Creatives of NY // Entry #003 // Paul Zivkovich: Performer, Creator, and Collaborator

I happened to meet Paul Zivkovich through my current boss, dance photographer Lois Greenfield. I’ve watched Lois photograph Zivkovich twice over the past two years I have been at the studio, once during my summer internship and again once I moved to NYC. I immediately noticed his innate desire to take risks and the intense physicality of his movement vocabulary. When I started thinking about people I wanted to interview for this project, Paul Zivkovich's name immediately popped into my head - I’d witnessed his stunning collaboration with Lois in studio and knew he had a strong performance background. Upon meeting with him to interview, I learned much much more about his collaborative spirit and the inspirations behind his work. A driven and intelligent artist, Zivkovich's work delves into movement direction and understanding body language in a way I hadn't thought possible before.

Zivkovich grew up in Canberra, Australia and trained as a gymnast before studying dance. He started out with a youth dance company (QL2 Centre for Youth Dance) before heading off to Queensland University of Technology. After two years, Zivkovich joined Australian Dance Theatre under the direction of Garry Stewart, and toured up to seven months out of the year, all the while dabbling in short dance films and tackling many side projects. Departing from ADT, he soon found himself in Europe, working for Rafael Bonachela, Akram Khan, and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui - for Cherkaoui he also served as an assistant choreographer for the feature film Anna Karenina. It was after Anna Karenina that he landed a job with Punchdrunk in the New York City production of Sleep No More to play Macbeth and the Porter. Originally planning to stay for six months, he found himself staying for a full year.

"New York City is such a special place. I was living in the East Village. It felt really creative. A lot of neighbors were either filmmakers or photographers - I really enjoyed its village atmosphere and felt inspired living there and being apart of it. I simply fell in love with that, and the work with Punchdrunk was challenging in a very different way than anything else I had ever done."

Of performing in Sleep No More, Zivkovich said, "It felt like a roller-coaster - there's no pauses or breaks, there's no backstage, there's no wings, there's sort of no 'off-time'. That's maybe not completely different to performing on stage, but it felt like this gate you opened at the beginning, or a ride that you can’t get off of until the end, and that felt really daunting and challenging and wonderful all at the same time."

Beyond the intense physical nature of the work he did in Sleep No More, there was an added challenge for Zivkovich in the acting. "For sure the duration is a lot, a three hour performance - it felt sort of impossible. Certainly playing Macbeth... I think it was daunting to play someone so physically and emotionally relentless. For the most part, Punchdrunk casts dancers to understand and embody emotions and states clearly, and along with crafted movement vocabulary and careful direction, I was able to enjoy the act of playing other people and deliver characters with physical and emotional arcs."

After a year performing in Sleep No More, Zivkovich went back to London to create and perform in another Punchdrunk production; The Drowned Man - A Hollywood Fable. He remained there for a year and then once again returned to New York City, this time accepting a role as a rehearsal director for Sleep No More. It was at this point that Zivkovich's collaborative nature began to really flourish, allowing him to further deepen his work with Lois Greenfield (Zivkovich and Greenfield had started their working relationship in 2004 while Lois collaborated with Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) on HELD, a dance inspired by Greenfield's imagery where she photographed the dance live onstage). Taking on the role gave him more opportunities to interact with new collaborators.

Speaking on his work with Lois Greenfield, Zivkovich remarked, "I remember coming to New York on tour with ADT in 2005 and then 2007. In 2005, I stayed after the tour to explore the city a little more, and Lois and I scheduled a shoot together, so in a way I felt unleashed from ADT- the images weren't tied to the company. It was me as an individual working with Lois and that felt liberating. And again in 2007, I found myself in New York independently and we shot together - I wasn't working with any one company at that point, so that was the second time we worked intimately.”

“Our shoots together since then took place when I moved to New York in 2012. Until then, it felt a little like.. 'You're in town. I'm in town. I've got the studio space. Let's jam. Let's play,’ and I enjoy working like that, particularly with someone I've known for so long. But it’s been wonderful to be both living in the same city and enjoy the more ‘planned’ shoots, without time restrictions etc. And I think the biggest joy was knowing we had both matured as people and artists since we first met, and that naturally feed into the work we were making together, and still does.”

"I think I'm a wild card," Zivkovich shared, "I'll flip around and do something a little bit more off center... her work borders that so much for me. You sort of know what you're going to expect, but she kind of tilts it a little bit, and she inspires me to do the same. That's why I enjoy working with her."

In addition to his ongoing relationship with Lois Greenfield, Zivkovich has recently made more time for himself to develop his own work and forge meaningful connections with other artists. One look through Zivkovich's Instagram and you'll find a carefully-curated exhibition of photos taken by many of the people Zivkovich has collaborated with, along with sketches and illustrations by artists inspired by these works. From the surreal, faceless images of Zivkovich by Ben Zank to the sculptural black and white photographs of him by Matthew Tyler Priestley, Zivkovich showcases his range and unique sense for body language and movement in front of the camera. He says "Instagram's sort of been this ugly beast, but I've started using it more as a work space rather than a personal one. It gives me a platform to show what I've been doing and working on with people."

