If you remember the good old days of Manhattan Neighborhood Network’s (MNN) public access television extravaganza, then you might remember seeing one Diane Dwyer, DIY circus performer and local artist, whose 1994 lo-fi video production of her very own circus hit the airwaves before YouTube was even a twinkle in our eyes.
These days her program, Diane’s Circus, is on it’s way to making a comeback – digitally. That means you can add going to the circus to the many analog forms of entertainment Brooklynites enjoy in real life that have made their way onto the internet. This very specific type of performance art, here verging on video art, has made its way onto a computer near you courtesy of Ms. Dwyer, who is currently building a digital home for the program which will soon include a blog (though the site isn’t complete there are a number of videos already available via YouTube). The performance can also be experienced live in Ms. Dwyer’s home.
A native of New England, Ms. Dwyer attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University and the University of Connecticut. She now lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, home of her imagined world of spectacle, intrigue and pageantry.
In early 2009, Ms. Dwyer had the idea to create a project in her apartment that would be a collaboration of performances, and in preparation, spent a year doing live performance, exploring her relationships with the body, interactivity, and audience. We caught up with her to ask about the art of circus life, a taste of which you can get in the video below.
Brooklyn The Borough: Where did the idea for a circus come from initially?
Diane Dwyer: Why am I making a circus? Most simply, it was an unresolved piece from my past. I wanted to revisit the concept that allows me to explore spectacle, distraction, play, and identity. I am particularly interested in how we understand these topics in relation to both the Internet and the home. So the second definition of the word circus, as a place of convergence, is very important to me; the convergence of public/private, professional/amateur, etc. I am interested in both definitions of the word:
a large public entertainment, featuring exhibitions of pageantry, feats of skill and daring, performing animals, etc. interspersed throughout with the slapstick antics of clowns
an open circle, square or plaza where several streets converge- such as Piccadilly Circus in London or Carlisle Circus in Belfast
BTB: Do you consider the Circus to be a work of art? Are all performers artists within this context, or outside of it? What do you think about the terms “art” “performance” and “entertainment” and do you consider these definitions or the boundaries between these practices when putting together a circus?
DD: I do consider the circus art, though to be a part of it, one does not have to be an artist. It is art for me in that I am considering the situation and or context of performance, entertainment, identity, and display. I am also challenging/exploring my own rigid definitions of these terms so it is hard to answer your question. In my youth, I made distinctions between art and other things. Now I don’t, and I don’t just mean that in the sense that Kaprow and others have addressed. I also mean my love of record covers, variety shows, and silly costumes. I am trying to figure out how those things have affected my making.
BTB: What is the significance of holding Diane’s Circus in your home? How would this event be different if it were held in a gallery? Would you consider doing so at some point?
DD: The piece is created in my home, and is meant to be viewed as a guest in my home or online, perhaps in your home. I am interested in how a connection to the world through the Internet has changed our ideas about the private space. When you are at home, you can be anywhere; you can bring anything, or anyone, into your home.
BTB: The website that you have created for the circus is quite novel and effective in that it truly gives the visitor a feel for what experience of being at Diane’s Circus. Can you tell us a bit about dianescircus.com?
DD: The site is meant to evoke the feeling of a personal homepage, a modern take on someone’s idiosyncratic geocities or angelfire site from the early days of the web. We want the site to feel like a place. The areas defined relate both to a circus and to my apartment. For example, the cafe is a series of recipe cards for food you might find at a circus or carnival. There are also a couple opportunities for visitors to interact with us at the circus, the Lost&Found and the Concession Stand.
BTB: Diane’s circus is a completely immersive and disorienting experience. You’ve transformed your home into another world where performances occur simultaneously. The audience and the performers overlap and interact with each other in a way that is entirely different than in any gallery or theatre. It brought to my mind Bahktin’s concept of the Carnivalesque (although he applied the term to literature) where high culture and the profane become mashed together, and the rules of society (here the art world) are subverted. Any thoughts on this?
DD: I have read a bit about the histories of circuses. Historically, circuses have been places of both exploitation and protection for those marginalized by dominant culture. I am interested in circuses as they are both a place that supports and allows for the expression of so-called deviant behavior, and at the same time a place that separates behavior that doesn’t fit into normative categories. Even though one can visit (my home or my site) and immerse themselves in the profane, a visit is always temporary. Circuses in that way reify normative behavior. I wish that the Carnivalesque had the effect of creating agency for marginal culture within dominant culture, but I don’t think that is the function of a circus. And that also interests me! As we constantly challenge dominant culture, are we also, by continuing to name or define it in contrast to ourselves, merely reinforcing its presence?
BTB: Are you poking fun at art world?
DD: No, I don’t think of my work in that way. The art world is not a motivation or context for my work. In fact, I struggle to find the inclination to engage an audience outside of artists and friends that I find compelling. I consider this a fault of mine, not any kind of deliberate stance. I do hope the structure of this piece encourages engagement with the creative population of this city that I may know intimately or casually.