She’s got big, fabulous hair, a doctorate in performance studies, and a flair for personal style (she loves a strong shoulder, the color marigold, and graphic patterns). Below, she shares her most memorable performance (hint: it was 24 hours long), and why she’s thrilled sneakers are cool again. Meet Dr. Heather Warren-Crow.
Heather is a media theorist, a professor at the Texas Tech University School of Art, and a performance artist. [In the most basic sense, a performance artist puts on acts, often for a live audience, that can involve dance, music or poetry, to challenge society’s perceptions of topics like psychology, gender or politics.]
On her style: “I always look forward to the street-style pictures from the menswear [runway] shows. All those lady fashion editors in three-piece suits… I’ve decided that when I get tired of figuring out what to wear in the morning (it only takes me 5 minutes, but still), I’ll buy six different sharply tailored pantsuits and cycle through them.” Her favorite designers? Iris van Herpen, Alexander McQueen, and Riccardo Tisci.
On the comeback of sneakers in high fashion: “I am so happy about the wide range of sneakers and menswear-style lace-up shoes available now (the early 2000s were rough). My feet are really narrow, so I can’t wear any slip-on shoes like ballet flats or slides or loafers, ironic or otherwise. I adore a good old-school high top and am holding on to passé flatforms [see here] for dear life because I like being both comfortable and taller.”
On her book Girlhood and the Plastic Image: “The book had a long development. I love a good list, so here’s one: Jan Svankmajer’s Alice (which combines stop-motion and live-action filmmaking); the racial politics of the Olsen Twins’ New York Minute; Catherine Driscoll’s book Girls; the old Apple commercial that references 1984 (run, Anya, run); makeover television; Orlan; the animation theory of Sergei Eisenstein (a radical filmmaker who loved really crappy Disney films); crappy Disney films; the history of morphing; old predictions of the technology of the future; turn-of-the-20th- and turn-of-the-21st-century animation; fairy tales in which a character transforms from one thing into another; plastic surgery; Weird Science.”
“I’m actually a pretty introverted person. People assume I’m an extrovert who loves being the center of attention. Um, no. Most of my performances are mortifying. But embarrassment is worth exploring, too, right?”
On where she gets her crazy-cool patterned leggings (she was wearing yellow and black ones when we met):“Romwe.com. So cheap, and sometimes they have the strangest designs. Take a look at their printed t-shirts.”
On girlphobia (a notion explored in Girlhood and the Plastic Image) and what it means: “Girlishness, as I see it, is understood as a certain adaptability (Good! You change with the times! You develop! You perfect yourself!) and impressionability (Bad! You change too much! Your sense of self is too unstable! You’re too focused on what others think of you!), as openness and vulnerability. Girlphobia and girlphilia refer to a love/hate relationship with girlishness.”
On her hair: “It’s thick. Very thick. Straightening my hair makes my arm fall asleep and my brain go all Homer Simpson. It’s easier to emphasize the curl than yank it into submission. I just decided to make it my thing.”
On stage fright: ”I am not unduly hindered by stage fright. I’m more troubled by the assumptions people can make about me in real life based on the fact that I’m a performance artist. I’m actually a pretty introverted person. People assume I’m an extrovert who loves being the center of attention. Um, no. Most of my performances are mortifying. But embarrassment is worth exploring, too, right?”
On her most memorable performance (a collaboration with her husband, Seth, at Glasshouse gallery in Brooklyn, December 2013): “There was terrible weather in Texas, and our flight was delayed for a couple of days. We ended up getting to New York only a few hours before the performance and, as these things go all too often, the airline lost our bags with all of our gear. After spending a few minutes crying and swearing in the airport, we decided to proceed. The only clothes we had were the ones we were wearing. We bought a couple of matching velour track suits in mid-2000s electric coral, rented some audio gear, and started our—did I tell you this?—24-hour-long participatory endurance performance of reading confessions into a microphone. We were so zonked that in the middle of the night we put up a sign that directed the audience to wake us up if they wanted to see us do our thing. The best listeners were there from 2 to 4 a.m.: Maria Chavez and Daniel Neumann, two fantastic sound artists. One of my favorite participants was a passerby who showed up stinkin’ drunk and then fell asleep sitting upright holding a pizza box. Shout out to Lital Dotan and Eyal Perry of Glasshouse, who created a space for loving, living with, feeling, and contemplating performance.”
I met Heather this past April in a tiny Brooklyn project space the size of a garage. There she showcased a screening of short videos made up of her work, and that of three of her former students (including video performance artist Dayna Moses — you can read more about her here). I was inspired by the incredibly in-depth discussion that Heather led afterwards (about the meaning of “performance,” including how the Internet and pop culture has affected it), and her cool, eclectic style. Thank you to Heather for providing photos and answering my long list of questions – she’s pretty awesome. Learn more about her here.
Photos (from top to bottom) by Seth Warren-Crow and Naomi Shersty.