“All Artwork Is a Magical Act”: An Interview with Susan Aberth and Stacy Klein / Jennifer Johnson

Photo by David Weiland

Photo by David Weiland

“All Artwork Is a Magical Act”
An Interview with Susan Aberth and Stacy Klein, by Jennifer Johnson

Founded in 1982, Double Edge Theatre is a collaborative, residential theater company located since 1994 on a former dairy farm in Western Massachusetts (on the ancestral lands of Mohican, Nipmuc, and Pocumtuc people). Approaching the farm from the village of Ashfield,  where the company and its directors live and work, one first encounters a striking feature of the theater’s training facility: a series of suspended cords, trapezes, and nets towering above a grassy field, which serves as an apparatus with which actors—and the many students who visit the farm for training—can practice “flying.”  Each year Double Edge Theatre hosts both indoor and outdoor performances at the farm, in addition to tours and performances, that integrate landscape and spectacle, intimate performance with live music and large-scale mythic storytelling replete with masks and pageantry, stilt walking and street theater, poetry and acrobatics. In the refurbished barn that serves as the ensemble’s indoor theater, actors fly from the rafters, suspending themselves precariously from ribbons or bars; at various sites around the farm, actors fly through trees or suspend themselves high above the spectators. The effects are riveting: this is not carnival; it is magic.

An autonomous, wholly artist-run organization, Double Edge was founded in Boston as a feminist ensemble and a laboratory for experimental creative process, a mission that has evolved into a year-round ecosystem of collective living, farming and environmental education, rigorous theatrical training, and collaborative artistic and musical creation. The group’s founder, Artistic Director Stacy Klein, began training in Poland in 1976 with actor Rena Mirecka, founding actor of Jerzy Grotowsky’s Laboratory Theatre, while completing a BFA in directing; she would later complete a PhD in Theater while creating the first two women’s theater festivals in the world in 1979 and 1980, in collaboration with Susie Chancey. The name Double Edge extends, Klein has explained, from the ensemble’s first production, RITES, a modernization of the Bacchae of Euripides set in a woman’s bathroom in London; the double-edged axe used in Bacchic sacrifices—the labrys—had likewise been taken up by the feminist theologian Mary Daly as part of the iconography of her work, and stands here for an instrument for combatting  “isolation and erasure,” part  of  the  ensemble’s core mission of art and social justice.

One of the operating principles of Double Edge Theatre—and a remarkably present aspect of  any visit to the farm—is its fusion of vividly experimental theater with a resounding commitment to living culture, which (as the Theater’s mission statement describes), refers to (cultural / economic / organizational / personal / political) work  “created and sustained within an open, honest, meaningful, relevant shared experience.”

Over the past two  years, Double Edge Ensemble, led by Klein, along with Co-Artistic Directors and lead actors Jennifer Johnson, Carlos Uriona, and Matthew Glassman, as well as Producing Director Adam Bright, has developed a cycle of performances related to the life and work of polymath writer-artist Leonora Carrington  (1917-2011), whose centenary in 2017 has led to a series of major exhibitions and the republication of Carrington’s writing. Double Edge’s first Carrington-related performance, Leonora & Alejandro: La Maga y el Maestro, premiered at the Peak Performance series a t Montclair State University in March 2018, and received rave reviews. The performance reimagines the artistic and spiritual encounter in 1960s Mexico City of the British-born surrealist and her mentorship of the Chilean-born filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, drawing upon autobiographical accounts by Jodorowsky and, in particular, animating the fantastic bestiary of Carrington’s fictions and images. The cast thus features Johnson and Uriona as Carrington and Jodorowsky, respectively, but also ensemble actors Amanda Miller as the Pajaro (the parrot who figures in Carrington’s 1977 novel The Stone Door), Travis Coe as a flying Hyena (from her 1939 short story “The Debutante”), Matthew Glassman and Adam Bright as part of her oft depicted kabbalistic trio and Hannah Jarrell as the Giantess (from her 1947 painting), among others.  Double Edge followed La Maga y el Maestro with a site-specific outdoor spectacle, Leonora’s World, performed at various sites around the farm; Leonora’s World premiered in Fall 2018 and will be reprised as the company’s fall spectacle this October 10-13.

