Five minutes with… Jennifer Monson of iLAND

Interview by Monel Chang

In mid-May, Earthdance hosted iLAND’s (Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art, Nature and Dance) iLAB residency program in one of their week-long rural research residencies. "iLAND is a dance research organization that investigates the power of dance, in collaboration with other fields, to illuminate our kinetic understanding of the world" (ilandart.org). We hosted six members of the Fantastic Futures, in addition to a multi-disciplinary artist, an evolutionary biologist, and the founder/artistic director of iLAND, Jennifer Monson, among other iLAND board members.

Fantastic Futures is a collaborative team of students, artists, doctors, and future leaders from Iraq and the United States. This group first came together in March, 2013 to begin creating a collaborative project focused on exploring art and the environment. 

During iLAND's time at Earthdance, they took samples of salamander tails, went for long walks in the woods, and sat silently in cardinal direction circles to listen—to each other, the earth and to listening itself. 

I sat with Jen outside by our garden to ask her about iLAND, their experience at Earthdance, and iLAB’s plans for the future.

Monel: Thank you Jennifer Monson for joining us and representing iLAND this morning. We really appreciate your presence here, and I’m really curious about what encouraged you to spend this time of iLAND’s at Earthdance on a residency.

Jennifer: Well thank you for allowing us to be here and work. It’s been a pleasure and a really rich experience for all of us. The first time I came to Earthdance was when [during] the [Western] Massachusetts Moving Arts Festival, and I was very impressed with the location and I was doing outdoor work at that time. One of the things that Earthdance offers for an Artist-in-Residence like iLAND is fluidity between indoor and outdoor space and the possibility of really shaping our own time and context. This landscape of western Massachusetts is very generous and I don’t know if benign is the right word, but it offers the body a kind of a soft landing unlike, say, an urban landscape, or where I spend a lot of time-- the high dessert. It’s more harsh in a lot of ways. So there’s…I find this landscape is a great place to experiment with movement and this land around here is very well stewarded. So it’s a very healthy forest, there’s a lot of wildlife and flora and fauna that’s very accessible. We were working here with a scientist. So specifically for this residency…I also participated in two SEEDS (Somatic Experiments in Earth, Dance, and Science)  and those were fantastic.  And one workshop I taught with Simon Whitehead who is a Welsh environmental artist. That experimenter was very profound here at Earthdance. We only had a bout eight participants and it was very rich. I knew Earthdance would provide the same resources and a sense of community and respectfulness of community and space, which is important to folks at iLAND. So this residency in particular working with…iLAND supports what we call iLAB residencies. They are a combination of artists, scientists, social scientists, environmentalists, ecologists—we’ve been primarily focusing on Urban Ecology so iLAB residency’s goal is hopefully generate interdisciplinary collaborative processes from engaging the urban environment in different forms that are focused in dance and movement but that include different visual art forms—landscape architecture and urban design. And this residency in particular is working with this scientist that is looking at biodiversity across a gradient that goes from the urban to the rural. SO he’s actually doing rural samples here. So western Massachusetts will be apart of his study—in looking at rural diversity in salamanders.

Monel: So how are you able to use that vision of urban ecology vs. movement and the arts at Earthdance– was Earthdance a sample of the same activity done in different areas?

Jennifer: Yes, so this is the beginning of this iLAB residency for this year, so they haven’t ever worked together before. ILAND wanted to create an open container to help them think about how they would develop these collaborative practices. You know, we’ve been doing these residencies for seven years now and in the urban environment it’s harder to get this immersive space—people are very busy in their other lives, and this is our second experiment doing rural residencies. So part of it was to give an immersive, intensive, collaborative experiences for people to get to know each other and share practices. And also specifically this Earthdance did become a sample site. The salamander tails have been capture and logged and their genomic information will be created. But each one of the artists worked with another… each one of the residents worked collaboratively wit another residence to generate a creative practice that they would engage the whole group in. So the five or six days we were here were are real opportunity to experiment with different practices that now the residents will take back to a particular park in Queens that they are researching. I think their practices will be deeply influenced by this one and they will be able to see this gradient in their experience between this very rural, for me, restful space at Earthdance and the chaotic and hectic environment in the city.

Monel: Thank you.

Jennifer: You’re welcome! 

 

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