A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Saint Hildegard von Bingen and the Palisades: An Interview with Sindy Butz

Danni Shen, Curatorial Fellow in Visual Arts, organizes and interprets exhibitions at Wave Hill.

Sindy Butz‘s artistic practice spans the disciplines of performance art, photography, video and sculptural installation through time-based projects and historical narrative. In her performances, she pushes herself to the limits of mental and physical exhaustion in order to amplify feelings and emotions visually, embodying the transformation and exploring the tension between the fragility and crystallization of time. Her parallel performing arts practice in dance involves the study of butoh and other contemporary dance techniques. She has held the position of principal dancer at the New York Butoh Dance Company, Vangeline Theater, since 2010. During Winter Workspace 2016, Butz is developing a new project based on a site-specific study of the Palisades―a steep cliff formation across the Hudson River from Wave Hill―and the medicinal and botanical research of 11th-century German nun Saint Hildegard von Bingen.

Butz will be in Glyndor Gallery this Saturday, March 26, from noon to 3:30PM, when the Open Studios for Winter Workspace 2016 Session II take place.


Danni Shen: How do you go about the filming process in your practice?

Sindy Butz: Filming and photography have become a very important part of documenting the ephemeral nature of my art performances. I enjoyed experimenting more with the camera during the residency, and treated the process of filming almost like painting or sculpting. I did many different composition tests, which involved several studies of the same sights under different weather conditions, and repeated body movements until I reached a fluidity of movement and composition. Originally, I intended to work with studio lights but quickly switched to natural light in all the shoots because the light in Wave Hill is just so amazing to work with. My process here definitely helped me to slow down, be more focused and not get distracted by the character of life in New York City.

DS: What aspects of Wave Hill have you been drawn to while filming? What do you usually look for in a landscape or built environment?

SB: I feel very drawn to religious architecture, poetic spaces, sacred spaces and monumental historic places. The more time I spent at Wave Hill during the residency, the more I discovered these specific spaces on the grounds. Armor Hall was perfect for me because it has some of the religious architectural atmosphere of a small church. At certain angles, the outside of Armor Hall reminded me of a European monastery or castle. Both spaces were perfect as settings for my video homage to Hildegard of Bingen, a saint from the 12th century. The beautiful gardens, trees and buildings of Wave Hill also gave me infinite inspiration for poetic spaces. The fact that we had a mild winter and that I was able to witness and enjoy all the spring flowers coming out was ideal. I filmed almost every day here and it helped me to further define what aesthetics I am looking for in my own personal video and photography work. My projects at Wave Hill have become very architecturally driven and now include an unexpected series about all the fireplaces of Wave Hill. I am interested in visually capturing how a fireplace becomes the centerpiece of the room and attracts almost indescribable attention.


DS: How is your project Carry the Palisades, and research on Saint Hildegard von Bingen, going?

SB: I have visited the Palisades and shot a lot of photos and video, mainly to study the surface of the rocks. I have made sketches and mock-ups and am planning to continue this project after my time here in the Winter Workspace is over. I want to create an installation of large-scale drawings of the Palisades, with ceramic boulders that will be carried in a durational performance. I have mainly worked on An Homage to Hildegard of Bingen during my time at Wave Hill. I visited several places in the gardens and buildings and personified her in my videos. I imagined how she may have perceived space around her and how she observed time. I am curious about her emotional well-being, health issues and what she may have went through as a woman during the 12th century,living behind monastery walls in a world ruled by male leaders and monks. While I was studying her writings on the properties of healing plant and psychosomatics, I invented two teas based on this knowledge. “Uplift-Caeleste Gandium” (Heavenly Joy) and “Breath-Virtue Contempus Mundi” (Letting Go) are named after her 35 virtues and vices. Participants in the workshop I led at Wave Hill [on March 20) got to taste them first and really enjoyed them!

DS: What led you to becoming interested in looking more deeply at her as a figure, as well as in her medicinal science studies of rocks and botanicals?

SB: A couple years ago I was researching medieval music and I came across her beautiful compositions. I started reading more about her life and what she knew about herbs, medicine, healing stones and psychosomatic concepts. I have been interested in homeopathy and alternative medicine for more than 10 years and was impressed that Hildegard’s knowledge was lost for hundreds of years. She was someone who believed in a holistic healing approach, which was basically completely erased in the western world for many centuries. I mostly became interested in her because she was often described as unruly, adventurous and tenacious. She left behind some of the most extensive writings of the medieval period. In her Giant Codex, a book that weighs 15 kilograms, one can find a mystical language she invented as well. She was even open about sexuality in her writing, and is considered to be the first person to describe the female orgasm.Sindy-Butz-2

DS: How about your dance practice? Does that ever inform your art practice?

SB: I see my dance practice more as paralleling my work. As a child and teenager, I danced in a children’s dance theater in Germany. Since moving to New York in 2009, I have rediscovered dance and started to study mainly butoh dance and ballet. In 2010, I became a principal dancer for the New York Butoh company, Vangeline Theater. Vangeline is my main dance mentor, but I have also studied a lot with Maureen Fleming, Diego Pinon and Tadashi Endo. I am currently studying somatic movement and Body-Mind-Dancing with Martha Eddy. This will conclude in a teacher certification. Dance is inspiring and healing. It helps me problem-solve for my visual art projects, and has made me become more social. It also helps me understand where my body limits, are as well as my mental limits. The more I train, the more I am capable of doing very challenging long-duration performance art pieces. Dance still only indirectly informs my art-making practice because I choose not to dance in my performance work.

DS: What are your inspirations?

SB: I love traveling, museum visits, dance, watching history documentaries about medieval Europe, religion, philosophy, medical science and German history! I usually get the most ideas from learning new little details. I also find inspiration in researching behavioral studies, field studies in human perception and in notions of time, as well as the impact of poetic spaces. And I also love teas, herbs and fragrances. Scent definitely inspires me and triggers memories and thought processes.

DS: Where do you see your practice heading?

SB: After the completion of the Winter Workspace residency, I intend to review all of my video footage and start editing. My next step is to fabricate video installations and video sculptures. I will continue to do performance art but want to expand my practice into different media. I am especially looking forward to going back into the ceramic studio and pairing my video footage with small porcelain sculptures.

Pictured above, from the top:
Sindy Butz,  Homage to Hildegard (working title), 2016, video still, 1080p HD video w/sound. Photo by Wave Hill.
Sindy Butz
, Fireplace Series- Toscanini Room, 2016, video still, 1080p HD video w/sound. Courtesy of the artist.
Sindy Butz,
Homage to Hildegard–No Joculatrix, 2016, video still, 1080p HD video w/sound. Courtesy of the artist.

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