Enter a Modern Brooklyn Dollhouse Ibsen Would Be Proud Of
Brooklyn-based artists build a life-sized dollhouse hosting a month of performance art installations in Bushwick.
FlucT+ performing at Model Home on April 30th. All photos by the author
For the past 10 years the Off-Off-theatre scene has been branching out into different parts of Brooklyn, exploding with an exciting new wave of DIY artists. Often frustrated with the limits that the industry imposes for a certain kind of “Broadway” standard, performance artists have been redefining the theatre scene, creating provocative new forms of entertainment. In this vein, “Be the change you want to see” is the motivation behind the work of FlucT, a collaboration of performance artists Monica Mirabile and Sigrid Lauren, that had been producing work in Baltimore before bracing the blizzard and making its way to New York.
This month, FlucT is curating a performance art installation series called MODEL HOME at Bushwick not-for-profit cultural institution, Secret Project Robot. It’s been awhile since Ibsen wrote A Doll’s House which, at the time garnered a reputation for being a statement for feminism. Now, the female duo have taken it to the next level with a uniquely Brooklyn style. Set in a virtually life-sized dollhouse, replete with playground, swing set, and stripper pole, the space sees different artists throughout the month creating "an immersive performance event deriving from the familiar interpretations of "'home' / house / suburb / doll / movement poetics and culture."
Fascinated by the provocative performance that took place at MODEL HOME on April 30, The Creators Project talked to FlucT about their show and curating a month of performances with Brooklyn artists:
Can you talk a little bit about yourselves and how you came together to create FlucT?
Monica: We met at the Baltimore Experimental Dance Collective, which was a bunch of different artists from different mediums getting together and starting this dance collective: it was very informal, just a bunch of friends hanging out. None of the people involved were dancers but we liked to dance, so we started informal workshops and would teach other different styles of self-proclaimed "dance." Sigrid came to one of the meetings not really knowing anyone, which was really cool. She just showed up out of the blue, but after that she came to every single workshop and over time we developed a kind of leadership.
Sigrid: In the collective we were separate, pushing different projects at different times. We lived together, but I was new and Monica was really busy. Then we had this night where we became friends and we realized how much we had in common.
Monica: It was dramatic! We didn’t talk for six months and we were living in this warehouse/theatre. I was working on one of the biggest projects I had ever worked on at the time, freaking out, and she came into my room and asked if i was OK. We talked till the sun came up about our lives and became best friends. We started doing little performances just the two of us. We realized we had a similar vision and a similar history; our need for a certain depth and concept was synonymous. Then we formed FlucT.
Sigrid: We didn’t know that FlucT was going to become FlucT, we just started to improvise and make videos around the warehouse. Then we became more and more focused and over 3 years it became this whole thing. So now we, Monica and I, perform at museums and events and go by FlucT and name our pieces, but then we have bigger productions that involve 14/15 people and that is FlucT+. FlucT+ is an exaggeration, the multiplying of some of the themes that a solid FlucT performance would be. Typically when its just the two of us the narrative becomes a bit more clear, but the big productions are more like vignettes that cover a lot of points.
Monica: There are several worlds we divide ourselves into: We work with musicians and use the vocabulary that we have created to perform 15-minute-long narratives and translate them into hour-long sets with them. We have probably performed over 100 times. We are our own managers and we usually push what we create. We started FlucT in 2011.
How did the name come about?
Monica: Through a dream.
Sigrid: At the time we were living in that warehouse space and our rooms had just a wall in between, without a ceiling, and our beds were just next to each other and our heads even touched the same wall. And one day we woke up and there was a text exchange and I had just had this crazy dream and it reminded me of what our performances and motivations were about—but it was really just this prominent image with lines morphing into each other. And I drew that image, took a picture and sent it to Monica.
Monica: ...And I said 'Sigrid! Go to my room right now and look at my dry/erase board.' I had the same image drawn from a dream I had. The image was about fluctuation, which was a theme we were dealing with at that time, in terms of emotional fluctuation and how it informed the living, not as something that should be demonized but as something that had to be embraced. At the core, everything we have done has been about control and lack of control as well as the dips and peaks that we have to go through when we go through everyday life emotionally.
Can you talk about Secret Project Robot and how you collaborated with them for MODEL HOME?
Monica: I work at Happyfun Hideaway and got to know Rachel and Eric who are incredible people who created this loving creative community. They are about to have their 10-year anniversary. Secret Project Robot together with Happyfun Hideaway is a cultural hub of support: they saw a FlucT / Jake Dibeler performance where we used a dollhouse. Later on they came to Jake and I and asked if they could build us a dollhouse. Jake couldn’t, but I had been working with concepts of the "model home" and got really excited about actualizing something I had been planning for awhile.
