For this latest blog post, I interviewed Maxine Flasher-Düzgünes, a dance artist, filmmaker, writer and educator.
Originally from a small lumber town in Northern California, Maxine grew up at the crossroads of eucalyptus, redwood, and oak forests. Just a short hike over the hill is Muir Woods National Monument, and within a twenty-minute drive is the Golden Gate Bridge. Maxine studied English and American Literature, and Dance at New York University Tisch School of Arts, and since the pandemic, moved back to the Bay Area prematurely. During this time, she finished her thesis on the use of erasure poetry in choreographic scores and worked with a coder on developing a platform to archive her research, which can be found at www.strikethrough-score.org.
Post-study, Maxine worked under the mentorship of various companies and artists to develop choreography for film, animation, and installation. She culminated her time there by presenting a solo-work called strikethrough ’21, in collaboration with visual artist Jade Lien and composer Michael Wall, at a small theatre in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.
Maxine moved to the UK only a few weeks ago to study for an MA in Dance Philosophy at the University of Roehampton, London. She hopes that her time here will serve as a continuing inquiry into the role of performance texts in contemporary dance.
Maxine's practice is a unique combination of dance, movement, writing, poetry, and filmmaking. Her words here are wonderfully refreshing as she touches on being a creator in today's world; experimenting in new places and amplifying her voice as an artist.
Where do you work? What makes this place important for your creative process?
More often than not, I think about the when of working rather than the where. The pandemic left me restless so I would often wake before dawn, grind coffee beans, and listen to the whistle of the kettle while writing a short entry about the endlessness of the night. In my California home, there was a dance deck where I would map out choreography for my ballet and contemporary classes – and surprisingly no splinters ever came out of that! There was also a nearby stage where I would teach private ballet lessons and film the seedlings of my own projects in the form of hour-long improvisations. While it remained my working space, I think I began to grow out of the traditional dance studio; I no longer needed it as it no longer needed me.
Where I am in the UK, there is a sunroom that opens to a back garden. At the end of the garden is a mirror which reflects everything back from where I often sit at the edge of the dining table. It’s not so much a space to dance in as it is a space to think about dance. I think I’m here on this new continent to theorise my relationship as a writer to a physical form, so at this point another dance deck might be a dangerous thing!
"Creating is a combination of encounter, remembrance, and then the intention to string and harmonise those pieces of matter into a lyrical art of sorts."
How would you describe your creative process? Do you use certain mediums/techniques to develop your creative ideas?
Part of the process of being a creator involves treating yourself to what’s out there: a new exhibition, a reading, a performance. It honestly feels like another form of dessert, and also an excuse to be social, to make plans as a slight but harmless interruption to a life that most of the time is quite solitary.
I create best while on the go: I’ll read a poem at a bookstand that for the rest of the day will tunnel its way into a thought or a conversation. I cherish those unexpected imprints. Frequently, I will write snippets of prose on something greater I intend to work on, and the loose-leaf texts I’ve stumbled across sometimes become the very heart of it. So for me, creating is a combination of encounter, remembrance, and then the intention to string and harmonise those pieces of matter into a lyrical art of sorts.
What is the main subject of your inspiration?
Inspiration comes out of the glorifying every day. I like to imagine moving street scenes as if they were photographs, the people moving like manipulative chess pieces. I like to look at things from the outside; growing up it was sometimes hard to become too involved in anything without that existential overwhelm, and artists above all people feel that… in fact, I think we feel too much! Maybe this is my sophisticated way of saying I get my inspiration from people-watching. But it’s a novel experience now coming out of the pandemic. There is an added depth that you sense in people from what the past year has infused: there are added pains, joys, curiosities, and it’s fascinating to make even the smallest advance – though not physical at all – towards a stranger.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on a remote poetry collaboration with a colleague back in the United States, on the subject of women writers starting their lives in new places. It is still mutating, but I had this idea to photograph and write about all the historic bookshops of London: among them including Cecil Court, a haven thoroughfare of storefronts selling literary prints, maps, antiques, and first editions. There’s this book someone gave me called Writers’ London: A Guide to Literary People and Places, and it contains the addresses of notable writers as they passed through London, as well as the surrounding bookshops where they most likely spent their Sunday afternoons. It’s another excuse to explore and chronicle every district of the city. I also do not consider myself a photographer. I always used the form as something purely functional and not artistic. But I’ve always liked taking film stills from choreographic sequences and over the years developed an eye for moments of rest. Perhaps this project will provide the opportunity I’ve been waiting for to experiment with scenes that do not move, and to compose in a sense a mini-essay about each place, like a blurb on a book page.
What does “sense of place” mean to you? Is this concept present in your work?
