Artist Profiles | Visual Arts

Amy Caron: Theory of Mind

It is often easy (yet dangerous) to pigeonhole artists. Amy Caron, winner of the Utah Arts Council’s 2007 Fellowship Award, is an artist who defies easy categorization. She’s a bit of a shape-shifter that pursues a variety of disciplines all linked to the physicality of her early years. With seemingly boundless energy, her past mirrors her work, attitudes, and play.

The Vermont native began as a figure skater who studied both ballet and gymnastics. But it was her interest in skiing and particularly ski jumping that lured Caron to Salt Lake to train and compete for the US Freestyle Ski Team at the age of nineteen. For eight years her energies were directed toward competitive skiing – but ideas of creativity were never far away. Dance has always been one of her passions and during this time she kept one foot (so to speak) in the dance world by enrolling in the modern dance program at the University of Utah, where she completed her Bachelors degree in 2001. That might have been enough for most people, but not for Caron. To pursue her passion for performance, Caron has worked as an actor, stuntwoman, and sports model. To recharge her creative batteries, she escapes into Utah’s back-country to hike and explore the mountains.

A need for a few more credits hours during her last year of college led Caron to video and experimental animation classes. Her first video work, “Don’t Blink,” propelled her into the realms of dance/video (see page 3). In fact, that piece still has a life in the larger world… it will screen at the Joyce SoHo in New York this March.

Caron is currently working on her most ambitious project to date (for which she won the Utah Art Council’s Fellowship). Titled “Waves of Mu: Watch and Learn,” it promises to be a multi-media tour-de-force incorporating sculpture, large-scale digital prints, found objects, video installation (using a new projection technology involving two-way mirror glass), animation, and audio. It gets its name from the EEG frequencies generated when the mirror neuron system is activated.

Mirror neurons are a part of the brain that has been getting a lot of attention lately. Indeed, some feel that it is neurobiology’s most important discovery in the past decade. These neurons are located in a region of the brain just behind both temples that activates in response to movement. Think of them this way: when I stick out my tongue, part of my brain’s circuitry lights up. If I see you stick out your tongue, the same part of my brain lights up again. So, in a sense, a little part of you brain mirrors the actions that you see in another person. Remember the phrase “monkey see, monkey do?” For the brain, there’s some truth in that old quip. (Not to mention the fact that mirror neurons were fist discovered in monkeys.) In humans, they have been proposed as a region of the brain that is involved in learning, empathy, and language. Some researchers propose that a lack of these neurons might be linked to autism. Is it any wonder that someone with a dancer’s training like Caron would find this fascinating?

Not content to read popular articles on the subject, Caron has truly done her homework. She describes this experience as a rollercoaster. At her low points, she’s found it totally overwhelming to try to wrap her head around it all. At the high points, it has been synergistic and eye opening on many levels—creatively, intellectually, and philosophically for her. She describes her particular topic as tricky because it is so inherently invisible and undetectable. At times, she’s felt it just slip through her fingers leaving her with nothing to work with and at other times she’s found the topic so vast as to be impossible to weed anything out from the “important pile.”

With “Waves of Mu,” Caron has found it nice to have a very specific subject to focus on, but that’s not to say that blending art and science is known territory for her. She’s not a math-science person. “Heck,” she claims, “I think I’ve forgotten my multiplication tables completely.” Now, all the books and magazines stacked next to her bedside are nothing but science.

Many feel that science and art are opposites. Caron thinks that’s a bunch of baloney. She’s found scientists and artists to be very similar. “Scientists are obsessive, dedicated, and creative, just like artists. If you think about it, it is essential for a scientist to have a probing mind and the ability to imagine and theorize ideas and concepts before they exist—and artists do this as well. Both scientists and artists are rebellious by nature—breaking the law, shocking the world at times, influencing public perception and this kind of thing can be easily observed in both professions. I think more scientists are astute art appreciators than the other way around, but that is changing.”

And Caron would know. She’s received support and encouragement from the top researchers in their field, going as far as Italy to meet with them. On the whole, she’s found them very interested in her project and very generous with their time and input. It’s an ongoing collaborative relationship. Drawing on the work of noted neurobiologists Vittorio Gallese and V.S. Ramachandran, she is creating a work that almost functions as an experiment with these ideas. Amy wants her works to act on multiple levels for her audience. In Waves of Mu they are also participants. In this work, the line between participant and audience becomes fuzzy indeed.

“Of course all of this new information about brains and art just helps me further manipulate my audiences. That statement is not as sinister as it sounds– it is the goal of anything that is publicly presented.”