What follows below is an interview conducted by Jennifer Johnson, who co-created La Maga y el Maestro and Leonora’s World and plays Leonora in both performances, with Stacy Klein (with whom Johnson co-created the performances) and the art historian Susan Aberth, an expert in the work of Leonora Carrington who serves as an artistic consultant for the project. In this conversation, which has been adapted from the original transcription, the participants discuss Double Edge’s interest in Carrington and address the roles of magic in the living arts of the present. In particular, they address the exigency of Carrington’s ecofeminist ideas about ritual, visionary experience, and non-normative forms of knowledge and thought in the face of contemporary misogyny and the normalization of extremism and white supremacy.  What does it mean, they ask, to approach the life and work of Leonora Carrington as a way to “prioritize imagination in times of creative, emotional, spiritual and political uncertainty”— and thus as a figure central to the very mission of Double Edge Theatre?

Upcoming touring dates for La Maga y el Maestro in 2020:

Boston, MA: Arts Emerson (Technical Residency)
February 24-28, 2020

Albuquerque, NM: Revolutions Festival
March 11-12, 2020

Orange, CA: Musco Arts Center
March 18, 2020

Detroit, MI: The Hinterlands’ Assemblage
April 2-6, 2020

Porsgrunn, Norway: The PIT Festival
June 19-20, 2020

—Jonathan P. Eburne

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Jennifer Johnson: To begin with, since both of you have quite distinct perspectives—you, Susan, as a scholar and a Carrington expert, and you, Stacy, as a theatre director—could you each speak to how you came across the work of Leonora Carrington?

Susan Aberth: I was drawn to the work of Leonora Carrington by complete chance. I was working on 57th Street in New York at the time and came upon Brewster Gallery where she was then showing. As I gazed at her work it awakened something long buried inside me, it was like speaking one’s native language after a long hiatus.  I think there was a split-second decision I made while standing in front of a painting—that I would write my PhD dissertation on her. It was like a mystical experience.

Stacy Klein: I had been working for several years on a Latin American Cycle, the fifth cycle of performances at Double Edge. This included Once a Blue Moon- Cada Luna Azul, which was an outdoor spectacle revolving around co-artistic director Carlos Uriona’s experience in the military dictatorship in Argentina, his birthplace, as well as a look into the cultural traditions of South America. After success creating two touring spectacles with this material, we decided to do an indoor piece exploring the Chilean dictatorship and drawing from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s books, particularly his memoir Where the Bird Sings Best (1992), about his family’s migration to South America, told in a magical realist style. The failed election in the US happened right as we were starting to work, and I decided never again to do a performance that did not have a woman lead. Thus I searched for a Latin American artist (a visual artist, because I am drawn to an image-based artistry). I had never really worked with a woman painter before. And while I was searching I found a couple of really interesting painters from Argentina and Mexico. Then my friend told me about Leonora; she had just been to visit her son Gabi, who took her to Leonora’s house, and she thought I should look at her paintings. I couldn’t believe that I had never seen her work before because it was much more familiar to me than any of the work that I had done with any painter, in every way. Particularly her landscapes—paintings such as The House Opposite (1945), and La Chasse (1942), and Down Below (1940), Kron Flower (1987), among so many others—and the Kabbalistic and Alchemical worlds they depict. And then I started reading her books, and Stone Door was for me astonishing.

SA: A recognition of one’s reality, seen in pictorial form.

Photo by Maria Baranova

JJ: I know that for both of you, your work draws from and uses different magical traditions. In the work of Double Edge Theatre you can really see it in the recourse to the Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism throughout the company’s performance history, as for instance, Shekinah and Sheba—the Feminine Divine archetypes we saw in Shahrazad: A Tale of Love and Magic (2013). Can you speak to how you’ve used such imagery, as well as to how Leonora used it I’m also interested in how Leonora’s work invokes the Feminine Divine, and how have you brought that forward as well, both now and in the past?

