"I'm motivated by very strange things," says Nicole Blackman, whose new performance piece, Bloodwork, is receiving its world premiere at The Kitchen. "My work is not really traditional storytelling. It deals a lot in memory, regret, and things we find disturbing, things we can't shake." Blackman is a multi-disciplinary artist who defies easy categorization; she's a spoken word artist, a published poet, an alt-rock lead vocalist, and so much more.
While not a familiar face to most New York audiences, the writer/performer has a large following in Europe, primarily due to "Victim," a track she recorded on the Golden Palominos' CD Dead Inside. In it, Blackman takes on the persona of a young kidnapping victim in the final moments of her life. "It's not like it became a massive hit," she says, attempting to explain the phenomenon. "But, right around the time of Dead Inside's release, there were a number of abductions of girls in Belgium. There was a point where the police and the government were in on it, and it was a whole underground sex ring where these girls were used sexually and murdered. It was a massive, massive scandal. 'Victim' ended up becoming this flash point; it was being played in clubs, and it was played with sound bites on news reports. There was this whole, weird juxtaposition."
Soon afterwards, Blackman was asked to perform at the De Nachten Festival in Belgium. The following year, she was asked back, this time to open for Nick Cave. She's now performed there for three years in a row, as well as having played in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Germany, and London. Says Blackman, laughing: "I was like, 'How did this happen?' When I performed in Belgium, 3,000 people showed up. That was fucking weird. I can barely get arrested in New York."
Her performance at The Kitchen, however, may win her some well-deserved recognition. "It's going to be performance and installation," says the artist. "Basically, it begins the moment you enter the door and it ends long after you leave." Blackman has mapped out a performative element to everything, from checking your coat to using the phone or the bathroom. "Each person's experience is going to be different, because not everyone makes the same choices. Some people will leave very disturbed and upset. Some people may come out very melancholy and reassured. Basically, it depends on your references and how comfortable you are talking about some of these issues."
Among the pieces being performed in Bloodwork are "Black Box," which tells the story of a pilot's widow who steals the cockpit voice recorder from a crash site and listens to her dead husband's voice speaking to her in the night. There's also "Missing Natalie," a haunting story of a woman whose twin sister was abducted when they were both nine years old. "The Bad Shepard" is the poet's lament for Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who was murdered via crucifixion on a fence in Laramie, Wyoming. Many of the selections come from Blackman's disturbing and powerful volume of poetry, Blood Sugar, which contains raw and emotional portraits of people whom you might want to comfort, hurt, or just hope you'll never meet. Other pieces are taken from recordings she's done with musicians such as Anton Fier of the Golden Palominos and Alan Wilder (formerly of Depeche Mode) on Recoil's CD "Liquid." But there are also new works, created specifically for this performance.
"There are a lot of smaller transitional pieces, little things that keep tugging on my sleeve," says Blackman, "such as someone going through a car accident or someone talking about what you can hear and see when you're in a coma. They're all fragments. They're not going to be delivered the same way that the rest of the pieces are."
Aiding her in this endeavor are John Van Eaton, who provides soundscapes, and William McLachlan, who designs the lighting. They are proof of Blackman's ability to attract top-notch collaborators: Van Eaton is on leave from working with Nine Inch Nails, while McLachlan took time off from Disney's The Lion King in L.A. in order to do this show.
Blackman is aware that her project is very ambitious. "You're not going to be able to absorb everything," she acknowledges. "I know that. You may have to tune out, go off into your own little space, and then come back in. There are elements that I can control, and elements that I can't control. I knew, if I was going to do something in New York, I wanted to do something that was interesting to me. It's not a case of how little I can get away with; it's a question of how much I can do and survive."