The below interview was conducted by Samuel Hanson, loveDANCEmore editor and executive director. It has been edited for clarity.
SH: Welcome to 2022. I am sitting with Indigo Cook, who I know as an organizer of performances that include dance, music and visual art through Interdisciplinary Arts Collective. I guess I think of Indigo as a choreographer. But maybe that’s a good place to start. Indigo, do you think of yourself as a choreographer?
IC: The term I usually use is interdisciplinary artist, or if I’m feeling long-winded I’ll say “musician-slash-dancer-slash-interdisciplinary-artist.” I grew up dancing and studied percussion in college, and most of the work I do is centered around those two worlds. But I feel really passionately about the collaborative potential of the arts, and I make it a point to work with as many different kinds of artists as I can.
SH: Tell us a little about Interdisciplinary Arts Collective (IAC). That’s how I know you, at least artistically. We also taught for a while together for Tanner Dance’s Artist-in-Education Program.
IC: I started IAC when I was in college. I was the only percussionist at Westminster at the time, and I was desperate to find other artists to talk to and work with. I had somehow weaseled my way into the dance department and they were letting me do all the things majors did while I was still officially a music major. So I was collaborating with the dancers and doing the music thing, and it felt like there was a lot of potential in the arts programs for people to band together and make some interesting things, but the departments didn’t seem to really be talking to each other.
In my junior year I started making people come and meet me on Saturday mornings. It was a fun ragtag group of musicians, dancers, visual artists, and poets. I’d bring bagels and coffee, and we would do some free musical improvisation, contact improv, Deep Listening, and lots of Fluxus scores. It started very much as an underground experimentation group. We worked on some Fluxconcerts around the city, and that’s mostly what we did for the first couple years. It’s really only in the last few years that we’ve done what you might call “official shows” where people can come and watch and buy tickets…
SH: Official shows!
IC: Instead of us just making salads in a room as art, if you know what I mean.
I guess the first thing that we really did for a formal audience was the Fringe Festival three years ago. We’ve had other projects since then — the Utah Arts Festival, more Fringe Fest, a 36-hour performance of Erik Satie’s Vexations, etc. — and we’re working on a new Musicircus-style show that’s scheduled for sometime this spring.
SH: Tell us about the Performance Calendar.
IC: Performance Calendar started as a solo project. I’d just barely moved back to Salt Lake in 2019, the New Year was happening, and I wanted something to do that wasn’t a New Year’s resolution. A Fluxus composer that I really admire named Don Boyd has a piece called A Performance Calendar, and it’s a text score where each month of the year has a different direction to follow. So, each month of that year I realized the directions he wrote and I had a blast with it. I cut up a carrot and used the shavings to notate a little composition for one month, for another month I had to write a letter to the IRS explaining how hard it is to “achieve lofty dryness,” etc. The year ended and I figured I’d keep the ball rolling into 2020, so I commissioned a bunch of friends and artists to write text scores for me. Each month I realized a piece by a different artist — I composed a vocal score in February, I made a Fluxfilm in October, I performed a “foretelling” in December inspired by Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, etc.
Then in 2021 — year three of the project — I wanted to get other artists involved as performers. And that’s when I incorporated it under the IAC umbrella, mainly so that I had a place to archive the material. I put together a score and I had people sign up for months they were interested in. This score was generated using chance procedures. I have a ton of books in my house, and I used a random number generator to pick a shelf on a bookcase, a book on that shelf, and a page in that book, then I took a sentence that was interesting to me and turned that into the score for each month. The group of artists working on each month’s score got to decide what sort of direction we wanted to take the realization in — some months were all process and experience-based, while we created more formal “things” or “performances” for other months. Nathaniel Woolley and I wrote and premiered an operetta in April, we went on a Fluxus scavenger hunt around the city in July, and we had a slumber party at my house in September where we just stayed up late performing Flux scores for each other and dancing (there was lots of confetti by the end of the night).
I just started year four, which is exciting! 2022 — I was loving all of the even numbers, so I decided to turn it into a duet year. Each month I will be working with one other person and we’ll be doing a text score together. This year’s score is excerpted from the “First Infrarealist Manifesto,” written by Roberto Bolaño.
