Cherie Sampson is a visual artist working in environmental sculpture, performance and video, exhibiting her work in the US and abroad. She currently resides
in Columbia, Missouri and is an Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Missouri where she coordinates the Foundations program and teaches Foundations and Video Art. She contributed as a national guest at Sacred Harvest Festival and offered a series of workshops on “Embodying Sacred Space”, and a Thursday night performance piece multimedia premier, entitled “One of Many Limbs”. This interview is in its entirety, but somewhat edited for flow. You can listen to the whole interview here.
What was your experience like this year, coming to Sacred Harvest Festival and presenting to a bunch of Pagans camping out?
It has been really good, really great, and I haven’t been to this festival. This is the first time. I am familiar with many people who have been really close for a long time, Alvin and Lila, and I’ve known you for probably twenty years. I still remember many of the songs from the ritual you did years ago, so I feel certainly a part of this community, although there are many people I don’t know.
Well, when Judy emailed me in February, I just felt really honored to be asked to come as guest artist. I have been kind of reflecting on how in some ways in my work, career, especially in an academic environment at a research university, there are certain expectations to be showing your work, and doing your research. It becomes very externalized, the work becomes part of this career chase. I knew this would give an opportunity to connect with a community that understands the deeper spiritual dimensions of my work. Also for me to reconnect with those dimensions as well, which are always present. When I am seeking the gallery venues and that art world sort of channel, it (spiritual dimensions) becomes quieter.
Do you self identify as a Pagan?
In your academic life is it pretty apparent?
It doesn’t come up. I don’t talk about it. I don’t know what some of my colleagues practices, beliefs are. It’s just private, and of course in large universities there can be discriminatory things that come up, at any level of academia. Absolutely that happens. I don’t think it would be any sort of issue. I think people are vaguely aware.
Your work is judged by what it is?
It is about getting it out there, becoming known in your field. It’s an external focus. The research 1 universities want to see that their faculty is doing research and becoming nationally and internationally known. Nobody questions the content of my work. Depending on the work sometimes it (Pagan content) is more overt. I’ve been working from Finnish mythology, and on themes having to do with that. One piece that I have kind of been working on, kind of off and on for years, is based on the first passage of the Kalevala, the Finnish epic poem which describes a creation story that was initiated by a Goddess.
You arrived and our community watched you take this space, and with some help just transformed it into a whole new realm, and then we watched your performance, and took people to a whole different place. Do you normally do your work outside in the environment?
I heard many comments after the performance about the work and effort, and perfection in what you do. I think you took the time to make everything as you wanted it and really pulled it off.
Thank you, thank you! I pay attention to all the little details. As a multi-media artist I am working with sculptural space, I am working with performance. I am also working with trying to work with the electronics. With this piece I originally wanted to include video projections, but I just did not have time to work that out. I also backed off from that as I wanted the space to be less electronicized. This piece will have different manifestations.
Was this the premier of this Piece?
Yes, there are elements of it that I have pulled from other pieces, like the piece that I was talking about before, called “:Blue Sea Fire”. I do this backward facing masked dance in that piece. So I pulled that very strong element of that, into this, because I am still working on the design of this one. There were things that I knew were strong in former work that I used to sort of flesh this out. This is a work in progress. So this was the premier.
What was the name of the piece?
“One of Many Limbs”
With out a set to practice within how do you develop a piece like this?
I worked on this for six weeks before I got here. I built the structures at home, and they are still there. I built a whole separate set to bring here!
I had just presumed you found materials here?
I knew I wouldn’t have time. It takes me three full-time days harvesting the trees and shaving off the bark, so I knew I didn’t have time. Because this was my first time here, I couldn’t rely on that as there is no opportunity to do that. Where would I get them? There is farmland all around us. There is a particular look of the tree, the dimensions and the lines. I use black locust and persimmon. I had to be well prepared.
I think the community here was both impressed and mesmerized by both the effort and the performance.
Nice, thank you.
You’ve been to Finland, where else have you performed recently?
The last place I did a performance was Cuba. I went last november as part of a video arts festival. I had permission to go into a cave outside of town where there were a few pictographs from the indigenous people.I made some video footage inside the cave and of myself interacting with the spaces of the cave. I took that footage and projected it onto fabrics that were hung in an artificial grotto created in a city park in the city of Camaguey, Cuba. I then did a live performance where I was interacting with the video. It was very much a sort of sacred space. This cave had pictographs that spanned into the colonial period as they included helmeted figures. There is also speculation about images that are referred to as fertility symbols. The one before that I did in Finland at a monastery. It is an orthodox monastery in eastern Finland near the Russian border. I was invited to do a performance at an environmental esthetics conference there. That on I did on a frozen river, that was a “Blue Sea Fire”. I built birch structures and set them up on the river and did this 40 minute piece there on the frozen river with just a little bit of clothing on!
I do a lot of video pieces where I just set up a camera. Just me, a camera, and an environment. These are done nude, and they are very slow movement meditative pieces interacting with spaces in the environment.. I make and edit those videos and then project those in a gallery environment. They are also shown as single channel pieces on a monitor at video festivals. There is whole series of those that I have done, but they are all about “charged ” sacred space. Very primal interactions between the body and sacred space.
What is it that you want your audience to come away with?
Exactly what they came away with here. Settling into a very meditative, contemplative, and deep space. There are many ways to interpret my pieces. There are certain kinds of symbols I am working with, directions I would like people to go in terms of understanding the symbols. At the same time I think it is just fabulous when people say, “I saw this” , and even though it wasn’t a conscious intention, it is still connected.
Do you think of what you want your audience to experience in developing a piece , or simply follow your artistic vision, and know something will come of it?
Yes, the latter. I’m really following that inner voice, and from experience and enough positive feedback, over the years I just trust the experience will be a positive one for people and transformative. Of course, not everyone likes my work.
This is probably a lot more informal, receptive audience,
certainly an open-minded one. Did that effect how your performance went?
Absolutely, certainly there are aspects of this piece that are in process, but I wanted to do the most professional presentation that I could. I knew there were things that I was working through with it, at the same time I knew this would be a very receptive audience. It was a comfortable place to work something through, to see how it felt for me with an open and appreciative audience.
Did you find this a good direction for this piece?
Yes, I welcome feedback, but I usually reflect and critique later.
Did our community ‘Seduce the Muse’ this week?
Absolutely! Of course I worked most closely with Alvin and Lila, and watched their process as guests, and through their workshops, and in organizing their ritual. I had contact with them ahead of time. We sort of started thinking together. This piece has come out of work I have been doing for a decade. Alvin’s ritual came out of work that he has been doing for a long time. We didn’t have time to mesh them as one but they really almost came out that way. We talked about how we could segue from one to the other. It was great to watch how that unfolded, and then how Alvin got people inspired. We really talked a lot about the muse. Being aware of Violet and White Deer’s work, because I could hear them as I was working setting up. Nice, catching glimpses and hearing them and that process.
Thank you for being a guest, and I hope you got as much inspiration from your experience here as we got from you as a guest.
Absolutely, Thank you!