SA: That’s a big question.

JJ: It is; it’s large. Cut it into pieces and answer it how you want.

SA: It’s a great question. I have had astrologers and mediums tell me my mission on earth is to help reintroduce the Divine Feminine into the world, and before they told me this I had already known it as my mission from a very young age. I have steadfastly gone on that path through a variety of different spiritual practices. Just now I think people are coming to a greater realization about these traditions, but it was not always so. One phase of it began in the 1970s with feminism, with Marija Gimbutas and the Great Goddess, but I was not always comfortable with that imagery. So for me Leonora Carrington was the most pure manifestation of that impetus but in a non-stereotypical manner, involving a lot of diversity. Also, what I really liked about her work from the first moment I encountered it was that it wasn’t overt; it didn’t copy other peoples’ Goddess forms.  It was her own genuine vision and permutation of women’s place in the universe, not even particularly as a supreme being but as an equal kind of being or even energy. I also respected her deeply as both an artist and as a person.  She connected women’s rights and animal rights, for instance, in ways that weren’t really being talked about, and there she was doing it in the 1950s, you know, equating the two. She was a real visionary.

SK:  Well, I have always felt myself to be female, and that was something – at least in my upbringing- that was looked at as strong, powerful, and bold. I never realized that this was something unusual until I went to college and was suddenly surrounded by men who in many cases, assumed the power was theirs to have and hold, and this was not part of my upbringing, certainly not from my father. So that shocked me into a desire to look into things: why the world was so different than the way I felt. And then in the 1970s the book When God was a Woman came out and I was like: oh yeah, this makes sense.  And so then I realized that I needed to start researching Judaism, in terms what was really there. I had somehow been transported into a Male Christian Reality. I needed to find my own story.  Kabbalastic writings are centered around duality, God is a dual male/female being and spirit, so that made sense to me. So I think I’ve been in that other, older—but also completely new—reality since then, in a variety of ways. It can be mystical but also an everyday ritual practice. And lately I find its tied to a daily courage that one must evoke to tear oneself out of the status quo. The center of that Kabbalistic reality is the Shekinah, the dwelling of the divine presence, so she is always the one to whom I’m calling out. Then there’s everything else. There are many women who are calling out to that same source under different names, who are fighting to call out to it, or who don’t know the names to call. So it’s really important that we connect to that center, that dwelling, because when we’re fragmented as women we can easily lose ourselves or get swallowed up into the universal male Christian reality, which has oppressed the spirituality of many women.

SA: I’m going to comment here because I’m very interested in what you just said. I grew up in an ethnic household where my mother ruled and so I was used to female power and autonomy, and I was very free. When I went to college— which is the ultimate site of male institutional brainwashing, I too was shocked. I began my career as an Egyptologist specifically to look at different religious traditions, because I certainly wasn’t part of White Protestant Anglo Saxonism; that’s who really runs educational institutions. I turned out to become an African Art Major—anything to get away from that singular, oppressive vision that I did not grow up with, I did not identify with. I think a lot of people are like that.

Photo by Maria Baranova

JJ: In Leonora’s work, she’s often subverting the images of male Christianity you’ve each described, like the Trinity— or else invoking and renaming figures such as Mary, or the Goddess.  She also uses a variety of tactics and traditions and images that are Kabbalistic or Celtic or associated with Tibetan Buddhism.

SA: It is a known fact that much of Christian iconography and practice comes from the Pagan world. And it’s not just that Leonora Carrington is reclaiming it; she’s saying that the Christian patriarchs stole it. It was all women’s mysteries at one point in time, or people’s mysteries.  It was taken over, renamed by the patriarchy and colonialism. So I think hers is an act not only of reclamation but of expansion.

SK: Yeah, I really like that because I think ritual is ritual. It’s very common and very shared.  It’s not okay to just assign it as—

SA: —the sole property of one belief system. That’s ridiculous.

SK: Yes.

