiful snow falls, beer by the bonfire, impassioned karaoke, epic art projects in the Art Nest with our son, and so many lovely, fun, and generous people.
2017–2018 Winter Residency
By Drew Broderick, February 2018
Where do you call home?
What is one good thing that has happened in the past 24 hours?
It snowed, we had stew and made a lot of art. To an outsider that might seem like three things but to us it’s one big good thing.
Why do you make art? Have your reasons changed over time?
Kara: To deal with life.
Bill: It's cheaper than pharmaceutical drugs.
What is a song that you never tire of listening to?
Bill: "Working men are pissed" by Minutemen
What have you been reading lately? Thoughts?
Bill: Fantasyland by Kurt Anderson.
How would you describe your work/practice to a total stranger? To a friend’s 5-year-old child? To a grandparent?
Kara: Stranger: I make work about the discomfort and vulnerability of being alive. 5-year-old: I make art to make myself (and others) laugh and feel better. Grandparent: I make weird movies of made up rituals.
Bill: I use photography to destroy photography.
Influences: we all have them regardless of whether or not we acknowledge them. Who or what currently inspires your work?
Lygia Clark, Ana Mendieta, Stuart Sherman, Chris Marker, Guido van der Werve, Susan Sontag, Hannah Wilke, Felix Gonzalez Torres.
What were your intentions for this residency and how have they changed since being at the Wassaic Project?
We came to Wassaic to work collaboratively for the first time. We had both been making work related to Bill's future illness but wanted to approach the topic together. We are only here for two weeks, so we are pretty focused on just doing the project and taking advantage of being here, having the time, space, and community to support the work.
How has place influenced your time at the Wassaic Project, and where is your favorite “spot” in Wassaic?
Deep Hollow Road morning walks are amazing. Bill loves the mill. We were making videos, so the environments are reflected in the places we chose to shoot.
What will you take away from this experience, and what will you leave?
This has been a pretty magical experience for all of us — the setting, the dedicated time, the community, the pizza, the goats, the Art Nest. We will take home the taste of being full time artists, the joy of having a yard, and the quietude of country living.
Let’s start with the connection between art, dealing with life, and pharmaceutical drugs.
Bill: What did I say? It's cheaper than pharmaceutical drugs but more expensive than cocaine.
Humorous or not, the relationship seems significant.
Bill: This particular project is a way for us to think about things, confront things outside of the very literal world in which we have to confront those things. I don't know if it makes it easier.
Kara: To me it's just a way of processing. Pulling everything, the feelings or thoughts, and just teasing it out, looking at it in different ways. There's some help in finding some humor in it. But also (this is probably more for me) I'm really interested in all the things people do to make themselves feel ok on a daily basis — weird rituals or habits that develop. I think of art as a way of doing that, and inside of that, I create pretend rituals or self-help practices that are working and not working at the same time.
Maybe it would make sense to clarify, for me, what the project is that you are working on now.
Kara: So Bill has Huntington's Disease in his family, which is a degenerative brain disease. And he's been doing a lot of work about it.
Bill: I went to SVA recently for grad school and my thesis was about that.
Kara: Bill brought Huntington's to the forefront, and invited me into it and we faced it in a way that we hadn't really done previously. It's on the horizon for us and it's starting to affect Bill. I got freaked out, and started making work about it for my own sanity. When we applied for the Wassaic residency, we thought it would be great to join forces. We're both doing these really simple gestures here and there around this topic, so maybe we can work to combine them into something more complex that gets at the whole family dynamic.
So, Bill, you've been working through this in your practice since your thesis?
Bill: Only kind of recently. I thought we might eventually get around to it, but then I was noticing that I was having more trouble with memory and some cognitive things. And I thought, well I'm in school, this might be a good time. I'd have a lot of feedback all the time and becoming the subject of my own art was something that I wasn't accustomed to doing, but it was the right thing. We had to deal with it a lot faster, which is very difficult emotionally. But it was useful and positive and it made us, not necessarily feel better about it, but begin to address it.
In a way that it couldn't be addressed through other avenues?
Kara: Well we weren't really addressing it through any avenue.