As Caron describes “Waves of Mu,” the performance aspect will incorporate a stealthy infusion of performed contagious behavior throughout the evening and theatre under the facade of a lecture demonstration. Audience members will participate in the performance consciously and unconsciously.

Caron brings a dancer’s sensibilities to her work. She uses images and movement to create multi-layered stories that lead the viewer from a visceral sense rather than a logical one. As a trained dancer, she’s interested in balance but even more interested by the idea of unbalance. One expects this sensibility in painters, but it seems less common in professionally trained dancers who practice to be able to hold perfect balance. For Caron, there is energy in that moment when balance is lost. And she’s not afraid for her viewers to experience that unbalance and disorientation too. She wants them to surrender and operate from their gut and body instead of their brain when they experience the work, which requires an investment of patience and trust on their part. She says that she always falls in love with art that she doesn’t understand, and wants her viewers to feel the loveliness of ambiguity on some level through her work. She never sets out to purposely baffle her audience, but doesn’t feel any conviction or responsibility to create work that is overly clear in its content or intentions. She likes secrets, mystery, and dots that don’t connect – those are the elements that stimulate and hold her attention.

For Caron, there is honesty in the real, the raw, and the flawed. Energy and attitude are more important to her than refined technique. She is the ultimate enlightened amateur and is fearless when it comes to incorporating elements not usually associated with a dance. She has a love/hate relationship with technology and is attracted to the low-fi, embracing a punk philosophy when creating her work.

If all of this seems very serious, it’s important to note that humor has an important place in Caron’s work. (And in her life – her web site has a trivia section that crackles with her wit and humor.) She loves dark comedy and its ability to generate empathy and self-consciousness. She likes it when laughing feels organic and also takes pleasure in the disturbing and evil nature of laughing when it feels out of place.

With an extensive mix of mediums and an ambitions subject, Caron’s “Waves of Mu” might seem like a tightrope walk without a net. When asked if she would describe herself as fearless, she replied. “No. I have fears; I’m just practiced at overcoming them.” Maybe ski jumping isn’t such a bad start for an artist, after all.

You will be able to see some of the elements of Caron’s work in progress when the Utah Arts Council has their 2006-2007 Fellowship Exhibition at the Rio Gallery from March 16 – April 28. The full work will have a run in SLC in 2008. Additionally, she will exhibit work at the 337 S 400 E Building project that will open in May, combining performance and sculpture.

It is often easy (yet dangerous) to pigeonhole artists. Amy Caron, winner of the Utah Arts Council’s 2007 Fellowship Award, is an artist who defies easy categorization. She’s a bit of a shape-shifter that pursues a variety of disciplines all linked to the physicality of her early years. With seemingly boundless energy, her past mirrors her work, attitudes, and play.

The Vermont native began as a figure skater who studied both ballet and gymnastics. But it was her interest in skiing and particularly ski jumping that lured Caron to Salt Lake to train and compete for the US Freestyle Ski Team at the age of nineteen. For eight years her energies were directed toward competitive skiing – but ideas of creativity were never far away. Dance has always been one of her passions and during this time she kept one foot (so to speak) in the dance world by enrolling in the modern dance program at the University of Utah, where she completed her Bachelors degree in 2001. That might have been enough for most people, but not for Caron. To pursue her passion for performance, Caron has worked as an actor, stuntwoman, and sports model. To recharge her creative batteries, she escapes into Utah’s back-country to hike and explore the mountains.

A need for a few more credits hours during her last year of college led Caron to video and experimental animation classes. Her first video work, “Don’t Blink,” propelled her into the realms of dance/video (see page 3). In fact, that piece still has a life in the larger world… it will screen at the Joyce SoHo in New York this March.

Caron is currently working on her most ambitious project to date (for which she won the Utah Art Council’s Fellowship). Titled “Waves of Mu: Watch and Learn,” it promises to be a multi-media tour-de-force incorporating sculpture, large-scale digital prints, found objects, video installation (using a new projection technology involving two-way mirror glass), animation, and audio. It gets its name from the EEG frequencies generated when the mirror neuron system is activated.

Mirror neurons are a part of the brain that has been getting a lot of attention lately. Indeed, some feel that it is neurobiology’s most important discovery in the past decade. These neurons are located in a region of the brain just behind both temples that activates in response to movement. Think of them this way: when I stick out my tongue, part of my brain’s circuitry lights up. If I see you stick out your tongue, the same part of my brain lights up again. So, in a sense, a little part of you brain mirrors the actions that you see in another person. Remember the phrase “monkey see, monkey do?” For the brain, there’s some truth in that old quip. (Not to mention the fact that mirror neurons were fist discovered in monkeys.) In humans, they have been proposed as a region of the brain that is involved in learning, empathy, and language. Some researchers propose that a lack of these neurons might be linked to autism. Is it any wonder that someone with a dancer’s training like Caron would find this fascinating?

