Dan Hurlin Gravitates Towards Puppetry, Bramante, and the Italian Futurist Movement

Ottobre 24, 2013

Dan Hurlin is the winner of the Jesse Howard, Jr. Rome Prize in Visual Arts, the Director of the Graduate Program in Theatre and a Professor of Theatre and Dance at Sarah Lawrence College, and an Artist in New York City.

What part of the United States did you come from?

New York City, though I grew up in rural New Hampshire, and keep a home and studio in upstate New York.

Why did you apply for the Rome Prize?

I’ve never been to Italy. When I was younger and starting out in my career in performance, my contemporaries tended join larger theatre or dance companies that toured around the world a lot. But being a performer in someone else’s company was not a priority of mine. Making my own work was my priority. As a young upstart, of course, it was hard enough to get work stateside, let alone in Europe. So I never made it out of the country much.

My travels to date have been mostly in Asia, where there is a long and important tradition of puppetry. But there are many European traditions that have evolved as well and I thought it was high time I get myself to Europe, to get a sense of them.

Additionally, I became interested in the Italian Futurist movement of the early 20th Century, and the performance activities of its members. I see Futurism as a movement that set the stage (as it were) for contemporary Avant Garde theatre and in fact, many of the plays would still be considered Avant Garde even by today’s standards. But the plays the Futurists wrote are not largely known in the United States. In fact, they are quite obscure. So, I thought these Futurist Plays (called Sintesi) make up a body of work that was long overdue for a contemporary re-examination.

The Futurists loathed the antique (and Rome especially). They wanted to bomb all the libraries and museums and start building a gleaming new culture from scratch. I thought I needed to be in Italy to not only see the fruits of their movement first hand, but also to experience all of the things they were rebelling against.

Describe a particularly inspiring moment or location you've experienced in Rome thus far.

Though these things would have been wiped out by the Futurists if they’d had their way, I have found the work of both Borromini and Bramante to be especially inspiring so far.

Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza is just about perfection. The monochromatic surface decoration allows you to see and experience the volume and proportions of the space on a visceral level. I find so many Baroque churches to be kind of oppressive with their “every-surface-decorated” ethos. They seem heavy, earthbound and oppressive. But with Sant’Ivo, your spirit is given the space to rise.

Bramante’s Tempietto, and Borromini’s Perspective seem to me to be puppet stages, and I love the human, and smaller-than-human scale(s) of them. I tend to be drawn toward the humble anyway, which is probably why I gravitated toward puppetry in the first place.

To what extent, if any, has your proposed project changed since your arrival?

Too early to tell.

Have you had any "eureka!" moments or unanticipated breakthroughs in the course of your work here?

Patricia Cronin was just here at the Academy. During her talk, she spoke of her art as being a way to communicate to the world “What it is like to be me, at this particular moment in time.” (Paraphrased). This reminded me that I have yet to find the central core of the work: “How can this Futurist material be read as an autobiography?” Or “Where am I here?” It’s something I tell my students to ask all the time, but I’d forgotten to keep it in mind for myself. To date, I have been too busy researching the Futurists and examining their history to have remembered to ask my self “why” I am drawn to making THIS.

What aspect of your project are you most looking forward to?

I am only able to make models and story boards and conduct research while I’m here. Shipping the actual objects (as I imagine them, anyway) would be prohibitively expensive. I look forward to building the actual objects when I get back to NYC.

What part of your project has been or do you anticipate will be the most challenging?

The project as I’ve imagined it is pretty ambitious: Twelve miniature, working theatres, each performing a different play. I think simply following my plan will be challenging enough.

What's surprised you most about living in Rome?

How quickly I got to

a). Find my way around.

b). Be comfortable with getting lost.

How have you managed the balance between your work (time in the studio/study) and engagement with Rome and Italy (travel, sightseeing, interactions with locals)?

That’s still very much a work in progress.

How do you anticipate your Rome Prize Fellowship will influence future work?

I tend to be overly controlling in my work – given to a degree of perfectionism that often squeezes the life and certainly the spontaneity out of it. I make tight little drawings that aren’t amazing enough to be obsessive. They only come off as prim and persnickety. I am hoping that while living in Rome for a year, some of the more relaxed Italian attitude toward life will rub off on me and show up in my work.

What is your favorite spot at the Academy? or in Rome?

Just one? Impossible.