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Jump On The Bed Happy

[Photo: Wednesday Kim]

Gabriel Don received her MFA in creative writing at The New School, where she worked as the Reading Series and Chapbook Competition Coordinator. Her writing has appeared in publications such as The Brooklyn Rail, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Understanding Between Foxes and Light, A Minor, Westerly, Mascara Literary Review, Post-Paper, The Legendary, Transtierros (translated into Spanish), Gargoyle 62, LiveMag! 12, Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts, Stato Rec, The Seventh Wave and Three Rooms Press MAINTENANT 9. Her work is forthcoming in publications such as Maintenant 11, Brownstone Poets and The Unbearables’ From Somewhere to Nowhere; the End of the American Dream. She has appeared in visual poems such as Woman Without Umbrella and Unbound, started several reading-soiree series, worked as an editor on publications such as LIT and has received press for her writing work including Antipodes Journal, Quiet Lunch, Let Them Talk, Art Loves Her, Yes Poetry! and Great Weather for Media. She currently teaches writing at BMCC. She can be found here.

3:AM: I want to know first if you identify yourself more as a writer, poet or performance artist?

Gabriel Don: I identify as an artist who works across mediums and styles, depending on the impulse and the idea. In my head I don’t think I am divisive between different forms of expression, for example my prose has poetic elements in it too so poetry is not divided from my overall writing practice. Writing and performance intersect when you are writing to perform or reading or performing words you wrote to an audience so not necessarily wholly separate disciplines. There are characters in my prose and poetry that are not me. To perform, I must write and to write I must perform.

If I had to pick something to identify, if someone said only one – As society often tries to dictate and I resist! – I would identify as an activist as all of my endeavours whether they find form in singing, acting, film, art, writing, teaching and so on have social and political undertones. In a writing workshop one of the my classmates wrote on a short story of mine, “Here it is the inevitable cultural commentary, social message and political activism appears as always in your work on page eight or nine.” Writing and performance art to me must always say something. Especially with performance art, the message must not be too abstracted: I do not want masturbatory performance art but a clear message with social commentary that the audience can access and understand.

3:AM: How did you get involved in performance art?

GD: I have always been performative, performing is usually a part of my daily life and personality. I studied at the Australian Theatre For Young People as a child while visiting from Singapore and Dubai to see family back in Sydney. Then attended the National Institute Of Dramatic Arts as a teenager and then the Actor’s Centre as an adult. I also studied fine art as a child. If you spoke to my childhood and high school friend’s they would likely identify me as the girl who did art, painting and drawing, collages and installations, not writing.

Tableau Vivant inspired me in high school when I saw Carolee Schneemann’s “Interior Scroll” and the audiences adverse reaction to it, while they had none to Chris Burden sitting in his own excrement for days, or shooting himself in arm, or nailing himself to a car like Jesus and backing it out of driveway. No, the audience was more horrified when a woman pulled a harmless scroll out of her vagina and read from it.

I lived at Lanfranchi’s an artist run space also in Sydney, where I was exposed to a whole range of performance art. During my undergraduate degree, my friends and I would take advantage of the fact we would rent equipment for free and shot and edited films, such as Vox Pox with me and my female friend wearing facial hair in Is John Howard a fruit or Vegetable?

Since being in New York I participated in various performance art such as Joseph Quintela’s book dress project, Cleansing Concordia for Maya Korn’s One of Us and Feminine is Free for Coco Dolle’s Milk and Night. So in terms of how I got into it, I would say education, experiment and daily fun and collaboration and then lastly commission where people would contact me with a brief I would then write a piece to suit the theme and event.

There is something, unless captured by camera, about the timeliness of performance art and the inability to make money off it, a purity of form because the difficulty in economic reward that I like. Most of my performances are participative so the audience join in, so even if documented the performance has lost that element in the re-watching. You can’t take me and my performance off a wall and sell it and if you didn’t see it at the time, it is gone.

Everything I do, to some extent, I think has some sort of character, not necessarily not me, but one part of me as I contain multitudes. My mother schooled me in personas that can help depending on the situation. For example when I was waitress I had a professional persona suited to being a waitress, calm and happy as even if I was stressed by lunch rush or having a bad day, it is hospitality so the customer should not feel your stress and I should not inflict my personal bad mood on the customer. When I first began reading my work in public and was nervous my mum said, “Pretend you are someone else, like Britney Spears, some one who wouldn’t be nervous.” I took to wearing high heels when I read as I never wear high heels and it made me feel like a different person. When I was a singer with David Peel and The Lower East Side I was a punk dressed in all black and boots. They are all parts of me but different parts of me are required for different performances. An Intentional Performance by Gabriel Don I did at the Gershwin Hotel for the Triangle Project put together by Jacob Fuglsang Mikkelsen speaks to that. Isn’t social media a performance? We are performing ourselves. Every day, performing our gender, our roles, the perception of who we are. Depending on the context.

[Photo MJ Chisala]

3:AM: Do you have any mentors, artist you look up to?

GD: Yes I have lots of mentors and artists I look up to. Since I am interested in different disciplines and forms of creativity, I have several people who work in different fields that guide me. I have so many older friends, rich with stories and lessons. Even though I am now a teacher and mentor myself, I am always looking to learn more. For instance I am now seeking mentorship with songwriting and music, acting and filmmaking. People who express themselves in numerous ways, changing their careers like Maya Angelou: a singer, a performer, a poet, a teacher, an activist, a film director, a rap lyric writer and so on―inspire me endlessly. I admire my great grandfather, Harold Smith, who shifted his career several times in his life: designing sets in Hollywood for Shirley Temple films, designing buildings as an architect, writing books, collecting pipes and stamps, writing books about collecting stamps, taking up watercolours in his 70s, painting prolifically.

3:AM: What are the themes that you explore?

GD: This is hard to pin point exactly in the moment, within myself, perhaps someone else can identify themes easier or when I look back I can say, “Ahhh I was working with that theme a lot” like how as an outsider looking back I can see an ox being beaten in Dostoyevsky’s work reoccurring. I suppose family, social justice, world politics and gender are some themes I have explored. Two of my performance art pieces that were commissioned took place in a Lutheran Church so the theme of those two performances was inspired at first by the space and Martin Luther and that Christian history. I am currently ruminating respectively on memory and civil disobedience.

3:AM: What are some of your notable past projects?

GD: To be honest the times I have felt the most proud, jump on the bed happy, is when I find out about short stories being accepted to literary magazines. Seeing seventeen pages of my work in print (poor trees!) that I spent two years working on is a very special feeling.

3:AM: What are you working on currently?

GD: I am auditing a songwriting course at NYU this summer, to reconcile my singing and writing lives, thus I am currently working on learning music theory and music history.

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Jana Astanov is a multidisciplinary artist currently living in New York. Her work includes photography, poetry, performance and new media. She started experimenting with writing poems in English in 2012, and since then has compiled three collections: Antidivine, Northern Grimoire and Sublunar.

Jana Astanov is on Twitter

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, June 4th, 2017.