Faces in the Arts is a blog series dedicated to highlighting the work of Artist Project Grant recipients.  These grants have been known to springboard recipients into the next level of their careers as artists, whose business is researching, developing, marketing and delivering their creative product. Through their work with communities, in education and in partnership with local vendors, artists stimulate local economies and improve the quality of life across Arizona.

Karen Schupp, Dance/Choreography: Karen Schupp began dancing at the age of four at a local dance studio in her hometown, Niagara Falls, NY. Karen received a BA in Dance Performance and Education from SUNY at Buffalo (UB), where she was a Performing and Creative Arts Honors Scholar. During her last semester at UB, Karen was a student in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center’s USIS program. Karen continued her dance training as a scholarship at both Steps on Broadway and Broadway Dance Center. After leaving New York, Karen pursued her MFA at Arizona State University, where she was a Teaching Assistant, scholarship student, and was named the Outstanding Graduate Student by the Department of Dance upon graduation. Her work has been performed regionally in venues such as the Experimental Arts Festival, nationally in festivals such as the American Dance Guild Festival (New York, NY), Wave Rising (Brooklyn, NY) and the Goose Route Dance Festival (Shepardstown, WV), as well as in India at the Attakkalari India Biennial. Schupp is currently on faculty in the School of Dance at Arizona State University.

Karen is a 2010 recipient of the Arizona Artist Project Grant, for her project Wester Door/Power Trail with collaborator Todd Ingalls. She received the award the first time she submitted an application.

Tell us a little bit about the present incarnation of your project.

Western Door/Power Trail premiered at the Arizona Falls on November 13, 2010. We still consider the work to be developing and we are still researching these issues. As such, we imagine subsequent performances will continue to evolve and that there will also be other works around these themes. Western Door/Power Trail explores sustainability and water rights through the collaborative development and performance of an interdisciplinary, site-specific dance work. In collaboration with media composer Todd Ingalls, the work will generate real-time sound and video that will be integral to the piece.

What was the catalyst, or inspiration, for your project?

I heard a story on NPR’s Science Friday about the possibility of harvesting water from the Great Lakes and shipping it to alleviate drought in other parts of the world, including the Colorado River Valley. I grew up in Niagara Falls, NY (which is located between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario) and now live in Tempe. The possible migration of this water would match my own relocation. This caused me to start thinking about the similarities and differences between these two communities in relationship to my own relocation.

How does your project interpret the similarities and/or differences in approach to sustainability between Niagara Falls and Phoenix?

We looked for larger topics that related to both areas and then explored them in relationship to dance and interactive media. Because the geography and ecosystems of each area are so different, the purposes of the resulting technologies differ. However, we were able to find several larger themes that were present in both areas. We built the piece from these larger ideas. These ideas included power, the mythology of water, ideas about harnessing and transporting water and energy, population change, and depletion.

Have you used any other artists’ work as inspiration?

Todd and I were both inspired by authors who wrote poetry or competed research about one of the areas. Ginger Strand’s book Inventing Niagara really got me thinking about how I perceived Niagara Falls growing up and Laura Tohe’s poetry gave me insight into the metaphor of water as a cycle. We were also inspired by historical images and maps of both areas.

If you’ve performed research, what problems have you come up against or what resources have been of special help?

Developing this work made us both realize that hydropolitics is usually presented as a simple lack of water and not as an issue of how power is expressed through the access to water. We learned that the earth contains more water than we can use and, as one water management expert expressed to us, “The real problem is we will run out of money before we run out of water.”

What have you been most pleased with so far in your progress?

Todd and I are both very pleased with how the work turned out. I am also pleased that Todd and I tried out new ways of working to develop the piece. Improvisation played a much larger role in the creation and performance of the piece than it has in my past works. I’ve wanted to explore different ways I could use improvisation for a while, and I’m very happy that I had the opportunity to do that in this work.

Have you come up against any challenges/surprises?

Most of the challenges and surprises we encountered were logistical. For example, the piece uses an infrared camera and LED infrared emitters. The interactivity depends on how the camera reads contrasts between myself and the background. My skin reflects infrared light, which means the projection surface needs to absorb it. We tried out about five or so different fabrics before we discovered that felt worked the best. The challenge then was to create a 8 x 18 foot black felt projection screen.

Has your project changed in any unforeseen ways from your original concept?

Unlike some of my previous work, I didn’t have any idea what the final product would look like. When we set out to make the work, I wasn’t sure how we would connect all the different ideas we wanted to explore. However, because the APG provided us time to work on this project, connective themes emerged overtime. I guess we had a clear idea of what we wanted to investigate, but not a clear idea of the outcome. This is also a new way of working for me.

What have you learned while completing this project—either about yourself or your art?

I discovered I felt much more connected to where I came from (Niagara Falls, NY) and where I now live (Tempe, AZ). Investigating both areas and interrelated themes allowed me to feel a more visceral connection to both areas, but especially to the metro-Phoenix area.

What do you see as something to take away after finishing this project? Will it have an impact on future work?

Making this work will have a huge impact on my future work. This is the most comprehensive piece I’ve created and it has forced me to think more largely about the types of dances I make, content I’m drawn to, and ways of working.

How has the grant money affected the work of your project?

The grant allowed both myself and my collaborator, Todd Ingalls, to develop the piece over a much longer time than we have used for previous works. This allowed us to see what ideas emerged organically out of the content and research instead of imposing structures and ideas on top of the content.

Are there future prospects for showing the work elsewhere?

We are also looking into some additional local and out of state venues but nothing is finalized yet.

Any tips for artists seeking funding/seeking space/planning to apply/looking for national funding resources/looking for collaborators/etc.?

My biggest recommendation is to take advantage of grant writing workshops, etc., offered by the ACA and other organizations. I attended the Creative Capital Workshop in 2008 and the skills I gained there were instrumental in writing and preparing my APG application materials.