July 17, 2002

Interdisciplinary Goddess: Garneau

By Gregg Shapiro

In her performance piece Bloodrut, which is being performed at Women In The Director's Chair (941 W. Lawrence, 5th Flr, 773-907-0610) July 19-21, Nicole Garneau combines drumming (she's a member of the feminist drumming corp Big Smith), movement, spoken word, and singing to create a piece that you could also call The Menstrual Monologues. It's no surprise, then, that someone who explores so many different genres within her art would also have a day job in another discipline altogether.

"My day job is fundraising for a small program that is a part of the office of the chief judge," Garneau told me when I recently interviewed her about Bloodrut in her downtown office. "It is a program that provides free drop-in child-care in court facilities for people who don't have access to child-care or they have to bring the children to court because the kids have to testify. It's a place that they can leave the kids so they don't have to sit in the courtroom."

Gregg Shapiro: Bloodrut was your thesis for a graduate program in which you were enrolled.

Nicole Garneau: The program is in interdisciplinary arts at Columbia College. The degree is an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts. For 25 years it's been totally dedicated to people who are trying to work across different disciplines and not treating those people like dilettantes, and really valuing people who say, "I'm a dancer and also a painter."

GS: Do you think people working in cross disciplines are getting the respect that they deserve?

NG: I think in art schools in general, being an interdisciplinary artist has become more respected. But, I think that because a lot of performance art started out as interdisciplinary...visual artists who were trying to put their bodies in their work ...people were like, "Why don't you just stick to painting?" As an artist, you can get stuck in something...not stuck, because I think it's fine to be in just one (discipline). If you want to be an actor, be an actor, God love you. But it can also be hard when you're an actor who also wants to sing and write and make installations. You have to figure out if you are going to put these things together.

GS: What are you planning to do with your degree?

NG: For right now, I like to tell people that with this degree I'd like to be a better artist (laughs). Going to graduate school, I wanted to explore my art, to try and figure out what it is that I want to make art about, what kind of art I want to make. We created this performance, and even though it was my Master's thesis, I always intended for it to be something that lived beyond my Master's thesis. To tell you the truth, I really like my day job. I enjoy it and it provides me the space and time that I need to be an artist. Right now, that's a manageable situation to make art on evenings and weekends and work here during the day. But I really love teaching and I love working with youth. That is something that I've done before and I could see myself doing again.

GS: Throughout the piece, you refer to "the beat," which I took to mean the inner rhythm of blood flow, which is a pulse like, drumming. Are the two connected?

NG: I think there are a lot of people who study drumming and do drumming who talk about the heartbeat as the original drum. All of us, as fetuses, learned rhythm by listening to our mother's blood pumping and her heartbeat. All of us have that in us...men and women. There are women drummers who feel like there might be something about that biological connection that is a special way for women to drum. I don't know if that makes women better drummers or that men don't get it. I don't think that it means that. I think there is also something about the fact that if women have these menstrual cycles, on some level our biology guarantees we are attuned to a rhythmic way of functioning in the world. Also, I think that men are attuned to menstrual cycles too. Men don't menstruate, but almost all men have lived with women, and so, on some level men have experienced that with their mothers, their sisters, partners, co-workers, whether or not they're conscious of it.

GS: There are these facts about menstruation that are recited...it sounds like something out of a textbook or educational film.

NG: It's from a book called On Becoming A Woman by Dr. Shyrock.

GS: Copyright what, 1934?

NG: No, 1969! The thing that was so interesting about it to me is that I was born in 1970. If the book was published in 1969, people could have been easily teaching me, and people my age, that kind of stuff. It sounds like it's out of the dark ages, but it's not at all.

GS: In watching the video of the performance, it was interesting to hear people in the audience laughing. Did you expect people to be amused by this?

NG: A lot of times, I deal with serious political issues, but almost all the time there is some kind of humorous thing. I think that's really important. Sometimes it has to do with a sarcastic attitude that we have or it's just the way that we are. The way that the humor came out in this piece was surprising to me.

GS: You also speak of "menstrual wisdom."

NG: How I would define it now, after having worked on this piece, is that I think that menstrual wisdom is what you get when you start to pay really close attention to your body. When you start to draw relationships between what's happening inside and outside. We literally menstruate differently than when we started working on this piece. I literally have way fewer cramps. That's menstrual wisdom and that's menstrual magic, frankly.

GS: Big Smith is going to St. Petersburg, Russia to perform Bloodrut at the Experiments International Performance Fest.

NG: I speak Russian and I used to work in a Russian theater company in Moscow. Ever since I did that I've been really interested in getting back there to do my work, to develop relationships with Russian artists. I was there on vacation in November and December and I heard about this festival in St. Petersburg. I met with the woman who curates the festival. I submitted materials and talked to her about the festival.

GS: Is everyone excited about it?

NG: Yeah! They're out of their minds. We have a lot of money to raise and so I'm not quite sure how we're getting there, but everyone is super excited about it.


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