One collaboration of note is Zivkovich's work with Jon Jacobsen, a Chilean multimedia artist. "I threw a concept at him in the middle of last year that was, in a nutshell, what was happening in the coral reefs around the world. I was watching a lot of documentaries about nature in general, but the bleaching process that’s happening with coral reefs really struck a chord. I believe it was a time-lapse video that caught my eye, where it sped up what was happening to these reefs, something like five days in a minute, so you could see the rapid decay that was occurring. So I threw this rather vague idea at Jon to see what his brain would make of it. We went back and forth for many many months on some ideas, and at that early point it was anything: some poetry, some writing, a song, or more visuals. We then started to Skype each other and that inspired more conversations - we both knew by then that we wanted to collaborate together on something. Jon ended up coming to New York later that year. We shot the project up on my rooftop, but of course in the images you don't really get a sense of location or any one specific environment. We ended up producing a series of nine images, titled ‘The Great Barrier’."

Zivkovich's work with Jacobsen didn't stop there. Steering away from the prior project to try something new and facilitate growth, the pair's next project focused on memory and nostalgia. Zivkovich, as the subject of Jacobsen's work, described the series as "invasive" and "much more about the texture of the skin, scars, and bruising on the skin." The project became extremely personal for Zivkovich as his aunt passed away just as Jacobsen and Zivkovich had completed the shoot.

"We were working with pictures of my family, aunties, uncles, my nana, my mom & dad... some of the images are black and white because of when they were taken, and some of them are more recent. We explored ways where these images could emerge in the skin, or hide in the creases of folding flesh, causing the skin to bruise and sweat. Perhaps it’s something about regurgitating and devouring memories to cope with grief."

This second project with Jacobsen is currently in post-production.

Zivkovich hopes to continue to work in this way, and New York City offers opportunities for him to do so. He has spent the past five months placing an emphasis on producing his own work and work with others. "I recently began making a short dance film, it’s still early stages but I am very excited about it. I feel so fortunate to be in a position where I can still pay rent and have the time and energy to collaborate with others and fulfill creative ambitions."

To learn more about Paul Zivkovich, you can visit his Instagram.

Paul Zivkovich on FP-100C

Paul Zivkovich on FP-100C

Paul on 35mm film - the lab unfortunately scratched the negative, but we both still loved this image

Paul on 35mm film - the lab unfortunately scratched the negative, but we both still loved this image

Paul Zivkovich on FP-100C

Paul Zivkovich on FP-100C

Creatives of NY // Entry #002 // Cecily Lo: Designer and Filmmaker

Cecily and I go way back; in the summer of 2011 we attended Joffrey Ballet School's Jazz and Contemporary Summer Intensive together. After we both graduated college, we both found ourselves living in NYC. Myself, as a photographer, and Cecily as a designer and filmmaker, but both of us remained intertwined in the world of dance, exploring choreography and meeting in the fall to have a discussion about the choreographic process. When deciding where to photograph Cecily for this project, we both knew the location shouldn't be picturesque - Cecily's work is raw and human, and I felt these images should be focused more heavily on expression rather than scenery. I decided we should shoot at night in the Lower East Side. I had never shot on film before at nighttime, but I think the images we captured turned out quite great. Check the photographs along with Cecily's interview below. 

Allison: Tell me a little bit about your background.

Cecily: I grew up in the Washington D.C. area and went to Tufts University in Boston for college. I studied computer science. In high school I really thought I wanted to study engineering, so I applied to the engineering school at Tufts. Halfway through college I said, "Wait a second. I don't actually really want to do engineering." I just sort of felt a little bit pressured into that. So I stuck with my major and I self-studied a lot. Tufts has a partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, so I took a lot of design classes there. Now I live in New York - I've been living here for about a year, and I'm a freelance video artist and digital designer just trying to find my way in this big world. 

Allison: So how did you get into videography, filmmaking, and design?

Cecily: I came from a pre-professional dance background in grade school in high school, mostly in modern, ballet, and jazz. In college I was in an extracurricular dance company called Sarabande Dance Ensemble where I started choreographing and I became really into that and very serious about it within my school company context. From there I started filming myself dancing and would create little montages or short films, pair it with music, and sort of create a video piece out of it. That developed into a more artistic approach my senior year. I knew some people who curated independent art shows in the Boston area, and I started creating video art, movement-based pieces for that. The exhibition's called Polykhroma, and so through that I really found a voice with video art and dance film and performance art. Through a lot of self-studying, through freelance work, and through internships I honed my skills in video production. 

Allison: What other artists, either from your medium or other mediums, inspire you? 

Cecily: So I've always really been inspired by net art. Some specifics, Molly Soda, Petra Collins, Signe Pierce recently... in terms of aesthetic, I follow a lot of CGI artists and 3-D artists with holographic aesthetics. Signe Pierce is one of them, Jess Audrey Lynn, Nicole Ruggiero... a lot of Instagram names. They do more 3-D modeling, which I've always been interested in. It's kind of a very steep learning curve, but their general aesthetic I really like. 

