Wildness And The Permission To Be: Reflections on an Interview with Faye Driscoll

Sarah Bodony, Ohio State fourth-year, Dance & Kara Komarnitsky, Ohio State third-year, Dance, minors in Environmental Science and Business

Mar 02, 2021

Photo portrait of dance artist Faye Driscoll as seen behind a diffusing scrim against a neutral gray background; image taken as part of artist Ann Hamilton's "One Everyone" project

In early 2021, Ohio State students Sarah Bodony and Kara Komarnitsky, part of the seminar Writing about the Performing Arts, had the chance to interview Wexner Center Artist Residency Award recipient Faye Driscoll, whose planned Columbus performances in April 2020 of Thank You for Coming: Space were postponed by COVID-19 closures. Over the course of an hour, they discussed her relationship to arts institutions, her process and practice, and her body of work (which can be found on her website here). Below, you’ll find segments of this interview along with commentary and reflections from Sarah and Kara. This text has been edited for length and clarity. 

Dance artist Faye Driscoll, seen from shoulders up in a black t-shirt, bites into a lemon hanging from a rope and hook against a dark background

Faye Driscoll, Thank You for Coming: Space; photo: Maria Baranova

Sarah Bodony: Our conversation explored how Faye pushes through the transactional structures of cultural institutions and creates meaning within a society that expects commodification and relies on consumerism and materialism. As I listened closely to Faye Driscoll talk, I marveled at not just the things she said, but the way she said them. She talked with her entire body, as if her whole existence was a fully embodied performance. Through the computer screen and a year full of the loss and lack of human connection, I still managed to feel her bold energy. 

"The performance and dance world is just inside these greater systems... where we’re supposed to consider our very bodies products, or things to be marketed, our relationships to be opportunities. You know, either obstacles or opportunities is what people are, not people."
Faye Driscoll

SB: That feels transactional and cold to me. This is the moment where I believe as artists we have to make a choice. We can either be submissive to what is expected or we can vigorously, critically, and gracefully say, “No thank you, this can not be all life has to offer. I will not settle for this.” Art can be an active resistance to anything deemed “right” or put together by society because it is real and realness is messy. These thoughts lie at the center of Faye’s artistic lens and practice. There is a grit and provocative, unapologetic nature that exudes from Faye’s work. It mimics the truths in life that we are often too scared to touch. 

"We have as artists… all these archetypes within us. You know, the little bit of the whore, it’s like ‘OK, I'll do that;' the dancing monkey; the person who says, ‘No.’ I try to push all those voices out of the studio space and be like, ‘I’m gonna do whatever I want.’"
Faye Driscoll

Kara Komarnitsky: This feeling of “the whore” or “the dancing monkey” privileges artistic processes that are short, discrete, and produce as much as possible in as little time as possible. They use performers and artists just enough to complete the task at hand rather than prioritizing the relationships that may form out of longer processes. In reference to the grants that fund her own work, Faye says she tries at some level to forget about them, in active resistance to those pressures to shorten her process. While she wants to keep those relationships strong in order to have the financial support to continue creating, she is also very intentional about confronting the transactional structure of this funding in her work.

"I consider my work an active resistance to those pressures… I try to create a culture that is questioning, playing with, calling attention to how we are shaped by the world that tells us to sell ourselves. It is true that I’m also within it, and I’m influenced by it and shaped by it in my very American brain. I have been shaped by all the grants I’ve had to write and I don't totally know what my work would be without that. I think that in a weird way, in the pandemic we are getting somewhat of a taste of it; in a problematic, challenging way of like, ‘What am I without this type of feedback and structure around me?’"
Faye Driscoll

SB: Life is not a series of transactions. Life does not fit in a perfect container, it spills out leaving remnants and traces wherever we go.

"Most of our lives are not wrapped up. They’re quite embarrassing, if you get to know anybody well enough and it’s like, ‘Oh, that's life’… life is messy and embarrassing and that’s the tenderest thing about us often."
Faye Driscoll

SB: Faye offers us what most humans shy away from or hide. The quicker we can realize how raw and awkward life is, the quicker we can start to feel a shift closer to a liberation that feels warmer and interconnected as opposed to transactional. Those moments wake us up and move us forward. They make us question and engage further. 

"[The Thank You For Coming trilogy is] all connected to a similar conceptual question which is around, how is performance a space in which we sense and feel our terrible and beautiful, unrelenting interdependence?... How, through live work, can I make that not just a concept but a palpable, felt experience?"
Faye Driscoll

KK: There’s an interesting tension for artists who rely on support from institutions to present their work, but without a long-term relationship that supports their process, they often have to sacrifice depth in their work in order to be presented in the first place. This tension goes both ways, as arts institutions may try to cultivate artistic depth but are also under pressure from audiences and donors to present the new, flashy thing and bring in as many people as possible in as little time as possible. The institutions are reliant on what artists create yet still exist within the expectations of a consumerist society and may in turn pressure artists to shorten their processes. This inter-reliance and interdependency within the art world is confronted in Faye’s work, through revealing the interdependencies between performer and audience. The audience is never allowed to be passive when witnessing a Faye Driscoll piece. She often bends or breaks the fourth wall, bringing audiences into the performance with eye contact, touch, and even group choral singing. 

"The audience for me has a very shifting role and whether they know it or not, they’re often playing multiple parts in the piece… [The audience is] influencing what’s happening by being there… The thing does not exist without that energy coming at it and so I become interested in what is that energy that we're generating together. And what's happening inside the mind of the audience, in their perception, in their bodies, and their self awareness and their awareness of each other, and in the sonic state around them."
Faye Driscoll

KK: For some, this experience can be intimidating and strange because they are used to being able to passively sit through the duration of a performance. Instead, Faye offers the experience of feeling your butt on the seat, exchanging breath with the performers, and knowing that you are influencing what is happening by being there. There’s a constant negotiation between performer and audience in each new space with its unique energy and possibly conflicting intentions. In navigating this tension in the performance space, perhaps we can learn to navigate the tension created by the greater systems that we are a part of—whether we know it or not -- and create more space for the ‘uncommodifiable.’

SB: We are not passive beings nor can we be passive anymore, it is a privilege to sit back in the passenger seat of life. While being active may be uncomfortable it opens up the space wider than any four walls can hold, eliminating a transactional experience. It is not a one and done experience that transactions imply, rather Faye’s work extends beyond and continues to sit with you. The resistance is within activating the audience in the act, as part of the experience. Our humanity demands our active participation and so does experiencing Faye’s work. So, get messy, make mistakes, get uncomfortable, because that is where the fun and truth lie.



This selection is part of Writing about the Performing Arts at Ohio State, an interdisciplinary student-led seminar during the 2020-21 academic year. With guidance from Department of Dance Professor Karen Eliot and the Wexner Center’s Alana Ryder (Manager, Public and University Programs) and Lane Czaplinski (Director of Performing Arts), students with backgrounds in dance, economics, math, microbiology, political science, psychology, statistics, and beyond will serve as ambassadors and advocates for the arts. As a cohort, they will approach broad theoretical and philosophical issues behind contemporary performance as well as questions about the roles of arts critics and of arts criticism, especially in the era of COVID-19 and racial equity and social justice movements.

For more information, please email Additional interviews and student writing will be presented here later in the academic year.

Top of page: Faye Driscoll portrait by Ann Hamilton

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