There are a handful of artists in the city who’s talent and presence still intimidate me, people who I’m dying to work with but even after a handful of introductions can’t seem to find my land legs around because of the sheer power they emanate from stage (or paper, or gallery wall, whichever the case may be). Ever since I first saw Lisa Marie Brimmer as a core part of the Patrick’s Cabaret show A Tribe Called Queer, she has been at the top of that list. Since then her resume has grown exponentially, including an OutSpoken feature, a few more shows at Patrick’s, and work with well-respected theatre companies like Savage Umbrella, just to name a (very small) few. Brimmer always has a million projects going on, and I was extra excited to sit down and here more about her art in her own words and see what was coming down the hatch for her.
For starters, introduce yourself and your work:
Lisa Marie Brimmer: She/Her/Hers; Writer / Collaborator / Performance Artist / Director
This is always the hardest question: I guess my work is funny and personal and political. Not always in the same order, and not always all at once. As a Midwesterner that has known both rural and city life I think both experiences are in there and I think that my work holds some kind of tension there. I describe myself as a Queer Black Transracial Adoptee and I hope my art reflects at least a little of those dimensions of myself.
What type of work are you generally drawn to when seeking out inspiration or to deepen your own relationship with your work or mediums?
I’m definitely drawn to visual art when trying to deepen my craft or find inspiration for a new piece. The news is definitely an inspiration as well. I really like working in devised theater settings or more collaborative settings. Collaborative creative environtments really energize me because everyone brings so much to being present and there is this charge that comes from all of that. I feel like words get into conversations with the ways that actors bodies knowledge about a scene or a feeling or some wisdom and brilliant things happen. I think that is what really provides momentum for my artistic work is that collaborative relationship: audience and spoken word poetry, music and visual collaborators, actor and composition, character and script. It’s so cool to see what stands out, comes up, rises through. It’s all about collaboration and competition. There is something combative about it, something productive.
As our society evolves and changes so quickly, what topics or themes do you see being brought to light that you’ve ALWAYS discussed and worked towards in your work? How do you see those conversations evolving, and do you think that’s a good thing or do you have concerns–or both?
In 2011, I did a piece called the Great American Loneliness Project that explored the, sort of, liminal relationship between the American desire for Individualism and the need for community. In that piece I attempted to say that in our highly self-selective age of digital media with these broad and many social interactions we, as communities, were actually growing apart. At that time, more Americans, high and above over any other time in American history, live alone. In this era, when we needed sugar we didn’t borrow a cup from our neighbors, we got into our own car and go to the store and get sugar. This work was highlighting the exceptionally strong divide in 2011 America. This divide has become more only more explicit. Look at where we live now- 2017 marks the inauguration of President Donald Trump. If I would have told you this would happen in 2011, you would have thought it a cute joke but his rise to power has been enabled by the very divide between neo-liberals and neo-conservatives that now some argue is a false divide and that our society is becoming evermore conservative- or at least our voting options are. As we now see the continued elevation of a spectrum that is skewed conservative. The moderate nature of our electorate is less explicit, but it remains clear that we have isolated to a place that we don’t know our neighbors. I guess I think that the way social media is being used now in these past few years, is about figuring out how to create these online communities. Sometimes I think social media has brought us closer. But I suppose too, we have to use it as a tool otherwise it is simply another weapon of distraction and oppression. The thing that I walk with now is that I really think it can be both.
In 2016 I began working on a project called INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY (IP) with Savage Umbrella it was an examination of power and leadership in U.S culture. This speculative 2066 U.S. is sorely drained of resources and hosts incredible disparities in wealth and privilege. IP looks at communal thought, survival strategies of the individual and U.S. type communities. I’m really interested the connections and differences between communal thoughts and zeitgeist ideas: right, like what we think and what our generations become defined as as historical events unfold. I was specifically interested in what makes a leader and what makes a follower, how are folks hungry for power and how do they behave in this world.
I suppose popular conversation caught up with me pretty quickly on this last piece. I think it is both a waking up or dawning of a new era whom some are calling the Resistance Era. Right, we are so interested in branding something, naming something, controlling something, that we are making it a thing while mid-early resistance visibility. I think there is something happening where people have started to accommodate or believe in this notion that we are in the 21st century. It maybe is a further examination of that very individualism that felt dangerous a few years ago, maybe it is learning more about itself now and is ready to approach how we enjoy and require community in the 21st Century. The fact that we are having the conversation is good, but words don’t always translate as easily to action. The fact that some people(s) are too proud to admit that White Supremacy exists and is dangerous to everyone, including “white” folks is fear inspiring. I’m afraid that as a community dwelling on this land, we might not learn our economic, ecologic, political and ethical lessons fast enough to heal and progress as a nation. Is it too late or not, I don’t know if I’m that pessimistic. I don’t necessarily know that I’m not either.
