Art and everyday life flow seamlessly together for Nicole Livieratos, a dance and performance artist who’s been on the local scene for about 20 years. Her intimate and often intensely physical work juxtaposes words, images and actions gleaned from daily life; through metaphor, she reveals their deeper resonance.
Her upcoming work, “Folding: anticipatory, routine, closure,” will investigate how we fold things, big and small, into our lives. The work also represents a literal folding: Livieratos is dissolving her company, Gardenhouse Dance, and will function as an independent artist. The move will free her from the constraints and audience expectations that surround the word “dance.” It will allow her to pursue a curiosity she’s had for the past several years about the potential of blending performance with visual art installation.
Featuring dance artists Celeste Miller, Kim Kleiber and Erin Weller Dalton, “Folding,” in its first draft, will run from noon to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 22 and 23, in the lobby of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. A question-and-answer session will follow each showing.
A recent visit to Livieratos’ home studio to observe a rehearsal offered a glimpse of how her art and life are interwoven. An affectionate black Labrador retriever greeted a visitor at the door; seated on a mat across the living room, somewhat obediently, was a burly-chested South African mastiff named Emmielou. A huge, bright-colored abstract painting covered one wall; on the opposite wall, above the mantel, was a collage of small objects, detailed and carefully placed, each seeming to have a story behind it.
In Livieratos’ garage-size studio, the art installation was an arresting sight. Piles of clothes stood on the floor and on card tables around the space. Suitcases of various sizes were interspersed among the tables and heaps of clothing. The image recalled the mound of family members’ clothing in the laundry room, waiting to be folded and put away like a pile of family issues and memories that haven’t been sorted out.
Gazing intently through tortoise-shell glasses, Livieratos gave the three dancers a stream of notes — about grocery lists and “to do” lists — and how we fold those everyday things into our lives.
“Begin folding,” she said. The three folded all kinds of clothes, from a men’s T-shirt to an iridescent magenta miniskirt to a pink-and-mauve crocheted blanket. There was a rhythm: hold the garment open, fold in half, bring sleeves together, fold in and fold over. They made stacks and packed suitcases. There was the quiet rustle of fabric, punctuated by an occasional “snap” when a dancer spread open a crumpled garment, giving it a firm shake. Sounds of birds and automobiles wafted in through open windows.
The three sped up as if trying to finish a tiresome chore. At one point, Kleiber stopped and looked reflectively at a man’s red sports jacket as if it contained memories of someone dear. Then she folded it in with the rest.
After 20 minutes, Livieratos stopped to comment. “It’s not precious,” she said. Rather, it’s about the action itself. She demonstrated, holding up a shirt in front of her. She brought the sides together. Though the movement was plain and functional, there was a sense that she was folding the garment into her heart.
“That’s the challenge for the performer,” Livieratos explained afterwards. “To remain neutral, but actively so.”
In other words, it’s not about “performance” of the actions but the action itself — folding as metaphor. Livieratos explained that she wants the action to have breathing room around it, and for the audience to look at the connections it raises.
She hopes the connections will resonate with individual viewers in different ways and at different times. But she sees three primary associations with the act of folding: anticipatory, such as looking forward to going somewhere; routine, as in the daily tasks we fold into our lives; and closure, perhaps the folding away of old constructs, like outgrown shells that are no longer needed.
Livieratos doesn’t expect anyone to watch the entire three hours. She considers “Folding” a time-based art installation, and hopes this “first draft” showing will help answer some questions about this blend of performance and visual art. She’s interested in distinguishing her style from other visual artists, such as Ann Hamilton and Christian Boltanski, who have made works using clothing.
And she’s concerned about how the performers will handle the physical and mental demands of folding clothes for three hours straight, whether or not an audience is watching. And curious about the response — from both those who come with the intention of seeing “Folding” and museum visitors who happen upon the performance without previous knowledge of it.
Livieratos also aims to see how this hybrid form can engage audiences in new ways. Sparked by a collaboration with theater artist and writer Patricia Henritze, its three-hour time frame combines the immediacy of performance with the advantages of a visual art exhibition. For example, performance often requires prior planning and an evening-long commitment, but an art gallery visit can be incorporated into a busy day. “Folding” offers a similar availability. “Come on by, between the laundry and the grocery store,” Livieratos urges. “Swing by.”