Lisa Bufano – the Spiderwoman

May 24, 2008

I’ve mentioned dancer Lisa Bufano in my ‘first of the first blog posts’ here… but only as my remark that she is a  cool performer. Well, let’s make a small scan of her art profile and work… without using the word cool, because that’s an inevitable fact!

Photo: Naomi Robbins (c)

Lisa Bufano presented at Extravagant Bodies Festival 2007 two dance pieces: one with choreographer / dancer Sonsheree Giles from the AXIS Dance Company entitled ‘One Breath is an Ocean for a Wooden Heart’ and the solo piece ‘Five Open Mouths’ choreographed by Heidi Latsky, a long-time collaborator and principal member of Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company.

During her college years she was a semi professional gymnastic and a go go dancer… Lisa Bufano was 21 years old when she got a rare bacteria infection which led to the amputation of both her feet and fingers… she graduated animation and sculpture at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston … a couple of years later she started a new art career in the field of contemporary dance…

From ‘Five Open Mouths’, Photo: Chris DePierro (c)

‘I initially felt compelled to perform because being in front of people terrified me. Dance allows me to explore the huge range of what it is to be in a body- to experience being athletic, vulnerable, empowered, sensual, repulsive, monstrous, human, animal- and ultimately find some comfort with that’ says Lisa Bufano about her personal moments and the stage.

Bufano recently moved to the East coast in order to work with the Axis Dance Company from Oakland, a company with strong accent on contact dance training.

’I am fascinated by illusion and simple animation. I’m drawn to the creepiness of fakes, things that reveal, transform, or have hidden compartments. (The discovery of a room in a house begins a reoccurring dream.) In past work, I made dolls and sculptural objects, and then produced animation using the stop-motion process. I was influenced by an interest in medical drawings, historical wax models and dolls, and optical toys; flip dolls and paper dolls; the structural aspects of Japanese jointed dolls, Hans Bellmer’s doll work, Louise Bourgeois’ cell installations, the animation of Jan Svankmeyer and the Quay Brothers. At a time that I was seeking a more playful process and an art experience beyond a two- dimensional film clip, I took an opportunity to apply my affection for illusion within the frame of a stage performance. Currently, I’m focusing on performance and movement.

Photo: Gehard Aba (c)

Movement and Illusion continue to play major roles in my current work, although I’ve begun to discover new approaches that are exciting and terrifying. I am using my own body, both as a direct approach to animating forms, and also as a way to explore issues of physicality and difference. Despite my own terror and discomfort in being watched (or, maybe, because of it), I am finding that being in front of viewers as a performer with deformity can produce a magnetic tension that could be developed into strength. I attempt to channel this tension by exaggerating the mode of physical difference (for example, presenting myself on stilts). ‘

Bufano often uses stilts or prostheses (carbon Fiber running legs) in her artwork… and I have to quote here young tech-blogger Andrew Dobrow who wrote last summer at ‘Gearfuse tech-inspired’ blog: ‘We are so selfish. We want gadgets for our own personal enjoyment, while this lady uses them just to do the one thing she loves to do. Lisa Bufano is a bilateral knee and finger amputee, yet she’s not letting that stop her. She uses her custom made prosthetics to add to her visual performance. Bufano is actually a performance artist who works her prosthetics into her show, including one position where she looks as if she’s a table. This is one cool prosthetic mod.’

Photo: Andy Cavatorta (c)

When discussing about disabled people in an affirmative way you are always a half step close to walk into ‘political correctness’ field… frankly, I didn’t find myself even one second, whilst I was watching this performer, feeling a kind of: ‘Oh, this is so beautiful (and tolerant)!’ No, in that case I would, basically, talk about myself not the artist or performance. Besides, I don’t think that in Eastern Europe there is such a thing as political correctness towards disabled people, unfortunately… We are eons far away from that, honestly…

‘One Breath is an Ocean for a Wooden Heart’ is a performance that explores not just the kinetics of a ‘normal’ and ‘disabled’ body and their interplay… me think that this is an example of Bufano’s fascination with symmetry and geometry which she probably inherited while working with animation software…during their dancing I have felt like I’m in the middle of a rendering process in Max 3D, Maya or Poser… but much tangible, of course…
Two characters moving like gentle and harmless spiders showing us the stage splitterness… between two corpses and 4 pairs of stilts as their joints… in reshaping geometries…

Photo: Kris Lefcoe (c)

The version of ‘Five Open Mouths’ dance piece which I saw in Zagreb unfortunately didn’t have the same opening as Bufano usually performs it, with carbon Fiber running legs… I guess that gave me slightly different perspective on her performance at all. But doesn’t matter, because she gave me more space to ‘plug-in’ into her very personal dimension. It’s a very intimate story of the very first moment when she was waking up after operation, realizing that there are no fingers anymore on her body… a cathartic awakening…

Seeing the same piece online with above mentioned intro when dancer is using prostheses surprised me a little bit, because it gives to the same artworks another dimension… dimension which she succeeded (consciously or unconsciously, can’t tell you!) from the American performance art scene…

Her latest work is based on relation between body and water… and that makes Lisa Bufano a siren… check it out

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  • Pingback: The lllusion of “when I have time” (in honor of Lisa Bufano) | From the Studio

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