Moving Pictures

Janie Geiser doesn't do just one thing. She doesn't even do two things. Instead, her creative world seems to be constantly ascending: one thing leading to another, with every new element upping the ante just a little bit more. At the top, there's a private world as small as it is adventurous. Geiser, whose artistic career has taken her from painting to illustration to theater to film and back again, will offer a look into that world when she brings Evidence of Floods, a peculiarly original work turning puppet theater into a walk-through art installation, to the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art on Saturday.

Geiser's inclination toward multi-media experimentation began as a reaction to creative constraints: Paintings, though viewable on an intimate level, hang motionless on a wall; traditional theater, though active and social, is generally viewed from a distance. A stint at Atlanta's Center for Puppetry opened up the possibility of smudging those boundaries. From there, her oeuvre proceeded from scene to scene -- much like Evidence itself -- to its natural and still unfolding denouement. "I began making objects with figures and boxes with moving parts and getting more into theater presentation instead of putting work up on the wall. So I saw puppetry as a way to mix theater with painting," Geiser recalls. "It opened my head up about the possibility of an artform where you could construct everything."

Evidence represents a culmination of possibilities. Constructed of various self-contained scenes in miniature, the silent performance is viewed neither from an auditorium seat nor from a face-on perspective. Following a mysterious plot about a woman surreptitiously seeking her own identity, the audience members observe Evidence like Peeping Toms, moving from scene to scene in small groups to peer in on the characters. Inspired by film noir, Geiser teases the audience with a sense that there's something bigger going on behind the scenes.

Geiser is matter-of-fact about her media explorations; her progression from one discipline to the next was simply "intuitive." For her, filmmaking fell naturally into her creative continuum. "Puppetry and film are both forms dealing with frames," she notes. "They both exist in time, and both construct a whole world. Both work in a nonlinear way that's very visual -- even though language is involved, lots of film is more involved with what you see than with what you tell." In keeping, her most recent project is a film still in rough cut. The ten-minute animation uses found objects such as toy trains, Erector set contructions and painted metal figures from the Thirties and Forties. It sounds like child's play, and maybe it is -- Geiser readily admits it was something she did for herself. "I made it because I needed to make a film," she says. "Theater is social and logistical. With film, I can be in my garage with my camera and all my little toys and just make something."

But, true to form, Geiser's not trading in any one genre for another. A new theater piece and collaboration with singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt is in its early stages, a happy accident that came to be when the artists met while participating in the same New York City arts series. She calls it a "song cycle for puppets" that will incorporate theatrical elements with a live performance by Chesnutt, whose music Geiser loves. It's too early to say where it will go, but this much Geiser knows: "He says he's going to use the most melancholy instruments he can find."

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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd

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