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Artist Special - Anna Azizzy

Here we are in March, and this is the third Artist Special. I hope you know by now, but maybe you don't. Artist Special is a monthly series focusing on a specific multimedia artist who works with musick and something else. This month I talked to Anna Azizzy, a noise musician, videographer, and performance artist.
pfoto by Micheal Johnson
I don't remember when I first met Anna Azizzy. I know that they were still in college when I did. I thought they were so cool! We have been on some of the same bills for shows, and I played at their house before. I have always thought Anna has made really intersting art and would have a lot of interesting things to say about that art. Here we go.

When did you first start making musick or performance art or videos?
All through grade school I did this amazing competition called Odyssey of the Mind where your group of 7 teammates had to work within parameters to create the most outlandishly creative and resourceful 8-minute skit possible. We worked for months building transforming set-pieces, quick change costumes, puppets, puns, instruments and more, all on a ~$100 budget! It’s a huge competition and my team competed on a world scale, and even got first at World Finals in high school! Although I didn’t know it at the time, I think I was gaining THE best foundation that I could’ve for becoming a performance artist. Learning resourcefulness, timing, humor, problem solving, collaboration- literally everything.
I went to college with the hope of designing apparatuses for Cirque du Soleil (I was a competitive gymnast and a carnie), but soon discover Pittsburgh’s experimental scene and simultaneously realized I didn’t want to work for a giant corporation. I started performing experimental music in 2013. I often used contact mics to construct then destroy instruments on stage (v deep). I think it was 2014 when I played Crucible Sound for the first time, and for the next few years I was doing a lot of group improv shows! Oh BOY it was very intimidating at first. I was often the only non-man at shows and ALWAYS by far the youngest, and although my sets were performative, I felt pressure to fit into the serious, bro-y scene. Definitely doesn’t help that this was my first real exposure to predatory/ harassing behavior from a select few men in the scene (nothin' but love for my dudes making it right tho <33). My noise sets have come a long way! I feel so much more confident, and have broken away from the minimalist aesthetics I had been using to blend in. Now all my instruments are like painted and feathered and there’s all sorts of unnecessary fun junk on stage with me. I’ve also met SO many more women and queer people in the scene since 2014, and they are all so talented and inspiring!
I only learned how to edit video in 2016. My professor Angela Washko kindly let me be in a course I wasn’t qualified for, and from there introduced me to green screen, Premiere, After Effects, and a plethora of incredible performance artists like Dynasty Handbag, Ann Hirsch, and Mike Smith. My senior thesis ended up being an 18 minute performance for video titled For Retired Gymnast, which talked about my experience as a gymnast (more description in last question) in a more dynamic and hilarious way than I’d ever imagined I could do before using video!
My sweet ma is always reminding me how the seemingly random skills you acquire (gymnastics, carpentry, instrument building, etc) always find a way of coming back into your life (or art practice) to create new possibilities. I try my best to value all iterations of my artist-self!

What inspired you? How do you come up with yr ideas?
A lot feels intuitive! I’ve always been a total goofball, and most of my inspiration probably comes from growing up with 3 amazing brothers who are all super artistic and expressive and hilarious! Introspection has always been a difficult and sometimes painful area for me, but for some reason in the past few years I’ve begun to learn how to use art for personal growth and healing. It started really abstract, like the feeling of not knowing yourself being translated into the cause and effect motion of a kinetic sculpture. But as friends, like my bff Summer Leavitt, have helped me grow as a person, and as mentors, like Angela Washko and Suzie Silver, have introduced me to new artists and forms of expression, I’ve found myself more and more able to directly talk about who I am and what I am feeling in a bold, un-abstracted way! For me, I think abstraction was a way for me to beat around the bush and never really face whatever was bubbling inside me. Of course, I face the same hearty dose of imposter syndrome that most women/ queer people always seem to be passing through, but even just swapping stories of self-doubt with peers and people you admire helps your self confidence become an essential act of anti-capitalist resistance!!

