Ralph Lemon merges performance, visual art, music, and text in his new work Scaffold Room, an inquisitive hybrid that premieres at the Walker before a national tour. Lemon calls his latest work a “lecture-performance-musical,” one that refracts ideas of contemporary performance through archetypal black female personae in American culture. The piece connects three women—Okwui Okpokwasili and April Matthis (performing live) with the 86-year-old Edna Carter and her extended family (on video). The live performers enact parallel iconic characters that draw from history, popular culture, and speculative fiction with source materials ranging from Moms Mabley to Amy Winehouse, Kathy Acker to Samuel Delaney, as they “act out” within and around assumptions about prescribed cultural body politics. The live performance installation is supported by an electronic/turntable-based sound score created and performed by composer Marina Rosenfeld. The space for Scaffold Room is a confined, constructed two-story environment, in essence its own theater, placed in the Walker’s white cube Burnet Gallery.
Lemon, who began his career as a dancer and choreographer, is now seen as a critical figure exploring intersections between performing and contemporary art worlds. The artist has had eight increasingly interdisciplinary works supported by the Walker over the course of 17 years, and recent projects at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and various other international museums. Scaffold Room is perhaps his boldest experiment yet with the boundaries of form and presentation.
For the duration of his three-week residency, Lemon’s sound and image installation Meditation will be on view in the McGuire Theater. Conceived as the final piece of his work cycle How Do You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere, this immersive experience freely associates themes from the entire series through high-definition projection, shadow and light, sound, atmosphere, and memory.
The installation is designed by Ralph Lemon and R. Eric Stone, and engineered and fabricated by F. Randy deCelle. Collaborators include composer/turntablist Marina Rosenfeld, video designer Mike Taylor, lighting designer Roderick Murray, sound design consultant Philip White, and costume designer Naoko Nagata.