By: Alison Wick, Arts Editor
Julie Hammond is a Vancouver artist whose practice focuses on place and identity. She recently completed her MFA in Contemporary Arts at SFU in 2017, and her grad project is being mounted again this week for the rEvolver festival at the Cultch.
Other Inland Empires is the fictionalized real story of Hammond’s quest to learn to surf in Slovakia. The desire to explore the surf culture of a landlocked country came from Hammond’s discovery that the iconic California surfer girl “Gidget” was the daughter of Jewish refugees, prompting Hammond to explore her own Jewish roots in Eastern Europe and think about this timeline and cultural exchange in reverse.
Past works of Hammond’s like Object Karaoke (2018 and 2019) ask what stories objects and places hold and how these histories affect our experiences in the present. This kind of site specificity and spatial recognition are core components of her work — including in this show, which is regularly changing location.
“There is something that’s funny about theatre spaces because they are blank and not. We are trained as audience members to think of them as anywhere but they are very particular and each venue not only has its own shape and its own quirks…but the spaces also have the memory and the archive of all the things that have been there before.”
This is not only the memories of the space itself, but the memories that we bring as audience members. Hammond talked about having a sense of being at the theatre for the specific performance but also being aware of everything else she has seen in the space.
For Other Inland Empires, she includes these acknowledgements of place in the show itself, not simply added on to the theatre introduction or in the program. In the opening scenes of the show, the characters’ dialogue include lines about the territories the play is being performed on and the theatre in which they are performing. Weaving these changing realities and considerations of space into the show itself refuses to let the audience dissolve themselves into the narrative. Neither does it let the narrative dissolve into itself and forget that it’s a performance taking place on a stage in real time.
This multi-layered and in-between experience is what Hammond explored in her masters research, an experience which she calls a “shimmer”. This was a recurring theme throughout her research and preparation for this show as she traveled to Eastern Europe. She found, among other elements of Eastern European surf culture, an indoor tropical island built in a former air ship factory on the site of a Nazi air force base.
“It’s a very weird sense to be there…that’s really where this idea of shimmer came up for me,” she says of this tropical theme park, where the real and fake intersect and begin to blend together. The physical space has changed so much yet remains unchanged at the same time.
A parallel history can be found in the town her grandparents were born in, Prešov, Slovakia, whose nationality and governance were in flux for almost a century. “The site is remaining the same or the land is the same,” Hammond says, “but all of the signifiers around it are changing and moving.” This research and these experiences greatly inform the show, which is above all about the relationship between sense, place, and self.
Complete with family recordings, archival projections, blow-up palm trees, and a plastic sunset, Other Inland Empires promises to be a personal, inventive, and unforgettable show full of shimmer.
Other Inland Empires will be playing at the rEvolver festival at the Cultch May 22—26 before travelling to Portland to perform at the Playhouse June 26—30.