Artist Trimpin does not know what his May 14 performance will sound like, but he’ll have an idea soon. He discussed this upcoming show, The Gurs Zyklus (The Gurs Cycle), and his creative process at the Aurora Forum, moderated by founder Mark Gonnerman and art professor Paul DeMarinis in Pigott Theater Thursday night.
Trimpin, a Seattle-based multimedia artist, spoke of the creative process he experiences when he produces art. Much of his work, he said, is a result of trial and error.
He recalled a water installation that had been particularly challenging because he could not control the flow of the water. After pouring himself a glass of vodka while taking a break, he noticed that its flow was exactly what he wanted, but realized that he could not get away with an alcoholic sculpture.
“I asked the physicists why this was happening with water and not vodka, but after looking in the books for a week they came back and told me they don’t know,” he said. “A lot of this you really have to learn on the job.”
Beginning Monday, Trimpin’s team of performers will converge on Memorial Auditorium, where they will explore the way their instruments sound in the performance space and fit together the final pieces of their show. The performance will feature many such results of trial and error, including a harp played by water droplets and an organ played by fire.
“There’s still something about art practice that goes back to a very long time ago, before the era of patent disclosures and everything,” DeMarinis said. “There are these kinds of things you know how to do, things you know how to get out of materials because of this experience. It’s craft knowledge, something the hands know.”
Over the last year, Trimpin has been an artist in residence at the Farm, where he has dedicated much of his time to working on the cycle, a performance piece mixing unconventional instruments, music and other media focusing on Gurs, an internment camp in France during the Spanish Civil War and World War II. This performance will mark the end of his stay.
Though he was born almost a decade after the end of World War II, Trimpin felt a connection with the victims of the Holocaust from a young age when he stumbled upon an abandoned cemetery and tried to puzzle out the alien “symbols” on the gravestones. After learning that the symbols were Hebrew letters that spelled out the names of his hometown’s former Jewish residents — many of whom had been deported to Gurs in World War II — he became haunted by the atrocities of the war.
The name constantly resurfaced over the years. His musical mentor, Conlon Nancarrow, was held at Gurs during the Spanish Civil War. It was this continual cycle of violence that inspired the project’s name.
“I chose the title because in ways we didn’t learn anything in 70 years,” he said, noting that even today there are internment camps still operating — albeit under different names.
The performance will also feature the story of local resident Manfred Wildmann, who was held at Gurs during WWII. After reading about Trimpin’s project, he contacted the artist and shared with him the drawings he had made of the camp when he was a boy. Writings and mementos from other Gurs prisoners will also be shown during the performance.
“It’s part of my healing process,” he said. “This baggage isn’t something you can just shake off.”
The world premiere of The Gurs Zyklus will be held May 14 at 8 p.m. in Memorial Auditorium.