SH: I love his novels — particularly The Savage Detectives, which actually mentions the manifesto. I didn’t realize it was something he actually wrote. (His alter-ego, Arturo Belano, is also a poet in that book.) I haven’t read much of the poetry…
IC: I’ve just started reading a little bit of the poetry. I read 2666 last year and it fucked me up. Fantastic!
SH: Have you read any of the shorter fiction? (I particularly love this one.)
IC: I haven’t. I have Antwerp sitting on a bookshelf waiting for me and I’ll get to it eventually. Are you reading anything?
SH: I just started reading Dhalgen by Samuel Delany. I bought the book years ago when I lived in New York. I actually found a postcard from a choreographer I worked for in 2009, Yve Laris Cohen, that I’d used as a bookmark. I was with my friend the other day at Sam Wellar’s and we saw one of Delany’s book and started talking about another book of his that I actually did finish — Times Square Red, Times Square Blue — which is about sexual politics, movie theaters, New York, gentrification, the rapid pace of change in that part of the city from the seventies until the early oughts…
But anyway we realized we both have Dhalgren and so we started reading it together. I love doing book clubs with fellow artists. I am also reading this really depressing book about the history of the DSM and psychiatry, which my cousin lent to me.
IC: You’re not still teaching in schools for Tanner, are you?
SH: No, I miss it, but I couldn’t afford to keep doing it. I work for the school district part-time and I do this. You’re still doing Tanner?
IC: I’m working there as a dance teacher and an accompanist, and I love it. I love working with Rachel Kimball so much.
SH: She is a great teacher and an amazing teacher-of-dance-teachers. But back to your project, you were saying, the whole year is Bolaño. Tell us about who you are working with?
IC: This is a great question, because I am still looking for people to sign on for the coming months. [You can email Indigo here if you are interested.] Most of the months are full but I still have some empty ones, and I’d love to work with some new folks. In January I am working with this really great visual artist named Dani Mendez. They are a body piercer, and they do a lot of visual art — they also just graduated with a metal-smithing certificate — so they make their own stones and jewelry. A lot of people who have signed on have been members of IAC in the past, or they’ve written scores for me in calendars of past years, or they are people that I’ve had on my collaborative hit list that I keep bugging and eventually they say yes… Part of Don Boyd’s inscription for A Performance Calendar says, “For whom? Anyone.” and I’m trying to take that very literally and work with a lot of different kinds of artists. And non-artists and anti-artists as well, which is a big focus in Fluxus! I’ve roped all of my siblings into the project at one point or another, and at one of IAC’s Fluxconcerts my dad showed up with an electric kettle and made himself a cup of tea in the middle of the stage. Anyone and everyone can flux.
As far as the score for this year goes, it’s a great manifesto. I haven’t actually read Savage Detectives yet, which I am sort of doing on purpose, because I want to work with the manifesto on its own before I bring in any of his storytelling. The Infrarealists took a very anti-establishment approach to their poetry and how they saw their relationship to Mexican society and art-making. I felt a lot of resonance between their approach and the anti-art roots of the Fluxus movement itself, so I thought using Bolaño’s manifesto to build my Fluxus score this year would be a fun way to connect the dots…
One of the things that drew me to Fluxus was that it had a clearly defined historical beginning in the sixties and seventies, but it purposefully never had a super rigidly-defined ethos or aesthetic. Fluxus was meant to be in flux, and so different artists (and anti-artists!) interpreted it in different ways. It was a sense of experimentation and a set of strategies to approach a process, as opposed to a piece or a product that had to look or sound a certain way. As someone who’s drawn to collaboration and interdisciplinary communication, I’ve found Fluxus to be a great way to get people to team up and try new things with me. They don’t need to be able to read music or paint or have perfect dance technique, and they don’t need to be fully versed in the who/what/where/when history of Fluxus in order to engage in experimentation and conversation. This is all just a way of asking really funny questions for me, and finding new ways to talk about and maybe answer those questions with some very cool people.
One of my favorite experimental composers, Pauline Oliveros, says, “it’s not people performing experiments on the music, but the music is an experiment on the self.” I think that’s a beautiful way of looking at it.
