Interview with Stacy Makishi

Detail of photograph by Vick Ryder

This is the last of our interviews by Mary Paterson intended to further engage us all with three artists at the heart of this year’s SACRED: David Hoyle (21-22 November), Mamoru Iriguchi (26-27 November) and Stacy Makishi (28-29 November). Mary is launching three interviews with each of them, over the course of the three weeks, allowing a unique insight into their processes and practices.  In this final week, Stacy Makishi invites us to her VesperTime


Having a conversation with Stacy Makishi is a physical experience. Her language is littered with bodily metaphors, “I gotta eat it …”, “I was nailed to the cross ..”, “I mean, fuck me hard …” The words stream thick and her fast in her movie-star American accent, and it feels less like she’s talking to you, than as if she has grabbed your hand and made you jump into the ocean. The effect is compelling, immersive and completely exhausting.


Being overwhelmed is also how Stacy (she inspires far too much familiarity for me to call her by her last name) describes her relationship with her art. “I pick up a fascinating thread,” she says, “and follow it to the end.” It sounds simple enough, but then her voice rises an octave: “before I can get out, my life is in the middle of my story.” Stacy is thrashing around in the waves as well, gasping for breath, losing sight of the horizon.


The way she tells it, it’s hard to know whether Stacy makes her art, or the art happens to Stacy. She began her new show VesperTime with an interest in Bjork (“I was seduced”) and ideas for a flamboyant costume. But then “something enormous” happened in Stacy’s personal life, and she found herself searching through her inspirations for a different kind of meaning.


Or rather, she found her inspirations coming to get her. “I’m begging to it to give me a break,” she says, of her ‘muse’, by which she means the mystery that has become this show. “I’m screaming to it, praying to it …” The work feels like it has its own personality, dragging her into “big emotions”, forcing her to rewrite until she “threw all the clever stuff away.” The result is “not the kind of show I wanted to make. Ever.”


And yet the show is also what saved her from getting lost at sea. A few years ago Stacy lost her fascination for art. She felt like she had “failed at art”; she just “didn’t get” it anymore. And then she realised that “I had never taken any kind of vulnerable decision” in front of an audience. VesperTime is the antidote: the result of a choice, Stacy says, to “bare your fucking heart or get off the stage.” She knew she couldn’t ask anyone else to be vulnerable without doing it herself; so this emotional honesty is also an invitation – Stacy opens up her heart in order to prize yours open, too.


The title of VesperTime refers to Christian evening prayers (as well as a Bjork album Vespertine), and there is a religious echo to Stacy’s tale of questing and redemption. It should come as no surprise that her mind is able to suture such a combination of the complex and the profound: this is a woman who once trained as a missionary (until “pop music drove me away”) and now consults both a Spiritual Director (who believes in God) and an Atheist Minister (who doesn’t). Accordingly, while VesperTime long ago abandoned Bjork, it now embraces such disparate corners of the universe as Moby Dick, father and daughter relations, letter writing, God, sex, and several constellations of other ideas along the way.


If there is faith in the midst of all this, it is a faith in storytelling, as a way of coming to terms with impossible truths. “So, I found out that Herman Melville worked in a bowling alley in Hawaii …” Stacy tells me, straightforwardly, about the 19th century author of Moby Dick. It is only a few days later, reading my notes, that I realise this can’t be true: did bowling alleys exist in the 1800s? Was Hawaii part of the USA back then? As we talk, Stacy unfolds images like the pages in a children’s pop-up book – each new phrase a glimpse of an alternate world where the emotional logic is unimpeachable (why is Stacy Makishi interested in Moby Dick? you might ask – because its author used to work in a bowling alley in her home town, of course …) and the more pedestrian rules of time, space and reason don’t seem to apply.


This is why Stacy Makishi appears to be lost and found at the same time: both the master storyteller, and the victim of a story that is too big to contain. In her version of reality, anything is possible – not just in words, but also in person. On stage, Stacy is a shape shifter, transforming her tiny frame from sultry temptress to frightened child (for example), with the slightest widening of her eyes.


The secret of all this revolution is that Stacy makes the audience change with her. As I look at my notes from our conversation, I wonder which, if any, of the things that she has told me are ‘true.’ I start to wonder what truth is, in this context. And why is it so important to me anyway?


Like Stacy, I have been forced to write and rewrite, throwing away all the analysis I thought I was going to make in this blog post, in search, instead, of a different kind of meaning. Is this influence, coincidence or an insight into a new way of thinking? I couldn’t tell you. But Stacy probably could. She could weave a fairy-tale out of the ideas on this page and wrap it round your neck like a scarf: at once ticklish and reassuring.


I decide that truth is a relative term. And that I would rather jump into the ocean with Stacy than stand on dry land, drawing up maps. “I feel like I’m gonna ride a big wave,” she says, and I can hear the water splashing round my ears, too. “And there’s nothing about me that makes me look like I can surf.”


Mary Paterson is a writer and curator. She is the co-founder of Open Dialogues, which produces writing on and as performance. In 2014 she established up Something Other, a collaborative programme of research that explores the relationships between live art and digital culture. Stacy Makishi’s VesperTime  is showing at Chelsea Theatre on 28th and 29th of November at 7.30pm. Tickets can be booked here

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