An Expanding Voice: Joseph Keckler
Interdisciplinary performance artist Joseph Keckler captivates audiences with his vivid, imagined worlds. Whether creating a dialogue between art forms or channeling the voices of talking beasts, his performances are one-of-a-kind. Keckler spoke to us about his creative process while preparing for an upcoming European engagement.
I suppose I am a singer, a monologist, and a conceptual artist.
What is the through line among all of your artistic work?
I’ve noticed that my work, which ranges from absurd to abstract, ridiculous to “realistic”, often centers around characters who are in states of longing and dislocation. Some examples– a voice that has escaped its master, a cat lady who wants to be an artist and casts her felines in domestic dramas, a creature on a mission to recover his tail (even though it has been hacked off and eaten!) I think that even my pieces themselves want to be something else. My ballads wish they were plays and my essays dream of becoming production numbers. I move between genres, in search of my own hacked-off tail!
The rationale behind pieces like “Talking Beasts” may not be evident to your audience. How much do you explain to them about a performance?
That sequence is based on a pre-Christian legend that animals acquire the power of speech on the day now known as Christmas Eve. In performance, I do it first and explain it later. It would feel much cheesier the other way around. In general, I want the audience to be engaged and excited and mentally active. For that to happen, they can’t be told where they are at all times. It’s more thrilling to go back and forth between the explained and the unexplained. And in certain instances I have a logic that doesn’t need to be revealed, a line of thinking that may be important to my process, but isn’t necessary for the audience to know.
What are some of your favorite collaborations?
Off the top of my head… currently photographer Michael Sharkey and I are working on a moving image project, using a monologue of mine, and I’m also appearing in a video installation by Katja Loher, which will premiere in Brazil in the fall. (I’m completely silver and I’ll be inside a big glass bubble!) I’m working on videos with Zack Kinney, Ned Stresen-Reuter, and Laura Terruso. I often work with a violinist named Dan Bartfield-on live and recorded music, as well as on underscoring text. I’ve appeared in composer/director/performer John Moran’s work, and he’s produced some of my music. Actress Erin Markey and I have written plays about limbo and bawdy performance pieces together. Songwriter Melaena Cadiz and I work together too. She’s also my cousin…
My most recent is an EP called Featured Creatures, which was released in Italy with Kamikazes and Other People, a book of poems by Gian Maria Annovi. He describes the collection as being about “exploding subjectivity”, illustrating the concept by saying that, in a way, a Kamikaze only becomes a Kamikaze at the moment that s/he ceases to exist altogether. I tried to create songs that linked to that idea, exploring themes of multiple identity and shapeshifting. And I wrote a song about a kamikaze, but mine is a pop star. Because pop stars “blow up”, ba dum dum.
Why did you join Fractured Atlas?
Fiscal sponsorship gives me access to grant applications that only for 501(c)3 organizations are eligible for. As I begin fundraising, it also makes sense for me to incentivize donating with tax deduction. I realize there are a plethora of other opportunities that I have yet to take advantage of.
I have a six-night run in Amsterdam in September. The piece I’m creating is called “A Voice and Nothing More.” For the first iteration of this show, I’m going to revamp and perform a couple of tried-and-true monologues and songs that address the idea of “voice”, presented in a loose, cabaret style. In addition to those, though, I’m creating a great amount of new material for the night. The “concert” will be interrupted by a voice teacher who appears on screen, a la a silent film star, to give me singing tips. That’s when the real show begins. At this point everything I do becomes operatic, literally. I’ll be singing in Italian with supertitles, while this vocal guru is trapped inside a silent film. So a film and an opera become two different art forms having a dialogue. That’s a way for me to address the difference between art forms. I can try to inhabit both and actually stage a conversation between them.
First image courtesy of Michael Sharkey. Second image (of Joseph Keckler and Gian Maria Annovi) courtesy of Matthu Placek.