Behind The Reduction: Lenka Clayton / by David Bernabo

Photo: Bryan Conley

Photo: Bryan Conley

A week from now, we will perform The Reduction at the New Hazlett Theater as part of their third season of the CSA performance series. Our piece has a narrator. That narrator is artist Lenka Clayton

I became aware of Lenka's work well before I knew her. First, there was Qaeda, Quality, Question, Quickly, Quickly, Quiet, an 18 minute video that rearranges the words of GWB's Axis of Evil speech alphabetically. (Matthew Herbert's Accidental Records released a limited edition LP of the resulting audio, too.) Then, the Mysterious Letters project with collaborator Michael Crowe alerted me to the fact that Lenka now lives in Pittsburgh. I kept up with her work and then finally met her (I believe) during the filming for the Ongoing Box film. Lenka was one of eight artists and craftspersons that was in my film that looked at process in artistic creation. Her work for the Artist Residency in Motherhood at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts was featured along with some newer work like Women's Intuition (hats).  My wife and I also contributed secretly-created shoes for One Brown Shoe.

At this point, I just want to give thanks for Lenka's very navigable website, which is allowing the previous paragraph's hyperlink fest! 

While editing Ongoing Box, it quickly became apparent that Lenka's scenes were my favorite to edit. Her voice has a quality that is very reassuring and, I suppose, melodic. And her work is so intriguing, clever, magical. I think it is easy to label Lenka's work as "simple." I have seen some published references to this where the meaning relates to the idea or process being simple. Alphabetizing and counting are simple tools, but I think one thing that is overlooked is the preparation and the practice. From what I can tell, Lenka's work involves a good bit of object collecting where the collecting is sometimes prior to the spark of the idea. There is a belief that a transformation may occur in the future and until that creative transformation occurs or clicks, the objects and input materials linger, physically and mentally. I think that is my favorite thing about Lenka's work - seeing (or imagining) the process of an object being transformed. For instance, how does a pair of scissors transform from a functional object to a thought on motherhood, anxieties, fear, desire for safety, and a soft, fuzzy toy-of-sorts. An interview with The Telegraph provides some detail on the process using an example: 63 Objects Taken From My Son's Mouth.  

The seed of the idea may be a "simple idea or [a] mundane object" but the practice that allows the transformation is certainly not simple. It is a craft built upon experience and practice.

That idea of transformation is something that we are attempting in The Reduction. The use of improvisation, in addition to composition, guarantees that the performers will be required to make split-second decisions that transform the outcome of the piece. Depending on how you view improvisation, the decision making process may feel more like channeling an idea in realtime rather than a cognizant, logical approach. But what we are creating is an environment that fosters that creative spark. It is certainly higher risk from a performance perspective, but finding that spark and acting on it is the best part of creating work. If you can create work that allows more opportunity to generate sparks, well . . . that's the appeal of improvisation for me. 

I'll step aside from arguing a thesis that may or may not need to be argued to say that having Lenka's voice guide our movement piece is truly wonderful on many levels. Having a clean recording is one thing, but to know that the voice communicating the script has created a wealth of wonderful work adds weight to the words.


Below are a few of my favorite pieces from Lenka. The linked titles take to Lenka's website with more information about each piece.

Corrected Love Letters
2015 / found, altered love letter / 3 sheets of airmail paper, 6" x 9" each


The distance I can be from my son
2013 / video series / 1:53 min


Alphabetical Shopping
2012 / thermal paper, ink / 2.5" x 7.5"


People in Order - Love
2006 / video 3 mins (series of four) / Collaboration with James Price