Theater-maker, director, and LAPP artist Zoe Aja Moore is premiering a brand new work at LAX this year. Dedicated to a True Lover (and therefore probably nobody) is a theatrical encounter with German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Drawing from and reenacting segments of his films Whity and Beware of the Holy Whore, her “delirious participatory assemblage,” developed with the performers, plays with meta-theatricality, pastiche, the brutality of artistic creation, and ritual. We talked with Zoe, and learned about her inspiration for this exceptional project, and her appreciation and hopes for LA performance.
I’ve been told you grew up “in front of a camera.” What does that mean and how does it affect your work?
My dad is a photographer and he was shooting a lot of kids’ fashion, so from a very young age I was on set and spending a lot of time in a studio. I remember being fascinated by the idea of person as subject matter and that someone was putting a frame on the subject – the moment that a person becomes someone else’s subject matter. So from a very young age I had a sense of the power of image; I remember, being in pictures, being hyperaware of how manipulating very small things changed the whole meaning in an image. And I would throw a tantrum if the stylist didn’t give me the best shoes, so I guess I’ve always been really particular about details. Oh, and this all came up because I slipped to Miranda and Amanda that my first kiss was on a photo shoot – but I forgot to mention that the boy I kissed was dressed in a Disney costume for the shoot, so… I guess that really comes full circle in this piece. I just realized that.
What drew you to the films of Fassbinder, and these films in particular?
I directed a play of Fassbinder’s called The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant while I was at CalArts, that he also made as a film, and while I was working on the play I made it a point not to look at the film. When I watched the film after finishing my production of Bitter Tears I was really struck by the where the similarities and differences were and where the points of connections were between the film and my production. This artist who was coming from such a different place culturally and personally, I felt a really strong connection to the way he used his own personal relationships in his work and how that collided with a very strong awareness of a kind of cultural psychology. I found the way he mined Hollywood and different genres to be incredibly radical and subversive, and this shared ideology I found in his work allowed me to access of a kind of belief that the terrible can be beautiful and is also necessary for change.
For Dedicated to a True Lover (and therefore probably nobody), I went to these specific films because I was having a conversation with one of the Bitter Tears actors (Sallie Merkel), and we were talking about the way Bitter Tears was a projection of Fassbinder’s own identity onto the play’s women, and I was interested in where we were located as female artists in relation to where Fassbinder placed himself in his own work and the issues of power. We went immediately to Beware of a Holy Whore because it’s his autobiographical reflection on his own process and the group power dynamics of his own crew, and then Beware led me to Whity because Whity was the film that came immediately before and was the process he was reflecting on in Beware.
What do you think is the connection between live event & film? How do they interact in your piece?
Film and live event come together in that we are dealing with film and the power that film has in terms of image and frame and lens, but then encountering that in a theatrical way. But this piece is more about response, about being in an artistic conversation with popular media in the way that Fassbinder placed himself in relation to the Hollywood melodrama of his time. This piece also began with a really particular interest in gesture, and the power of gesture and imitation in a creative process – so both formally and thematically, it’s about representation and identity in relationship to gesture. Film is a perfect medium to explore that through, because it really invites, and challenges, imitation and recreation.
What do you do when you’re not making theater?
Oh… well, I really like to host parties, dinner parties, random dance parties. I go out to see a lot of friends’ work. I feel really lucky to be part of such an awesome community of artists, and I love events that bring lots of different people together. I’ve been teaching – I’ll be teaching at CalArts in the Fall – so that really feeds into my work too.
Coming from New York, what keeps you in LA doing theater?
I think LA is a really exciting place. I love the way that theater and performance here is so connected to the other arts and shares communities. And it’s an exciting time to be here. There’s still some rawness to LA, it’s still a little less codified than New York for artists – you can make it your own thing, and it feels like things are a little more wild (than NY at least) and out of that wildness – and space – comes more room for experimentation. I can afford space to work in, and I’m inspired by the people around me. I really think LA is such a perfect city for this cultural moment – and it’s also funny and iconic and strange, like, palm trees are still funny to me, and I love that.
This is your second year doing LAX, right? As an artist, what is the experience of this festival like — and what are you looking forward to this year?
The festival has great energy, I’m so excited to be a part of it again – and so are the performers I’m collaborating with. After last year we – the company – were talking about how incredible it was to be able to show up at the Bootleg and just know that something amazing would be happening – a panel, a performance. I’m excited to have that experience again, I think it’s really energizing and also is fun to have that concentrated energy of all these audience and artists in one place – it feels like LA is getting on the map in some way.
What is it like being a beloved LAPP artist?
It’s great – I really admire and believe in what Miranda is doing – her vision for LA and contemporary performance, and all the potential that is here, and it’s really awesome to be a part of that. Miranda’s support is exceptional, and I think LAPP is creating a real statement – rigorous and expansive and visionary. It’s cool, I think LA is really ready for it – and I’m excited to be a part of it.
Zoe Aja Moore is an LA-based artist and director who works primarily with live performance. Her work has been seen at venues including; The Tank, The Ohio Theater, Williamstown Theater Festival, The Standard Hotel, and REDCAT as well as in galleries & found spaces. Zoe holds an MFA in Directing from California Institute of the Arts.
Her productions include Hedda, Beware…, Desire Under the Elms, Galetea, The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, Looking for Lovborg, At Sundown, Juicy and Delicious, and Wingstroke.
profile by Will Arbery
artist portrait by Amanda Jane Shank
more LAX: liveartsexchange.org