Catherine Sullivan

The Chittendens

Exhibition from January 20th, 2006 to March 11th, 2006.

The investigation of the constraints and paradoxes of theatrical representation is central for Catherine Sullivan’s work. Her film pieces, theatre productions und prop-like sculptures are directly and experientially related to acting practice and the schizoid structure arising from the discrepancies between role, person and body. Sullivan is interested in formal techniques employed to code expression as well as in the devices employed to generate and determine the behaviours of the performers. Using the grammar of theatre, she successfully reveals culturally inscribed ways of coding gesture and ultimately the defining patterns of the self.

At Catherine Bastide Catherine Sullivan presents her new piece The Chittendens. Her point of departure is informed by numeric scoring strategies and their potential relation to actors and performance. Strategies of separation, re-combination and variation are echoed in the spatial realization of the film piece shot on 16mm and transferred to digital video.

Specifically, Catherine Sullivan developed a choreography based on abstract rules: She assigned 14 singular “attitudes” each to 16 actors. The attitudes are then interpreted according to strict schemes, transferred to a numerical pattern and performed rhythmically in different tempos. To what extent can actions be divided into isolated, quantifiable entities, in analogy to a musical composition? Or, to pose the question differently, to what extent does the random combination of separate poses nevertheless read as a persona? How are self-possession and self-determination articulated between resistance and compliance with the assigned poses?

Catherine Sullivan connects the purity of an analytical approach and its seemingly contained objectivity with temporal and spatial methods of distortion and displacement. The costumes are based on various 19th and 20th century stereotypes. They offer no relationship for the performers or the audience in form of an identity. While, in earlier works, Sullivan frequently located the action in historical situations, she now based her choice of locations on a quest for the most inflated metaphors for the individual. In the course of her research, Sullivan found the corporate symbol of the insurance company The Chittendens that gives the piece its title: A solitary lighthouse, which–along with other maritime subjects–is a frequent subject in the self definition of US-American companies. The film then was shot mostly in a largely abandoned office building in Chicago that used to house a variety of companies and in a small lighthouse on Poverty Island, near the Wisconsin shore.

Costumes and locations function as arbitrary new systems of reference for discrete manifestations. They result in an accumulation of meaning and gestures. Ultimately the tension between the specific and the universal renders visible the behavioural regimes in their historical and cultural form. Where can the individual create him- or herself as singular, and where do seemingly individual gestures re-inscribe a specific position in a community and an era?

After the successful presentations at Secession, Vienna, Tate Modern, London and at Metro Pictures in New York, Sullivan, adopting the gallery spaces will present a new version of her piece re-edited specifically for this presentation.