Degenerate Art Ensemble Artist Biographies
Artists whose work is featured in the exhibition Degenerate Art Ensemble:
Colin Ernst has built numerous instruments and props with Degenerate Art Ensemble since 1996, when the group was known as the Young Composers Collective. For the 2006 and 2007 productions of Cuckoo Crow, he created the Limbs ‘n’ Cream ice cream truck, surgeon’s chest harps, and other hand-crafted instruments. For the 2009 production of Sonic Tales, he designed the innovative Weeble Wobble sculpture/costume/percussion instrument, which allowed the dancer to spin, like the popular child’s toy, across the stage. Tubular pipes on the outer rim of the costume’s hoop skirt functioned as a musical instrument. While living in Prague in the early 1990s, Ernst learned how to juggle; he busked there and in other European cities until arriving in Seattle in 1996. With other fellow “circus freaks” he founded the now-disbanded Circus Contraption, which enjoyed a ten-year run as an alternative circus in Seattle. Ernst currently plays trombone and composes original music with Orkestar Zirkonium (founded in 2007), an itinerant, fourteen-member brass-and-drum ensemble that borrows from Eastern European/Roma brass, klezmer, Bollywood soundtracks, and other musical idioms. orkestarzirkonium.com/about.php
Mandy Greer is a mixed-media installation artist, whose work has been exhibited nationally at museums, galleries, and art fairs, including the Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington; Tacoma Art Museum; Bucheon Gallery, San Francisco; the Lab Contemporary Art Center, San Francisco; Tampa Museum of Art, Florida; 516 Arts, Albuquerque; and Aqua Art Fair, Art Basel Miami Beach. Her work has been supported by grants from Artist Trust, 4Culture, and City of Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs. In 2006 Greer was commissioned to create a permanent installation in the Children’s Library of the Seattle Central Library, and in 2008 she had her first solo museum exhibition at the Bellevue Arts Museum, premiering her largest installation to date, Dare alla Luce, which also traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland, Oregon. Greer has created collaborative, multidisciplinary works with Seattle’s Book-It Repertory Theatre and with Degenerate Art Ensemble’s Haruko Nishimura and filmmaker Ian Lucero, including the film Silvering Path. The Slug Princess costume from this film was featured on the cover of Fiberarts magazine, May 2009. mandygreer.wordpress.com
Stefan Gruber is a Seattle-based animator and performance artist. He creates one hand-drawn, digitally finished short film each year, which he screens nationwide. His short 35-mm film Anaelle (2006) has been screened for audiences across Washington State and was also screened, with his film Petting Zoo (2008), at the 2008 launch party for Wholphin magazine in San Francisco. Gruber’s animations have been incorporated into performances by modern dance groups Lingo, Degenerate Art Ensemble, and Paige Barnes and the Grizzlies. Under the name Slide Rule, Gruber makes comics for print that he also turns into performances with live actors. He has taught animation classes at the Frye Art Museum and Northwest Film Forum and leads the Animation Department at Nova Alternative High School, where he produces an annual screening of animation shorts created by youth. Using hi-tech concepts and lo-fi tools, Gruber has been awarded honors from the Seattle Arts Commission, Artist Trust, 4Culture, Princess Grace Foundation, and the Student Academy Awards. He is the founder of Seattle Experimental Animation Team and was a finalist for the Stranger Genius Award in 2006. stefangruber.com; youtube.com/watch?v=f1VML9bGY1Y
Cofounder, music conductor, composer, and coartistic director of Degenerate Art Ensemble, Joshua Kohl has created original works for dance, silent film, concert ensembles, “classico-punk-big band” shows, and street performances and has collaborated extensively on the creation of invented instruments used in DAE performances. Kohl has performed extensively throughout the U.S., as well as in the Netherlands, Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Italy, and Germany, with the support of Arts International Fund for U.S. Artists and the Mid-Atlantic States Foundation’s U.S. Artists International. In addition to his work with Degenerate Art Ensemble, Kohl has created scores for the San Francisco-based dance theater company inkBoat; for a commissioned performance of c(h)ord (2008) at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; Tale of Two Cities (2007) and Night Flight (2007–2009) for Seattle’s Book-It Repertory Theatre; as well as Twelfth Night (2007) and The Beard of Avon (2007) for Portland Center Stage. In spring 2011 Kohl will perform with Haruko Nishimura at the Center for Performance Research in New York City, and he will be in a residency with DAE at Robert Wilson's Watermill Center: A Laboratory for Performance, Long Island, New York. degenerateartensemble.com
