An Interview with Carrie Ahern

I had the pleasure of being able to talk to Carrie Ahern, who is an independent dance and performance artist based in New York City. Next week, she will be performing Borrowed Prey here in Seattle.

Would you tell me how you came to be a dance and performance artist?
I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and I was dancing/training as a teenager at Milwaukee Ballet School. On Saturdays we had a jazz teacher who had us improvise—improvising gave my first taste of creating movement. Then I decided to move to New York City to pursue a dance career when I was 19. So I came at my career a little differently. I didn’t go to college for it. I had very little experience with modern dance before New York City.  And then by age 20—–I made my first dance at someone’s suggestion.

Where did the idea for Borrowed Prey come from?
I had this idea or this thing that was bothering me for a while. Just that you go into a grocery store, especially in an extreme urban environment such as New York and the meat there is on a Styrofoam tray with plastic wrap over it. At the same time I felt that people were talking a lot about sustainable food. I felt I didn’t really know what that meant and so I wanted to find out. I wanted do my own first hand research about food–specifically in terms of meat, in terms of animals.

 How long have you been working on Borrowed Prey?
I started working on the project in Seattle through the residency I had at Project: Space Available in February 2011 and it premiered in NYC in April of 2012. —Although I did do my hunting research in November of 2010. So I guess –18 months total. But it’s coming back to Seattle two years after I first worked on it.

Would you tell me about the name Borrowed Prey?
You know I came up with that name during my residency. I was working in the studio and I thought of that name and it stuck. I think I was working in the studio and trying to embody both the feeling of being predator and prey. We as humans are predatory animals—exploring that reality as well as understanding what it might feel like to be in the body of a prey animal. I was eating meat and not thinking of it as a living creature most of time, yet we use these creatures for our sustenance so there’s something about borrowing their life force for our benefit.

What is your relationship with Rain Shadow Meats?
I was in Seattle in November of 2010 for a conference for theatre and dance and I knew I would be back in Seattle for the Project: Space Available residency in 2011. I was discussing my research ideas over coffee with Mark Haim–who mentioned there was a new butcher shop in Melrose Market and said maybe you want to walk down there. It was right down the street from Velocity—where we were having coffee. I walked into the Melrose market, and to my left was Rain Shadow Meats. I talked to Russ Flint, the owner, and I told him about my research ideas for the project and I asked him if I could work or apprentice there when I was back in Seattle and he said sure. I started working there as an apprentice/volunteer during the month of February 2011. While I was there, I told Russ that I had some ideas to co-teach workshops. We taught two. The first one, Russ butchered half of a pig carcass for the workshop attendees and I related those parts to the human body. I realized how close pig anatomy is to human anatomy. The second one was a hands on workshop –each participant learned how to butcher two chickens. Everyone brought their own knives and we taught people how to breakdown a chicken efficiently—like a butcher. And even with chickens—each one is different—you can feel that clearly when you are working with a whole animal.

 What other relationships and partnerships have you made over the course of this project?
My hunting mentor was/is Dale Rodefer. He took me hunting on the eastern shore of Maryland and he taught me how to shoot a gun. We went hunting together the day after Thanksgiving of 2010. He taught me everything I know about hunting in one day from sunrise to sunset. Jerry and Janelle Stokesberry of Stokesberry Farm in Olympia, Washington. I met them at the Ballard farmers market though my friend Kris Martin. It was very difficult to witness or take part in a slaughter and Kris suggested I contact them. So after we had some email correspondence, we met at the Farmers’ Market in Ballard on Sunday and they sat me down on their cooler and vetted me to see if my intentions were correct for a slaughter. After talking to me and talking about my project, they invited me to the farm on a Monday — that’s a lighter day for them on the farm and welcomed me to come and participate. They took me around their farm and took me through the process of slaughtering—loading the chickens, placing them in the cones, slaughtering with a knife, scalding, de-feathering, gutting.

Kris Martin drove me to Stokesberry Farm, and connected me to the Stokesberrys, set up my blog and provided technical support.

Vanessa DeWolf – she’s the dramaturge on the project and facilitated every aspect of me making the project in the studio. She even came out to New York to work on it. She deserves credit for sheepherding Borrowed Prey.

