Eve Sussman, the woman behind this year’s Whitney Biennial darling, 89 Seconds at Alcazar, has just returned home from Athens, Greece, where she and two collaborators (Claudia de Serpa Soares and Jeff Wood) auditioned two hundred people in a four-day casting frenzy. Sussman’s most recent project (working title: Raptus) is inspired by Jacques-Louis David’s painting, the Intervention of the Sabine Women, much as her acclaimed 89 Seconds video paid tribute to painter Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas. After folding the newest Greek cast members into their expanding, intergenerational, transnational pack of performers and artists, Sussman and her co-conspirators moved through Greece for three weeks under the evolving entity of the Rufus Corporation. In her own manifesto/press release, she states:
The Rufus Corporation, a band of itinerant actors, artists, dancers, musicians now totaling twenty-two—having added twelve performers, two horses, an opera singer and a cowboy to their ranks—ascend two hours to Episkopi… in the mountains of Hydra, to the estate of the late cigarette mogul, Papastratos, who graciously abandoned his summer home in the late sixties leaving a perfect time capsule and testament to the glory days of the Athenian entrepreneurial class… as if anticipating the arrival of a group of wandering bards in the early part of the twenty-first Century.
—From “What Is the Rufus Corporation
and Who Are the Sabine Women?”
We met in her home/studio, a large, open space overlooking the Wallabout Channel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where we discussed her work-in-progress. While talking to her about her developing opera-cum-musical, I flashed between images from various black-and-white Greek musicals I watched day after day while visiting Athens in the mid-nineties. Sussman hadn’t seen any Greek movies from this era, but was assiduously culling ideas from other cinematic influences, along with architectural, musical, operatic, sculptural, and (once again) painterly sources.
THE BELIEVER: You used the term “video artist,” and mentioned that it makes you uncomfortable. Why is that?
EVE SUSSMAN: All of the characteristics of what I’m doing seem like they fall more easily into the concerns that surround filmmaking as opposed to what you would think of as video art. It gets very blurry. That blurriness is really interesting to me and that’s why I’m trying to bridge the gap—trying to have a foot in both worlds. But it’s not as easy as one would think.
In a movie theater, people are a little more tense. They’re really expecting to be entertained. With video art, you’re not quite expecting to be entertained. And when you are entertained, you’re really pleasantly surprised. Video art demands a certain kind of patience and forgiveness from the viewer. You have to allow yourself to sit for a certain amount of time. You might have to accept that you’ll be bored for a while. It’s rare that you get emotionally involved during a piece of video art the way you do at the movies. There’s that idea that you’re able to leave at any point with a piece of video art. If you go to a movie, you’re almost buckled in. To walk out of a movie is a huge statement. Even if the movie sucks, you’re always debating: Should I walk out? Is it rude? Is everyone going to notice? I’ve only done it once or twice in my life because I feel like even if it sucks, I should sit through it and I’ll learn something. And I want to see who’s in the credits.
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