Not content to read popular articles on the subject, Caron has truly done her homework. She describes this experience as a rollercoaster. At her low points, she’s found it totally overwhelming to try to wrap her head around it all. At the high points, it has been synergistic and eye opening on many levels—creatively, intellectually, and philosophically for her. She describes her particular topic as tricky because it is so inherently invisible and undetectable. At times, she’s felt it just slip through her fingers leaving her with nothing to work with and at other times she’s found the topic so vast as to be impossible to weed anything out from the “important pile.”

With “Waves of Mu,” Caron has found it nice to have a very specific subject to focus on, but that’s not to say that blending art and science is known territory for her. She’s not a math-science person. “Heck,” she claims, “I think I’ve forgotten my multiplication tables completely.” Now, all the books and magazines stacked next to her bedside are nothing but science.

Many feel that science and art are opposites. Caron thinks that’s a bunch of baloney. She’s found scientists and artists to be very similar. “Scientists are obsessive, dedicated, and creative, just like artists. If you think about it, it is essential for a scientist to have a probing mind and the ability to imagine and theorize ideas and concepts before they exist—and artists do this as well. Both scientists and artists are rebellious by nature—breaking the law, shocking the world at times, influencing public perception and this kind of thing can be easily observed in both professions. I think more scientists are astute art appreciators than the other way around, but that is changing.”

And Caron would know. She’s received support and encouragement from the top researchers in their field, going as far as Italy to meet with them. On the whole, she’s found them very interested in her project and very generous with their time and input. It’s an ongoing collaborative relationship. Drawing on the work of noted neurobiologists Vittorio Gallese and V.S. Ramachandran, she is creating a work that almost functions as an experiment with these ideas. Amy wants her works to act on multiple levels for her audience. In Waves of Mu they are also participants. In this work, the line between participant and audience becomes fuzzy indeed.

“Of course all of this new information about brains and art just helps me further manipulate my audiences. That statement is not as sinister as it sounds– it is the goal of anything that is publicly presented.”

As Caron describes “Waves of Mu,” the performance aspect will incorporate a stealthy infusion of performed contagious behavior throughout the evening and theatre under the facade of a lecture demonstration. Audience members will participate in the performance consciously and unconsciously.

Caron brings a dancer’s sensibilities to her work. She uses images and movement to create multi-layered stories that lead the viewer from a visceral sense rather than a logical one. As a trained dancer, she’s interested in balance but even more interested by the idea of unbalance. One expects this sensibility in painters, but it seems less common in professionally trained dancers who practice to be able to hold perfect balance. For Caron, there is energy in that moment when balance is lost. And she’s not afraid for her viewers to experience that unbalance and disorientation too. She wants them to surrender and operate from their gut and body instead of their brain when they experience the work, which requires an investment of patience and trust on their part. She says that she always falls in love with art that she doesn’t understand, and wants her viewers to feel the loveliness of ambiguity on some level through her work. She never sets out to purposely baffle her audience, but doesn’t feel any conviction or responsibility to create work that is overly clear in its content or intentions. She likes secrets, mystery, and dots that don’t connect – those are the elements that stimulate and hold her attention.

For Caron, there is honesty in the real, the raw, and the flawed. Energy and attitude are more important to her than refined technique. She is the ultimate enlightened amateur and is fearless when it comes to incorporating elements not usually associated with a dance. She has a love/hate relationship with technology and is attracted to the low-fi, embracing a punk philosophy when creating her work.

If all of this seems very serious, it’s important to note that humor has an important place in Caron’s work. (And in her life – her web site has a trivia section that crackles with her wit and humor.) She loves dark comedy and its ability to generate empathy and self-consciousness. She likes it when laughing feels organic and also takes pleasure in the disturbing and evil nature of laughing when it feels out of place.

With an extensive mix of mediums and an ambitions subject, Caron’s “Waves of Mu” might seem like a tightrope walk without a net. When asked if she would describe herself as fearless, she replied. “No. I have fears; I’m just practiced at overcoming them.” Maybe ski jumping isn’t such a bad start for an artist, after all.

You will be able to see some of the elements of Caron’s work in progress when the Utah Arts Council has their 2006-2007 Fellowship Exhibition at the Rio Gallery from March 16 – April 28. The full work will have a run in SLC in 2008. Additionally, she will exhibit work at the 337 S 400 E Building project that will open in May, combining performance and sculpture.||

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