What are the parallels between your work as an artist/performer and as artistic director of FiveMyles (a performance and exhibition space in Crown Heights, Brooklyn)?
Running FiveMyles is actually an on-going performance. People are in and out, I passionately explain the art on display (sometimes I have to fake it of course), the neighborhood kids come in to use the computer to do their homework – another performance, being the very concerned mother-type about the importance of studying – and then, of course, the young artists who need a performance in aesthetics, as to how their work should be best displayed. All this is about persuading someone to like something we offer, as every artist does with his or her work. Except that a performer, metaphorically speaking, looks the audience straight in they eye and tries to hypnotize them into believing and loving what they see.
A long time ago I worked as a bartender, and actually I would say that running FiveMyles and performing has quite a lot in common with bartending – being behind the bar and directing the whole show.
FiveMyles has this incredible fluidity between you as an artist and curator, the neighbors on the block, local and international artists and performers shown there, other arts organizations, and the greater Brooklyn community. How have all of these conversations and relationships throughout the years affected your work? Is there a significant shift that happened in your work after you founded FiveMyles?
I don’t think so at all. From the beginning, I’ve been interested in a theater of gestures, a kind of abstract theater that concentrates on gestures as symbols. Investigating how intensely I can produce gestures in objects and materials, in such a way that the audience reads them as expressive emotional statements, has been my challenge throughout my performing and art career. FiveMyles didn’t enter into this at all. My studio is adjacent to FiveMyles. The neighbors often come in and hang out while I’m working, and often someone will say, “That looks stupid.” But just as often, someone will say, “Heh, that’s what you should do with that aluminum siding,” and when I try it, it works! It might even be a kid who says it.
FiveMyles has become an integral part of Crown Heights, not only as a home for artists, but as a gathering place for the neighborhood. The area is currently going through some of the most rapid changes in all of New York City. How have these population changes and all of the tensions which surround them affected FiveMyles? Have these changes affected your work as an artist? How is it different than what happened in Soho, where you are also based?
I have never doubted that when we all moved into these lofts in Soho, 40 years ago, we replaced a way of life for the workers who worked in these small factories, day after day and for years sewing, welding, or whatever the product was. People who work together become close to each other, and all that was destroyed. In our neighborhood in Crown Heights it’s somewhat different, a whole community of families has been devastated.
When I first opened FiveMyles 14 years ago, it struck me right away how close everyone was on this particular block. On summer evenings everyone sat on the sidewalk. The gallery’s chairs were brought out, and I think even the dominos were kept at FiveMyles. The boys shot baskets and the girls double-dutched. It truly was like that. And when we had an opening, everyone often danced on the sidewalk, including the old ladies from the senior residency across the street.
This happens no more. The few kids who are left don’t play on the street any longer (although they play inside FiveMyles, which isn’t all that great for me), and the grown ups are too anxious about being evicted to enjoy leisurely summer evenings. Not to mention the strict surveillance by the police that has never happened before. A beer outside on a hot summer evening is a thing of the past.
The pain the neighborhood has gone through during the last six years or so has been tangible, and there isn’t any way that making art from this pain would mean much, because with our art we inevitably are preaching to the already converted.
FiveMyles needs much more organization and solid infrastructure than I am competent to give it. We need to be able to hire a managing director who manages things. But the catch-22 here that we function on kind of a shoestring, and the funding venues don’t really see why they should increase funding for FiveMyles. They say, “Look how well they do with so little.” Basically, we’re looking for a sugar daddy – but then, who isn’t? Theater-wise, I’ve started thinking about doing one of Gertrude Stein’s earliest plays, the random sentences that cover worlds of wisdom and emotions.
Hanne Tierney is currently the Artistic Director for FiveMyles, a performance and exhibition space in Brooklyn. Since 1980, she has been performing at venues and festivals around the world, including The Kitchen, NY; Franklin Furnace, Brooklyn; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; Espace Kiron, Paris; Akademie der Kuenste, Berlin; MoMA PS1, Long Island City, NY; Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn; and the Jim Henson Festival of International Puppet Theater, Long Island City, NY among others.