“The Crumbling” by Alexis Gideon Gives Viewers a “Dreamlike” Experience

Published On February 13, 2015 | By Jenna Moen | Interviews
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“Alphabet” (still from “The Crumbling”)

“The Crumbling”, by Alexis Gideon, is a stop-motion animated video opera that combines live sound and music with projected video. The 21-minute performance, set in a dreamlike mythic town, follows the trials of an apprentice librarian as she tries to save her city from crumbling down around her. It explores marginalization and all that is lost in the persecution of people based on gender, race, class, heritage, and belief.

Gideon has performed earlier works over 350 times in eleven different countries, including at New Museum of Contemporary Art (Manhattan, NY), Moderna Museet (Stockholm, Sweden), Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, OH), Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago, IL; Cleveland, OH; Tucson, AZ), Time Zones Festival (Bari, Italy), and Suedpol (Luzerne, Switzerland). His works have been translated into French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Chinese.

"Everything the All" (still from "The Crumbling")

“Everything the All” (still from “The Crumbling”)

As a modern and innovative art form, “The Crumbling” seeks to explain the importance of words and symbols in a decaying culture, drawing from ancient texts and encryptions such as Kabbalah, the Hermetic Philosophy of ancient Egypt, the mystical beliefs of Hildegard von Bingen, Alchemy of the 16th Century, and the mid-19th Century occult beliefs of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. During the screening, the projected video is accompanied by Gideon performing live music that mirrors the action exactly: his lyrics are sung in-sync with the movement of the mouths of the characters on screen. As seen in the trailer, the music dramatically accumulates into a permeable space with surreal, stereophonic music, as if sounds are coming from all directions. A bass beat drops, and his lyrics are rapped in tightly packed rhythms; springing from each other on a monotone track, elliptical and yet impending. Flashing on screen are cryptic images, the librarian floating through space, and objects crumbling to ash.

“The Crumbling” is Gideon’s fourth stop-motion animated video opera. Check out our conversation with him about his history and what he had to say about this current project below!

Jenna: What do you hope the audience will gain from “The Crumbling?”
Gideon: I try to create a dreamlike state for the audience — the visuals and music of the piece washing over the audience and evoking a deeply resonating emotional experience. Like watching memories from a childhood that they never had. I create this effect over a strongly structured base to ground the piece.
Jenna: How do you know Jacob Rubin (co-author of “The Crumbling” and established writer) and what was it like working together on this piece?
Gideon: Jacob Rubin and I met in the third grade and have been friends ever since. This was the second of my video operas we co-wrote (“Video Musics III: Floating Oceans” was also co-written by Jacob Rubin), and one of many collaborations over the years. Working with Jacob is always a rewarding experience. Each idea builds on the last, and the shape of things emerges quite quickly and naturally. Once we have the general concept and structure, we sharpen and refine it until it is clear and potent. Rubin’s background in literature helps us create a very solid framework for the work to reach out from.

Jenna: “The Crumbling” draws from a variety of ancient language and art forms. What inspired you to create “The Crumbling,” and how are these particular inspirations unique to what inspired earlier works?

Gideon: All of my pieces start with research on a subject that is intriguing to me at the moment. For “The Crumbling,” I was reading the Jorge Louis Borges story, “The Aleph,” and that led me to want to research Kabbalah. Once research starts, there is a snowball effect. Different books lead to others, and ideas start building upon one another, leading to unexpected and exciting places.
Jenna: With each finished work, do you find that your intentions for the piece match up with the audience’s perceptions? 
Gideon: One of my intentions is to create a piece that leaves a space for ambiguity. The audience brings some of their own meaning and experience to the piece. Like when reading a book or dreaming, the audience has to complete the experience through active participation. In this way, the intentions do match up with the audience experience.
Jenna: Do you have any future projects in the works you can tell us about?
Gideon: I plan to keep working on the same types of pieces in the future. Quite possibly, for the next piece, I will score it for three performers instead of just one.
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“Newscast” (still from “The Crumbling”)

“The Crumbling” was made possible through the generous support of Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater. Gideon was also awarded an artist-in-residence grant by the Investing in Professional Artist Program, a partnership of the Pittsburgh Foundations and the Heinz Endowment. Show dates for the performance are February 20-21 at 8PM at the New Hazlett Theater. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door, and can be purchased online now!

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