The artist Suzanne Bocanegra has many stories to tell, and not just her own: her installations, sculptural assemblages, and performance pieces often unpack other artists’ work (she once sewed tiny cotton replicas of all the aprons from Jean-François Millet’s peasant paintings) or feature appearances by fellow-creators. She’s particularly interested in women working—and women in trouble. For her video piece “Valley,” from 2018, she meticulously reproduced a four-minute clip of Judy Garland’s 1967 wardrobe test for “Valley of the Dolls” by filming eight artistic titans, such as Carrie Mae Weems , reënacting the snippet. Since 2010, Bocanegra has been making a suite of “Artist Lectures” (there are four so far)—droll multimedia talks, presented onstage before an audience, ranging across her life and art history, sometimes peering into eccentric corners of Americana. In each, Bocanegra sits to one side of the stage, at a barely lit table, as an actor does the speaking for her. Bocanegra is actually murmuring the text into a microphone, and the actor instantly transmits it, repeating what she hears via an in-ear receiver. “Hello, I’m Suzanne Bocanegra,” each piece begins, though the person we hear might be Lili Taylor or Frances McDormand. Bocanegra is presenting all four at N.Y.U.’s Skirball Center in occasional one-night-only performances. This week , the Texas-born Suzanne (quiet, smiling, feline) will be played by the Oscar-nominated Ethiopian Irish actress Ruth Negga (a coil of stunning expressive energy). “It’s terrifying!” Negga said, in a room in the basement of Skirball, as she tried out the earpiece for the first time. “I feel a bit awkward—like, what’s a baby deer called? Bambi .” It was the first rehearsal for Bocanegra’s “Bodycast” show: six days before the performance, and the first time that Negga and Bocanegra had ever met in person. They bonded over being raised Catholic. Bocanegra wore a severe black skirt that was nun-adjacent. Negga had on gray sweatpants and a stripy sweater. The two Suzannes and their director, Paul Lazar—who played Duncan to Negga’s Lady Macbeth on Broadway in 2022—talked about how to use the earbud to create the sense of being […]
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