The last time I went square dancing was 30 years ago to celebrate a friends barn-raising. Amanda Lovelee has re-imagined square dancing in her project, Call and Answer. I wanted to talk to her. She very kindly consented to this interview.
PO: Did you grow up square dancing?
AL: Not really. I grew up in upstate New York where there was contra dancing and swing dancing, both of which I did some of. The interest in square dancing came in grad school. I went square dancing with a group of friends and on the way home a friend said to me “I have not been touched that much in years”. I began to think about where do strangers touch in contemporary society. I started square dancing and researching. I became part of the community be for I started shooting any of the movie. I was just in love with this cross generational group of people who gathered the 1st and 3rd Monday night of every month for over 30 years to hold hands and dance….
From Amanda’s website:
“I believe that finding, preserving and constructing a space for physical connection is an urgent issue. As a society that faces the collapse of communities how do we continue to form visceral, face-to-face connections? This is why I have begun The Call and Answer Project, a project that will create a space for physical connection and an awareness of the need for such connections. This is a project about square dancing, hand holding, connecting”.
PO: I noticed on your website, that unlike many others, the website has descriptions of projects you have worked on, an “about” statement, but no bio. This is obviously a decision you have made… can you talk about why you decided to exclude this kind of “standard” info from your website.
AL: As an educator, I am interested in trying to show on my website how this work is made. My website is less about selling myself but more about telling the stories of the projects I have done. Maybe I should change it, but as an artist who does a lot of temporary and ephemeral work I feel like my website is the document or book to the projects.
PO: How did this kind of participatory art practice begin?
AL: I finished my MFA and realized I was making project that took an MFA to understand and only existed in private institutions. That was not was I was interested in. I was interested where people gathered and why. As a person who had lived in multiple countries I was really interested in how the US used public spaces. So I just started experimenting and my projects grew out of the research and communities I was working/living in.
PO: Many of your projects seem to be about sharing and creating situations for people to share an experience or create community. Can you elaborate on this idea or perhaps you have another idea you would like to share.
AL: I think my work is about gathering, play and connection. I feel like my job as an artist is to really listen to people and give them a gift for sharing their story or passion with me. That can be as simple as a cookie, cup of lemonade to a photo or handmade book. I just want people to know that they are valuable.
As our society is shifting to technology based world and populations moving towards cities I feel like my job as an artist is to help reimagine our cities. I think a lot about livability and sustainability of both the environment but also of people. How do we sustain ourselves? I do not believe we can do this on our own. So how do we do this together?
PO: Trading Love Stories for Wildflowers. Many of my readers are garden and landscape designers, I would like to use the words you on your website to describe Trading Love Stories for Wildflowers. Is there anything you would like to add?
from Amanda’s website:
Free wild flower (photo) for you’re of love story. I have gathered images of wild, uncultivated plants. I would like to trade a photograph for a hand written love story. Simply show up write down your story and then you can pick any picture. You can keep it anonymous or you can include names, dates, times, locations. The stories will be gathered and compiled to form an archive, a historical record, and a book. You will receive the link to the print on demand book if you would like a copy.
What I want is answers, the truth, a definition of love. What is falling in love, how to do you stay in love, is companionship worth the risk of heartbreak? As an artist I am interested in connection. I decided the best way to answers these questions is to ask others for help, to ask strangers to write me their love stories. By making myself vulnerable and open to strangers I have found that they return the favor with honest words. By trading people a piece of art I am creating value to their story.
AL: This was my first project where I made myself vulnerable and put myself literally out on the street to talk with strangers. It was also was when I started to connect my interest in the arts and environment. I like to think this project led to the Urban Flower Field which is a project that really connects gathering spaces with environmental science.