Robb Kunz, a Seattle-based recordist and sound engineer, has been involved with Degenerate Art Ensemble for eight years. A core member of the militant marching band Infernal Noise Brigade from 2000 to 2006, Kunz produces large-scale, often politically charged sound installations and broadcasts that transform public spaces. At the start of the Iraq War in 2003, Kunz collaborated with music producer DJ and activist Filastine to create Moukabir Sawte, a sound installation that “brought the war home,” through the artists’ deployment of synchronized, mobile loudspeaker units blaring the Muslim call to prayer and wailing air-raid sirens to strategic locations in Seattle. He also produced Voices of the Animate Air (Belef International Arts Festival, Belgrade, 2007), a ten-channel radio symphony inspired by invasions of Belgrade over the last two centuries. Handcrafted from recycled materials and repurposed parts, Kunz’s signature loudspeakers are solar powered, able to receive radio transmission, and are kinetic, with the ability to constantly shift direction and blend audible content with environmental sound. audiblesemaphore.org/watertower/composers.html
Filmmaker Ian Lucero has been making films and documenting artists, dancers, and musicians for thirteen years. He has filmed Degenerate Art Ensemble’s live performances, rehearsals, and tours since 1999 and also played saxophone with DAE’s earlier incarnation, the Young Composers Collective. Lucero has created short films for Bellevue Arts Museum, Portland Open Studios, and artists Susie J. Lee, Etsuko Ichikawa, and Helen Hiebert, and he continues to produce videos for Seattle Theatre Group, the nonprofit organization that operates Seattle’s Moore and Paramount Theaters. Lucero codirected, filmed, sound designed, and edited the experimental short film The Silvering Path (2008), starring dancer Haruko Nishimura and showcasing the costumes of fiber artist Mandy Greer. He recently did editing and sound design on the Seattle-made feature film William Never Married (2010), which premiered and won best cinematography at the Downtown Film Fest Los Angeles. Currently based in Portland, Ore., Lucero, along with fellow filmmakers, Seattle-based Ryan K. Adams and New York-based Paul Hawxhurst, started the production company Block My Eye Films in 2010, offering full production and postproduction services. BlockMyEye.com
Leo Mayberry has been composing and performing live video for the last eleven years, having transitioned from traditional editing to live mixing and improvisation in 2000. He has served as video coordinator for Seattle’s annual Decibel Festival and each year performs alongside the festival’s international talent in the Optical and Ambient/Experimental showcases. Having interacted with live dance in venues such as Seattle’s Consolidated Works, Mayberry received the opportunity to build more immersive multimedia environments with Seattle-based interdisciplinary performance group Manifold Motion. Degenerate Art Ensemble enlisted Mayberry to retool their production of Cuckoo Crow for Los Angeles' REDCAT Theater in 2007. Since then he has been a regular collaborator, creating new works for DAE’s Sonic Tales (2009), including a video-targeting system that pinpointed and cued projections on performers in motion. In the “Topsy Turvy” scene, he used the costumed bodies of two dancers to summon a multitude of different characters, projecting singing heads under dancers’ skirts and guitar-strumming ninjas on their backs. Mayberry’s work enables DAE to summon demons and doppelgangers, set forests on fire, and melt stars into soft rain. killingfrenzy.com