Photo by David Weiland

JJ: Thinking about ritual and ceremony and invocation, I’ve come to understand that for Leonora the act of painting was an invocation. Susan, you told me that she didn’t even really title many of these paintings. They weren’t mere narrative depictions but magical operations. I’m wondering if you could speak a bit to this idea of invocation in terms of her artistic practice, as well as in the creation of Double Edge Theatre’s performance dedicated to her life and work, to which the three of us are contributing.  How are we creating an individualized ritualistic practice for each of us, and how has this been created for each performance? How do you envision this in your directing work, Stacy?

SK: I was thinking that our process in developing Leonora & Alejandro: La Maga y el Maestro is a different process than before. Maybe it’s a similar process to Song of Absence a long time ago, because it is a process where I feel like I’m collaborating with Leonora directly, so my ritual is with her.

SA: That’s really nice.

SK: And I’m trying to invoke her presence in one way or another. If we try to improvise about a painting, for instance, Grandmother Morehead’s Aromatic Kitchen (1974), and we veer too far from the concept or vision, it simply doesn’t work. It is not an abstract ritual but one that is already provided for in the form and question of her paintings. I’m saying it’s different because normally I would try to make aspects of the training into a ritual, or a group ritual, but now the very development of the project has been the collaboration. I’ve asked you in particular, Jennifer, as the lead actor playing Leonora (or invoking her), to create your own ritual inside of this process, which is sort of like saying that you will be the Priestess, say, of this whole larger ritual, and the other people involved have to be revolving around that ritual—or they’re allowed to participate in a ritual that’s been created,  so you can lead them around this ritual created by us, me and Leonora. So that’s what I think is different in this work, and I really feel something deep at work in this.

SK: We should be using pomegranates as part of the blood rituals, like we did in rehearsal. I think that’s beautiful.

SA: I feel that Leonora’s descent into the “down below” of her memoir Down Below (1943) was that of Persephone in the Underworld. I think that’s how she looked at it: she went down below, and actual violation was part of it, just like in Persephone’s case. And then she escaped.

I’m going to get back to your question, Jennifer:  I want to address the use of ritual. A lot of sacred art is static and meditative. Artists and ritual magic have always gone hand in hand, each serving the other from time immemorial. Leonora brings this back for Modernism via the Surrealist idiom, the only movement that allowed many varieties of esotericism fully back into modernist discourse; it was great that she did that. But I have to say that it wasn’t until I came here to Double Edge—and it was a great revelation to me, thank you—that I fully appreciated the extent to which Leonora was deeply involved in theatre.  She loved the ritualistic aspect of it, and you can see that in her stage designs and costumes. She not only wrote plays but she also participated in every aspect of the theater. Although I intellectually understood all this, I had never experienced the kind of ritual magic aspect of her theatrical work until I watched you at work—and I saw you, just like any magician, honing down the magic circle, asking what’s going to work, what’s the distillation, how can this give us this desired result. I really learned a lot, and when I first came here I tried to help by offering up, among other things, the films of Kenneth Anger. Every performance I witnessed here at Double Edge was different; I could see that—I recognized the difficulty of that skill. I think Leonora was always doing this, too, but she’s also very British. And the British part of her is that biting, sardonic humor that often hides behind the ridiculous and the fantastical, like Lewis Carroll.

Photo by David Weiland

JJ: It seems to me that a lot of women’s work and artwork that includes some sort of spiritualism tends to be very handily dismissed. It seems like Leonora’s work, because of this aspect of occultism, or this magic that she so authentically brings out in her work and in herself, can and has been easily dismissed in terms of the world of art history.

