Earth’s story told in dreamy multimedia

by Hallie Huffaker | 10/8/14 1:25pm

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Artist Miwa Matreyek spoke to students in theater professor Daniel Kotlowitz’s lighting design class on Wednesday.
by Natalie Cantave / The Dartmouth

Combining animation, music and a moving silhouette of her own body, artist Miwa Matreyek tells the story of the earth’s creation in two Friday shows at the Hopkins Center’s Bentley Theater on Friday. With elements both natural and fantastical, the artist will light up the black box theater with an array of images, sounds and dance.

Influenced by her experience working in collage, Matreyek wanted to integrate performance with digital art to create a unique audience experience, she said. Matreyek began creating performance pieces as an undergraduate at the University of California at Santa Barbara, then refined these pieces as a graduate student at the California Institute of the Arts.

“My pieces are very much for the audience’s interpretation,” Matreyek said. “It is a conversation between science and art, like a child’s science encyclopedia — the elements are surreal, but real ideas are coming across.”

Matreyek will perform two pieces set to music in her Bentley shows. Her newer piece, “The World Made Itself,” was inspired by her travels around the world, especially her experience looking down at the country’s landscape from an airplane window.

Her second piece, “Myth and Infrastructure,” is more playful, she said. The pieces differ in the way she integrates animation and her body movements, Matreyek said.

“Most of the scenes from the ‘Infrastructure’ piece are of my body in the center of the frame and the world moving around me,” she said. “In ‘The World Made Itself’ it becomes more cinematic, as my body comes and goes in and out of the frame.”

To create her pieces, Matreyek compiles pictures that she has taken and layers them together, adding different textures of light, movement and particles. The process is arduous — it takes months for her to put together the digital aspects, and longer to make the silhouette poses match.

Besides her solo work, Matreyek is a founding member and core-collaborator of Cloud Eye Control, a three-person collaborative performance group. Interested in animation, multi-media and performance, the group members met during their time at Cal Arts.

Matreyek said that the projects she does for this group is less theatrical and richer in animation than her solo work. Working with co-collaborators helps, too, to inspire other solo projects, she said.

Hop programming director Margaret Lawrence said she was interested in the way Matreyek’s work could open up Dartmouth students’ minds.

“She’s a part of a generation of artists who are really pushing the edges of technology, but she’s found a way to stay in that slippery place between digital technology and live theater,” Lawrence said. “Today it’s easy to go all the way into technology, but she’s interested in remaining present as a live performer in her work, and that gives it a real human quality and immediacy.”

Film and media studies professor Jodie Mack described Matreyek’s work as a novel integration of live elements and digital form.

Her tedious work process is another attraction to the show, Mack said.

“Sometimes you need to take 24 or 30 photographs and drawings per second,” Mack said. “It’s so labor-intensive that it’s really special to watch inanimate things come to life through this very special process.”

Lawrence said the perfect timing of body movements, music and moving images can have a mesmerizing effect.

“She plays with perspective a lot, so one minute you are underwater and the next you are zooming up over the landscape, things that are not humanly possible,” Lawrence said. “She’s got this limitless imagination that makes her pieces very fun but also quite beautiful.”