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The Dance Enthusiast Asks Multidisciplinary Artist and Writer, Deirdre Towers About "BELL 8", A Healing Film About Water Appearing at the Lilac Preservation Project in Manhattan

The Dance Enthusiast Asks Multidisciplinary Artist and Writer, Deirdre Towers About "BELL 8", A Healing Film About Water Appearing at the Lilac Preservation Project in Manhattan
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Published on August 14, 2017
Photo: BELL 8 screening on The Lilac Preservation Project.

Catch The Film At The Lilac Preservation Project In Manhattan Running Through Labor Day Weekend

Film BELL 8 launches at the Lilac Preservation Project
Lilac Preservation Project, Hudson River Park's Pier 25, N Moore St and West St, New York NY
Through Labor day weekend (September 4th)
Filmmakers: Nan Melville and Ted Ciesielski; Sound: Rakel Jun Terceno; Director: Deirdre Towers

Sammi Lim for The Dance Enthusiast: Hi, Deirdre! Are you a seafarer or were your parents?

Deirdre Towers, Multidisciplinary Artist: My father grew up in Queens, learned navigation in the Navy, and then taught himself to sail as a young man. My sister, mother and I went sailing every weekend, in every kind of weather, rarely staying home. So the sea was my main amusement; I find it endlessly fascinating.

Christening of the Lilac in May 26, 1933.

TDE: As I understand it, the idea for BELL 8 stemmed from several sources, including an exhibit of an open rowboat at the American Museum of Natural History in the early 1990s and the poetic sculptures of Grethe Wittrock. Which was the strongest catalyst?

DT: The idea for BELL 8 stemmed from a sound healing session I had four years ago with Rakel Jun, who played gongs that sounded very similar to the nautical buoys I grew up hearing. After decades of living in the concrete jungle of NYC, hearing those bells brought me back to my childhood sailing on Long Island Sound. As I developed the concept for BELL 8, I remembered a four-wall, video installation of the sea with a rowboat in the center of the room that American Museum of Natural History had made to give viewers a sense of what  Arctic explorers experience.

In June, I met the sculptor Grethe Wittrock who has been working with old sails. Her approach made me consider projecting the BELL 8 images, not just on sails or standard screens, but on a dancer whose costume could be layered and as enormous as a sail!

Sail sculpture created by Grethe Wittrock during a Danish Art workshop residency in Copenhagen.

TDE: You’ve presented BELL 8 in various forms, from projecting it on several surfaces to looping it; and will soon involve a dancer and a light designer. Why these modifications? Does the film vary according to screening spaces? If so, does that make Bell 8 a kind of ‘site-specific’ film?

DT: While BELL 8 was installed in a 30 by 30 open space at The Waterfront Museum, I went every day the museum was open to get the feeling of the three screens, to register what worked and how the crowd reacted. I realized that I must honor the constant you experience at sea — the horizon, the magnetic pull to stretch beyond your skin. I also worked with a few dancers at the Waterfront Museum, especially during Global Water Day, and decided that I prefer a sequential, rather than simultaneous focus on video and live dance. For the Lilac Preservation Project, I had to return to a single screen, because the space offered is approximately 1/3 the size of that in Waterfront Museum.

I recently helped set up a yurt in a farm upstate and thought a yurt, a round enclosed space might be great for BELL 8.

Sasha Smith at BELL 8 at The Waterfront Museum, Red Hook.

TDE: Do you always seek out screening venues​ that revolve around water?

DT: I first presented BELL 8 at LIC Arts Open 2016, an indoor venue. The Waterfront Museum, housed on a barge in Red Hook, exhibited BELL 8 with videos projected onto three sails curved into a spiral from June 3-July 1, 2017. But I originally created BELL 8 to be installed in communities where people are landlocked or cannot afford to go to the beach, let alone be on a boat.

TDE: Described as ‘a desire to conceive a sensory ride or a drug-free tonic for the soul,’ BELL 8 is also a projected cure for the following, in your own words: boredom​, criminal justice reform, ​lack of focus. Such is your faith in the power of water!

DT: No two frames of water footage are the same. To sail, you have to surrender to the wind, the waves, the tides, the weather; it forces you to be alert and yet relax. By vicariously riding waves, from choppy to voluptuous, you move to nature’s beat; by gazing at the light painting the waves, you become more attuned to your own rhythms. You surf subconsciously on your own waves, whether emotional, sexual, spiritual, or cerebral. Once I found a call for proposals for installations for a prison. Wow . . . To think that my installation could be a healing punishment for prisoners — how could you not smile? Later I found out that the call was for a former prison called Eastern State Penitentiary, but the thought lingered . . . BELL 8 could be helpful for disturbed children in schools, depressed adults in community centers, or indeed, former inmates in half-way houses.

Underwater meditation.

TDE: ​Have spectators come up to you with questions after the screenings?

DT: One audience member suggested conveying the feeling of waves using a hologram. One fellow watched the video four times, saying it was just what he needed and described his personal crisis. As we chatted, I suggested that he try some liquid thinking and liquid moving, and I demonstrated . . . which made me think about adding dancers to the installation to subtly convey just that.

TDE: When will the dance version culminate? In a previous email, you described plans to choreograph a dancer hidden within a white fabric – rather like Martha Graham’s Lamentation, except sans the bench and with a sail. 

DT: I wish to try it out in the Lilac during a party in October with a horseshoe-shaped lighting instrument that will change intensity and color, mimicking the horizon. Even though the space is hardly ideal for performance, I will explore choreography with a costume that is stretchy and perhaps as large as a sail. Rather than a Lamentation, the dance should be the opposite of Graham's focus: an exultation! Instead of being rooted to the bench, the dancer will be confined to the small deck of a boat.

The Dance Enthusiast Asks Questions and Creates Conversation.
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