SA: Any kind of spiritual content in art tends to be viewed by the current art establishment as non-serious, non-intellectual.  Likewise, anything spiritual or religious is a dirty word in academia; you can’t do it. I believe Leonora’s great saving grace is that she’s not a proselytizer.  She’s not even really a believer in any one tradition or another; she’s a juggler, an explorer, an investigator—but more importantly I believe that she is also a channeler. She herself saw things; they just appeared, she could not begin to guess from where, and they communicated with her in visual ways, she just tried desperately to catch it on canvas before the door closed. So she was immersed in the mystery of her own visions and you get that feeling when you look at certain of the works in particular. Looking at a painting like The Garden of Paracelsus (1957) or The Candle Game (1966), they look explicitly magical; things are happening. Or even Nunscape in Manzanillo (1956). In all of them, there is a haziness, a vision-like feeling. A charged space. I see these elements in your performance. You try to direct it and control it, and you do so, but there is still that dangerous element. There is always the possibility that a spell can go awry.

Photo by Marina Levitskaya

JJ: One of the ideas you’ve spoken with us about before, and which in fact we use in the performance, is Leonora’s ideas about the mysteries that have been stolen from women’s traditions, as well as the idea that no one can give women their rights because their rights are inherent; they are not to be given to them since they are always already existing. She easily articulates something that we continue to grapple with in our contemporary society. There’s a darkness there. I think this can really inspire young women. Leonora was truly radical, and when we talk to people about her they all note that she was saying things that no one else was really talking about. You both mentioned that you felt feminism was the natural way when you were growing up; I wonder where that came from for Leonora? Was it her mother and her grandmother?

SA: It was a combination of things. I believe that first and foremost she did not consider herself fully human: she was part fairie, according to family lore. From a very early age she saw things; she was non-normative. She was born very wealthy but identified with the Irish half of the family—the Irish underclass, and everything that she associated with Irish knowledge traditions, which are often strikingly non-Christian, matrilineal, and mystical. Also from her Irish side was her political scrappiness and rebelliousness. Combine that with the fact that she was “to the manor born” and thus well protected, this means that she also had a certain degree of privilege. And then there was her dominant personality.  All these happy accidents led to her being a visionary, but let’s make no mistake—she also suffered profoundly. She was expelled from schools for not obeying rules, she was in constant conflict with her father, and although extremely intelligent had  a piecemeal education at best at a series of convent schools. After being disowned by her family she went from wealth to poverty. She paid a heavy price to become an artist and to be free but being free was always her first choice. I think she was extraordinarily brave. What do you think?

SK: I think that she probably did not have a lot of choice. She was who she was and I don’t think she could fit into the box that was offered to her, even if that meant losing her wealth, which probably was the very least of it—or  being raped, or having to deal with all these men in the art world, or many, many other things.

SA: So she had an innate inability to conform, because she was an artist.

SK: Because she was an artist, and because of all the things you said. Because she had a strong spirit in her, because she could see something. I think seers are generally prone to having to live difficult lives. I think the fact that she could paint, for instance, probably saved her life. Because if she had no way to express all this she would have been like Cassandra: a visionary to whom nobody listened. So I think that’s probably the gift that was given to her in return. I don’t think somebody like that can just fit in. I watched my daughter Cariel as she was growing uo and I hoped she would not get kicked out of schools. She wasn’t going to be able to stop herself. I think many women are like that. If they were men they’d be viewed as rambunctious, or as having spirit—it’s looked on positively—“oh, you will be rich someday!”

I also think that Leonora’s mother probably couldn’t contain her own spirit, even though she was married to a rich industrialist and listened to him (or so we think). But she obviously did something differently with Leonora to help her learn and understand her history.

SA: Good point.

SK: You mentioned Leonora’s enormous escape. And she did pulled off this dramatic escape, but it wasn’t the only one.

SA: Well, yes: she called them a series of running away.

Photo by Maria Baranova

JJ: In The Hearing Trumpet she writes something like: be careful about what you pack when you’re leaving forever. What are your thoughts about that kind of escape or re-invention of one’s artistic or spiritual life? Someone once asked Leonora if she thought the past ever dies, and her answer was: only if the present slits its throat. She had some crucial escapes—not just ideas about escape, but real escapes to stay alive in this world.

