Local Artist and Filmmaker Josephine Decker Talks Accordions and Getting Naked for Marina Abramovic

by |
01/14/2011 4:45 PM |


Josephine Decker is perhaps best-known for undressing in front of Marina Abramovic at The Artist Is Present (and being summarily escorted out by MoMA security), but for the holiday on Monday, the Prospect Heights-based performance artist and filmmaker is presenting a rather eclectic afternoon of film and performance at the reRun Gastropub Theater. The event will feature a screening of Squeezebox, a documentary short that doubles as a preview of a feature-in-progress based around the Main Squeeze Orchestra, an all-girl accordion ensemble; plus performances and a make-your-own-movie interlude. We asked for some elaboration:

So, tell us about the event at reRun on Monday. It’s a screening of your short film Squeezebox, derived from a feature in progress, involving a murder mystery and an all-girl accordion orchestra, right? How’d the elements of this film come together?
As soon as I joined the Main Squeeze Orchestra, I started having these incredible dreams: witches playing accordions, underground cabarets, gnome-children, octopuses, gorgeous ladies conjuring songs like tarot cards… Haha. That is a really unusual list! Clearly, the color and energy of the orchestra were stirring something up in me. I wanted to make a film, but I wanted to base it on the true characters of the orchestra—so I began collecting this documentary footage.

I followed Walter around his store and picked up little moments with the girls backstage at shows and soaked in the essence of this magical cove of ladies in New York City. What I had at the end was a lot of random footage! I wanted to string the documentary into a larger story, so I began concocting ideas of integrating a child character who is “waking up” to the magic of the orchestra sort of the way I did. The movie takes some strange twists, but it allowed me to delve deeper into some ideas I hope to develop further in a feature this year!

And the “make your own movie” interlude?
I’d been brainstorming ways for film screenings to be less sit-and-watch and more hey-doesn’t-this-make-you-wanna-[fill in the blank]? Seeing movies has changed so much in the last ten years. You can watch almost anything from your home, so when people gather together for an event, I want to give them something meaty and interactive to hold onto! So, the intermission is a chance for the audience to get creative and improvise on their own terms with the orchestra members… and a giant frog… and some very large wooden mushrooms.

How will performance be integrated into the screening? How does it fit with Squeezebox?
Showing the movie just wouldn’t feel proper without the music of its inspiration: The Main Squeeze Orchestra. And actually, after I finished the short Squeezebox, I had some of the ladies of the orchestra work with acting geniuses Charlie Hewson and Adrian Jevicki to improvise scenes I wanted to explore in my feature. Adrian, who runs Movementpants Dance, will be MC-ing the event and performing a new work of his, so this event is really a coming-together of many of the Squeezebox collaborators!

You seem to be to be shooting for something like a jug band-style retro aesthetic—what’s attractive about that, from a storytelling perspective?
The film is set in the present, but the characters and their interactions have this sort of timeless quality—I think that is what has always struck me about the orchestra. They are all a bunch of ladies, with jobs or something like jobs, who live the New York of today, but when they get together to play, they leave the present and become part of a larger history of music, of the accordion, of vaudeville, of New York’s performance past. And that energy requires a different set of aesthetic rules: ones that call on nostalgia and timelessness.

And, incidentally, did you ever hear anything about what Marina Abromovic thought of your tribute at The Artist Is Present?
You know, I don’t think she got to see much of it!