So the model of the house is work that I have been doing on my own, but it’s something that FlucT, as far as concepts of domesticity and the self—as in the Jungian depiction of the house—deals with a lot. It made sense that MODEL HOME would house a FlucT+ performance as well as be curated by us. So I built the set with Erik of Secret Project Robot. Rachel and Erik of Secret Project Robot produced the event. It’s been a kind of residency—there have been curated performances every week by artists we have chosen to represent in this model home.
What’s the idea behind MODEL HOME?
Monica: The concept of the home has infiltrated all of my work for the last few years. The house, in my mind, represents a society, in the way we take information and play with semiotic codes: each room represents the different social codes, like the bathroom is about hygiene and identity, the living room is about leisure and entertainment, the kitchen is about nourishment, etc. Then, there are icons within those rooms that can be analyzed even further, as well as how they affect your own life. So the house is that for me, our performances are directly related because it’s the way that you live in the house that make the icons what they are.
How was the month of performances curated?
Monica: The curation has surrounded the idea of "home."
Sigrid: And also allowing people different opportunities for what could be created in the space. We were interested in having a lot of different formats of how the performances could take place. This coming week is going to be an entire play, last week was 10 different artists doing short performances. The first week was an opera. The whole thing was supposed to end with Mothers TBA on Mother’s Day, but we have added on Jake Dibeler (Bottoms) and Signe Pierce (American Reflexxx) on May 14th.
Monica: It’s a familiar concept. Everyone understands the home. Everyone understands familial life. Most have a relationship to it, and everyone has a different relationship to it, so the curation is very different from what FlucT is conceptually, we wanted to ask artists who we wanted to see their interpretation of home life.
The most beautiful thing that has happened is the sense of community that is being created out of it. It really is one of the best feelings—happiness comes when we are all together and everyone feels really good about what they did. Everyone has a bunch of new friends that they feel supported by. Curating a monthlong show where everyone has equal opportunities to use the resources that we have given them and the freedom to do what they want seems to create this really great community of satisfied people and that’s also creating a home. It is your responsibility to create a home or to create society.
Sigrid: The rigid templates for what make family or what makes society is more in people’s hands than they know. You don’t realize you are in control of what you see or what you feel or you don’t realize you think this because someone else told you so. So it’s about people realizing that they have power, and even more so, creative power.
Can you tell me a bit more about your performance on April 30th?
Monica: The piece is about those semiotic codes—which is something that Sigrid and I use frequently—these codes that we want to destroy, recreate and build on. So our performance is very much aggressive, like a psychological thriller.
Sigrid: And that’s also what FlucT is about, breaking the barriers to see the ups and downs which also exist within a home and a family. We often represent these hypersexual moments and then try to also expose this kind of grotesqueness because that’s a very easy formula to allow the viewer to be like, “Oh, this makes me feel uncomfortable,” or, “this is turning me on,” and then, “Oh, this is disgusting!”
Monica: The way FlucT uses these codes is through abstract narratives: We take these concepts and talk to each other about what we are going through in our everyday lives with our relationships, the books we are reading, the news we are receiving and we turn it into dance or abstract language. So when we are performing our narratives, which in our minds make perfect sense, the way the audience is receiving it... It’s very psychological and subconscious, which is what we want. We don’t always speak because we don’t want people to receive something so specific.
Sigrid: And also because they wouldn’t listen. People don’t want to be told what to think or what to feel. We want people to receive and experience our art in ways they wouldn’t have expected it, so we can be completely immersed and touch them in ways they can’t help but have to deal with the repercussion of whatever they are engaged with.
Monica: We want to be interruptive in order to make a statement. It is very provocative and politicized. As for example regarding feminism, we both have always identified with feminism and that has always been a topic in our work, not always by default but also by default. "Feminism" is like what it should be: When we make work, if we are living as women in this culture, we are making work that is feminist because we care about the quality of life.
FlucT+ itself is a very cathartic experience. Only two of those girls have been previously involved with FlucT, and a lot of them have never danced or done anything like that until that moment—and all of that in a world where everything is social media-isolated, very selfish, very much concerned with the self. Having a group of people collaborating and opening up to each other in such a way was so cool and absolutely necessary.
Sigrid: We also work with a lot of non-dancers because there is so much room for authenticity and raw feelings. The point is to come from a real and individual place.
What’s innovative about your work?
Sigrid: It’s always been instinctual for us to create a new formula, and our main motivation is that we are creating what we want to see.
Monica: I think a lot of it is about security. 'Be the change you want to see' is 'Make what you want to see happen.' A lot of hate happens when you choose not to be responsible for yourself and your actions, when you choose to place the blame of your actions on someone else or you forget that there are these systems that you are indoctrinated unwillingly within. So the intention is to create a place for a person to reclaim his/her own power in this world and feel like they have a voice and that they have all the security and confidence they need because they are grounded in this reality with their body here and they can use it and do whatever they want with it and have control. It gives people agency.
Click here for more on MODEL HOME.