SA: I can’t speak for everyone but I can speak for myself, and I think that when women leave home or leave the path of normativity, it is actually a life-and-death situation. I’ve done it many, many times.  It’s exhausting and terrifying, and you really come across some serious dangers. Yes, Leonora was born into some volatile times, but she created a lot of volatility herself as well. She was always reinventing herself, and yet she was—remarkably—always the same. I think that the people around her may have changed, and the environments may have changed, but Leonora was always herself, whatever that means.

SK: Which is a really difficult thing to do because, at least for me—and please don’t laugh at me when I say this‚—I have often had an impulse to try to fit in a little bit more than I am called to do. People might say I’m going overboard, and I wonder: am I going overboard? It’s hard to adjust and still be totally yourself. Leonora grew up in a patriarchal aristocracy. She was looking very far back to her ancestors, and very far forward as well.

SA: In the beginning, Leonora’s ticket out was her beauty. She had incredible beauty, and she was charismatic. She used that beauty to get out. She could have used it to do what her parents wanted her to do and marry, but she used it to escape, to join up with artists, and when she got to Mexico in 1942, life changed and she couldn’t use it anymore, she didn’t want to, she became serious. She wanted to provide for her children, to raise her family. Remember, she was a mother first and foremost. Her husband couldn’t always do that, he was so traumatized by the war. She was always a feminist, but that’s where it really started to grow. You can always fake it while you are an object of desire, right? But when you lose that, you go a different route, and that’s when I think she got really angry. She was always beautiful, and wonderful.

SK: I think she was still traditionally beautiful when she first got to Mexico; she could have gone a different path, but she had an animal instinct in her. There is something ferocious in her beauty.

SA: She was a beautiful warrior. She often cloaked her beauty in dowdy clothes; she wasn’t always seductive in any traditional way.

JJ: I recently read a letter that she wrote when she was in her 30s, in which she writes that she is preparing for death, that she has grown old. I don’t think she seriously thought that she’d grown old, but that she’d decided to inhabit what you are talking about: that she’s decided to move away from youth and beauty.

SA: That’s the case with The Hearing Trumpet, too. She wrote that novel when she was in her early 30s, even though it wasn’t published until much later.

SK: That may have been her desire. Beauty did not bring her many good things. Beauty made people behave toward her in certain ways. I think she looked at Marian Leatherby, the nonagenarian protagonist of The Hearing Trumpet, with envy.

SA: I think meeting Remedios Varo (1908-1963) in Mexico changed her life. For the first time she had an equal. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that; I’ve only had it once. A real meeting of the minds that creates a synergistic, magical reality that profoundly changes everything. They met when Leonora was about 26—very young. She gets to Mexico in 1942.

JJ: I’d like to talk about Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose encounters with Leonora form the basis of Leonora & Alejandro: La Maga y el Maestro. We’ve been thinking about how unusual it was for Jodorowsky to have a female mentor. It’s important that he went looking for this, with varying success. He brought everything he is to this search, certainly. He is a famous personality with a large cult following, a celebrity, whereas Carrington has remained lesser known, although I think this is changing, thanks to your work, Susan. It seems like she did not really chase that kind of notoriety.

Photo by Kim Chin-Gibbons

SA: No, she chased it; recognition that is, she wanted it more than anything. She couldn’t get a foot in the door. It was impossible. The sexism of the art world is still profound. There are a few women who are allowed into the sacred arena—Louise Bourgeois, for instance, but it’s important to remember that her husband was a very famous art critic, so that helped. I would often hear Leonora talk about how she was one of the best artists ever!

SK:  I agree with her.

SA: And I really love that about her. It wasn’t about egoism or money; she just felt she was a really good artist and she wanted people to recognize that, to see her work.

SK: I don’t have any doubts about that. She should have been able to share her work, and she was just as good as any of  the surrealists: Bunuel, Max Ernst. In my deep belief, she was far more visionary..

SA: The ability to work in different media, across all media, with so much thought behind every detail. It’s appalling that she remained “forgotten” for so long . And not only was she a woman, but she was in Mexico.

SK: Maybe if she had kept ties to her aristocratic family she could have used them to break into the art world.

