Interview: Judd Morrissey and Mark Jeffery, Chicago

by Anthony Romero, July 2012

“A project encompasses the making of something that
does not rely on or is dependent on work to appear.”
– Paul Chan

Judd Morrissey and Mark Jeffery have been executing projects together for the past nine years. Their innovative use of technology and choreography has yielded a rich body of work that confuses physical and virtual space. Like many contemporary artists, Morrissey and Jeffery are making small, manageable works that are held together or contained within a much larger, research-based, project. This allows them to capitalize on opportunities and resources while giving their studio process time to incubate and develop organically.

AR: I thought we’d begin by discussing what you are calling “mixed-reality performance.”
 It’s actually a term we began to use when we were curating a festival a couple of years ago. We were trying to come up with a way to think through performance that made innovative use of technology without fixing that in a rigid concept. Mixed-reality has a nice flexibility. It’s ubiquitous in the sense that we are already all inhabiting a mixed reality. Some of us are just acknowledging that, or enhancing that, or addressing that in the work. For us, it’s taken many different forms. One is simply juxtaposing live performance with large-scale dynamic projection. Also having the performers embody systems that are closer to technological systems than they are to human systems. Performance scores that are based upon machine processes as opposed to chance operations and having the digital work bleed out into the physical in multiple ways. To us it’s really about a kind of cyborg embodiment between the code that’s running the piece and the performers who are activating it. In the work we are doing now the mixed-reality concept is moving more closely to augmented reality, which is this idea that you can view layers of the performance through mobile devices.

MJ: We are doing this everyday. The fact is that I am having a conversation with you but we are actually connecting through the technology. There is a part of me that wonders what it’s like for an audience member to then think about working with the phone, so that they are integrated as part of the performance. Right now we are getting the performers to imitate whereas we are going to have to figure out how to integrate this technology, to understand what it can actually give us. That’s what’s interesting to us. The collision of the physical and the virtual. It’s like you’re working with ghosts because you never know what’s actually in the air.

AR: Can we talk about how you arrive at a work?
JM: I’m attracted to systems and Mark is identifying images. It’s on-site research that prompts the piece and then it’s about what we do with it and what we do it with it takes different trajectories because we often develop the piece through invitation. It is complicated in the sense that we are doing different things for a long time. I may be just writing and building a system, whereas Mark will be working more closely with choreography and working with performers and I think though observing one another and feeding off of one another something develops that gets brought together at the end. It’s often very separate. It’s compartmentalized in the sense that we’ll develop one component for a specific context like an exhibition. So, it ends up that we’re bringing together our practices but we’re also bringing together pieces that have been developed over time. It’s about trying to stretch the form and yet keep it as something that can hold the multiplicity of what we’re doing. It’s probably a usual collaboration in the sense that we do very, very different things and we don’t necessarily talk a lot about it. We just trust. We don’t really interfere with one another’s role. Something that we’ve become really accustomed to is how do we define and then consistently adjust the position to accommodate the occasion, the site and the larger picture of the integrated work. That’s another aspect of it. We are being interrupted by the context presented to us and also we are allowing the site to interrupt the piece. There’s our context but there’s also the context of the MCA in Chicago, which is a curatorial context. So it’s our context meeting that context, meeting a sensitivity to site. The accumulation of site to site, context to context, is part of the larger work and you just have to keep monitoring it and adjusting it.