Shana Lutker
Courtesy Photo

In her latest work, L.A.-based artist Shana Lutker explores the emotional relationship between history and politics, two aspects of our world that have always inspired her art. As part of the Forum Lounge series, Lutker will stage her performance art event, Hear It Here, at the Contemporary Arts Forum on Thursday, November 6.

Unlike conventional theatre where actors typically rehearse set lines, Hear It Here will be an improvisational collaboration between the actors and the audience. “The most basic way to describe it is a stage that I offer to the audience to create action with the actors,” Lutker explained in a telephone interview. “The audience is asked and encouraged to tell the actors what to say. It will be an unscripted and spontaneous performance totally directed and created by the audience immediately.”

However spontaneous the results may be, the general theme the piece aims to examine is clear. “I wanted the audience to be able to look at the role of the public and explore what it’s like to be called upon as a group while also being an individual person, and the confusion that can come from that dynamic” Lutker said. “The goal of the performance is to investigate the problem of being one as well as many.”

Though this is Lutker’s first piece that has fallen into the category of performance art, her work has always incorporated a sense of staging and a dramatic relationship to space. Under the umbrella of the California Biennial 2008 and in conjunction with Santa Barbara’s Off-Axis festival of contemporary art, examples of Lutker’s visual art work are currently on display at UCSB’s University Art Museum. She sees a natural relationship between that work and her work for the stage. “I’ve always thought about the viewer in the same way one would for theater or performance,” she said. “I already work in a lot of different mediums, so it felt like a natural kind of transition.”

Shana Lutker's "The Pillars of Society" (2008) now on view at UAM.

The majority of Lutker’s work has been influenced by societal roles, and Hear It Here is no exception. “This piece is very connected to concerns of my work in general,” Lutker explained, “ideas of history and the individual and the ways individuals interpret history-specifically the unconscious of history-and the things that are hidden and underlying a lot of historical political gestures.”

Though Lutker has been showing her work consistently since 2001, her process has remained almost unaltered. “I usually start with a little seed of an idea, then I do a lot of research,” she said. “For this show, I knew I wanted to work with the idea of theater, so I went to the library and took out every book about theater and stage design and skimmed them all. I also scan a lot of images; every project starts with research images. From there, I start working to abstract the ideas and break them down to their simplest form. Then I make models, sculptures, and/or drawings. In the last couple of years, my shows have been composed of sculpture, installation, photographs, and drawings.”

Although her projects vary in subject, Lutker’s overall goal remains consistent. “I think that in all of my work I try to reframe familiar ideas so people need to rethink them,” she said. “In the performance, the thing I’m reframing is the idea of speaking in public or acting in public, so it’s an open presentation. The audience members can be free to speak their minds because they don’t have to take responsibility for what they’re saying, as everyone will be looking at the actors.”

In the context of the presidential election, which takes place two days before the Santa Barbara performance, this forum for public expression takes on new and interesting resonance, offering participants an alternate reality where all are free to speak and hear their voices heard, uninhibited by responsibility and accountability.


Shana Lutker will stage Hear It Here at the Contemporary Arts Forum on Thursday, November 6, at 7 p.m. For more information, call 966-5373 or visit For more on the University Art Museum exhibition, call 893-7564 or visit To learn more about the artist, visit


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