Skip to main content

Calendar

Ericka Beckman

Over the past year, New York-based filmmaker Ericka Beckman has been creating a new work–a video installation edited from hundreds of hours of film footage of the Walker’s construction site. Beckman, a professor in the Media and Performing Arts Department at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, recently discussed the development of the new piece with the Walker’s Paul Schmelzer.

Q:

Much of your work has involved games, both as a structure and a thematic element, from a Ping-Pong-style version of Cinderella to a first-person piece about gambling where the viewer is placing bets. How did “game” come to factor so heavily into your work?

A:

In the late 1970s I started making Super-8 films as a way to document my own performance work, which was all action and movement with simple props–and silent, I must add. To better understand how we communicate before or without language I began to read [Swiss developmental psychologist] Jean Piaget. I found his concepts so exciting, and from them, concepts for three film projects emerged. I discovered that Piaget’s ideas about preverbal communication were best suited for display in competitive game structures, where performers struggle to learn the rules, communicate through their action, and evolve a strategy. “Game” is very closely linked to narrative, but it lacks character development and identification, plus the psychologically motivating event for the central character. Game is an agreement to accept the terms of a provisional reality. Working with this, as compared to a narrative structure, allowed me to displace audience identification with character for identification with the strategy developed by players in their effort to advance against the rules of the game. In due time, the game became a way of thinking about any event.

Q:

How will the Walker construction site fit into the game?

A:

I’m using the site as background for an animated sequence, played by two people represented on two separate screens. My design is a hybrid of croquet, pinball, and video game. There will be wide, over-the-top shots, resembling a pinball machine’s back plate, tunnels in substructures, resembling a video game, and cinematic shots complete with camera angles. Here, balls replace the competing players as they encounter animated plates and obstacles while skirting the construction site over various points in time.

Q:

You’ve been filming the site nearly nonstop since August. As you begin to sort through all that footage, what’s most striking to you?

A:

I’m fascinated with the repetitive movement of the workers, and how it resembles calisthenics and dance. They work in teams of two or three, often in unison, and have a very set pattern of movement that is regulated by the work and the space they have to perform in. For instance, they might be stepping across an icy steel I-beam, or walking through rebar, their tiny steps like those of tap dancers. I have also been drawn into the small timeless objects that move over the site-the dumpsters, wheelbarrows, and buckets-their displacement marking time. I am extremely excited to work with a “film set” that transforms over time, and with characters whose performance routine is most professional.

Q:

Sounds a lot like your 2002 film Switch Center, except in that film you directed actors. In this one it’s more like found art.

A:

Found dance!