DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Fierce Fire


Still from "Inner Heat", video by Fred Hatt with Corinna Brown

If you emerge from a hot tub or shower into the cold night, you may see rivulets of steam rising from your skin.  If the environment is dark and a light source illuminates the steam from behind, you can see it clearly.  A runner on a chilly morning may also generate steam from the body, but it’s usually difficult to see in daylight.

Still from "Inner Heat", video by Fred Hatt with Corinna Brown

My longtime friend and collaborator, Corinna Hiller Brown, a butoh dancer and movement therapist, had the idea of trying to capture this effect on video, combined with trancelike butoh dance.  On a snowy winter night in 2005, in my studio in Brooklyn, we turned off the heat, opened all the windows and doors, and pulled a box fan out of off-season storage, trying to get the room as cold as possible.  Corinna repeatedly got in and out of a hot shower, so when she entered the chilly studio her skin would steam for a couple of minutes – just enough to get a quick take.  Later that same night, I filmed the snowflakes eddying under the street lamps outside.

There was no way to assemble the fragments of dance into a connected choreography, but the slow downward drift of the snow through shifting currents of air worked well as a transitional element, echoing in reverse the movement of the glowing steam curling up from the warm skin.  The first, simple edit of this material was used as a projection element with “My Love Bleeds Fire”, a choreographed piece that Corinna premiered at the Cool New York Dance Festival at White Wave.

Still from "Inner Heat", video by Fred Hatt with Corinna Brown

Seven years later, I’ve finally completed a version of the video that I feel stands alone as a piece of poetic cinema.  For the soundtrack, multi-instrumentalist Gregory Reynolds created a jangly droning sound with swelling bass notes, which I mixed with recordings I’d made of ocean surf and rain.

Still from "Inner Heat", video by Fred Hatt with Corinna Brown

For me, the film is a vision of the warmth of life in the cold world.  I described it thus:  “The body is a slow flame, a campfire in the snow, a star in the vastness of space, a pulsing heart in the ocean.”  Every living being is a kind of fire.  Metabolism is combustion.  Life force is like a flame, cohering as long as it consumes experience, adhering to the body as a candle flame clings to its wick.  The heart and mind of a sentient being give warmth and light into the world.

Still from "Inner Heat", video by Fred Hatt with Corinna Brown

The title, “Inner Heat”, refers to a traditional Tibetan meditation practice called tummo.  A combination of breathing exercises and highly focused visualizations can produce enough heat in the body to survive in the snows of the Himalayas.  This is more than just legendary tantric magic, as Harvard researchers have documented the ability of experienced tummo practitioners to produce striking changes in body heat and other supposedly autonomic bodily functions.

Still from "Inner Heat", video by Fred Hatt with Corinna Brown

I suggest viewing this video as a meditation.  Give yourself over to the waves of slow movement and feel the warmth generating within your own belly and heart, and be a source of light in the darkness.  The video is embedded below (except in the email subscription version of the blog), or click the link to see “Inner Heat” on my Vimeo page.



Shadows from Fred Hatt on Vimeo.

In 2007, I created this performance at CRS with butoh performer Corinna Brown.  Corinna was previously seen here in the post Emergence.  The music is a live improvisation by Dan Fabricatore on upright bass.

This is a shadowplay and a painting performance.  The use of shadows on a translucent screen allows us to play with the relative scale of the performers.

In one of my artist’s statements, I said “The act of drawing, like dancing or making music, is a highly focused form of movement in time. The expressive power of drawing is all about rhythm and flow, feeling and modulation. So I have been drawn to try to capture the qualities of movement through drawing, and to explore drawing itself as a performance art.”  I’ve been doing drawing/painting performances for many years.  This is the first one to appear on this blog.

If the embedded file above doesn’t play smoothly on your computer, try this slightly lower-resolution version.

This week I’ll be leading workshops at the Sirius Rising festival at the Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, New York, so I won’t have the chance to do a new post until after July 19.  See you then.



Emergence from Fred Hatt on Vimeo.  2003, duration 13:45

Butoh dancers use breath and visualizations projected within and around the body to embody elemental forces and to explore pre-verbal sensations and experiences.  It’s a form of dance that arose in Japan in the ferment of experimental art and postwar radicalism starting in the late 1950’s.  You may find that this video tries your patience, but if you surrender to it, this kind of performance can alter your perception of time.

Emergence is an improvised performance by butoh dancers Corinna Brown and Craig Colorusso.  Corinna is a long time friend with whom I have collaborated many times, and you’re sure to see more of her here.  I videotaped this performance on May 31, 2003, at a performance at a Brooklyn loft party/art exhibit that was a fundraiser for oceanic ecology.  The recorded music is by Diving Bell, a duo consisting of Craig Colorusso, also seen dancing here, and Joel Westerdale.

There was supposed to be a special spot light for this performance.  I was to videotape, using Corinna’s old Sony Hi8 format camcorder.  But as the performance began, the spot light failed to work.  The space was almost completely dark.  I wasn’t getting anything on tape.  Thinking quickly, I switched the camera over to the NightShot mode, which records in monochrome in dark conditions, and pulled the Mini MagLite out of my back pocket.  This is one of the tiny AAA battery ones, not very bright, but bright enough for NightShot and bright enough to let the audience see the performance in the dark loft.  Holding the camera with the right hand and the light with the left, I used thumb and forefinger to change the focus of the light, causing a ring of brightness to expand and contract around the performers.

The look of this video is all thanks to an accident and a seat-of-the-pants solution.  The eerie greenish whiteness, the looming shadows and pulsing aura, would not have been part of this video had the intended lighting not malfunctioned.  And yet it’s perfect.  Not only does it stylistically fit the performance in the video, I think the dim and eerie hand-held light also enhanced the live performance.  The stage light would have separated the performers from the crowd and made people stand back, but the darkness drew people into it and made it more intimate.

Chaos is an artist.  When she emerges to collaborate with you, do not refuse her, but welcome her and answer her openly and freely, and she will impart something better than you could have conceived.

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