here are certain spaces, philosopher Michel Foucault suggested in a 1986 essay, that “are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality.” These murky domiciles, both metaphoric and concrete, typically exist unnoticed among the categories and constructs we use to make sense of our world: the biological and synthetic, the still and the frenetic, the sacred and the profane.
Cherie Sampson, an associate professor of art at MU, uses choreographed movement, projected video and installation art to physically inhabit such spaces — places she calls “found landscapes,” constructed environments that speak strongly of ritual and rebirth.
With movements that evoke Japanese Butoh — itself a playfully seditious form of contemporary performance art — classical dance forms and shadowy ancient ceremonies, Sampson uses art to make herself, if not the embodiment of nature, then something akin to its human avatar; an enigmatic, liminal figure existing both within and apart from its mysteries.
Sampson’s early work was created in Scandinavia’s arctic region, where she used analog video to record movement-based pieces set among “boreal landscapes of moss, peat, tundra, forest and ice and snow.” Today she continues to create her unique form of theater in a similar vein, albeit with digital technology, drawing on “cultural tradition — west and east — as widely varied as the ancient poetic traditions of Karelian Finland and classical dance forms of India” to occupy and transform gallery spaces, wilderness environments and rural settings throughout the nation and world.
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“At the Pole of Heaven.” Video performance with sculptural installation; Mekrijärvi Forest Research Station, Ilomantsi, Finland, 2008-12. Photo by Papu Pirtola.
“Suon Hengetär (Spirit-Woman of the Mire).” Live performance at 3rd international Conference on Environmental Aesthetics, Ilomantsi, Finland, 1998. Photo by Timo Villanen.
“Hallowed” Video performances and photo series in northeast Missouri, 2006-2009. Photo by Lisa Wigoda.