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Rachel Green is Making Experiences from Installations

By Jeffrey Rindskopf

The room is dark when the performance begins, except for the dim video of a woman floating across blue water projected onto four sectional windows, carefully suspended at 45-degree angles from the high ceilings. In the darkness, Rachel Green begins singing in a made-up, but nonetheless hypnotic, language while Daniel Salo plays piano just behind her.

The projectors brighten in response to sound, so as the haunting vocals and piano swell together, the video illuminates the entire space. The performance ends, and the video brightens once more from the enthusiastic applause of an audience that includes myself and a class of middle-schoolers from Bellevue’s Open Window School.

This performance was among the first to showcase “Forgetting of Being,” an installation designed by Green and Salo as part of their three-month New Media residence at the Jack Straw Cultural Center. Though they’ve already held multiple performances in the space, the installation isn’t yet complete—only in the midst of evolving further.

In the past, I’ve had a performance for an opening or closing of the installation,” Green explains, “but this is the first piece that’s marked by chapters, where we bring people in one month at a time and present how things have changed.”

The final performance is scheduled for March 3, by which time Green and Salo will have refined the responsive sound effects, added new physical layers to the space, and maybe incorporated movement and poetry into their performance.

Previously Green was interested only in poetry and movement, but then discovered installation art about five years ago, after performing for a friend’s woven-grass installation in Magnuson Park. Almost immediately she was hooked, fascinated by the medium’s range of possibilities and the intention put into every detail.

I’m drawn to installation art because of the freedom,” she says. “It’s an immersive world, so nothing’s off limits. It gives me the opportunity to combine many mediums—music, film, poetry, sculpture—into one.”

Salo has been composing the music for all of Green’s pieces since 2014, when she first heard his work as part of a theatrical performance and reached out to begin their fruitful collaboration.

We work well together because we both believe in one another’s creative visions entirely, and we’re both drawn to the same aesthetic of minimalism,” Green says.

Typically, Green would plan an installation around certain “visions”—some just simple images, and others more complex sensations or experiences—that she catalogs in her journal over time and then applies to a specific space. She would then discuss her plan for the installation with Salo so he could begin composing the appropriate musical accompaniment, but from the beginning, “Forgetting of Being” was different.

A year ago, they applied together for the residency at Jack Straw, proposing an installation that would experiment with responsive sound design, video and performance aspects, but their vision for the installation has had to evolve based on the limitations of their space.

You figure so much out, just working with physical objects and seeing how you can put things together,” Green says.

To begin, she and Salo spent several days building a new wooden floor over the room’s original carpeting, allowing them to install evenly-spaced contact microphones beneath the new floor. They then wired the microphones up the walls to the projectors, and Salo wrote his own programming script so the video would brighten in response to vibrations in the room.

Hanging the antique windows for use as makeshift projection screens was another ordeal. It took some time and figuring out to achieve the right angle to project the video properly, but Green was determined to find a way to truly integrate film into this installation.

I was interested in finding a way to bring video into an installation in a way that feels truly blended,” she says. “It can be challenging for a video not to feel overpowering in a space like this.”

With “Forgetting of Being,” Green wanted to push the aesthetics of her installation art in new directions. But more abstractly, she wanted to create a space of tranquility, and saw this balance between the installation’s physical and filmic aspects as essential to achieving that feeling.

You’re less conscious of yourself when there’s a balance and a harmony to the space,” she says.

There are still plans to fine-tune this immersive world—namely, to record a new video, and to replace the music that currently plays in the room between performances with a sparse soundtrack of field recordings, which should better showcase the installation’s responsive aspects for future performances.

Eventually, they plan to combine “Forgetting of Being” with two to three other installations to create one large-scale project from the individualized pieces. That project may yet be a ways away, but for now, Green and Salo can continue fine-tuning tranquility for their next performance.