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A Farewell to the Y Chromosome: Michelle Ellsworth Returns to the Fusebox Festival

A Farewell to the Y Chromosome: Michelle Ellsworth Returns to the Fusebox Festival

Michelle Ellsworth in Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome.
Photo by Ian Douglas courtesy of American Realness.

Michelle Ellsworth in Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome. Photo by Bernard Grant.
Michelle Ellsworth in Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome.
Photo by Bernard Grant.

Michelle Ellsworth is performing her latest outrageous opus, Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome, a co-presentation with Women & Their Work, at Austin’s Fusebox Festival on April 8 & 10 at Ground Floor Theatre, with an artist talk on April 9 at Women & Their Work.

Fusing science, dance, text and her witty/jittery commentary, Ellsworth whips up a frenzy on stage, as she gets us all ready for the end of, well, men. Her work is well known to Texas audiences through her many DiverseWorks visits. She caught up with A + C editor Nancy Wozny on her Texas roots and the new work.

I have a faint memory that you lived somewhere in Texas. Fess up on your Lone Star past.

I lived in Plano, Texas for years (1995-97ish), when the father of my first kid had a job at the Pizza Hut Corporate Headquarters. Also, my father was born in Lubbock.

The last time I saw you perform in Houston at DiverseWorks, a scientist, seated in the audience, would shock you if you got the science wrong. I see you are still a science nerd, although I confess to loving the “non science” video on the website. Does your science-y bent hark from working in a university setting or something else?

The science come from my father, Orval Telford Ellsworth. He was an inventor and neurophysiologist. But I do collaborate with scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder – to insure the accuracy of my science speak and translate the things I read in the journal Nature.

How soon after reading Maureen Dowd’s column about the disappearance of the Y chromosome did you realize it was fodder for a new work?

It made an impression, but I didn’t go there until MCA Denver and their super cool curators for Feminism & CO asked me to make a piece.

Michelle Ellsworth in Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome. Photo by Ian Douglas courtesy of American Realness
Michelle Ellsworth in Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome.
Photo by Ian Douglas courtesy of American Realness

In watching the early part of the piece I thought, “Wow, there’s no dance in this.” But then, lots of dance came into the work, the most brilliant being the re-enactment of man dances. Where do you position yourself in that thing we call the dance world?

Dance is my first language as an artist and no matter what I’m doing, I’m doing dancing. Even the navigation of a web site, or building a device that flings things, is about the body interacting with things…content…ideas. Different people have suggested that I convert to visual art, or at the very least performance art, but I feel quite attached to dance land. Yes, I love doing man dance re-enactments and creating the token gestures thanking men (I think I have 45 now).

The website is fantastic and works well as a standalone piece. Was that your intention?

I’ve made a series of pieces that I consider performable websites. I do want the sites to stand alone, but also want them to have a different life/function on the stage. I started making websites when one of my collaborators pointed out that I was producing literally 20 times as much content as I could/would ever use in a solo one hour show. At first, I thought of  the sites as an archive, but then I realized that having all 20 hours of content at my finger tips in performance allowed me to cover more ground and to cover different ground from night to night.

And I can always add new content whenever I want. I don’t know anything about a piece being done. I find done terribly unsettling, so for each gig I’ll make new content. It keeps me busy. I have an idea for Fusebox to make a typewriter that only types 1s.

Michelle Ellsworth in Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome. Photo by Ian Douglas courtesy of American Realness.
Michelle Ellsworth in Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome.
Photo by Ian Douglas courtesy of American Realness.

Your work is a perfect fit for the Fusebox. Have you performed in the festival before?

I showed a work called Phone Homer in 2012.  I have been a huge fan of Fusebox since it got started.  I’m mighty pleased/honored to come to their neighborhood. Texas, specifically Sixto Wagan at Diverseworks, and now at the University of Houston, has had a huge impact on my work. Most of my pieces, and most of my success link back to Texas.

What have been some of the more curious reactions to the work?

When I showed it at American Realness in January someone told me they thought the work was very heteronormative. That really surprised me. Also, I enjoy people telling me their suggestions for male replacement apparatus.

—NANCY WOZNY