Mov­ing mem­o­ries


Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

Vis­ual artist and song­writer Terry Allen

When Terry Allen sits down to write a song, as of­ten as not, he’s sit­ting be­hind the wheel of a car. The hum of tires on pave­ment, the rush of chang­ing scenery as he rolls through a dusty land­scape or glides along at night un­der a canopy of stars, soothes the mind and lets it wan­der, and the mem­o­ries be­gin to flow. And in­side the head of Terry Allen, it’s of­ten a short reach from mem­o­ries to sto­ries to mu­sic and lyrics.

“I’ve writ­ten a lot of songs in mo­tion, in cars, driv­ing, and I think that rhythm, that par­tic­u­lar kind of mind­less­ness hap­pens when you’re driv­ing,” Allen told Pasatiempo. He was on the phone from Austin, where his un­re­con­structed Texas twang sounds as at home as fleas on a dog. “I think the mo­tion and look­ing out a wind­shield, like a trav­el­ing movie when you’re go­ing through space, has some­thing to do with it. But it’s al­ways a mys­tery. Mys­tery in mo­tion.”

Allen, the leg­endary out­law mu­si­cian and mul­ti­me­dia artist with a trail of four decades of ac­claimed work to his credit, has cre­ated a video in­stal­la­tion that’s cur­rently on dis­play at SITE Santa Fe. It’s a se­quence of sto­ries born out of mem­o­ries, each tied into the mak­ing of a song. Two video images travel back and forth on tracks on op­po­site walls the length of a gallery. On one wall Allen, in a full-face close-up, tells sto­ries, and on the other wall his wife, the ac­tress Jo Har­vey Allen, does the same. When those images stop, a wide-screen video ap­pears on the back wall. The singer-song­writer sits at a key­board with his back to us, play­ing and singing the songs that prob­a­bly emerged from these sto­ries, as rel­e­vant images un­fold in front of him.

“I’ve al­ways thought of mem­ory be­ing in mo­tion,” Allen said. “Jo Har­vey’s telling the sto­ries with me, be­cause she, of all peo­ple, knows where they come from and in most cases, lived right through these sto­ries with me. Mem­ory is never static, al­ways mov­ing and al­ways chang­ing. I think that’s be­cause you hear sto­ries when you’re a kid, and retell them over the years, and each time some new em­bel­lish­ment hap­pens with the story. Sto­ries and mem­ory be­come syn­ony­mous. Even though they’re locked into the video, by putting them in mo­tion, you get a dif­fer­ent part of a story each time you see it, and ac­tu­ally be­come a part of it.”

Allen be­gan de­vel­op­ing this project with some­thing very dif­fer­ent in mind. “It came out of a piece I’ve had in mind for quite a while, called Fu­tur­ism in Re­verse. I’ve worked on it off and on, in between projects, for years. It came out of read­ing some old Futurist plays, lit­tle two- or three-minute acts with elab­o­rate sets where a very brief mun­dane act takes place, then the cur­tain closes. They’re called sin­tesi. I’ve al­ways been in­trigued by the ab­sur­dity of this.”

Fu­tur­ism is an artis­tic move­ment that be­gan in Italy in the early 20th cen­tury, with a mis­sion, in part, “to com­press into a few min­utes, into a few words and ges­tures, in­nu­mer­able sit­u­a­tions, sen­si­bil­i­ties, ideas, sen­sa­tions, facts, and sym­bols,” to quote from 1915’s

The Futurist Syn­thetic The­atre man­i­festo. “I started writ­ing some short plays. Lit­tle stabs. But the more I worked on those, for some rea­son the more I be­gan think­ing about more per­sonal sto­ries — friends of mine, events, things that hap­pened in my life, songs that came out of it. I be­gan putting down mem­o­ries — not re­ally about my­self, but of events and peo­ple that af­fected my life. Then I re­al­ized, when I started writ­ing it, that nearly ev­ery­thing hap­pened dur­ing wartime. All these sto­ries hap­pened ei­ther dur­ing a war, or war was mov­ing in the air around the story. I got cu­ri­ous about the con­nec­tion of those things to­gether, mem­o­ries in­side wartimes, ex­plor­ing that, and that’s where the ti­tle came from, MemWars. But it’s all still very much in progress. “

MemWars started life as a per­for­mance piece, be­fore the video el­e­ments were added, and the con­cept mor­phed into a ki­netic elec­tronic mu­seum in­stal­la­tion. On Tues­day, May 17, it re­turns to its roots, when SITE presents the live per­for­mance, off­site, at the Ar­mory for the Arts The­ater. It will be an Allen fam­ily af­fair, the way it was when it be­gan, with Terry and Jo Har­vey joined on­stage by their son Bukka.

“It will be dif­fer­ent when we do it here live. The piece orig­i­nally came out of a live per­for­mance we did in Maine. Jo Har­vey and I took turns read­ing, I sang, and Bukka and I played songs. There’s a whole other kind of in­ti­macy that hap­pens when it’s done on a stage. But I’m also chang­ing it here — there will be new sto­ries and songs that aren’t in the in­stal­la­tion. Jo Har­vey and I will read and I’ll be singing songs. Bukka, our son, is com­ing in to play ac­cor­dion. He’s go­ing to pad some of the sto­ries and ac­com­pany me on the songs. MemWars — it’s ap­pro­pri­ate it will hap­pen in an ar­mory.”

Terry Allen and Jo Har­vey Allen; op­po­site page, stills from Terry Allen’s video in­stal­la­tion MemWars, 2016, courtesy the artist and David Aubrey/ Light­ning­wood Pic­tures

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