New York artist Aaron Landsman turns ordinary situations into extraordinary art

The first thing you notice about Aaron Landsman is his energy. Although he is still, his eyes are bright and bustling with movement. This is a man who looks like ideas are constantly racing through his head. Landsman is a New York-based artist who transforms the ordinary into art.

Landsman was hailed as a Princeton Arts FellowASU Gammage Resident Artist and a playwright-in-residence at Abrons Arts Center. As an actor, playwright and artist, Landsman combines what may seem mundane with what is extraordinary.

However, Landsman believes his work goes beyond what audiences perceive as “straight theater.”

“I think I’m a conceptual artist who uses tools of theater,” he said.

Landsman’s work revolves around taking basic everyday ideas and transforming them into collaborative artworks.

“I want to turn what we think of as an un-artistic event into an artistic event,” he said. “Or use multiple different approaches to address the same issues.”

His process is simple — he begins with an idea and thinks of the different ways he can shape it into something new.

“I start out with some kind of challenge to myself — like there’s usually something that’s compelling and unexpected that is possible to manifest into art,” he said.

This is a process including many collaborators. Landsman has worked with Mallory CatlettJim Findlay and Brent Green to name a few.

“I have collaborators, and we sit around for a long time to try stuff, and we usually get things wrong, and there’s usually a deadline,” he said.

Landsman jokingly said art and theater are created as a result of spontaneity and chance.

“Failure plus deadline equals art,” he said.

Landsman said art is created in a fluid process of solving problems the artists themselves created within the work.

“After we get the funding and fix the problems we created for ourselves, that’s when the project becomes reality,” he said.

This is evident in his recently performed piece "Open House," which is performed in a suburban house in downtown Phoenix in a mock imitation of an actual open house.

“‘Open House’ is staged in peoples’ homes. It was commissioned by the Foundry Theatre in New York, and in 2008 it was performed for six weeks in 24 different homes all over the city of New York, and written for the geography and politics of that city,” he said. “And Gammage, where I have this three-year residency, commissioned a rewrite specific for Phoenix.”

Music theater freshman Michaela Okland had the opportunity to participate in a workshop class with Landsman.

“He really opened my eyes to an entirely new creative process,” she said. “His way of looking at things was very unique, and I would not have thought of making art the way he does.”

Although Okland is a performer, she said Landsman inspired her to consider other aspects of the field.

“After the workshop class, I’m definitely more interested in the creating part of work beyond strictly performing what I am given on a page,” she said.

ASU music performance professor Toby Yatso set up the Landsman workshop with his musical theater students.

“I was very excited to be able to provide an opportunity for music theater students to learn a specific technique of storytelling from an active playwright who specializes in creating multiple forms of storytelling,” Yatso said. “And Aaron Landsman was an ideal artist to provide the students with that unique experience.”

This unique experience is one that is inclusive of all artists working together to create a piece.

“I work a lot in ensemble theater, which is, instead of having one playwright and one director and actors who work separately from each other, everybody’s in a room together trying stuff,” Landsman said. “And there’s a director at the helm saying, ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ ‘Can we try a little bit of that,’ and so it’s also a director-driven work in a way.”

Related links:

Gammage, Cronkite partner up to bring theatrical concept to ASU

Internationally renowned artist He Gong talks contemporary Chinese art at ASU


Reach the reporter at ekong2@asu.edu or follow @ERINKONG1 on Twitter.

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