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UMS Artists in “Residence”: Meet Leslie Rogers

UMS launched a new Artists in “Residence” program during the 2014-2015 season. Five residents from across disciplines will take residence at our performances throughout our season. We’ll profile each resident here on UMS Lobby.

Leslie RogersGabrielle Carels (UMS): Tell us a little about yourself and your background in the Arts.

Leslie Rogers: I started making my own work, outside of school assignments, with a sewing teacher. I took weekly sewing lessons from age 7 to 11, and understood that sometimes we were making things that did not get used, wall hangings, which piqued my attention. I was interested in the dialogue that went on amongst the quilters and how they articulated their standards of quality. I tried to understand what they aspired toward in their endeavors. I thought of them as mad geometrists who made legitimate fine art. That experience taught me to be perceptive about the things that were happening at the edges of, or on trajectories parallel to, forms that are most clearly and unquestionably distinguished as fine or high art.

Since then, I’ve become involved with puppetry, community pageants, parades, DIY theater, and entertainment in various respects. I pursued institutional degrees in art and sculpture, but always have thought of the cultural production ethos in institutional settings and those present seemingly far outside of the atmosphere of schools, galleries, and museums, as deeply interrelated, mutually establishing a depth of perspective. I think that the more I’m willing to look, no matter where, the more genius I find, and I look forward to those learning opportunities.

GC: Can you tell us a little about your creative process? Where can we find you working on your art?

LR: I work out of a studio on North Campus, in a building with lots of other faculty and graduate student studios, but also travel to collaborate with others or bring them here. I just arrived, so I don’t quite have local collaborators yet, but that is likely to change.

The work that I do alone is more controlled, more researched, more polished, more aesthetically and conceptually clear and calculated. The work I do with others, whether it is one person or 30 people, a piece of street theater, a cabaret performance, wedding, touring play, live internet TV show, or pageant, I try to step back from the kind of controlling roll that is expected in solo work. Instead, I am there to introduce possibilities and see what catches, support proposals by others, allowing the project itself to set its terms as it evolves, for our dynamic to establish what’s best and what needs to happen next. I believe that in a good collaborative dynamic, we’re to avoid the speed bumps created by imposing our individual practice-base objectives and preconceived notions of quality onto the project at the beginning or periodically along the way. Especially in smaller groups, I know my collaborators very well, and tend to work with people that I trust will impulsively take a similar attitude.

Working productively through this ethos with others has allowed me to expand my conception of what is possible in my practice. I’ve done a lot of things and worked in a lot of ways first with others that I would never have come to through working alone, and those possibilities slowly show themselves in my solo work. I find a lot of satisfaction in finding the influence of that chaos in my more controlled individual practice.

GC: What inspires your art? Can you tell us about something you came across lately that we should check out too?

LR: A lot of books I’m reading lately are in some way about the construction of social values. I love Barbara Ehrenreich, Rebecca Solnit, Nicholas Taleb, and Claire Bishop. In terms of fiction, my selections are nearly all humorous and at least a little dark. Lately, I’m loving George Saunders, Donald Barthelme, David Sedaris, Lorrie Moore, and Al Franken.

I really value comedy as contemporary social commentary, able to distill the most confusing and logically or morally slippery cultural phenomena. A lot of the entertainers that I think of as brilliant are very, very funny. Nearly all of the television shows that I follow are on Comedy Central. I laugh a lot, especially at museums and galleries. I’m not laughing with or at the art necessarily, but this seems to be the primary way in which my brain chooses to express that it is stimulated, intrigued, or impressed. It seems out of my control, and is definitely a compliment.

GC: Are you engaged with the local arts community? Tell us about groups or events that we should know about.

LR: I’ve only been here for a month, so an accurate answer to this question would be “not quite yet.” I’ve connected with lots of lovely old friends and friends of friends in Detroit, and a number of people from the U-M School of Art & Design reached out to me even before I visited. Indiscriminately, people in the university community have been extremely welcoming and proactive in involving me with the goings-on, including this residency! I’m really excited to develop the relationships that have come up just in the first month I’ve been here, and attend nearly every performance and symposium.

GC: Which performances are you most excited about this season and why?

LR: I’m really interested in Compagnie Non Nova in February and Lyon Opera Ballet in April. I’m going to teach a course about object performance next semester, covering puppets, masks, costumes, sets, etc. Theater magic, essentially, is at the crux of my practice. Both groups appear to be big on spectacle, visual aesthetics, and narrative told without words. I really can’t wait.

Interested in more? Watch for more artist profiles on UMS Lobby throughout this week.