SH: Tell us about how we can experience the calendar. It sounds like there is a website where people can experience some of the past work…
IC: The archive is kind of fun, if you want to take a look on the website. I’ll definitely say that with the Performance Calendar, it’s up to us each month whether or not we want to create any kind of formalized thing for an audience — so sometimes it’s just something that happens between the two of us more than some kind of outward facing art making. But some cool stuff has collected over the past three years that you can check out, and if you want to follow along with this year I’m trying to be good about updating and letting people know what’s going on.
Fluxus sort of chooses to happen wherever it happens. Sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m in control. It’ll happen. And I’ll be there. And I’ll try to tell people when it’s happening if you want to be there as well.
SH: Having spent time at NYU before you came back to Utah to go to Westminster, what do you think of the experimental dance and music scenes here in Salt Lake?
IC: Salt Lake has such a robust dance scene in relation to the size of the city. So that’s really delightful. I’ve found that the experimental music scene isn’t quite as visible here, but there’s actually really cool stuff happening if you look for it. Dancers are so good at mobilizing and going to see each other’s work — I want them to all go to see all the music things too so that we can all talk about it together. And start collaborating…
SH: Who should we have our eyes (or ears) on?
IC: NOVA Chamber Music Series is doing good work and has been programming some great contemporary rep lately. The Utah Symphony and Opera tend to be a bit more conservative in their programming, but sometimes they’ll have interesting stuff to watch out for, and a lot of their individual players branch off into small chamber music projects that put on cool concerts now and again. There are also some great new music folks working at the University of Utah and Westminster, and they’ve been making some fun experimental stuff happen. College concerts might not always be something that you’d think to prioritize, but I’d highly recommend checking out some of their work.
I’ll also shamelessly plug my mentor’s music duo. His name is Devin Maxwell, and he and his wife Katie Porter, who is an amazing clarinetist, have a great group called Red Desert Ensemble. They play some really excellent stuff, and I have Devin to thank for my relationship to experimental art to begin with. He was my percussion professor at Westminster — I had transferred after my sophomore year at NYU, and had such a bad experience with the percussion department there that I thought I was done with music completely. Devin totally turned that around.
SH: It’s so good when people can come along and save your relationship to an art form…
IC: I was very lucky to have met him and been able to study with him. He’s actually how I first got introduced to Fluxus. He and Katie have invited me to play with Red Desert a few times, and several years ago we went up to Casper, Wyoming to play a Morton Feldman piece. There’s this little community college up there that has a thriving new music program. I think the program director just figures, “let’s play new music, no one really knows we’re up here so let’s just go for it…”
So I showed up with Devin and Katie to play the Feldman piece for this New Music Day the school was putting on, and they did a Fluxconcert prior to the “actual” concert. And I was standing there thinking, “this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.” People were pouring water into tubas and torn textbook pages were flying through the air and someone was running around with a blow dryer as the music started — it was so fun to experience.
I got back to Salt Lake and said, “Fluxus will start happening here,” and I immediately started IAC.
SH: IAC — I love how nondescript the name is…
IC: It’s a little bit of a music joke as well because IAC stands for imperfect authentic cadence — a perfect authentic cadence is how music often ends, like a V to I or [sings a conventional resolving harmony] — an imperfect authentic cadence is still a V to I chord, but some of the pitches move in directions you don’t expect so there’s less of a sense of finality when music ends…
IAC is the beta version of an interdisciplinary company I want to start in the future. I’m not sure if I’ll end up in Salt Lake permanently, but in its evolved form I hope to take IAC wherever I go.
And the performance calendar I am intending to do for the rest of my life.
SH: Really? Year after year?
IC: Every year. Fluxus opens up so much space for experimentation and decision-making, and I get to determine what successfully fulfilling the project means to me, as long as it’s a good-faith decision. So maybe I’m ninety and I don’t want to make art for one month, but I just decide to experiment with drinking a cup of tea and that’s that.
SH: The long game.
IC: The long game.
This article is published in collaboration with loveDANCEmore.org.
Samuel Hanson is the executive director of loveDANCEmore.