Dickson’s Farmstand Meats. Jake Dickson and all of the butchers there for helping to make the show happen in their butcher shop New York City.

Andrew Dorsey at Marlow and Daughters (butcher shop) who worked with me extensively on how to butcher the lamb effectively for the performances.

 What is your relationship to the animals that you’ve worked with for your research?
The only live farm animals in this project were on Stokesberry Farm. Otherwise I’m always working with it after it’s already been killed. Hunting—there were all of these beautiful deer jumping around. But when I was hunting with Dale I didn’t actually kill anything because nothing ever came close enough. Although the other hunters in our group were successful that day and I was able to see their animals. Seeing them alive and then dead. I am fascinated with the line between life and death which is so startling. This sounds incredibly obvious but…they are so alive and then so dead. It’s just very stark. When I was slaughtering the chickens… animals are so sensory and so instinctual that they knew something was happening. It’s not that they can feel specifically what’s happening to them, but they can feel something—a tension, energy. My research of Temple Grandin and her work (especially the book “Thinking in Pictures” ) helped me articulate this… reading into her work gave me an understanding of how animals brains work and understanding of the relationship between prey and predators. For example…Prey species have eyes set much farther apart and all these other details I was made aware of by reading her work. She answered questions I had always had…do animals think, and feel and how.

Your performance in Borrowed Prey includes a lot of physical interaction with the audience, especially in regards to your past performances. What about this topic / performance has inspired you to include this aspect? 
The piece I made before Borrowed Prey, Sensate, was an installation in which the audience could come and go as they pleased over the course of three hours. Borrowed Prey’s interaction is perhaps a continuation of my ongoing interest in not having a passive audience. I became interested myself in not simply sitting in a theatre seat and being separate from the performance. You create and participate in the performance as an audience member but are often not acutely aware of it. Borrowed Prey is a continuation of the audience participation in Sensate but it’s different because it’s more invasive. In Sensate it was more about choice. You could choose to be wherever you wanted, close or far. In Borrowed Prey you don’t have as many options of being separate. Animals don’t choose to be in the position that they are in–they don’t have that level of consciousness– they are dependent on human choices. And on the flip side one of the things with the touch in Borrowed Prey especially is that I don’t ask permission –and an animal doesn’t ask for your permission either. A cat will rub against you without asking.

What do you hope your audience gets from your performance?
I hope there is more visceral connection to not only where their food comes—but how simultaneously complicated and simple that connection is. There is a cycle of life we participate in everyday and not to take that wholly for granted. And it’s a conscious effort to try to get back to a recognition of spirit. There are a lot of ritual aspects of my performance. How can we become less disconnected and possibly enriched by these daily experiences?

 What has been the most important thing that you have learned from Borrowed Prey?
I understand much more about our food system in this country and my role in that food system is a bit clearer. It’s still complicated, but it’s clearer. Something about the life cycle, about the recognition of that cycle. And this is a death project. It is a recognition that you are killing something that is alive and was important personally for me to recognize that that act is always a part of eating animals.

Please tell me about the Seattle performance of Borrowed Prey.
It’s going to be in Rain Shadow Meats in the Melrose Market. January 17 to 27th–Thursdays through Sundays at 8pm. There is a limited audience: only a maximum of 20 people allowed– so it will be intimate. There will be butchering in the performance itself and the meat that I butcher will be sold at the end of each show.

Are there any other planned performances of Borrowed Prey coming up after Seattle?
Borrowed Prey is the first part of a two-part project — it is part of a diptych. I’m currently working on developing the second part. Part one—put simply– is about animal death. Part two is about human death. My ideal scenario, since I’m working on part two as we speak, is to perform the two side by side. I’d like to do that in New York City and in Seattle. But as part one, Borrowed Prey, by itself, nothing more is scheduled yet.

Is there anything else you’d like to discuss which we haven’t talked about?
I found with the New York audience— that people typically have a lot of assumptions or expectations about Borrowed Prey before they walk in the door. They usually are surprised by the performance so I’d like to say the more open people can be… It’s a very volatile topic and it’s dealt with differently than people might assume.

January 17 to 27, 2013
Thursdays through Sundays at 8pm
Inside Rainshadow Meats,1531 Melrose Avenue, Seattle WA, 981222
Very Limited Tickets Available. Get yours HERE.

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