Carrie Hanson | Interview

Carrie Hanson of the Seldoms

Carrie Hanson of the Seldoms Photograph: Kristie Kahns

Conventional, Carrie Hanson is not. The Seldoms artistic director and choreographer has tackled the most daunting of topics: In 2008’s Monument, she looked at the excess of “man-made monuments” like Staten Island’s Fresh Kills Landfill. In 2011, she debuted Stupormarket in response to the faltered economy. With Exit Disclaimer: Science and Fiction Ahead, a piece Hanson brings to the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago Thursday 25 through Saturday 27, she takes on global warming and climate change. Hours before the second presidential debate, we talk about her inspirations, a Ted Kaczynski billboard campaign and who’s in line for 2016.

Considering your most recent work has focused on polarizing sociopolitical topics, it’s fitting that we’re chatting on the day of the second presidential debate.
[Laughs]It’s funny that you mention that because what I like dealing with or what I like thinking about or investigating is the argument. With Stupormarket it was two different opposing economic theories between New Keynesian and Neoclassicism, and that certainly appears in the debate tonight. Now it’s the argument around climate change, which has, at its base, certain interests that are being protected. I like pondering the different sides, and that’s an interesting place for me. I have my gut feelings and my personal feelings, but with Exit Disclaimer, I’m trying to show the debate.

s your take on the candidates?
Well, I’ll be voting for Obama. I object to a number of Romney’s stances on the environment. I think that the environment is in better hands with Obama. Not that Obama has had a very good track record of success in his first term, and he didn’t get to do the things he said he was going to do, but I think that he’ll do more to protect it.

What sparked Exit Disclaimer in particular?
The thing that really sparked me was Thomas Friedman’s book Hot, Flat and Crowded. The book called for Americans to lead the way and create a new clean-energy system, and to be a global leader in envisioning and implementing that. Then the thing that happened—well, two things—I feel more comfortable in dealing with the complexities and the problematic side of something rather than doing some sort of dance about solar and wind energy. The other thing is that I set out at the beginning of this project to have advisers from outside the field of dance, and a couple of them listened to me talk about Thomas Friedman, and they completely debunked him.

Were they conservatives?
They weren’t conservative at all! The reason they discredited him was that he’s this guy that has such a high profile as a New York Times columnist and author of several books, he flies around the world and he writes from his hotel room in the Four Seasons. Maybe he’s a little out of touch. One of them sent me an image of his house. He lives in this colossal mansion. There’s something at odds with someone who lives in what looks like this oversized energy-sucking mansion.

Of everything you’ve researched, what’s the one thing that’s surprised you the most?
The surprise for me was the sheer volume of stuff that you find about this issue, and that it ranges from really serious, science-based stuff, to whacked out, uninformed, very opinionated.

Any examples that stand out?
There was one site—three very outspoken rants against the idea of global warming and climate change, completely debunking it as a myth. I emailed one of the writers and asked about his credentials. He wrote back and introduced himself as editor of this particular website. He acknowledged that he didn’t have any science background except for some undergraduate science classes, and that he has a brother-in-law or a cousin that works for the Forestry Department. The other thing that was surprising, I happened to meet a woman at a dance concert who works in sustainability. She’s working with oil companies, with mining companies, and she is working to develop their sustainability programs. She told me that they understand [climate change] is important for them to adopt and that it works for their public image, but really for their bottom line, which kind of threw me for a loop. Some things I’d been reading about oil companies and gas companies, they’re working against the EPA and their efforts to stop government regulation. So that confused me. It’s very complicated, and I don’t claim to know very much about it all, but it’s a fun thing to research.

I read that you find satisfaction in “issue-based projects.” How does politics engage you as an artist?
They’re kind of inseparable. I don’t know if ten years down the road I’m going to be making more dances about politically charged issues. I just feel like that’s what I’m interested in thinking about, and that’s what I’m interested in grappling with. I spend so much time making, creating with the company. I can’t think of any other things that I’d like to make a dance about.

Can you tell me about the Ted Kaczynski billboard campaign? How did you stumble upon that [for inspiration]?
The Heartland Institute is based here in Chicago. It’s a very right-wing, conservative think tank with Libertarian principles. They have been one of the leading skeptical organizations of climate change. They generate a lot of information that makes the skeptical argument.

So they were trying to associate Ted Kaczynski with climate change.
Right. And the language on the billboard said something like, “Ted Kaczynski believed in global warming.… Do you?” It was really provocative, and actually, they took it down almost immediately. They lost a lot of their funders. I just find it interesting that it’s right here in Chicago.

You said that Exit Disclaimer is an outgrowth of Monument and Stupormarket, that both pieces were significant in the trajectory of your artistic output, and more personally to your more evolving relationship to the art form. I was curious about the personal part.
To sustain my interest in dance, I think I have to continue to go deeper with my investigation now that it’s aligning with more of my political and intellectual interests. That’s where I find something to re-engage me. I’ve been making dances for about 20 years, and I went through a period of time where movement invention was enough for me to go into the studio. Then I went through a period of time where I was interested in doing site-specific work. For me, the movement is now a means and a conveyor. Thinking about questions of who we are and how our lifestyles create us and shape us and drive us. Our bodies are portraits of that.

How did you come up with the title of the piece?

I found it on the website. There was a little button that said “Exit Disclaimer.” When you hit it, it tells you that you’re about to go to a third-party site and that the EPA is no longer responsible for the accuracy of that information. That’s been my whole experience researching. At some point, because this science is really complex, somebody’s reading and you have to ask, “When does this become bogus? How can I trust this?” I think for somebody like me, you try to find these bites that you believe are reliable. I just felt like there was so much fiction out there.

How do you see the piece evolving in the future?
I think that this particular piece probably goes under some revisioning after I go away from it for some months, then go back to look at it with fresh eyes.

Depending on who’s elected?
[Laughs] Yes. I don’t know how exactly this piece will take me forward into the next direction. I’ve begun to think a little bit about a next piece, and it also feels like that’s the space for an argument.

Last question: Hillary in 2016?
I got to see her in Iowa once. I like her, and I think she’s really proven herself as Secretary of State. I’m probably a little persuaded by those really funny images that pop up on your Facebook. You know, she’s texting something to somebody. She’s always this really tough voice.

Exit Disclaimer: Science and Fiction Ahead premieres at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago Thursday 25 through Saturday 27; 8pm. Get tickets at

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