Breaking Through Categories and Conventions at BAM

Muchness is Ms. Bocanegra’s métier. She thrives on immersive research, she accumulates odd facts with a hoarder’s zeal, and she relishes the unexpected discoveries that arise through repetitions. “Whenever I make a piece of art, it’s all hunt and peck — I ask myself, ‘Does this work with that?’,” she said during an amiable conversation in which she threw out her own questions almost as often as she answered a reporter’s.

Starting with a whimsical notion, she can systematically spin an obsessive web. Fifteen years ago, her passion for the flower paintings of the 17th-century Flemish artist Jan Brueghel the Elder led her to reproduce every petal in a Brueghel painting. Marshaling gouache paints and sable brushes, and supplementing them with beeswax and fabric, she made seven of these paint-by-Brueghel pictures. At the time, she was the mother of young children (two boys and a girl, who are now grown), and she took comfort in the meditative iteration. She was soothed even further by the audiotapes of Barbara Pym’s tart and sweet novels of English village life, to which she listened as she worked.

Photo

Paint and brushes on a studio window sill. Drawing and painting are central to Ms. Bocanegra’s art.

Credit
Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

As with many of her artistic transitions, she stumbled into performance seemingly by chance. Learning of a Danish grant that required a collaboration between a pair of artists from New York City and Denmark, she decided to team up with the only Danish artist she knew — an avant-garde accordionist. During this period, she was collecting books on weaving, learning how to measure the warp threads and tie up the treadles on a loom. “For each weaving, it had the loom tie-up, which is on a staff just like music,” she said. She wondered if the notation that specifies a loom weave could be read as musical notes.

And she knew just the person to ask. Ms. Bocanegra is married to David Lang, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer for “The Little Match Girl Passion” and the co-founder of the contemporary music collective, Bang on a Can. (They met when they were both fellows at the American Academy in Rome, from 1990 to 1991.) “I said to David, ‘Can you sing this?’” she recalled. “He said, ‘Yeah, there’s a repetition and pattern like Minimalist music.’”

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