Lately, I’ve been considering how performing artists can amplify where they come from, as opposed to melting into the mainstream of any urban arts scene. Being based for over a year in a region increasingly affected by climate change, I felt urged to make it known that one of the most beautiful, sought-after places on earth was suffering smoky days, heat waves, dry windstorms, and entire seasons (even years) without rain. At first in quarantine and then out of it, I started a practice of dance filmmaking at sites I’d fallen in love with, on rugged clifftops, foggy beaches, and forests I hoped would be standing by autumn’s end. I now formally collaborate with US-based composer, Michael Wall (www.soundformovement.com) on pairing my films with his music, which is revered by dance artists all over the world.
Are there elements of your work that connect with or are inspired by the natural world?
When I go out to make films, I think about the ‘far away’ in relationship to the camera and the dancer. How does a space make itself look lonely? Who decides when to warm it up? How does an improvisation serve as a form of contrast with the wind and rain, the grass and ground, the tree and mountaintops? And I think these films can only exist in the realm of spontaneity, because so does their backdrop.
A few years from now, on a date to be determined, I’ll be working on designing an interactive film installation at the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, which is located on a remote coastal ranch in Northern California. This residency will almost serve as a déjà vu to quarantine, at a site where there is limited internet and cell service. It will call to action the importance we need to place on the non-digital in a world that is visibly crumbling from the irreversible weight of a man-made climate crisis.
Does the natural world have a part to play in your everyday life?
There is a National Recreational Area called Point Reyes, located far north of my home in the San Francisco Bay Area. I grew up coming here, to the beaches, ranches, and wooded hiking trails. I do not lie when I say there is no place like this in the world! Point Reyes Station, the hub town of the region, contains galleries exhibiting the work of local artists, bakeries, farm-stands, a saloon, a dance church, a bookshop, and a grocery store known for its cheap buffalo-milk soft serve ice cream. I like to fantasise that one day I will retire here, alongside many other artist-converted professionals in the county of West Marin. This place reminds me of what it’s truly like to live. Over my brief visiting summers back from New York, I would take friends out here, eat fresh oysters along Hog Island, Tomales Bay, and drive ten miles out to the headlands lighthouse where on some days it feels like the winds could knock you down. Always bring someone to hold your hand just in case wind speeds exceed 64km/h!
I would also go to Drakes Beach, another ten mile stretch of a no-man’s land, rough and un-swimmable, like the heart of a painting few can fully understand. Here at land’s end is where one can dance unencumbered: it is how I tell myself that dance does not have to be viewed to be experienced, it can be a personal practice, it can be as tiny as one sand-grain of a moment to become the most beautiful thing on earth.
"Dance does not have to be viewed to be experienced, it can be a personal practice, it can be as tiny as one sand-grain of a moment to become the most beautiful thing on earth."
Do you have a favourite artist or creative individual? Someone who has artistically inspired your work?
Since my undergraduate studies, I have been intrigued by the work of Norwegian choreographer and poet Janne-Camilla Lyster who wrote a book called Choreographic Poetry for her PhD dissertation at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts. My work is currently concerned with how creative writing can inform choreographic and improvisational dance practices, both in teaching and performative environments, and Lyster’s book expertly illustrates this complex idea – the pathways through which words can become movements – in a wonderfully practical way. It is the reason why I perhaps continue to obsess over text-based writing as a form of or entrance into choreography.
What would your top piece of advice be for creatives navigating their way in the arts industry today?
When it comes to navigating any arts scene, don’t call yourself an artist, call yourself a creative entrepreneur. I think most of our lives revolve around creating opportunities for ourselves instead of falling victim to the sometimes heartless and disadvantageous labyrinths that already exist. This is not meant to be pessimistic, but it’s inevitable that things will come and go, and not always in the smoothest way possible. It’s our job to ride the surface until we feel comfortable in submerging ourselves further, into a project, or a research question, or a day where we haven’t yet mapped out its end.
Do you have a message that you hope to give to the world?
I want people to pay attention… There is so much we miss when we resort to polishing the narrow film of our ego. Our mass retreat to the digital world has left us senseless, it has left care in the arms of the few, and it has hurt artists the most. We need to focus more on the action of welcoming, building a place where words are free flowing, where ideas can be both sturdy and transient. I long for the kind of community where artists can offer themselves without being trampled by limitations. Imagine that world, someplace of beauty and reassurance where everyone manages to keep their flame burning… burning without burnout.
Maxine's Book List:
1. Alone Time: Four Cities, Four Seasons, and the Pleasures of Solitude by Stephanie Bloom Especially for artists, a wonderful selection for a long train ride or over morning coffee, this book is comforting as it is prodding of what it means to explore a new place and why to do it solitary. My transition to begin my studies in London was not smooth – in the dregs of a global pandemic and the growing hindrances of Brexit – and travel writing is my go-to when my heart feels lost inside itself. Bloom’s book has reminded me to slow down and treat this place a little bit like a snow globe, to be in awe, to eat good food and wine, to photograph shop windows, to walk in the rain, to ride the tube a bit past your stop, and ultimately, to surprise yourself in what you are capable of as a traveller of anytime and anywhere.
Images 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6: Artist's Own
Image 7: Alexandra Noelle Chan