Emily Gastineau is a Minneapolis-based artist who investigates contemporary spectatorship through performance, choreography, writing, and organizing.
She collaborates with Billy Mullaney under the name Fire Drill, creating performance works that challenge contemporary notions of spectatorship and engagement. Their work has been presented at the Walker Art Center, Red Eye Theater, Bryant-Lake Bowl, the Ritz Theater, Skewed Visions, and the White Page in Minneapolis, and along the Central Corridor in Saint Paul. Their work has also been curated at Panoply Performance Laboratory (Brooklyn, NY), Special Effects Festival/The Wild Project (New York, NY), the Chocolate Factory/THROW (Queens, NY), SALTA Is (Oakland, CA), the Garage (San Francisco, CA), Multiplex Gallery (Portland, OR), FringeArts/Scratch Night (Philadelphia, PA), E.M.P. Collective (Baltimore, MD), and the Performance Philosophy Conference/University of Chicago (Chicago, IL).
As part of an emerging artist-driven touring network for contemporary performance, they curated evenings of work at the White Page, Bedlam Theater, and their own space Fresh Oysters Performance Research, featuring artists from New York, Portland, Oakland, Seattle, and the Twin Cities.
As an independent artist, her choreography and durational performance art works have been presented at the Soap Factory (2013 Minnesota Biennial), Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater, the Tek Box, Art of This, and Studio 206.
With Theresa Madaus, she co-founded the reciprocal performance writing initiative Criticism Exchange, which has been featured at national and international conferences.
As a performer, she developed Big Baby with the April Sellers Dance Collective, which performed in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Chicago and won City Pages Best Dance Performance 2014-15. She performed in Morgan Thorson’s durational work Still Life at the Weisman Art Museum in summer 2015. She has also performed in the work of Samantha Johns & George McConnell, Samantha Johns & Shelby Richardson, Chris Schlichting, and Laura Holway.
She works with Mn Artists at the Walker Art Center, both as Program Manager and a commissioned writer on performance.
I approach live performance as the ideal medium to investigate this crucial question: How is contemporary capitalism changing the body and the act of viewing? I observe that most cultural production, even outside of entertainment, centers on capturing and managing the attention of the viewer. My work exposes and intervenes in the organizing principles of neoliberalism—how the financialization of life determines our embodied experience, qualities of attention, valuation of labor, and beliefs about what art can do.
With collaborative duo Fire Drill, I conduct pseudo-empirical investigations into the nature of attention, tracking our collective desire for constant stimulation. I create performances that are sometimes stark and sometimes spectacular, using distilled performance structures to result in sensory overload for the audience. I catch the viewer between pleasure and pain, boredom and engagement, identification and repulsion, laughing and crying. My works exploit theatrical convention, saturate the audience with information, and accelerate the effects of exhaustion on the body. I highlight ragged breath and muscle fatigue, revealing the body’s inability to sustain the increasing demands on labor. My scores pit the performers’ will and desire against the limits of their endurance. Composition is organized around a singular goal—like dancing to the point of vomiting or competing for the audience’s attention—to expand the notion of choreography.
My work has progressed into writing, organizing, and curating, aiming to evolve the discourse of performance practice in dance and visual art contexts. I organize projects that involve fellow artists in the form of publications, immaterial installations, and alternative economies. I am intrigued by the process by which art becomes public, via economies, institutions, and our beliefs about whether art can actually affect society. I hold a tension between art and politics, suspicious of the instrumentalization of art, yet committed to rooting out the political in the aesthetic. I perceive that art is obsessed with its own weakness, continually trying to prove its worth in a culture that doesn’t value it—and yet I believe that in a world ruled by efficiency, the purposelessness of art is actually the key to its power.