SA: But think of the great artist Lee Miller (1907-1977). She was married to a surrealist, but even her own son didn’t know to what an extent she was an artist. Not until he found her photographs in the attic did he realize the full scope of her talent and involvement. The sexism of the art world, of the surrealists— all of it—we can’t even begin to imagine the dismissal, the lack of opportunity. Things are better for your daughters. It’s not good enough, but it’s getting better.

SK: Yes, it’s not good enough. The fact that there is still a struggle to get her work out there… it’s not good enough.

SA: It’s an ongoing struggle.

JJ: Leonora Carrington was a visionary, a feminist, and an animal rights activist. She was also an environmentalist.

SA: She is a political artist.

JJ: She had such a radical imagination of the world, of how she views humankind’s place within it.  I’m thinking about an awareness and a thoughtfulness about land—and how this relates to Double Edge Theater’s mission, and how it relates to Carrington in turn.

SA: Stacy, I would like to ask you: were you drawn to Leonora for this reason, or was it more the esoteric content of her work that attracted you? Or was it the whole package…

SK: I don’t think the esoteric can be separated from an awareness of the world as ecological. One of the reasons that I love The Stone Door is its duality of the mystical and the earthly at the same time. When I read this work, I’m traveling through these places and landscapes. The elements. She includes everything, and that’s what I’m drawn to in her work. It’s spiritual, it’s political, it’s life-affirming, it’s all the different dimensions that we can travel through. I’m not interested in fragmented art.

SA: I’d like to say that I’m so excited about this performance, Leonora & Alejandro: La Maga y el Maestro. A lot of young women today are interested in magic and witches, and it often ends up being portrayed as one-dimensional and comic-booky, but there’s a great complexity and historical depth to this interest, as well as a contemporary political urgency.  I’m really hoping that people will begin to see Leonora Carrington a little more deeply as well, with all the complexity her work contains. Magic and art and creativity are linked, and that is what I really love about Leonora as well. She would always say that painting is magic; it is a magical act. I think all artwork is a magical act.

Photo by Marina Levitskaya

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Susan L. Aberth is associate professor in the Art History and Visual Culture Program at Bard College. In addition to her 2004 book Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art (Lund Humphries), she has contributed to Seeking the Marvelous: Ithell Colquhoun, British Women and Surrealism (Fulgur Press, 2020), Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist (Phoenix Art Museum, 2019), Surrealism, Occultism and Politics: In Search of the Marvelous (Routledge Press, 2018), Leonora Carrington: Cuentos Magicos (Museo de Arte Moderno & INBA, Mexico City, 2018), Unpacking: The Marciano Collection (Delmonico Books, Prestel, 2017), and Leonora Carrington and the International Avant-Garde (Manchester University Press, 2017), as well as to Abraxas: International Journal of Esoteric Studies, Black Mirror, and Journal of Surrealism of the Americas.

Jennifer Johnson joined the Double Edge Ensemble after two decades of collaboration as an actor, dramaturg, and training leader. She is a Co-Artistic Director of Double Edge, and was a co-creator and actor of Keter, the Crowning Song in the 1990s, Relentless in the early 2000s, and most recently co-created and performed as Leonora in Leonora & Alejandro: La Maga y el Maestro, which premiered in 2018. Johnson appeared in many Spectacles at Double Edge, most notably as Lucy Stone in We The People, Athena in The Odyssey and as La Senora in Once a Blue Moon, and directed the oral history project in The Ashfield Town Spectacle. She portrays Leonora Carrington in the Double Edge Fall Spectacle Leonora’s World.

Stacy Klein founded Double Edge Theatre in 1982 and under her leadership, the company has grown into one of the foremost ensemble theatres in the US. Klein has conceived and directed five original performance cycles, which have earned her international recognition for daring and innovation. In 2013 she received a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. Her work developing the concepts of Living Culture and Art Justice has been groundbreaking and an integral part of developing the DE Center. Klein’s current work relates to the Latin American cycle and includes Leonora & Alejandro: La Maga y el MaestroLeonora’s World, and SUGA, which are touring internationally.