The Filament festival is a showcase of new work in performance, visual arts, sound and media held at EMPAC—The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute—this weekend (Oct. 1-3). One of the featured installations/performances is Abacus by Early Morning Opera, an LA-based, multidisciplinary arts lab founded and directed by 2008 CalArts grad Lars Jan (MFA in Directing and Integrated Media). The festival describes Early Morning Opera’s piece as an “evangelistic jumbotron diatribe on the dissolution of national borders.”
24700 conducted a Q&A with Jan via e-mail to discuss Abacus and his time at CalArts.
24700: Can you expound on that short description of Abacus?
LJ: Here’s some of a treatment that expands on the one-liner: Abacus is a baroque presentation delivered by Paul Abacus and supported by a sculptural media surface inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s fabled Geoscope, as well as by a chorus of three Steadicam operators. An associative pitch-cum-sermon, Abacus argues the obsolescence of national borders and proposes their dissolution while simultaneously acting as a study in two dominant forms of persuasive discourse today: the TED-style presentation and megachurch media design.
The piece is driven by Paul Abacus, a presenter born of his non-fictional contemporaries—think Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, Deepak Chopra in his various video lectures, Colin Powell at the UN, and post-production-manager-turned-superstar-pastor, Joel Osteen—as well as two historic missionaries: his namesake, the Apostle Paul, and Fuller himself.
24700: Did you present Abacus at REDCAT’s NOW Festival last year? If so, how has the work changed since then?
LJ: Yes, we did present at the NOW fest as a work-in-progress after our first five-week residency at EMPAC. The work is similar in intention and much of the text remains, but the piece has become much more sophisticated on many levels over the year. The Steadicam dance component expanded; we added another Steadicam and participated in a week-long intensive workshop with Garrett Brown, the inventor of the Steadicam, who has become a big supporter of Abacus. The screen array has become larger, and much more complex—also, all the visuals in the piece are now driven by real data, rather than occasionally fabricated data. The piece as a whole is about 20 minutes longer, and now there’s a giant panda in it named Dr. Hieronymous Wang.
24700: Did you have a mentor at CalArts who helped guide or influence your work?
LJ: Sure, several mentors along the way, most notably Travis Preston, the new dean of the Theater School, and Lewis Klahr who teaches film in the Theater School. Travis probably said three things in three years that shook up how I create work in a great way, and Lewis taught me a new way to see film, and gave me tools to think about emotionally driven visual storytelling. Mostly though, CalArts for me was about the freedom to make work with a significant level of support and resources, and very, very talented collaborating artists.
24700: What’s the best (or worst) piece of advice you’ve received about a career in the arts/becoming an artist?
LJ: The best advice I ever received about being a professional artist was probably that you have to believe in and promote your own work if you want others to follow suit.
24700: What’s next for Lars Jan and Early Morning Opera?
LJ: I’m soon headed to Cologne, Germany, to video design a show for an experimental performance company there, and then I’m directing a staging of excerpts of a new opera, Makandal, with libretto by Carl Hancock Rux (former head of Writing for Performance at CalArts) at Art Basel in Miami this December. I’m teaching Media in Performance all spring as well as directing a new show, tbd, at Swarthmore College outside Philly. Hopefully I’ll be touring the two shows that premiered this fall next summer: Takes (a dance-video installation I co-directed and video designed at the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival) and Abacus.