MM: How did you first hear about the Woman's Building?
LN: I had read about performances, exhibitions and events that took place there when I was going to graduate school (Rutgers University) and probably even when I was an undergraduate at UCLA and the University of Kansas (KU). Somehow I got on their mailing list and I was getting these wonderfully designed invitations that I just thought were so fabulous: invitations to teas; readings at the Building. I was going to performances, going to art shows, but primarily at the onset it was through the performances that I had heard of the Woman's Building.
MM: Do you remember any of the things you went and saw?
LN: I saw Vanalyne Green's performances, Cheri Gaulke's work, Ree Morton's work, maybe even a performance by Rachel Rosenthal….
MM: In the beginning you were just going to performance at the WB?
LN: Yes and then I began to meet more of the women at the performances. Vanalyne, I think, was my first direct contact at the Building. I really admired some of her early performances and I called her. We met for lunch and discussed each other's work. She was one of the early ones who introduced me to people at the Woman's Building and it was through her that my work started to get shown there and at other alternative art spaces.
MM: Some of your performance art?
LN: Yes at LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions). LACE had a performance festival entitled Public Spirit. I think it was in '79. The festival was two months of performances organized by LACE, High Performance magazine and a group called the Highland Art Project. Almost everybody in LA who was doing performances was in this show including many feminist artists. Vanalyne recommended my work to the organizers of the festival and that was the beginning.
MM: Can you remember your first impression of the Building?
LN: It was at a performance and I remember bringing my husband. It was not a pleasant experience. I don't remember if there weren't any chairs, or if it was just that we got there late so there was only this rug to sit on. There weren't very many men there and while we sat on the rug, there were some women who were extremely territorial, nasty. They were elbowing my husband trying to force him off the rug and just being so rude and I thought, "Oh God."
MM: But you came back.
LN: I did come back. He didn't. I remember saying something to Vanalyne about that and she sort of brushed it off. It wasn't such a positive experience.
MM: So what was it that appealed to you about the Woman's Building that made you willing to come back?
LN: I could identify with the art being made and shown there. I could identify with the performances. It was performances with an emphasis on the personal that felt familiar My work explored personal exploration through text and projected film and I felt support with many of the artists associated with the WB. There was an openness between artists that I hadn't felt before. I think it was just the identification with the kind of work being done that really drew me to that group. Later my relationship with the WB changed because I went to work at the Women's Graphic Center. As I said before, I was getting these beautifully designed graphic pieces from the WB that were inspired in large part by Sheila de Bretteville's design and socio-political mind. I thought what Sheila and her crew were doing was fabulous and I wanted to be part of it. It was because of her and her influence on … it wasn't just graphic designers it was on people in general, that I thought was so profound. In 1981, I called the Women's Graphic Center and told them that they should hire me because "I had a lot of energy; I was really enthusiastic; I was a quick learner." They hired me, for minimum wage, like everybody else. I started working there.
MM: Were there very many women of color when you first came to the Building?
LN: No, but for me that was the way the art world in general had been. The WB was not unlike the rest of the art world except there were lots of women. The art departments at UCLA, and KU had maybe one woman on the faculty and a few women of color as students. At Rutgers in graduate school, again there was one woman teaching in the fine arts department. There was one other grad student who was of Japanese-American in my class, (whom I knew) and the faculty continually confused us and our work throughout our time there together….
MM: Can you tell me about some of your performance pieces from this period?
LN: Cheap Talk was a performance, I didn't do that at the Woman's Building though. I think that is the piece that I did at LACE during the Public Spirit Festival.
MM: Can you describe the piece to me?
LN: Cheap Talk was a performance where I had two dual projection areas, no actually that had one projection area of super 8 films and slides. It was an examination between the filmed me and the live me; Cheap Talk explored physical and psychological consequences of face-to-face communication. All activity both on film and in the actual space, took place against a wall. I worked with the limitations that this shallow space allowed in my films and then developed a dialogue between live activity and those prerecorded films in the performance itself. There were two films panning up my naked body in different stances. One was in color; the other was black and white. The camera panned from the floor up and stop at the top of my thighs, then jumped to my belly area and continued to my face. I deliberately censored the crotch area from the films. Cheap Talk was about self-examination through personal confrontation.
Ghost in the Machine I did at the Woman's Building. It is a performance where I cruise through different filmed urban settings with my head encased in a cardboard constructed house/mask. The house had a white picket fence around it and was trying to locate itself in different neighborhoods, to find a home. I go through industrial neighborhoods; I go through residential neighborhoods frenetically searching for a place to call home. The psychodrama took me through the streets and exteriors of L.A. and ended up in a series of cerebral interior monologues. All the films were about inside/outside and had some reference to my house. One of the films was shot through a window inside my house with an animated figure in front of the glass dancing on a wall several feet behind the window. The figure morphs into Rorschach inkblots and this is when the house over my head becomes my thoughts inside my head inside the house. Using multiple layers of slides, film, recorded voices and costume, Ghost in the Machine ultimately explored the predicaments of the human mind.
Though not an actual performance piece, a photographic/text work I did during the same period, Kikoemasu-Ka (Can You hear Me?), is a performance. Six photographs with accompanying text were installed in a shallow kiosk facing a busy L. A. street in Little Tokyo. The photographs are of me pressing my hands and smashing face into a window delineating the sounds of "KI-KO-E-MA-SU-KA." The text underneath the photographs reads: "My name is Linda Nishio. I am 28 years old. I am a third general (sansei) Japanese/American. I grew up in L. A. in a household where very little Japanese was spoken, except of course by my grandmother, who spoke very little English. During those early years, I picked up some Japanese phrases, a few of which I still remember today. Then I went to art school on the east coast, I attended classes in an environment where very little art was taught but where iconoclastic rhetoric (intellectualism) replaced "normal" art education. Before long I realized I, too, was communicating more and more in this fashion. Ho hum. Upon returning to LA. I found myself misunderstood by family and friends. So this is the story: A young artist of Japanese descent from Los Angeles who doesn't talk normal."
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