Do you ever see yrself being in a permanent position in a band?
Aw man, that’s dreamy. I was in a band once called Amateur Tennis with all my best friends and it was the most fun ever. I tend to change up what I’m focused on pretty often, which doesn’t lend itself too well to being in a band, but WOW if I can find the right combo of people I’d love to be in some sort of Palberta-inspired experimental-pop performance art band WOW. hmu

Do you plan on doing any physical releases for yr two albums or for yr videos?
So I’ve tried burning CDs, but for some reason I always fuck it up and just give away a bunch of half-working disks with a random mix of poppy/noisy tracks on them. It would be really cool to get some more solid recordings, especially of noise sets, and release through a label! I was talking to PGH fav White Reeves a bit ago about doing that. I have an album titled Lullabies for Retired Gymnasts that is really dear to me that I’d love to have a physical release of, but I think I want to do some re-recording/write a few more songs before doing so. As for video releases, I’ll probably try to get a DVD together by the summer. I never have merch to sell and wanna hop on that opp!

What do you want people to get from yr work? Is there a theme that follows through most of it?
Laughter! My messages are best received on the back of a big laughing thing. Or a big odd thing that is just so odd you don’t want to stop looking. I’ve been pushing myself to make sure the humor and oddness in my work really are vehicles for my message rather than distractions from it. My work is about my identity: as a gymnast, as a queer person, as a person sometimes bursting with joy and sometimes buckled over with fear. These themes have most recently been acted out by either The Gymnastics Team and everyone in their world, or by this one ever-evolving paranoid cowboy character that I can’t quite figure out why I’m attached to. My dad always wanted to be a cowboy and I have great memories of my mom blasting She-Daisy when I was a kid. Maybe that’s why?

You are about to leave for a show in Baltimore. Tell me about what that performance will entail.
I’ll be touring with a foley performance! (Uses the ever-evolving paranoid cowboy character) It doesn’t have a title yet but in my computer it’s just labeled “Gay Foley” so let’s call it that. It’s a piece about queerness and shame and finding self-love! But it’s pretty bizarre and a lot of the message gets obscured (my constant struggle) by the general oddness of what’s happening on screen and at my foley table. The video was made using green screen so I can play all the characters. I’m off to the side on stage providing sounds effects with instruments that I’ve built! It’s a work in progress, but I’m super proud of this piece because I’ve continued to improve and build upon it over the course of at least 5 months, performing different iteration. I too often have the habit of leaving a piece in the dust after one go at it rather then allowing it to grow, develop, and become truer with each iteration.

What other things should we expect from you in the future?
I want to go on tour this summer and continue getting commissions to make music videos, build sets, perform, etc. I’m the set designer for the Princess Jafar Show, which just got an amazing grant to produce 3 more episodes! BUT my main BIG goal is to create a live performance based off my current body of work, For Retired Gymnast and find some sick theaters to bring it to on a national tour. Here’s a lil blip from a (draft) grant proposal to give you an idea;-) 
“I hope to combine wonky green screen animation, a cast of projected characters, original music, physical sets, acrobatics, and my real human self to create a live performance where I embody exaggerations of people from my life: my former gymnastics team, our coach, and our moms. I reimagine our stories, giving us secrets and exposing our most shameful (queer and unusual) desires, allowing me to process those of my own. Looming over every relationship are the sport of gymnastics’s idealization of the prepubescent body and mind and the inescapable fear of a 13-year-old’s retirement.” 
I want the show to be lively and funny, but to also effectively and warmly address issues of homogenization and the premature “expiration” women and queer people experience in so many industries. For some context, here’s my senior thesis performance for video, which I’m thinking the live performance may be heavily based off of. Other than that, see me 'round town booking and playing shows, coaching gymnastics at Gymkhana & aerial silks at Irma Freeman, teaching art at Assemble, babysitting the sweetest lil kids on earth, and watching every single DVD Box set of That 70s Show with my partner Aeron. My final secret is that one day I will create an exact replica of Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) where I lip synch and play all the characters.

from Retired Gymnast
 Anna's show in Baltimore was yesterday, and I hope it went well. I hope we do end up seeing that live version of For Retired Gymnast, because it really is a great piece. You can find more of their work at their website. And, I hope to see you, dear readers, next month, and send me an email or Facebook message if you are interested in participating in an upcoming Artist Special.