For over 25 years my artistic work has encompassed site-specific environmental performance, sculpture and video art. Many of the works have been created in wilderness, rural and cultivated landscapes in the U.S. and abroad, inspired and informed by the unique geographies, elemental forces, built environments and cultural connections of place. At the center of my art is the presence of the natural world, physically and/or symbolically, and that of my body within those spaces. My performances occur in sculptural installations I construct in nature or other environments, for events attended by live audiences, or ‘staged’ exclusively for the camera in the form of still and moving imagery.
A significant body of my work has been created in the boreal landscapes of Finland over a twenty-year period. In 1998, while living there for nine months, I initiated the making of video-performances, a practice that has continued to the present. These began as minimalist, one-take videos in analog format sited in diverse “found landscapes” (as one Finnish scholar described) such as mossy forests, arctic tundra and snow-covered terrain. Performing in glacially slow movement, my naked body became an extension of the landscape in an embodiment of temporality in nature – cyclical changes often not perceptible in the moment in gradual process, but as if after-images. With the advance of digital technologies these works have become more layered and mosaiced. While I maintain the integrity of the slow movement in real time in post-production, I now utilize more manipulation of the imagery using masking, mirroring and other techniques to further abstract the body and represent multiple gestures within a single frame. The bodies may appear at once human, animal and vegetative, reflecting patterns in the environment and contemplating the stirring and stilling of time through an interplay of fixed and moving imagery.
Other performance works have occurred in a variety of settings attended by live audiences. These may take place within sculptural spaces I construct of local and natural materials in the environment, installations in indoor venues and/or public spheres. The projects often require significant preliminary and on-site research as they are informed and inspired by local legends, origins stories or myths associated with the locations in which they are presented.
Classical traditions from both west and east have profoundly impacted my performance work, as widely varied as the folkloric “rune-singing” culture of Karelian Finland and the classical dance forms of India. For a decade I have been studying the South Indian dance form, Bharatanatyam. Its complex formal structure and mimetic storytelling methods have profoundly impacted my movement vocabulary in both the live and video-performance work. Currently I am working with the dance form's dramaturgy in the performance project, “every.single.one” that portrays my recent experience with hereditary breast cancer. In many ways, this is a significant departure in my work due to the medical and autobiographical nature of the subject matter. Nonetheless, the environment still plays a vital role. During treatment, I continued to make video-performances in the landscape and documented the healing process that included walks in nature, working in the garden, forest wildcrafting and swimming in a northern Wisconsin lake – my first full immersion in water several weeks after surgery.
Cherie Sampson, 2020
(image: performance for camera in collaboration with photographer, Lisa Wigoda)