After a decade working as a graphic designer, writer, and performance artist and playing bass for the agitprop music group ¡TchKung!, Steven Miller opened a professional photography studio in 2002. His performance background led to his ongoing series of conceptual portraiture, created in collaboration with a select number of Seattle’s most adventurous musicians and performers. His photographs have been published in Europe, Japan, and the United States, including in NY Arts Magazine, Art Lies, London Gay Times, Slurp, Headmaster, White Crane, the Seattle Times, the Stranger, Seattle Weekly, and Seattle Magazine, as well as Milky, a monograph published by DECODE Books. Miller’s art has been exhibited at Gallery 110, Seattle; Davidson Contemporary, Seattle; and Northern Georgia College and State University, Dahlonega. His work has also been included in regional group exhibitions at the Seattle Art Museum Rental/Sales Gallery, the Tacoma Art Museum, and the Frye Art Museum as well as SF Camerawork, San Francisco; Deborah Colton Gallery, Houston; Fototage Trier, Germany; and New York Photo Festival, New York City. His photographs are featured in the public collections of the Tacoma Art Museum, Northern Georgia College and State University, and Public Art 4Culture, as well as numerous private collections. smiller555.com; stevenmillerphotography.com
A theatrical costume and clothing designer of classic vintage and tailored looks, Ruthie Nicklaus began working with fabric as an artistic medium while studying at Western Washington University, where she graduated with a BFA in sculpture and new media in 2004. While at Western, Nicklaus created the installation Sweet Dreams (2004), a series of small spaces with fabric walls and softly stitched interior furnishings. Nicklaus fell further in love with the materiality and creative potential of textiles, when she began working as a professional tailor. She currently designs clothing and costumes that are both practical and personal, interactive and collaborative. Nicklaus created the costumes for Residue 2.0, a multimedia performance directed by violinist Victoria Parker and featured in May Day! May Day! A New Music Marathon (Seattle, 2010). Other works for stage include Degenerate Art Ensemble's 2007 performance of Cuckoo Crow, which featured elaborate costumes suggesting a post-punk princess with bird plumage; clothing for New Orleans singer-songwriter Theresa Andersson (2009); and costumes for 34 Candles, an upcoming one-woman show by Seattle performer Alianna Jaqua. ruthiesuniform.com
Cofounder, performer, and coartistic director for Degenerate Art Ensemble, Haruko Nishimura produces a steady stream of original works of physical theater and butoh dance, accompanied by live experimental music. Originally from Japan and now based in Seattle, Nishimura conducts artistic explorations that often involve making extreme aesthetic choices, with the intention of awakening truths hidden deep inside the viewer. She has choreographed, performed in, and codirected all of Degenerate Art Ensemble's stage works for over a decade. Her performances include Brussels’ Kaaitheater with Meg Stewart’s company Damaged Goods (2007); a performance of ONION (2007) with the San Francisco-based dance theater company inkBoat at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; a featured performance at Rudolstadt’s TFF Festival in Germany (2007); and an artist residency and workshop at the New Museum, New York (2009), among others. In spring 2011 Nishimura will perform at the Center for Performance Research in New York City with Joshua Kohl, and she will be in a residency with DAE at Robert Wilson's Watermill Center: A Laboratory for Performance, Long Island, New York. She will also be preparing for the group’s newest work, Red Shoes, which premieres in May 2011 in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood—including at the Frye Art Museum—before touring nationally with Circuit Network. degenerateartensemble.com
A writer, carpenter, technical director, set designer, and theater producer, Terry Podgorski studied at the University of Michigan, where he organized a series of multimedia art extravaganzas—music, storytelling, screenings of local films, installation art, and readings—in empty retail spaces (1996–1999). In 2000, after heading west to Seattle, Podgorski stumbled across Circus Contraption, which absorbed his life for the next eight years. Working as Circus Contraption’s tour manager, lighting designer, set designer, theatrical director, and eventually its production manager, he toured the West Coast, producing numerous shows, working countless festivals, and in 2004, designing and building the set for The Grand American Traveling Dime Museum, which showed three times in Seattle, toured San Francisco, and received rave reviews in New York City. In 2007 he managed the last Circus Contraption show, The Show to End All Shows. Since then Podgorski has partnered to write, produce, and design Café Nordo, a blend of experiential dining and theater that won two Seattle Times Footlight Awards for Excellence in Theater. A fourth show is planned for the spring of 2011. Currently the technical director for Degenerate Art Ensemble, Podgorski helps bring the group’s peculiar vision of the world to life.