With a window of historic events cracked so snuggly as to only let in the Charleston shooting, Jamar Clark’s death and the Occupation of the Fourth Precinct here in Minneapolis which both took place in 2015, the 2016 Presidential Election, the #NoDAPL movement and Standing Rock’s persistence against U.S. incursions on the sovereignty of Indigenous land & peoples, the Pulse attack in Orlando on Queer & Latinx communities, it is emphatically clear that we live in a country that is both divided and dangerous. It is emphatically clear that we don’t know the best way forward or rather are split into multiple streams of action both direct and indirect. It is emphatically clear that U.S. history is rife with rhetorical and physical assaults against the survival of migrant, indigenous, people(s) of color, Muslim, Jewish, Latinx, Queer folx. It is less emphatically clear what the way forward is. If I get any tips, I’ll tell you.
What role in these changes and conversations do you see art playing right now? How do you see yourself or your work’s role in that?
For years I have believed in art as a sanctuary for healing as some sort of ritual, ceremony, offering. Not just for the artist, but also for the audience member as well. I suppose I held art on this pedestal… that it was so powerful was empowering in a way. In some ways, maybe I still think that it is true. I suppose now I believe that art’s place is not only for healing, but for driving dialogue. But I also know that dialogue is not enough. Dialogue is nothing without action. And now I think, maybe, that art is a weapon. That it needs to cut. It needs to challenge. It needs to be the kind of friend that tells you not to wear those shoes with that top. The kind of friend you trust and respect, but don’t always follow. I think for a long time we were figuring out how to tell stories of what has happened; I think in this moment that we might need to focus on what we need to survive moving forward.
Art bears the responsibility of our survival because it offers us an opportunity to record survival strategies. It provides an opportunity to share wisdom and thought provoking encouragement. It is incredibly high minded to think that art may outweigh science in this era. But I’m not about to say that art can’t do that or isn’t able to do that. Does that make this a renaissance? Art seems to be the epitome of 21st Century thinking. It gives no fucks, so to speak, it can be anything, everywhere, from anyone. Art can wake the dead and fill their mouths with rich sentences and allow us to imagine a way forward through all this mess. Art is both question and answer. Art is reason and direction. Art is lust and hope and tears and dread all at once. We need all of these things, more to the point, we need to practice all of these things right now.
Where do I see myself and my work’s role up in all of that? I know I will keep trying to do it well and often as possible. My working projects are a collection of poetry or something much like poetry and a continuing to investigate INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. I believe that is my work right now. To keep asking questions to keep hoping to keep finding reason and direction, to find a way out, up or through. Art is my survival strategy right now and writing is how I process things. My role is to figure out how to survive in this climate and in my role at work it is to support other writers in the craft of practicing art and sharing their resources and knowledge with each other. I don’t really put it down. I don’t really see my role as super specific, rather I see that I need to keep practicing art and trust that part of the process.
What role do you think audiences play in this new era, and what do we as artists need from them?
We, as ever, need folks to show up to our shows. We need folks to read our stuff, and share it with their friends. It is all a part of finding each other again. Having deep conversations with your people about your hopes and dreams and fears and embarrassments. Audiences, and this includes artists as audience members, have the opportunity to show up for each other and listen and respond with compassion and honesty. I guess, we need an engaged audience now more than ever. We don’t necessarily need a passive audience who is just out here to update their insta feed. Artists struggle over the page or in the rehearsal room trying to create something honest to share with you and if you don’t chew it around a little bit how will you get any of that nourishment.
There is something so important about experiencing live art. People are beautiful, go be with them, go watch, respond, ask questions. These are members of your community who want you to see their work. That’s awfully special, right? That’s awfully vulnerable. Perhaps you will love it or hate it. Who knows. Not everything is for you. I think there might be a path back towards each other if we are able to sit through something and not turn away because we don’t agree with the content: too progressive or too restrictive or too unlike ourselves or too alike our histories. Our experience of life has become so censored in a way as it has become so digitized. We only see what we already think.
Switching gears, what draws you into your work from an artistic standpoint? What drives you to choose the mediums or styles that you do from an artistic point of view?
On one hand it is, “what is being asked of me?”. Am I being asked to contribute to a literary magazine or a showcase? As a multi genre artist who dabbles in playwrighting, poetry, music & improvisation and arts based community organizing and I look at them as tools that can be bent and combined to connect the content with an audience. I’m really interested in like pulling from a little bit of each whenever I plan something, right now I’ve been really into writing poetry and short essays.
What work from your impressive portfolio are you most proud of?
My improv collaborative High Society. We had a good long run of 3 years down at the Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar. We collaborated with 30+ artists in that time. Created work around topical subjects, enjoyed community with a great audience of both many and few. I honed much of my voice on that stage outside of the traditional slam scene and investigated my relationship with spoken word at its root… I got my land legs as an artist through that work and it was a ton of fun.
What’s next for you, and how can we catch you in action or otherwise support your work?
I am working on an article that will be up online in the next few months, can’t say where yet or what about but beyond that I have readings coming up with the 555 Reading Series at the Triple Watt on Feb 28, 2017; Queer Voices Reading Series at Intermedia Arts on March 28, 2017 and have a few things lined up in May with Patrick’s Cabaret and at the Troubador.