Sunday, April 23, 2006

Art Reflects Life Art Reflects Life

emergence, the latest work from collaborative artists, Katy Schonbeck and John Carlson, was presented at the General Films Incubator, Varak Industrial Park, 15 West Main Street, Cambridge, NY over the past two weekends. This piece uses video, music, dance and contemporary mathematics to tell Schonbeck’s story of the loss of her father. Katy offers beautiful reflections on the transcendent power of love to navigate unavoidable personal change.

(PhotoMontage copyright: John Carlson 2006)

Writer, Emery Forest reviews emergence:

Death is Grace

"A lot of my grieving process went on during the development of this piece,” Katy Schonbeck tells me as we sip tea together with her husband/collaborator, John Carlson. “Both John and I were very privileged to participate deeply in my father’s dying last summer, spending a lot of time with him in his final weeks."

The confusion which follows in death’s wake is vividly present early in emergence as overlapping recorded monologues try to make sense of the apparent contradiction between the form of an individual tree and the pattern of a forest, code perhaps for the disconnect between death as the loss of one’s own parent and death as the foundation of all life. "I love the feeling in my head in the clash between these orders of magnitude," Katy’s voice intones through the speakers as she moves in white before me like a little girl or a spirit.

My sense of disorientation increases as I listen to the overlapping, often simultaneously spoken monologues coming from the speakers, as I watch Katy unrolling great sheets of paper on the floor, sheets I am also shown on film, but where the pacing is so quick I cannot clearly connect the written words with the ones spoken. It’s as if Katy’s experience of her father’s death cannot be brought into focus and I am being invited to enter this realm of overload. I am just beginning to experience where Katy’s love of "the feeling" will take me.

"The whole scene in his studio we filmed the day he died." Katy is referring to a pivotal portion of emergence where she and a friend of her father’s are shown going through the dead man’s studio, touching and speaking of some of the instruments he created, including a nine foot banjo whose dirge-like chords create an eerie mood as Katy and her companion, wearing masks to protect themselves from toxic dust, reminisce about her father. It is as if such proximity to death requires protection, as if its power at this moment is so great that to breathe it directly is dangerous.

At the end of emergence, Katy picks up the cloth she has carried throughout her performance. “It’s a rag rug my grandmother made from old clothes her family, including my dad, had worn out.” I can feel things coming to a head as Katy carries this ancestral fabric around the stage and lays it down. After a moment, she picks it up again, rises, and, as she stands, lifts the final fold of the cloth above her head so that it now forms a rectangle around her, the same shape as a door, the same shape as her father’s coffin.

The energy rises on stage, in my own belly and chest, as if I am witnessing the ascension of her father’s spirit, Katy’s own ascent in middle-life through this initiation of a parent’s death, and as she steps through this door, she releases it in a heap behind her.

I can feel tears coming. I have been shown something here, been witness to an ancient secret that holds the power to set us all free, that will, in fact, set us free whether we want it or not. And then she turns to the crumpled pile of fabric and lifts it tenderly in her arms. This is what death holds, Katy tells me, if we stop trying so hard to do something about it.

You can contact Schonbeck at:


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