Jason Puccinelli studied fine art at the San Francisco Academy of Art and Painting at the San Francisco Art Institute and worked in San Francisco for fifteen years as an art director and production designer in the motion-picture industry, including with the world-renowned visual effects company Industrial Light and Magic. For the last ten years Puccinelli has used his skills in movie-set design to create art installations, challenging viewers’ perceptions as they experience unexpected scenes in familiar surroundings: examples include a full-size, “crashed” rocket in a public park (Rocket, 2010) and a series of empty stage sets—a stock exchange floor, a slaughterhouse, and an iceberg with a baby seal (Dazzle Camouflage, 2003). His collaborations with the artistic trio PDL further this nontraditional approach to contemporary art, with such works as a clinically white, portable confessional booth (Portable Confessional Units, 2007) and a 1,200-pound Japanese sloth zoo habitat in an abandoned storefront window (The Zoo to You Foundation, 2008). Commissioned by the Seattle Art Museum to reimagine its grand staircase, Puccinelli created a permanent installation, The Art Ladder, which features larger-than-life murals (2007). He has also designed costumes and props for the San Francisco Opera, Seattle Repertory Theater, and Teatro Zinzanni, as well as for many filmmakers and photographers in Seattle. jasonpuccinelli.com
Olivia Taguinod has been Degenerate Art Ensemble’s production manager for major projects and happenings since 2005. A dedicated fan and friend since the Young Composers Collective’s first show in 1993, Taguinod was behind the scenes at the DAE Bash at Consolidated Works (2005), the Degenerate Art High School Party at Lawrimore Project (2006), and the 2007 production of Cuckoo Crow at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater), Los Angeles. A Seattle native, she worked in the mid-1990s as a location coordinator for Loni Ding’s PBS documentary Ancestors in the Americas. For more than fifteen years Taguinod has organized multidisciplinary artist collaborations in Seattle and the Bay Area, turning lofty ideas into exhibitions, theatrical productions, road tours, extravagant parties, and circus shows. She has worked with individual artists and artist groups, as well as nonprofit arts and community organizations such as Artist Trust, Wing Luke Asian Museum, San Francisco Circus, and George Lucas Educational Foundation. Taguinod currently works with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, serves on the Community Advisory Committee for the Seattle International Film Festival, performs as a supernumerary with the Seattle Opera, and is the standing champion of “live musical chairs,” a long-standing and sometimes vicious tradition at DAE events.
Photographer and art director Bruce Tom grew up during the social and political upheaval that was 1970s San Francisco. With crises such as the Patty Hearst kidnapping, the Zodiac Killer serial murders, the Jonestown massacre, and the Harvey Milk assassination playing out around him, Tom spent his formative years escaping to as many concerts as possible and retreating to a safe house of expatriate misfits in England and to his flat in the Castro District. Heavily influenced by the aesthetics and sounds of theatrical, concept-driven performances of such San Francisco music icons as the Tubes and the Residents, he became versatile in capturing live performances with his camera at clubs and concert venues. His background in music and technical theater then led to a BFA in photography at San Francisco State. Tom’s vivid imagery and design works have been featured on CD titles and poster art for Degenerate Art Ensemble, Brad, Satchel, Shawn Smith, Loosegroove Records, the Pleasure Elite, Go Like Hell, Critters Buggin, and Kultur Shock. He has also photographed for Circus Center San Francisco, One Reel, and Teatro Zinzanni. brucetom.com
Nik Weisend uses a variety of unorthodox materials to create sculptures suggestive of beings in different stages of life. From birth and hatching to mutation and decay, his unidentifiable yet familiar forms explore the human experience of finding profound otherness in nature. Weisend, whose artistic investigations perfectly match Degenerate Art Ensemble’s recurring motif of hatching and emerging from slithering pods, embryonic matter, and oversized cocoons, has worked on every DAE performance since the group’s founding in 1999, including tours in Europe and the San Francisco Bay Area. He also created work for Hell’s Cauldron (1998), when DAE was known as the Young Composers Collective. He received honors for a BA in interdisciplinary modern and postmodern studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz and is the recipient of a 4Culture Individual Artist Award (2000). His work was featured in solo exhibitions at Miraju Gallery, Shinjuku District, Tokyo (1998), and Artstar Foundation gallery, Seattle (2002), as well as in group shows organized in conjunction with DAE touring performances in Europe (2002–2007).