Proteo Media + Performance | Smart Snow Interview

Production Intern, Victoria Strata interview with Kathleen Kelley and Sarah Rose Nordgren of Smart Snow

VS: What is your field of expertise and what are some of the challenges that come from your field of study? What are some of the benefits that you face? What are some things that are exciting being in this field as a woman?

SR: I’m a poet with particular expertise in hybrid poetics (work that blends poetry with other writing genres and artistic forms) as well as feminist poetries. Wonderfully, and not coincidentally, these two areas often overlap. There’s a splendid history of poets from marginalized groups such as women, queer/lesbian/trans, and people of color who’ve challenged hierarchical and patriarchal thinking by subverting genre boundaries.

One of the big challenges many poets face is one very familiar to artists of all sorts: finding support (in the form of time, money, or other resources) to get the work done. This challenge is taking on new meaning for me the past couple of years since I became a mother, has also led me into a wonderful matrix of communities that I was never aware of previously: the online community of poet-moms. I’ve come to find that there is a world of incredibly brilliant and accomplished poet mothers who are ready to support each other in the largest and smallest of professional and personal ways from near and far, many of whom are activists to boot. They are really an astounding group of people, and I’m honored learn from them.  

KK: I am a dance artist, but within that role, there are a lot of sub-roles for me: teacher, media artist, dance filmmaker, performer, mentor, and choreographer. I am always trying to understand the experience of having a body in the current velocity of technology and culture.

Echoing Sarah Rose, the greatest challenge to making creative work is finding resources to make it happen. Money is an incredibly important and rare resource, of course, but I often struggle with the limits of time. I always want more time to play. I have to be very intentional about making time to nurture my artist self.

I’ve been lucky as a woman to grow up in a field surrounded by strong women and to now get to mentor strong young women (and men!) I really value my community and my collaborators and the ways that we show up for each other. I get to make beautiful things with people I care about, and that’s a pretty wonderful way to live life.

VS: How did you come up with the name Smart Snow and what does it mean to you?

SR: Smart snow is the name of a virtual substance that saturates the futuristic/dystopian environment in poet Cathy Park Hong’s brilliant book Engine Empire. The phrase is so evocative to me because it connotes the pillowy but chilling comfort of digital connection, as well as blurring the line between a digital and physical substance.

VS: What does your collaboration consist of and what is your process?

KK: We’ve been collaborating formally and informally since we met in high school at a party. We recognized each other right away as artistic soul mates, and as we worked together more,  we realized the ways that our creative processes intertwined. We started out both dancing and writing, then both separately trained in our prospective fields for many years, but have been sharing drafts, videos, notes, letters, inspiration, and ephemera for 20 years.

We started our formal collaboration in 2013 as a way to spend more time together. We began with our first project “Digitized Figures”, which was a collection of dance/poetry hybrid videos that culminated in a live performance installation in Brooklyn in 2016. We then made a dance/poetry film “Territory” that premiered in 2018, and are currently in pre-production for a new dance/poetry experimental film that we’ll shoot in May.

Our process is centered around correspondence. We often write letters or emails, draw sketches, or make videos that we send to each other. This new video got started with a rolling Google Doc we would each post in every few days that allowed us to get our thoughts on (digital)paper. We also share imagery and text that draws us in, and we usually have a pinterest board with images, textures, or other visual ideas that inspire us. Once we are in the same place and working in production, we just bounce off of each other very freely, and work in a very focused pace getting everything filmed and done. We always take time for some body work or something in the middle though!  

VS: Who are the women that inspire you personally and are there any women that inspire the aesthetic and art of Smart Snow?

SR: Other than the community of poet mothers, I have so many inspirational women in my life. My mother and two sisters, first of all. I’m thinking a lot about my mentor and friend, poet Linda Gregg right now. For the past 13 years she’s been one of my most significant teachers. Linda didn’t just mentor my writing; she expanded my conception of what the artist’s life entails and what happiness can look like. Linda passed away this month and it’s a huge loss to me as well as to the poetry community.

The female artist that’s most directly inspired Smart Snow’s aesthetic is, without question, Bjork. Bjork is a singular figure in so many ways, and was exploring virtual spaces from a female perspective (and blending them with “natural” and analog environments!) when these ideas were still nascent in the culture. #Bjork4eva.

KK: I am so inspired by the circle of women that surround me. We are all trying the best we can to grow, develop, hold space for others, nurture, make bold choices, and leave the world better than we found it. This looks differently on every single person, but I am deeply inspired by the ways all of these women live their lives with integrity and depth. I’ve also been lucky to have incredible women mentors my entire life.  #bjork4eva!