Ann Trondson

Studio Feb 15Exploring the Everyday

Written by Brett Levine 

Photo by Jerry Siegel


For Ann Trondson, creating art is about interpreting the ways we understand the world as we navigate through it. “I’m all about objects. I just don’t make them,” says Trondson, whose practice is based in live performance, film, and sound. She says this standing in a small studio surrounded by a number of works in process. On one wall are a series of photographs, part of a project in process from a recent artist’s residence in Giverny, France. “I wanted to explore the creative life of Marie-Noëlle,” she explains, “an artist in Giverny who works predominantly in oil pastels. In many ways she is one of the living links to the past, and she hosts visitors and tour groups. We became friends, and I began to think about this experience as a combination of documentary and performance. In many ways it is the most documentary-based work I have done, but it still considers my main interests, which include how we construct our persona, the body, and identity.”

Trondson began focusing on performance in graduate school at the University of Southern California. In one of her earliest performances, Untitled Open, she drew on her background as a competitive tennis player to challenge the gallery itself to a match. “I asked someone I knew to keep score,” she says, “and I told him he would have to make it up as he went along. Somehow, I won in three sets.” What was significant about the work was not the process of playing, but something that preceded the event entirely. “I went online and sent a question to a coach about the crossroads I had reached in my competitive life. He sent me a response that became the invitation to the exhibition, and I really felt it was informed, in part, by the fact that I was a woman. I realized that there were a lot of similarities between being an artist and playing competitive sports. Most of all, I realized that I was my ultimate opponent.”

This revelation led Trondson to begin to collaborate more, working with people she respected for being committed to their fields. “I think one element of creativity that many of us share is that we begin from a place where we are somewhat good but not great. Collaboration provides a framework through which projects can explore these boundaries and limits,” she says.

The idea of testing limits is something she explored in Night Maneuvers, a performance that paired an original score by DJ Heartthrob with a dancer who performed as long as she wanted. “I just told her, ‘Dance until you have danced your heart out,’” Trondson explains. “When the performance was over, she had danced for an hour and a half.” Duration, a key concept in the history of performance, is really of little interest. “I try to keep all of my performance pieces under 40 minutes total, and many of them are under 10. There was a point in time when performances were grueling for the audience and the performer, but I don’t want to confront anyone for too long.”

Trondson is far more likely to create works that engage, entice, or amuse. Paint it Black shows a middle-aged man dancing around a room to the Rolling Stones song of the same name. Song Write creates a more complex doubling in which a solo performer plays a song with his younger self. “I’m fascinated by the ways in which we carry ourselves with ourselves,” Trondson says. “I often think of a quote by the artist Paul Valery who said, ‘The painter takes his body with him.’”

Her most recent projects continue to explore collaboration and transformation. “Right now I have a proposal for a project overseas that deals with issues that explore, on a very basic level, how people can choose to change their lives. I am working with someone I have collaborated with previously, who has recently undergone a personal transformation through an intense commitment to running and the positive effects it has had on his life,” she says. “So our bodies, our minds, or both can be records of our actions and our pasts. It is through our bodies that we feel time slip through our fingers. The project involves him running a marathon, 26 laps of a one-mile course, and every lap will take him through an empty gallery space along the route. At that moment, his body will become the work of art.”

It is this innovative perspective that makes Trondson’s works singular. Not content to simply make performances, however, she prefers not to classify her creative practices. “I just did a piece that I would describe as a performance lecture, and I am working on a Skype lecture. I am fascinated with the idea of a single body being able to be in multiple places at the same time,” she says.

For now, working in a studio in Birmingham, Trondson continues to explore multiple aspects of an artistic practice while retaining a cohesive approach to her work. “I think of everything I do as being equal, and every project informing the others at the same time that they stand on their own,” she says. “For now, perhaps I am at a new crossroads. I truly love my project with Marie-Noëlle. My focus is simply to make work that is less mediated.”

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