Bill: We kind of thought we were and then when we started to work with it, we realized we weren't. We were just doing as little as we could to talk about it because it was too upsetting. Then when we had to have all the conversations that are very difficult, that we would have gotten to eventually, but it helped us get to closer to an end, give up distance from it.
Kara: I think we put it away, and bring it back up. Certainly being here has been a lot of bringing it up. So it's been intense but it also feels really good, too.
Has the form of this collaboration started to take shape?
Bill: We came with a lot of ideas, and we just decided to shoot as fast as we could, and then we started editing, and we were like, okay, it's opening up a little bit more. I think if we had a couple more weeks it'd be great.
You don't have a couple more weeks?
Kara: We're only here two weeks. Fast and furious.
Bill: Our son is in school, we both have jobs, we can only take so much time off. This is probably going to be our vacation days for the year. For us, we really had to speed through it because we only had two weeks.
It's a very specific type of relationship to a residency. One that is generally not the case, although maybe I shouldn't generalize. But it’s clear that this is not a phase in your ongoing research, or free time to play and work in the studio, it’s focused and directed. Due to the circumstances that you’ve both addressed there is a pressure to produce, deliver, execute. How has that impacted the process?
Kara: I think it's been good because at home we have completely opposite work schedules. When we are together, we're both completely exhausted. So being here really feels like something we have to take full advantage of. So that's really motivated us — that this might be our best chance to get something done.
Bill: I would love to spend a month, two months, but because there are so few family residencies, we had to take advantage of the opportunity. This was perfect for us.
Have either of you noticed that certain tendencies you have within your own practice get foregrounded or backgrounded when working together? How have you dealt with your own tendencies, and each others?
Kara: I've been a video artist for a long time, since the mid 90s, and I think stylistically, I have this thing that happens over and over again. For me, it's nice to have Bill's aesthetic and inclinations come in and disrupt that.
Bill: Because Kara's been a video artist for all this time and I'm sort of falling into it, I defer to her a lot. I'm opinionated, but it's harder for me to look at stuff we have or have not shot and figure out what's going to work.
Kara: But as a photographer, Bill is really good at making frames and being more careful about lighting. That's working really nicely. But yes, we probably need to push back against my style a little.
Bill: We're meeting in the middle.
Kara: It's gone much better than we would have expected. We thought we'd be fighting all week. But we haven't really. Since we had Walter, finding time and space, really space away, to do that work took a long time to figure out. So I was just happy to be doing anything at all. Coming here and having a taste of what it's like to do it on a more consistent basis is so great and satisfying. It will be hard to go back to our limited time back home.
Bill: I think we could take this pace, and we could put in back into our lives if we kept it going. But again, when you do have a kid, it becomes, whatever you have access to, wherever the free moments open up, that's where it has to happen.
I don't want to downplay the circumstances your family's going through, but I'm very curious about the ways in which this project does and does not create opportunities for a certain kind of resolution. We can take it into the realm of healing, or if you prefer, working through in a therapeutic sense. Is this a part of the project for you two?
Kara: I'd say for me, absolutely. A lot of the scenes I've come up with for this project are made up, magical therapeutic things. So even though they're ridiculous, there's something that works about that for me. Even knowing that they're completely useless, there's that combination of utility and functionality that is always there for me in every project.
In the case of what you’re both dealing with, you can't see it, you can't touch it, you don't know what it is, but you know that it is. It seems like the approaches you’re taking are meaningful ways of responding to something like this (materially and conceptually).
Bill: For a second, when we were starting this project, it was too close to our lives. I think it wasn't working, I got very depressed, I thought I was going to have to quit doing it, because it was doing the opposite of what I wanted. But what I had to do was stumble around and figure out what was useful, what was too intimate. And how I could approach it in a way that wouldn't destroy me, emotionally. I pulled back a bit, worked on the metaphor of digital files, and that became the approach that worked better for me. You find your way, whatever it is.
Kara: But for you, you'd probably say it's therapeutic.
Bill: Yeah, sure. I mean I was going to real therapy when I found out, so it was really helpful, to help me deal with it. And I just had to keep that going, the whole time. In some ways, the projects had to be more like therapy, or it wasn't going to work.
Photos by Walker Esner