Allison: What are some of the inspirations and influences behind your work?

Cecily: I think coming from a choreography background, and that a lot of my early work was self-portraiture and filming myself, a lot of my work is inspired by my body and my personal depictions of my body and how the outside world perceives my body versus how I perceive my own body. I think body image and bodily autonomy and how that intersects with social constraints or expectations has been kind of a fundamental underlying tone of my work. I'm just going to be open about it - I've struggled with eating disorders and body image issues in the past especially with my dance background. It sort of was a way for me to take that anxiety and that internal struggle and deal with it and also create something out of it. I feel better about myself now, but whether that's causation or correlation, I don't know. 

Allison: Who were some of your mentors you met along the way?

Cecily: One of the first professors I had through the Museum of Fine Arts, her name is Sophie Hodara... she was one of the first people who really convinced me to pursue something artistic and creative, and she gave me this confidence and reassurance that maybe this isn't just a dumb hobby or something I do on the side. There may be a future in this. She helped me with my first portfolio - this was when I was taking beginning graphic design. I think before then, it was my high school dance company director. Her name is Helen Hayes, and honestly, in elementary and middle school I wasn't dancing seriously. It was a recreational, few times a week thing, and then I on a whim choreographed for a youth choreography showcase that she was one of the judges for. She actually reached out to me after and asked me if I would audition for her youth company, and she ended up being one of my greatest mentors in high school and really helped me develop this creative voice originally through choreography, which then blossomed into something else. She was really the first person who told me, "Hey, you actually are pretty good at this." 

Allison: Use three words to describe your style of art.

Cecily: Glitchy... Dreamlike... Shiny. 

Allison: What's the most rewarding part of your medium?

Cecily: I think it's a way that really connects a lot of different aesthetics and aspects and things that I like. What I mean by that is that I've always loved music... I'm not a musician by any means, but I'm also a dancer, I'm also a choreographer. I am very moving-image based, and I do love film, movies, TV, and entertainment in general. I feel like it's a very natural and interesting way to put music and movement and images together. 

Allison: What is your relationship between ideas of self and your art? 

Cecily: I think that a lot of my art is autobiographical. Most of the themes come from personal struggles or personal stories that I've experienced. I think it's hard to create art that doesn't come from something somewhat personal, and I strongly believe that if you haven't really experienced it, unless you do tons and tons of research, it's really hard to accurately portray a message about what you are trying to say. I think it comes from a somewhat... "fraudulent" isn't the right word, but it's difficult. For me, it's always easiest to go back to what I know personally. That being said, I have a ton of respect for directors and artists who do communicate other peoples' stories in a respectful and accurate way. I think that's really hard, and it's something that I'm not necessarily that good at, which is why I try to stick to the personal. 

Allison: What are your favorite and least favorite things about being an artist in New York City? 

Cecily: My favorite thing is the creative freedom - I was working at a digital ad agency a little bit ago, and while I loved working there and while I loved working on the creative production team, at the end of the day they weren't my ideas - I was selling a message. I was selling someone else's message, and to have complete liberty over your own message I think is the most rewarding part. The worst part is when no one ever wants to pay you. I don't know - that's kind of a cop-out answer, but it does suck. I think this isn't really New York-based, but it's kind of a personal thing. I hope my parents never read this interview... they support me and they're proud of me and want to see me succeed, but I think fundamentally they don't really understand what I do. I wish that they did. I can't ask them to, but it's a little bit of a "Dang, maybe if I were just a software engineer who worked for Google" they would get it more. I remember showing them a piece that I made with one of my friends: he directed it and I danced in it, and I helped edit it. It was about mental illness and sort of suicide, or this internal self versus your external self within the lens of mental illness. I remember showing it to my parents and they thought it was supposed to be funny, and I was like, "That's not quite right," and they obviously didn't mean to hurt me or hurt my feelings, but I was like, "Oh... that's a bad take." I can't really blame them; I don't think they grew up in an artistically-enriching lifestyle like I have, but that was hard for sure. 

Allison: Where do you see yourself heading with your art? What direction are you hoping to go in? 

Cecily: I'm in the process of applying for grad school. I'm looking at commercial film and production-based programs, like directing and such. I feel like I'd like to get the more commercial side under my belt, and I feel like that would really help diversify my strengths and hone my narrative voice. Past that, I don't know. I can see myself working on and directing music videos, which is something I've begun to delve into. In a way that feels very comfortable and at-home for me based on music, dance, entertainment, video... all that. 

Allison: How does your dance background influence your work with film?

Cecily: I think that whenever I listen to music I pretty much always imagine movement going along with it, or I move along to it - it's ingrained in me. I think it's easier for me to see a dynamic arc or how music ebbs and flows in a movement-based or image-based way, just from dancing and choreographing. I think in a way, producing a short film that's set to music, which is often what I do, is the video equivalent of choreographing a piece, and I tend to view my approach in the same way. 

You can follow Cecily on Instagram here. 

You can view Cecily's website here.

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on Polaroid 600 film

Cecily Lo on Polaroid 600 film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm

Cecily Lo on 35mm

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film